Can God Trust You With Pain?

-What An Odd Question!

That probably seems like an odd question because it makes it sound like “pain” is a good thing, doesn’t it? A good thing that you could be “trusted” with? We might ask if you could be trusted with your best friend’s car; but, not “pain”! The question may also seem confusing because it suggests that pain is something that comes from God & everything inside us wants to rebel at the notion that pain & suffering might be choreographed into our lives by God! That can’t be true, can it?

-We Are So “Coddled”!

Most Christians, here in the west, have been coddled! I have & so have most of you! We suffer very little for our beliefs. Several months ago, I went, with a couple of our men, to visit a faith-based community center in another city. It was a Friday; and, Friday is typically my day off. But, I had had a number of interruptions, that week; and, I didn’t get my work done. So, I was whining that I’d have to go into the office for 2-3 more hours, when I got back, to finish up my work! And, the Lord convicted me! As we pulled into the church parking lot, I apologized for complaining about my “suffering.”

-Real Suffering Looks Like This!

The Holy Spirit had pressed in on me & planted the thought that there were probably brothers & sisters, in Christ, in other parts of the world, who had died for their faith that day. Still, others had endured harsh treatment, for their faith; and, I was whining about working an extra 2-3 hours.  We’ve bought into the lie that coming to Jesus is like playing a Country Western song backward— we get our dog back, our truck back; and, our girlfriend back! Funny! But, that’s not what Jesus said. He said that if the world hated Him, it would hate us! That if they persecuted Him, they would persecute us! That if we followed him, we’d have to give up our life! We have to deny ourselves & count the cost!

-More Like Jesus!

You see, the Father intends to use all the “junk”, in this sin-cursed world, to make us more like Jesus— who was, in fact, a SUFFERING Savior, right? Someone said, that, we tend to “…read the Bible, not with a desperate hunger for evidence of God’s triumph in pain; but, with a view to improving our private pleasure.” Clearly, Bible characters, like Moses & Joseph, were not overly concerned with improving their private pleasure! On the contrary, they endured great difficulty on their way to spiritual success; and, it was because of the great difficulties, in part, that they experienced spiritual success. For Moses, Scripture says “…he CHOSE to SUFFER…” rather than enjoy sin’s pleasures (Heb 11:25).

-He Chose To Suffer!

It says he CHOSE to suffer! As the adopted son, of Pharoah’s daughter, he had a choice— short-lived pleasures; or, suffering! Which would you choose? Be honest! Most of us would choose short-lived pleasures, wouldn’t we? Long-lived pleasures, even better! But, Moses CHOSE to suffer! I never choose to suffer! But, I will tell you that when suffering has been my lot, that I grew more deeply, in my faith & my walk with God & others, than I ever did enjoying the short-lived pleasures of this life! I’m not suggesting that we live our lives with a death wish! Rather, we learn to submit to whatever course God directs our lives; and, by faith believe His intentions are good! We need to learn that during this difficult time in human history! Amen?

 

Is God Okay With That?

-What About That Behavior?

If you’re a new follower, of Jesus; and, reading through the Bible, for the first time, it may seem like God approves of certain behavior recorded on its pages. Like, is God “okay” with having multiple wives? What about lying? And, adultery? And, killings? It seems like God must be okay with some of these things! Let me emphasize the word “seems.” It may seem that way when we pull one story out of the Bible and look at it separately, from the rest of Scripture. But, God doesn’t intend for the Scriptures to be read like that! We need to approach the reading of God’s Word as a whole!

-The Truth About Man’s Behavior!

The rest, of Scripture, will serve as a commentary & help to clarify the truth. God’s Word records the truth about man’s behavior, while not necessarily endorsing it. In other words, the Bible, at times, unpacks a story— sometimes, in fact, a DISTURBING story— without any kind of divine commentary; not, because God endorses that behavior; but, to encourage us to pause! And, to ask questions, of the text. To talk, with God, about it. And, to study out the rest of the Bible; because, invariably God speaks to that behavior elsewhere. Always remember that the very best commentary, on the Word of God, is the Word of God!

-Stories Of Broken Relationships!

And, that’s especially helpful to know as we connect with some of the stories about broken relationships. For example, God’s Word tells the truth, about Abraham’s behavior when he lies about Sarah, his wife. It tells the truth about Jacob exploiting his brother, Esau’s, hunger. And, God is not endorsing their behaviors! In fact, the Scripture also records the truth about the outcome that their sinful behaviors had on relationships. God doesn’t always need to remind us when a certain behavior is sinful; because, the consequences that result bear that out!

