Friday, March 17, 2017

A Freeing Realization about Suffering

I have been really proud of our youth in the youth group these last months as we have been talking about the issue of why there is suffering, "bad things," loss, etc. in the face of a God who we say is all powerful, loving, and good. They have been sticking with this important and hard question which is often a stumbling point to people coming to faith ("If God is real, then why is there ______?"), and to Christians who find themselves in places of great loss, or suffering, or "unanswered" prayer.

Over the last many meetings I've given them many reasons for suffering and bad things. There is the natural result of the Fall and the curse on the earth—everything decays and dies, Creation groans and is in upheaval, etc. There are people's choices which God gave us to have, knowing it would cost Him His life on the cross—and our lives bear the consequences of both our choices and others choices. There is spiritual warfare—the Gospels and Acts show a multitude of times demonic work explained sickness, mental issues, etc. There is protecting us from our own sin, as in Paul's thorn in the flesh keeping him from pride. There is correction from a loving Father who is bringing us back on course, or shaping us into something we can't yet see His purpose in.

These are just some of the reasons we've talked about, and often times in the midst of hard stuff we can examine things and the Holy Spirit can point to one of those as the reason and we can often correct or address it. But . . . then comes those moments that loss that seems to have no explanation, nothing done wrong, to someone totally "innocent," and all in the face of a God we know could have stopped it. A God we say loves us and is good.

I asked the youth a very powerful question last night, one I believe God gave me to ask, and one I was hesitant to ask because the answer could rattle some people. The question was, "If you experienced some horrible loss of no seeming fault of you or the person lost (i.e., loss of a baby, parents killed by a drunk driver, etc.) and you asked me 'why?' what answer could I give you that would fully explain it and make it OK—make you say, 'Oh, now I understand. OK.' " Basically I said they could write their own perfect answer. The answer I knew would come, and which ultimately did, was, "None."

The youth had some good hopes and insight in the face of the question—recognition that we travel different paths and God works good from things, hopes for people to hold them and stand with them, etc.—but in the end we recognized that when you've just experienced that huge loss no theological explanation is going to make it OK in that moment. There are just some things that aren't going to make sense when we know in our heart God could have stopped it. And it always comes back to that. God could have stopped it. He is, after all, God.

When I first came up with this question, I asked it first of myself and I realized that there was no answer I could formulate that would even fully explain and make OK a situation like that for myself. All of the theology, and all of the explanations, fall fully short of a satisfying answer when we know God is sovereign, holy, good, loving, and all powerful, and we are weeping and broken in the face of horrible loss. Realizing I couldn't even fully come up with a "perfect" answer for myself freed me and some of the youth as well, and helped us see that often we spend so much time trying to understand (or explain to another who is suffering) a reason for something, when God is calling us to instead focus on trust. That is where we ended last night, with having to come to the answers to some basic questions in our hearts:

1. Do I believe God is good?
2. Do I believe God loves me?
3. Do I believe God is trustworthy?
4. Did I give my life to Him, as His?

So often we demand an understanding that we aren't going to get, and it becomes a hindrance to our realizing we can trust Him. So often we try and explain something to someone else that has no human explanation and we end up making it a lot worse. I've cringe when I hear Christians tell someone who just had a horrible loss, "God meant it for good" or somehow saying it is good. If everything was good then there would have been no point for Jesus, and Acts 10:38 would make no sense, "how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him." If everything was good, and God's desire, then Jesus wouldn't have wept. More than once. And the Bible wouldn't command us to weep with those who weep.

