What About Pain & Suffering?

-Can People Change?

There’s a scene, from the 2005 movie “16 Blocks”, starring Bruce Willis, where a prisoner that Willis’ character has to escort to trial, at the courthouse, tells him that, “People can change,” whereupon Willis’ character responds, “Days change. Seasons change. Not people.” So, what do you think? Can people change? Is it possible for people to change? Can we lose weight & keep it off? Can we do a better job at the job? Can our spouse ever change some of their ways?

-Hoping Church Will Change You?

I have found, through the years, that people often come to church wanting to change! To get better! To kick some old, bad habit! They’re hopeful that God might help them change! I’ve also watched people get frustrated & impatient when the change isn’t enough; or, it doesn’t happen fast enough! And, they begin to question whether faith, in God, really works! Back a couple of years ago I watched the trailer for a movie titled, “An Interview With God.” It dealt with perhaps the most difficult of all difficult questions:  “Why does God allow pain, suffering & Hurt? If He’s all-powerful, why doesn’t He stop it?” The Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, was inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to address, in part, that difficult question.

-An Interview With God!

Think of it as a kind of interview with God, as we note what God has to say about pain & suffering! In no way is this meant to be an exhaustive message on the subject; but, hopefully helps us put together a bit of a Biblical theology on pain and suffering. Here’s what Jeremiah’s inspired text has to say about it:  God intends to train us, through life’s painful events, to trust His faithfulness & to look forward to redemption. Now, that’s certainly not the way Satan plans to use suffering! The enemy intends to use painful circumstances, in our lives, to destroy us. But, if you’ll trust God THROUGH the painful events, He’ll use those things to change you & to make you more like Jesus, our suffering Savior!

-No One Was Coming To Help!

At the time Jeremiah wrote down the words of his book, the end was very close for Judah & Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzar & the armies of Babylon are at the gates of the city! Jerusalem has been under siege for more than a year & they’re experiencing severe famine. It says that there was no bread to be found anywhere in the city; and, there was no relief in sight! There was no one coming to help them! That’s the background to Jeremiah, chapters 30, 31, and 32. Here’s why this is important to us:  because the response, of the Jewish people, is so similar to our response to pain. Our default response to pain, suffering, and, struggles is to blame shift! And, all too often, we shift blame to God! We curse Him for our difficulties! That’s true, isn’t it?

-In Time You’ll Understand!

Here’s God’s response:  “Why do you cry out about your injury? Your pain has no cure! I have done these things to you because of your enormous guilt and your innumerable sins “ Jeremiah 30:15. Get the picture? In a modern translation, God is saying, “Why are you crying? Stop it! I’ve done this to you! But, it’s not what I wanted to do to you! I wanted to bless you! But, you’re guilty of so much sin I can’t even count ‘em all!” The chapter finishes like this: “Look, a storm from the Lord! Wrath has gone out, a churning storm. It will whirl about the heads of the wicked. The Lord’s burning anger will not turn back until He has completely fulfilled the purposes of His heart. In time to come, you will understand it” (30:23-24). So, God intended to unleash His wrath, against sinful Jerusalem, until they, “…come to understand…” that they were the problem, NOT God. Until they’re broken over their sin! We’ll get into this a little deeper next time!

Don’t Dismiss God’s Warnings!

God’s Not Trying To Kill Your Fun!

God’s warnings are never designed to kill your fun! But, rather, to offer you greater blessings & more fun! Pure fun without the shame and guilt that the “pleasures of sin for a season” may offer us! Don’t forget this truth:  “It is because God is love that He punishes us to bring us to brokenness so He can redeem us.” He warns us because He has compassion on us! Because He loves us! And, how does God respond to His people when they confess their sin & return to Him? He restores them, doesn’t He? That’s what He did with Adam & Eve; with, Abraham & the patriarchs; and, with Israel on multiple occasions!  He would bring revival to their souls & their lives were blessed!

-God’s Patience Can Be Exhausted!