-See Yourself In The Broken Stories!

If you’re anything like me, you’ll see yourself in these stories. And, it’s my prayer, for you, that you’ll be truthful with yourself, with God, and, perhaps with someone you’ve harmed through similar behavior. Let’s quit living in denial! Let’s resolve our personal conflicts! In Genesis, chapter 24, Abraham, whom God had promised to make a great nation, was old and concerned that his son, Isaac, would marry a good girl that God would bless! So, he makes his servant promise to find a wife that fit his demands.

-About Abraham’s Servant!

Who is this servant? Back, in ch. 15, before Isaac is born, Abraham is wrestling, with God, about not having an heir. He tells God that all he has to pass his inheritance to was his servant named Eliezer. Now, according to the Jewish targums, Eliezer was the son of Nimrod. Remember Nimrod? Back in Genesis 10, after the flood, Nimrod was the ambitious man who led the rebellion to build the Tower of Babel against God’s command. That’s really all we know about Eliezer! We know nothing of his faith. But Abraham seems to be at work convincing him to come to faith in Yahweh. As he sends Eliezer off to seek Isaac’s bride, he tells him, “…God will send His angel before you…” v.7. That would change his life!

 

Missing The Mark!

-Why Do We Have A Moral Conscience?

The theory of “evolution” has no explanation for why man has a moral conscience. This makes us different from the animal kingdom; and, Genesis— the 1st book of the Bible— explains that God dignifies man by creating him distinct from the animals! We are NOT part of the animal kingdom. Animals were created, separate from man, with “instinct”! We were created, by God, with a moral “conscience.” He created us with the capacity to make moral decisions.

-God’s First Command!

Shortly after creating Adam & Eve, God showed them around the Garden of Eden; and, look at ch. 2, v.16, where it says,  “And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.’” This is the 1st recorded command, of God, in the Bible.  So, “…in the beginning…” there was LAW! As Creator God, He rules over His creation! He made us to be moral agents who are responsible TO HIM! And, notice that there were severe consequences for disobeying God’s command.

-God’s Generosity!

From the beginning, of creation, we see that God is a generous God! He gives great FREEDOM— “…you are FREE to eat from ANY TREE in the Garden…”; but, FREEDOM always has limitations— ”…but you MUST NOT eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…” God commanded! The “freedoms” God gave vastly outnumbered the “restrictions.” But Adam wasn’t content to humbly submit to a good, gracious, benevolent God, was he? He wanted to be in control! So, in the beginning, of Genesis, we’re also introduced to humanity’s 1st sin.

-Sin Misses The Mark!

That word “sin” literally means to “miss the mark.” Hunters would aim at their prey; and, if they missed, would say, “I sinned!” When Adam & Eve disobeyed, they “sinned” and missed God’s “mark”, which was obedience.  Look at how Satan’s tempting words:  “…God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be LIKE GOD…” The temptation was that they could “…be like God…” They could be in control! Satan was casting doubt on God’s goodness! God was holding out on them, he implied! That was the temptation; and, they took the bait!

-Sin’s Consequences!

And, that’s where we see the consequences, for their indiscretion, executed! God judges them guilty, for their sin! He follows through! Right from the beginning, we see judgment for sin. Because He alone is God and Creator, He has the right to govern His creation as He determines! Adam & Eve had to give an account of their sin to God. The N.T. book of Hebrews says, “No creature is hidden from Him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account” Heb. 4:13.  Every man, woman, boy & girl, from the beginning of time, must stand before God & give an account to Him! “So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God” Rom 14:12. But, thank God, He forgives every sin when we come to Him in repentance & faith in Jesus’ work on the cross!

 

In The Beginning!

-In The Beginning!

That’s how Genesis, the 1st book of the Bible, begins! “In the beginning…” there was CREATION! Contrary to the majority “opinion”, our world & the universe did not evolve! If it did come into existence, the result of a “Big Bang”, it was because God spoke; and, “BANG” the world’s exploded into existence! Take a look at Genesis ch. 1, v.3 “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and THERE WAS LIGHT.”  V.4 “…God separated the light from the darkness.”  V.5 “God called the light ‘day,’ and He called the darkness ‘night.’  Evening came and then morning: the first day.” So, light & darkness were God’s idea.  He created them!

-And It Was So!

And, He created the 1st day ever; v.9 “Then God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ AND IT WAS SO.”  V.11 “Then God said, ‘Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.’ AND IT WAS SO.” Every time God spoke, things happened! IT WAS SO! He has universe-changing authority! Nothing happened! No world! No universe! No galaxies with stars & planets… until God SPOKE!

