Thursday, January 26, 2006

Suffering (continued...)

At the beginning of Acts 12 persecutions had broke out against the early Christians. If you remember from last week, James was killed and Peter imprisoned. Surprisingly though, Peter was about to be miraculously rescued from his captors. An angel of the Lord came and released him in the night (v. 7-10). Good news indeed for the disciples (so good they didn’t even believe it, v. 15). And to add to this amazing turn of events, King Herod was struck down by an angel of the Lord and the Word of God continued to increase and spread. It’s hard to believe God could use the suffering the early Church experienced at the beginning of Acts 12 to birth good.

Amazing as this might sound, God can cause good to come out of bad. He can take a hopeless situation and turn it completely around. Not fully convinced? Look at what resulted from humanity bringing evil, suffering, pain, and death into the world, God gave His One Son, Jesus Christ. And through His Son's sacrifice on a cross, He restored a broken relationship between Himself and humanity (available to all who confess Jesus as Lord and believe God raised Him from the dead.). I want to talk this week about the ways God can pull good from bad or how He can use suffering in our life to help us become more like Him.

How God uses suffering in our lives to help us become more like Him.
One of the many things I admire about the early Christians in the book of Acts is their reaction during suffering. Luke writes in Acts 12:5 after Peter was thrown into prison that “the Church was earnestly praying for him.” They turned to God. Earlier they had faced a similar situation and knew calling out to God in prayer was their only hope (Acts 4:23-24). That right there is probably one of the greatest goods to come out of suffering, people turning to God. What an example we set for others when suffering only strengthens our relationship with Jesus Christ. Something to think about the next time hard times come around.

Another way God uses suffering in our lives is, to strengthen us spiritually. If we never suffered, like an athlete who neglected training and exercise, our spiritual lives would become weak, lazy, and never taste victory. Spiritual growth occurs when suffering pushes us beyond our human limits and we realize our finite human condition and powerlessness. Then we learn what it means to totally trust in God’s perfect sacrifice (Jesus Christ) and His empowering Holy Spirit. Again, this trails back to turning to God amidst suffering.

Scary as this is to say, I see suffering as essential to the life of every believer. In our spiritual lives suffering functions like a proof to an algebraic equation, telling the truth about our relationship with God. If we have a solid or shaky relationship with Jesus Christ, suffering will show it. Think of friendship. How do you know you have true friends? Is it because they stick with you when times are good and nothing bad is happening? No way! You call them true friends because they stick with you through thick and thin. And when something bad does happen, do you blame them? More than likely you don’t (unless they caused that something bad to happen!). You rely on them and turn to them for help. Wouldn’t it be great if we could do that with God during suffering?

So I say all of this to say, suffering, if we allow it can bring us closer to God. I have no doubts that suffering can do quite the opposite too. I’m not na├»ve; I know things happen sometimes (i.e. death of a loved one, murder, suicide) and there is no explanation as to why and God seems further away than ever. But, I believe we make the choice on which way we want it to lead us. Goes back to God giving us free will (right to choose). The best example given on how to respond to evil, suffering, pain, and death is found in Jesus Christ. Read Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John and you’ll discover the author of our salvation (Jesus) was made perfect through suffering (Hebrews 2:10).

- What are your thoughts on this?
- What good do you see in suffering?
- Any experiences you would like share about suffering and how it helped
(or hurt) your relationship with God?
- Do you agree or disagree with any of this?

P.S. Next week. Something in or from Acts 13. Unless by unanimous requests you want to continue talking about suffering. Let me know.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Suffering (Acts 12)

Acts 12 opens up with a painful blow to the early Church. King Herod ruthlessly begins persecuting Christians and gains support from Jewish leaders. James is put to death by the sword and Peter thrown into prison. Troubling times no doubt. I imagine the early Christians asking each other, “Why is God allowing such bad things to happen?” Legitimate question, one I too have asked. However, the early Christians didn’t cower or run from this question, they continued to embrace God and speak justly of Him during suffering.