But, when individuals & nations continue in their rebellion, there comes a time— and, only God knows that time; so, don’t sin presumptuously, calculating how far you can go in your sin before God has had enough— there comes a time when God’s patience is exhausted; that, in order to accomplish His purpose, in your life, that He punishes! This is place where Israel’s sin had brought them in 2 Chronicles, chapter 36, “But they kept ridiculing God’s messengers, despising His words, and scoffing at His prophets, until the Lord’s wrath was so stirred up against His people that there was no remedy” (v.16).  Those are haunting words— there was no remedy! All that was left was God’s wrath! Only punishment!

-God’s Strange Work!

It was the only thing left that God could do to turn Israel around! There’s an incredibly revealing verse of Scripture in Isaiah that’s often overlooked; but, I think the message is powerful! Isaiah— one of the very messengers that 2 Chronicles 36 referred to— says, “For the LORD will rise up as He did at Mount Perazim. He will rise in wrath, as at the Valley of Gibeon, to do His work, His strange work, and to perform His task, His disturbing task” Isaiah 28:21. Inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, Isaiah says that God’s judgment is His strange work! His disturbing task! God, Himself, finds His judgment & punishment of sinners to be disturbing because it’s not His will that any would perish!

-Why Continue In Your Sin?

When you sin against God & His Word & you ignore His warnings, He will punish you because He is Holy & Just! But, know, that it disturbs Him to punish you for the great love & compassion that He has for you! So, why would you continue to turn against Him & go your own way? Why do you spurn His love for you & choose all the cheap substitutes that sin offers you? None of those things will satisfy! None will bring you joy & fulfillment!

-Forgiveness For The Prodigal!

Why endure punishment when God willingly offers all prodigal sons forgiveness! When prodigal Israel repents of her sin & returns to the Lord, to accomplish God’s purposes, He redeems them! Let me tell you what it means that God redeems them! There are at least 3 words, in the original languages of Scripture, that are translated “redeem.” in the Bible! One means “to buy or purchase”; and, it’s used in the context of a slave who is bought to be owned as property! At the time that God redeemed Israel, they were enslaved to Egypt. Here’s the point— we are all enslaved to somebody! We are either enslaved to sin, which is a cruel & destructive task master! Or, we are enslaved to a God who loves us with great compassion & willingly meets every need we have according to His will! But, once you’ve been redeemed by God, He will begin a work in you that’s redemptive! He reforms you to make you willing to obey Him & love Him!

Death By Neglect!

-Don’t Neglect Your Spiritual Life!

In my last post I referred to a great revival that God brought about, in Israel, under the leadership of an 8-year old king named Josiah (2 Kings 22).  Only God can spread revival, through an entire nation, by using an 8-year old boy! And, in the reforms, which King Josiah incorporated, it’s clear that neglect had been the cause of Israel’s spiritual death.  Genuine revival is evidenced when God’s people no longer neglect meeting together! Josiah was concerned with repairing Israel’s temple (v.3).  The temple was the place where God’s people gathered together to worship Him & offer sacrifices to Him!

-Signs Of Revival!

But, the temple reflected the moral condition of the nation! It had been neglected; and, rundown! It had fallen into a state of disrepair as the people had quit coming together for worship. So, one of the 1st signs of revival, in the faith community, is a renewed zeal for coming together! It is recognizing that it’s impossible to live out the Christian life in isolation from other believers! That’s something we struggle with here in the west, don’t we? We’ve been taught that the Christian life is an individual thing! It’s NOT! God’s people have always been a “community”; from, Israel, as a nation, to the local church today! In fact, it’s absolutely impossible to even live out & obey the more than 60 “one another” or “each other” commands, in Scripture, apart from a Christian community! So, when Josiah “…began to seek God…” the place of worship became a necessity once again (2 Chronicles 34:3). 

-Don’t Neglect The Word Of God!

