God Enters Into Suffering

God doesn’t magically dispel suffering, at least not most times: He enters into the thick of it and uses it to accomplish something in us, and often through us, that no amount of pleasure or success could ever produce.

Peter (in 1 Peter) enumerates some of the values God conjures from our suffering:

This may be a good news-bad news message for you.  The good news is that God has holy purposes in your suffering, no matter the shape and cause and depth and duration of that suffering.  The bad news is, as much as you want God to save you out of the suffering, he might have other ideas.  God is more intent in helping you to work out your salvation in and through the suffering than he is whisking you out of it.

He is out to perfect you.

Enough!

God may never give you enough to be what you want yourself to be.

But He always gives you enough to be what He wants you to be.

We may feel like we don’t have enough time or money to accomplish what we want to do.

But God has all the money we need, all the time we need, and all the energy we need to do His will.

God Owns Everything

I despise Communism and its godless system that takes away from those who work in the name of justice. It is the “taking away”  that upsets me because it is coerced, not done out of love and with the best interests of everyone. As if we could “make” our kids love us or make our neighbor care for us. If it actually worked, that is if it was a system that actually lifted people up without putting others down and created incentives to work without rewarding those who do not try then I would have second thoughts. But it lifts no one and takes away the dignity of everyone.

At the same time, while our current system (a mix of free enterprise and social safety nets) is much better, it can lead people to believe that everything I “have” and everything I “earn” is under my personal control and no on has ANY claim to it.

Psalm 24:1 is clear. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” See also Haggai 2:8, Exodus 19:5, and Psalm 50:10-11.

God OWNS everything because God CREATED everything and therefore everything BELONGS to him.

So while I will defend economic freedom over socialism as public policy, you won’t find me defending economic irresponsibility as personal ethics.

No Room For a Crucifixion?

Like most people, I struggle with comprehending and reconciling a world with suffering and an all-powerful God of love.  Actually I don’t struggle that much with it…but most people I know do struggle with it.  I’ve been studying that issue for years, and while I can’t satisfactorily explain it here and now, it is not a stumbling block for me.

The issue kind of reminds me of when Peter rebuked Jesus after Jesus announced that he would have to die for humanity.  “Never, Lord!  This shall never happen to you!”

No blood.  No crosses.  Peter envisions a clear, clean uninterrupted campaign that will sweep Jesus from wandering storyteller and itinerant wonder worker to exalted and triumphant ruler, from carpenter to king with no further delays.  There’s no room for crucifixion on Peter’s road to victory.

“Get behind me, Satan!” is Jesus’ response.

And mine too.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t like suffering.  Looking forward to when it’s eradicated.  But without it, we wouldn’t be saved.  Without it, I wouldn’t KNOW God like I do today.  Without it, I’d be a bundle of selfish cells feeding on sin.

I don’t always understand suffering.  But that of Christ?  Yes, indeed.  Thank You, Jesus!

Worship: Not Tired and Predictable, but Expressing the Creativity of the Creator

I was told that one Sunday morning the pastor of the church noticed a little boy standing in the foyer of their church.  The boy was staring up at a large plaque on the wall.  Small American flags were mounted on either side of it.  The boy had been staring at the plaque for some time.  So the pastor walked up to him, put his arm around his shoulders, and said, “Good morning, young man.”

“Good morning, Pastor,” the boy was still focused on that plaque with all those little flags.  “Pastor, what is this plaque?”

“Well, son, it’s a memorial to all the young men and women who died in the service.”  Soberly, they just stood staring at the large plaque.

Finally, in a voice barely audible and trembling with fear, the boy asked, “Which service, Pastor?  Our early or late service?”

Fewer people are attending worship because they have become tired and predictable.

Our Lives are just One Scene in a larger Drama

We live in a “short-term” culture. Few people can see beyond themselves into a future. That is, “Why work hard now if there is no benefit NOW? I want what I want when I want it.” Other generations could see their actions and lives as part of a play, just one act or scene in a larger, human drama playing out on the world’s stage. At the very least they could plan or practice or work hard with little to see for it until a day things “broke through.”

One reason for this loss is the loss of our sense of immortality. When we are no longer able to look beyond our own deaths and relate ourselves to what extends beyond the time and space of our individual lives, we lose both our desire to create and the excitement of being human.

Why Our Church Must Never Stop Growing

While I don’t agree theologically with everything Rick Warren says, I think he’s got this right. So this is a paraphrase of his teaching on this topic which I am completely sold on.

So why must our church (and your congregation too) never stop growing?

1. Because GOD LOVES PEOPLE! “The Lord… is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, but wants everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 Also see 2 Corinthians 5:14; Luke 15:3-10; and Matthew 9:12-13.

2. Because GOD COMMANDS US TO REACH OUT! “Go out into the country…and urge anyone you find to come in, so that My House will be full.” Luke 14:23 (LB)

3. Because GROWTH IS GOD’S WILL! “Under Christ’s control, the whole body is nourished…and grows and God wants it to grow.” Colossians 2:19 (GN) “Jesus said, ‘I will build my church.'” Matthew 16:18

No where in the Bible can I find the church saying things like, “God isn’t interested in numbers.” Yes He is! He inspired a book called Numbers. And every “number” represents a human life made in His image. Or, “Our church wants quality not quantity.” The assumption is that the people there are quality and those not, aren’t! Or, “Large churches are impersonal.” They sure can be. And so can small ones. Every church should be seeking to get people connected to each other through small groups, etc. Or, “We like our church small.” Excuse me! I don’t want Heaven to have a FEW “chosen.”