God tells us He loves us, He promises to never leave us, and He promises to work all things to good to those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. In those truths and others we can offer someone (or ourselves) hope for the future. But He doesn't call all things good, and to someone who has just lost a child or had some other loss calling it good defiles the character of God. There are bad things, there is evil, and trying to understand why God allowed something we know He could have stopped can too often cause us to focus on answer we can't arrive at, or that will undermine our faith in God's love, instead of focusing on the cross that cries out, "I love you!" and trusting in that love . . . the same way we ask our children to trust in our love even when they don't understand why we are, or aren't, doing something.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

HAM, Science, and (Yes) Creation

Proud family with certificates and the girls' new radios!
This week our family completed a 7-week course (and passed our tests!) for an Amateur Radio (HAM) license. It was a lot of work and study and I am so proud of Mary Ann and the girls—they scored amazing scores! Though encouraged to get my license for some time, I’ve held off as I have a radio from the fire department I can talk on during fire calls. But, we made the decision to do this based on experiences we had during the Chimney Fire last August when we were in here, the fire was coming, we had no electricity, and I wasn’t officially dispatched on the fire so I couldn’t use my radio. There were multiple times that I needed to go out and help a neighbor, or scout the fire, etc., and Mary Ann and I were not able to communicate with each other (there is no cell coverage where we live), nor contact people around us. In one instances I needed to go and find a friend who had broken down just before dark in a burned over area trying to find lost cows while at the same time, back toward our home, I could see billowing columns of smoke as the fire was breaking loose. It was very hard to not be able to call back and check on things.

As I studied for this HAM course I found myself in awe—not just of the God who made these unseen radio waves and their intricacy and amazing capability, but also of man’s mind that could discover them, and harness them, and make everything from long distance communication to microwaves and so much more. As I looked at how incredible man’s mind is I had the thought, “It is no wonder so many people who are familiar with the amazing scope of what science has done then buy hook, line, and sinker science’s theories about both origins and the age of the earth.”

The problem lies in the vast difference between science that is observable and able to be tested and built upon, and science that is a theory of something that isn’t observable and can’t be tested. The amazing science that harnesses these unseen waves traveling around us can be tested and harnessed. If a mistake is found, or a theory is found to not hold up, then one can go back to the point of break and formulate a new theory and build upon that, slowly advancing. This is important, because everything built past the point of error is built on an error.

An example of this might be a car engine. It begins with some basic theories. These are tested. Different theories are combined (mechanical, electrical, physical sciences, etc.). These are tested, refined, some rejected, some embraced and built upon. When something doesn’t work you stop and fix it. After years of this you end up with some really amazing and advanced engines.

But, something like the origin of the earth and man, is not observable, and it can’t be tested. We can look at the evidence around us—the observable things—and form theories about what happened. We can, when available, read source evidence from accounts of something (like the Bible). But we can’t go back and observe what happened, and so our ideas about it are theories, based for each of us on different things.

The danger is this: unlike observable science in which you can correct a mistake before you move forward and build everything else on that mistake, this type of science doesn’t allow it. If you are wrong about origins, the age of the earth, etc., then everything—your entire foundation of life, and truth, and understanding, and worldview— from that point forward is built on a falsehood and is wrong (or at best, on a shaky foundation). This is very dangerous, as how we make decisions, assess values and priorities, view the Bible and God and eternity, etc. all spring from these first theories, and everything that is extrapolate out from them.

Yes, man’s mind—and much of science—is amazing! But it is only good if it is built on the foundation of the One who created it, and who told us how He did it. We see also, all around us, the horror of man’s brilliance when it is not harnessed to a partnership of God. Yes, our mind is amazing. But is was created to be in relationship to, and partnership with, and submission under, the One who made it and us. The One who gave us the Bible to tell us how He did it.

Monday, February 27, 2017

As Goes . . .

On Sunday's I've been really enjoying (and blessed by) the teaching I am doing through our history—from God's stunning spoken six-day Creation six thousand or so years ago, to the Bible and faith statements and stands we have today. It is so encouraging to see the threads that travel from the Old Testament through the New Testament, and how God is truly the same God in all the ages. It's always been about faith, it's always had a great cloud of witnesses, it's always been about His presence.