This week I want to begin talking about why God allows bad things to happen or why God allows evil and suffering in this world? It’s a question many ask and still seek an answer to. Some claim it as their number one reason for not believing in God. My hopes as we endeavor through this, are that we learn something new about God and how good and loving He really is towards us. He is perfect in His love towards us and He never wills us to suffer. It was never a part of His original plan for us. But nonetheless, evil and suffering exist in our world today.

Why does God allow evil and suffering in this world?
Thinking deeply about evil and suffering allows us to see that it ultimately points back to one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity, free will. Because of God’s love for Adam and Eve He created them to be completely free. In the Garden of Eden God allowed man and woman to make choices. They could choose to be obedient to Him and His one rule (not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil) or they could choose to be disobedient.

In Genesis 3 we see Adam and Eve exercising their free will. They were tempted by the Serpent and chose to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God didn’t step in and stop them because He gave them the choice. How could He have granted them total freedom if He didn’t allow them to be disobedient? And so we see it was from one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity (free will) that evil emerged. Human freedom gave birth to the evils from which suffering transpired. So we discover God permits evil, suffering, pain, and death in this life because He granted us free will.

Think about it this way, a god who feared evil would not have let it exist. But our God who is all powerful (Omnipotent), all knowing (Omniscient), and everywhere (Omnipresent) is unshakable in His sovereignty (Rule over entire Universe) even amongst evil. So firm in fact, He came to earth, lived among us, and remained the unblemished Lamb who never sinned. If God didn’t permit evil and suffering, His coming to earth, living a perfectly holy life, resisting sin, and dying for us would be meaningless. He brings hope to humanity by redeeming us to God through His blood.

So, why does God allow evil and suffering in this world? Because He gave us total and complete free will. And it couldn’t be called free will without the ability to choose freely right or wrong. And it was our wrong choices that let evil, death, suffering, and pain into our world. Now it becomes much clearer as to why humanity needs a Redeemer (Jesus). Thank you God for free will and redemption!

- So, what are your thoughts on all of this?
- Do you agree or disagree? Why?
- Why does God allow evil and suffering in this world?

P.S. Next week I’ll be back to talk about how God uses suffering to help us become more like Him.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Disciple of Courage (Acts 9)

Acts 9 contains one of the most famous conversion stories of all time (Paul). This event, monumental as it was, overshadows a man who was courageous, obedient, and a disciple of Jesus Christ. I’m talking about Ananias. Remember him? Read Acts 9:10 and you’ll be introduced to him.

“In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” (NIV)

God calls him by name and ask him to do the unthinkable. Go and pay a visit to a passionately brutal Pharisee by the name of Saul (aka Paul). So brutal, Ananias already knew him (word travels fast amongst church people). Word had spread like wildfire about this zealous sword-carrying member of the Sanhedrin. He desired one thing: Permission to throw anyone belonging to the Way (Lord’s Disciples) in prison. (Acts 9:2)

Yet, despite everything Ananias heard and thought about Saul he obeyed God. Don’t toss his story out so quickly. This is big! Here’s a disciple asked to disciple one of Christianity’s greatest theologians, only to fade away into obscurity ten verses later. What an example Ananias leaves us. Ananias had no idea Paul would co-author with the Holy Spirit some of the most inspiring books of our Bible. Romans, I & II Corinthians, and the Epistles. Ananias had no idea Paul would even accept him. God gave him no promise that his life would be spared. Yet, he was obedient.

It cuts straight to the heart of what it means to be a disciple of Christ, obedience to God’s Word and a willingness to lay down our life for others. Here are my questions to you:
- Would you be willing to trust in God’s Word only? Despite your feelings?
- Would you be willing to obey God if it meant making someone else better than you?
- Would you be willing to obey God if it meant fading away to never be heard of again?