For those of us who are part of the Morningside Bible Church community, that’s “big church” on Sunday mornings; and, “small group” gatherings throughout the week! We need each other to effectively live out the Christian life! To speak truth into one another! To hold each other accountable! Meeting together matters! There was a 2nd sign of revival under King Josiah— the nation no longer neglected the Word of God! The text reads, “Hilkiah the high priest told Shaphan the court secretary, ‘I have found the book of the law in the Lord’s temple,’ and he gave the book to Shaphan, who read it… Then Shaphan the court secretary told the king, ‘Hilkiah the priest has given me a book,’ and Shaphan read it in the presence of the king” (vs.8,10).  In the repairing of the temple, they uncovered a copy of the book of the Law. That’s a reference to Moses’ writings; or, the 1st five books of the Old Testament. 

-Proper Response To God’s Word!

And, notice the king’s response: “When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. Then he commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the court secretary, and the king’s servant Asaiah: ‘Go and inquire of the Lord for me, the people, and all Judah about the instruction in this book that has been found. For great is the Lord’s wrath that is kindled against us because our ancestors have not obeyed the words of this book in order to do everything written about us’” (vs.11-13). As the book, of God’s law, was read to him, Josiah realized how far the nation had drifted from the Lord. His shock points to the fact that the people had been unfamiliar with it for a long time! Again, I’m afraid that this is so relevant to our own nation & the church here in the West. So many sermons have become little more than the reading of a “token” Scripture verse misused to support our human efforts through self-help strategies! Josiah said, “Go inquire of the Lord.” And, so must we!

The Interests Of Others!

-We’re Too Bratty & Hard To Please!

Is it just me? Or, are Christians far too easily offended? It seems like there are an awful lot of really “thin-skinned” believers; and, modern culture & technology provide them this unprecedented number of places to vent their wrath—social media & reality TV & the internet & talk shows all offer a platform to puff-up our feelings of self-importance & fuel our self-righteous attitudes! It seems incredibly reflective, of our idolatrous society, that even Christians have become bratty & hard-to-please! I’ve eaten out  at a restaurant, with a Christian friend, who berates a waitress for bringing them the wrong dish & decides to write a scathing online review for everyone to read! Where is grace & mercy?

-It’s Embarrassing!

It’s really embarrassing when compared to the real persecution that believers face in other parts of the world! I mean, what else might be on that poor waitresses mind? A severely ill spouse? Up all night with a baby? Why aren’t we asking— with genuine concern— if they’re okay? Why not offer to pray with her? This stuff is epidemic; and, surveys are revealing that one of the main reasons the lost aren’t coming to church is because of the conduct of those who claim to be following Jesus! Instead of enhancing the Gospel of Christ, as Jesus intends, we’re part of the problem!

-We’re Too Easily Offended!

Right now, one of my best friends, in the ministry, is fighting a battle for his pastoral life because he “dared” to lovingly confront a mom & dad over their out-of-control toddler, who screams during the entire Worship service; and, they refuse to take him out of the service! They were “offended” that he would ask them to remove the screaming child for the benefit of the rest of the faith community! We were talking about this in our Thursday morning men’s Small Group & one of our members mentioned that of all the people he’s known, who’ve left the church over the last 20 some years since his conversion, he thought that no more than 3 or 4 actually had Biblical grounds for leaving! The rest left over purely selfish reasons! And, they will stand one day before the One who was beaten, mocked, spit upon & finally hung on a cross to die— “You left your church over that? Really? Go get a cross & deny yourself!

-Loving Others!

We need to beat the drum to LOVE OTHERS! We need to preach that message better and more often! Because most in the church, today, just don’t get it! We need to preach & teach the church how to love others selflessly & assume personal responsibility to deal with personal sin, resolve conflict & restore wounded relationships! The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Philippi: “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” Philippians 2:4. That last line is perhaps the most significant! If we’re going to be part of the solution, church, we have to “…LOOK ALSO FOR THE INTERESTS OF OTHERS.” Don’t just focus on your own interests, Paul says. We need to be rescued from our idol of narcissism, church!