-God Already Was!

Before anything else began, God already WAS! He is the eternally present being who is outside of & transcends over His Creation! “Before the mountains were born or You brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God” Psalm 90:2.  So, Genesis is God’s account—His TESTIMONY—of how everything came into existence! No one else was there to observe it or record it! I’m continually amazed that people believe the “theory” of the evolution of it all! They hold onto the supposed “facts” from billions of years ago that no one witnessed!

-Science “Facts”?

The “facts” of science are constantly CHANGING! Go, try this one yourself—just Google “Scientific Facts That Have Changed Over Time.” When I did it, that query prompted 417 million hits in 0.47 seconds. For real! Here were some of the titles on the 1st page alone:  “18 Science Facts You Believed In The 1990s That Are Now Totally Wrong”;  “8 Scientific Facts That Have Changed Since You Were In Grade School”; and, “25 Science ’Facts’ That Were Proven Wrong.” Science, by its nature, is a moving target!

-It’s Human Pride & Arrogance!

By contrast, God inspired the writer, of Hebrews, to conclude that, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” Hebrews 13:8. And, the next verse says, “Don’t be led astray by various kinds of strange teachings…” It’s human pride & arrogance that rejects God’s testimony of the “GENESIS” of all things & accepts the unfounded, unprovable theories of an evolutionary process. No one was there to offer visual testimony… but, God! No one saw it… but, God! Are you going to place your “faith” in a constantly changing Science or God’s testimony? Neither can be observed or repeated! As I’ve often concluded, it takes more faith to believe in evolution than it does to simply believe that God created everything!

God’s Plan Is Relentless!

-His Program For Restoration!

Genesis is the book of beginnings or origins; and, that’s an appropriate title because it unpacks the “genesis” of Creation and life! It also reveals mankind’s first sin and how it messed up the perfect world God created. Thankfully, we’re also introduced to the “genesis” of God’s divine program to restore His broken world & our broken lives, to the greatest fullness possible, through Jesus.  Genesis announces God’s relentless plan to restore fellowship with humanity & fulfill His purpose for Creation.

-Objections To God!

One of the most frequent objections— to God— that I hear, is in regard to all the pain & suffering that goes on in the world. “If God is capable of doing something about it,” the argument goes, “Then, why doesn’t He?” And, my answer is that He DID respond & He CONTINUES to respond; and, I can understand your anger over all the injustice & inhumane activity in the world! But, if you’re directing that anger @ God, then it’s misguided! You need to look in a mirror! WE ALL DO! Because, WE are the reason for all the evil, the suffering, the injustices, the wars, the slavery & human trafficking.

-He Is Relentless To Forgive!

It’s the book of Genesis that reveals where it all went wrong! Genesis also reveals God’s anger over all the perversity in the world; and, He’s devised a flawless plan— in eternity “past”— to restore His fellowship with us & His purpose for His Creation.  And, that’s the thread that runs throughout the entire Biblical narrative. From Genesis— the BEGINNING— to the last book of the Bible— the Revelation of the END— God is relentless in His commitment to love every man, woman, boy & girl who’s ever walked this earth; or, ever will walk it! He’s relentless to forgive the sin of every man, woman, boy & girl who will humble themselves before Him! He saves everyone who confesses their sin & unworthiness; and, accepts His plan for their lives!

-An Assumption That God Exists!

The very first verse, of the Bible, says:  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” So, the Bible begins with the assumption that God exists. It doesn’t try & prove it. It just says, “THERE IS A GOD!” The New Testament book, of Hebrews, says, “Now without faith, it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him” Hebrews 11:6.

-Pleasing God!

According to the author, of Hebrews, the 1st step, in pleasing God, is believing He exists. In the beginning, there was God! There was nothing else. He existed before the universe! He TRANSCENDS the heavens & the earth. He’s OUTSIDE of it! That means He created time & space. He created all the physical laws of the universe; so, He’s not subject to them! Rather, the laws, of the universe, are subject to HIM! That’s what we mean when we say that God TRANSCENDS creation. The 1st verse, in the Bible, also makes it clear that God is the main character in the Bible! That may crush our little human egos; but, we’re NOT the center of the universe! GOD is at the center of it all; and, His infinite worth & value is the ultimate value in all the universe!

 

A Faith That Doesn’t Serve!

-It’s A Questionable Faith!