Recently I taught on Saul, then currently on David. I used the expression, "As goes the king, so go his people." It wasn't that it was bad the people wanted a king, it is the king they wanted (one like the other nations). We were created for a King. It is in our spiritual DNA. A great lie of Satan is that we ever believe we are our own boss. The Bible makes it clear that we are either slaves of Satan, or servants of Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We are never our own.

As goes the king, so go his people. We share the fate and fortune of our king. If it is an earthly king, the nation goes with his rise and fall. And with our King as Christians, as goes our King, so goes His people. Christ was hated and persecuted and sacrificial on earth—and He's promised us that same road. Christ is victorious and eternal and fully in the Father's presence in Heaven—and He's promised us that same road.

But that's not the only "As goes . . ." (I am sure you can think of multiple). The one I would add is, "As goes your home, so go you." The world is the home for non-believers, but for believers, born again by the Spirit of God, it says our home is Heaven and we are just strangers and soldiers and travelers here, sent by our King with our King's authority to do our King's will.

With that in mind, let me share a striking example from my Bible reading this morning. It comes out of Luke 21 where Jesus is talking about the end times. He says, "And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory." (Luke 21:25–27)

The people of this earth, in the times of the earth's distress (their home's distress) will be fainting with fear and foreboding. Seems plain enough. But then comes the striking contrast, that is only explained if we are inseparably woven into our true home as believers. He now adds, "Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." (Luke 21:28)

As those of the world fall with their home, those of Heaven, rise with theirs. As goes your home, so goes you. As goes your king, so go you. It is no wonder we are supposed to be so different from the world in every way. No wonder the world should be able to look at our lives and choices and stands and priorities and see a glimpse of the heart of the Father. Because we are inseparably woven into Him and our Heavenly home. May we live like it and not deny our heritage and King and homeland.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Only "Economy" That Matters

I had a thought the other day. It was, "What if I only got in Heaven (or for eternal enjoyment) what I freely gave or used in this life on or toward others?" I'm not saying that is theologically correct (or that it isn't), but there is no denying in an honest reading of the New Testament that there is a significant emphasis on investing now for eternity.

God's economy is much different than ours. Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-21, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Where we put our treasures not only affects our future life past this earth, but it defines where our heart will be on this earth. Considering God is more concerned about our heart than any outward appearance, this makes where we store up our treasures a weighty issue—a heart defining issue.

In my Bible reading this week I've been struck by the emphasis on this that Jesus makes from different angles in Luke 16. There is the confusing parable of the dishonest manager. Setting aside all the different thoughts on who the people represent, etc., there seems to be a clear rebuke by Jesus in there of "the sons of light." While not saying dishonesty is good, there seems to be in His words a pointing out that the unrighteous are often more careful about securing benefits for their future (albeit worldly future) than the children of the Kingdom of God are about their future (eternal). He also, in the parable of Abraham, the rich man, and the poor man Lazarus in their interaction beyond the grave, says of the rich one who neglected the poor at his door, "Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish" (Luke 16:25).

When Paul writes to the believers in Corinth he reminds them, ". . . For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18). When we combine verses like these, with the multitude of other similar verses, it would seem that followers of Jesus are faced with two very different paths. We can invest in our now, and receive our reward in this life, or we can invest in eternity, and enjoy our reward for eternity. When we realize this economy, it is no wonder that Jim Elliot, a missionary killed in the 1950s in Ecuador, wrote in his journal this now famous quote, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."

What are we investing in. Do the words of J.C. Ryle, about the parable of the dishonest manager, apply to us? These words are, "The diligence of worldly men about the things of time, should put to shame the coldness of professing Christians about the things of eternity. The zeal and pertinacity of men of business in compassing sea and land to get earthly treasures, may well reprove the slackness and indolence of believers about treasures in heaven."

It is a question worth asking. When we face that moment when we cross the line, and if we are able to see our life and priorities and "treasures" in perspective, will we be pleased with the choices we made, or will we wish we could do it over? If you could write your obituary, what would you want it to say? And what are you and I doing to bring that to pass?

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