Faith that fails to serve is, at best, questionable! Listen to what James writes, in his epistle:  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” James 2:14-17.  “Is that even saving faith?” James seems to be asking,  “What good is that kind of faith?

-Can That Faith Save Him?

If I understand the text correctly, in the original Greek it has the definite article relating to “faith”; so, the question James really seems to be asking is, “Can THAT faith save him?” Can a faith that has no passion for serving the needy & the less fortunate even be genuine, saving faith? It’s questionable! The Apostle Paul wrote this to the Church of Galatia: “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” Galatians 5:6. In other words, if we are “in Christ” HE will produce a faith, in us, that is working through love! God IS love! So, if God— in Christ— is IN us, we’ll love more & more as we are sanctified more & more. We’ll look like Jesus!

-Looking Like Jesus!

He loved the rejects of society, the wounded, the hurting, the forgotten & those who’ve been kicked to the curb! So, if the Spirit of Jesus is “in us”, that has to work its way out through acts of love & service! If you don’t care about those in need around you, perhaps you ought to question if your faith is the real thing! James seems to say that any faith that fails to serve is worthless! What good is it?  Young’s literal translation asks, “What is the profit” of a faith that doesn’t serve? It’s worthless! Jesus lived the most profitable, worthy life ever lived because He lived it for God the Father & for others! For US! He gave Himself up for all the sins of all people of all time! So, how can we say we love Jesus if we live our lives just for ourselves? That’s the message James is trying to get across to the churches he’s writing to:  “A loveless faith is worthless!” It has no value to God; or, to anyone else! He finishes by saying that any faith that fails to serve is DEAD! (v.17)

-As Good As Dead!

He says, “…faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” (v.17).  He’s NOT preaching that we are saved by good deeds; or, that we serve others to earn our salvation! No! It’s in the serving & the ministry that our “faith” PROVES to be ALIVE! Otherwise, “…it’s dead by itself.” It’s just empty words! The 16th-century reformer, John Calvin, once said:  “It is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies can never be alone!” There have to be acts of service & works of love to prove it’s genuine faith. So let me close by making this appeal to you—seek service & ministry opportunities both within your faith community & your city! Not on the basis of obligation; but, because your faith is genuine; and, like Jesus, you’re a “friend of sinners.”

 

The Proof Of Your Faith!

-As You Wish!

One of my all-time favorite movies is The Princess Bride.  It’s a romantic comedy; and, if you haven’t seen it, you need to! It’s a classic! It begins in the home of Buttercup, who’s dressed in the drab brown clothes of a peasant girl; but, orders everyone around as if she were royalty. Another peasant, named Wesley, is a laborer on Buttercup’s farm; and, the narrator—Peter Falk, he of Columbo fame—says that Buttercup’s greatest pleasure, in life, came from tormenting Wesley. She calls him “farm boy” & orders him to do all kinds of menial, boring jobs. But, regardless how menial the task, Wesley always responds the same way— ”As you wish!” While she’s incredibly condescending toward Wesley, he never refuses her demands; and, his attitude is always kind & willing. One day, she has an epiphany; and, the narrator says:  “That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying, ‘As you wish’ what he really meant was ‘I love you.’”

-Communicating Love!

I love that line because it fits so well into a Biblical conversation about service. It’s Buttercup’s realization that Westley was communicating his love for her, through his service to her, that holds such a remarkable spiritual parallel to something the Spirit of God inspired James to write:  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” James 2:14-17.

-The Invisibility Of Faith!

By its very nature, faith is invisible! You can’t see it! I can tell you that I have faith; but, I can’t show it to you.  James says, however, that faith can be seen through good works or acts of service & ministry.  He uses this imaginary person who claims to have faith; though, it can’t be seen. But, James disagrees:  “Yes, you can!” he argues, “You can see faith! You see faith when a believer offers to serve someone who lacks food; or, the necessities of life.” And, then, he uses the example of Abraham in the verses that follow. You can see Abraham’s faith, in his obedience to God, when he offered Isaac, his son, on an altar, James argues.

-Works Cooperate With Faith!

Abraham’s works were cooperating, with his faith, so that His faith actually became visible through his works. He offers Rahab, as another example, in his text.  In essence, James shows us that saving faith always produces acts of service that evidence it’s genuineness.  That’s why it must be a core ministry value, for every community of faith, to serve widows & orphans & others who are marginalized by their neediness. God’s word tells us that’s really the only way people can SEE our faith! Our faith is seen in the way that we love people! That means that any “faith” that fails to serve is, at best, questionable! James asks, “What good is it my brothers if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” It’s no good!