Category Archives: God’s Judgment

Suffering For No Apparent Reason

I once knew a guy who thought God had it out for him. Everything in his life was going wrong. The problem was that he was responsible for most of things that were happening to him. When you get ticketed for driving on expired driver and vehicle licenses, this is usually your fault. Especially when they expired a year prior and were from a different state than where you have been living for a year. This was one example of many things. When I suggested that he might be the one responsible for the bad things happening, he was shocked.

Let’s get one thing straight at the start here. No one is perfect. My list of failures, blunders, and stupidities could wrap around the world a few times. Apart from the grace of God, there is no way I would still be standing today. If we are honest, we know this about ourselves. And yet, there are times that this life does not seem to make sense. Suffering and hardship seems to come when it should not have or when we would not have expected it to.

I know someone who finds themselves in a very difficult work situation. She has been teaching for about 20 years. She used to love her job. She works in an area that is tough economically and where many students drop out or don’t succeed. But she looks at these kids as if they were her own and works hard to help them, not only in her subject expertise, but in other areas of life. It is no surprise that many former students still contact her years later. In spite of all this, she is enduring suffering within her profession. Recently, an administrator sat in on one of her classes for 5 minutes, then departed, and then proceeded to give her a substandard teaching review. This is in her permanent record. Unfair? Yes. Infuriating? Absolutely. Immoral? Probably. One would only have to talk to former students and parents to know that this kind of review is not accurate or fair. And yet, there it is. What do you do?

I know a family. They love their children. They do everything that they can to provide for their kids. Life together started “normally.” They were married and in the next few years, their children started coming along. That is when things began to change for them. You see, all of their children fall on the Autism spectrum. Two of the kids are much more significantly impacted. I understand very little about autism, other than how I see that it impacts people, both those with the diagnosis and their families and friends. One diagnosis would be difficult. Three just seems like a kick in the teeth. What happened? Did God blink or something? Does He not care? Why would this level of hardship be allowed to reside with one family? As this family loves, works hard, struggles for solutions, and tries to do what is best for their kids, the many questions seem to go without answers.

I am reminded of the question Jesus was asked. “Who sinned?” (John 9:2). In other words, whose fault is this? We want to find some way to explain why these things happen. Jesus’ response was “no one.” Okay, that’s great, but what about the suffering? What about the hardships? Why does it seem like some people coast through life and others get dumped on, without any relief on the horizon?

In the Bible, there are examples of many people who suffered. Much of this suffering seemed undeserved. Two examples that come to mind are Joseph and Job. Both men endured suffering that they neither understood nor deserved. In Joseph’s case, God’s ultimate purpose was revealed. In Job’s case, it never was, that I am aware of. Job lost everything, except for a nagging wife, who told him to curse God, and friends who blamed Job for his own demise and gave him terrible and inaccurate advice. In the end, God restored Job and rebuked Job’s friends, but there was never an explanation provided. And I am sure that the scars, both physical and emotional, were a reminder throughout the rest of Job’s life.

Suffering is a tough issue to deal with. The very presence of suffering in the world is what causes some people to reject the existence of God altogether or to not want anything to do with a God that would allow such things to happen. And yet, if there is no God, suffering becomes even more terrible to deal with, in my mind. If there is no God, there is no hope beyond what we can achieve and survive in this life. There is no ultimate justice in the world. Many things will come to with an end without a satisfactory or just solution. I find that possibility a far worse option.

I have been recently reading in 1 Peter 2:13-25, where Peter is instructing believers to be subject to those who God has placed in authority over them. This included the emperor, like Nero, who persecuted and had Christians put to death. It included masters, who may have treated their servants cruelly. In this age of always defending our rights, this seems so contradictory. Why would Peter say this? He states the reasons. “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” 1 Peter 2:15

Okay, I can mostly get this. By doing good, it is a testimony to others by our obedience to God. But what about unjust suffering? This is where it gets more difficult. Peter continues, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” 1 Peter 2:18-20

God seems to clear up at least one thing here: there will be unjust suffering in this world. Peter goes on to say that when we endure in the midst of unjust suffering, it is a gracious thing in the sight of God. What does this mean? The ESV Study Bible suggests that this is an indication that God’s people will receive a reward from Him for enduring suffering righteously. In addition, it could also mean that patient endurance of suffering is evidence of God’s grace at work. So, regardless of the “why,” the suffering does not escape God’s notice. When we suffer and patiently endure, it is evidence of God’s grace at work in us and, in addition, that we will be rewarded by Him.

Following Jesus can mean so many different things. But here, Peter goes on to say that something that I don’t necessarily like to hear. We have been called to follow in the steps of Jesus. And in the context of this passage, that means following through suffering. What? “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2:21. In the context of this passage, I don’t think this can mean anything else. However, I don’t think this means that we go out looking for a life of suffering. I think it is meant to instruct us on our perspective to suffering. There are several things we can take from this.

First, this is a broken world. There is no way around this fact. The results of sin and a fallen human race are evident all around us. There are evil people who will cause suffering for others, whether on a small or large scale. In addition, the impact of sin has corrupted God’s beautiful design for His creation. Disease, disorders, and disabilities are not God’s design. These have come as a result of a broken world that rejected God’s perfect will. And until He renews and restores it at the culmination of history, we all will suffer the impacts of sin on creation.

Second, following Jesus will bring suffering. Jesus said that the world hates Him and, therefore, will hate us. We are living in an age in America where the allusion of a Christian nation is fading away. This world lies in the power of the evil one. It has since the fall of man. The Bible is clear on this. Satan will do whatever He can to destroy the work of Christ. We should not expect the world to stand up and applaud when we follow Jesus.

Third, Jesus suffered more injustice than anyone ever has or ever will. Jesus was completely without sin. God in human flesh. The Creator of the universe walking among us. Yet, He was despised and rejected by those He came to save. He was beaten, abused, cursed, and humiliated. And He bore the complete weight and punishment for the sin of the world. He deserved nothing but glory. He suffered more than anyone in history ever has or ever will. And in the midst of it, continued to trust the Father, who judges justly.

Fourth, because of Jesus’ unjust suffering, we can have hope. We can have hope because His suffering has provided us a way to escape a just judgment. In our sin, we deserve God’s wrath and judgment. Christ has purchased, through His suffering, our forgiveness through His blood. If we receive Christ, we are provided the righteousness of Christ as our very own. This is not justice. This is not fair. This is grace. And this gives us hope, for we can entrust our lives to the One Who judges justly. We can trust Him to resolve all of the suffering, grief, and tragedy that we see in the world and even in our own lives. It has not gone unnoticed. It will not be without reward. It might still be very, very difficult. It might not always make sense. We might doubt and struggle along the way. But our God knows our suffering. He endured it Himself on the cross. He promises to be with us all along the way, until we make it safely home.

“He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” 1 Peter 2:22-25

Together for His glory…

Weathering the Storm

If you drive by the church where we attend, you will notice recently that there are a lot of shingles missing from recent storms. In fact, many of the shingles that remain are very friendly. They will even wave to you as you pass by. Thankfully, this situation will be resolved soon, thanks to the efforts of some people who worked hard to get it fixed.

These shingles did not weather the storm very well. Churches sometimes don’t weather storms very well either. That is because they are made up of flawed people. However, those churches that endure are those that are built on a strong foundation and keep their eyes fixed on the call of Jesus Christ.

It does not mean that there won’t be hard times. Storms may come through and they may do some damage. Unfortunately, this damage is almost always done through people within the church, not outside the church. Sometimes, we focus so much attention on those organizations and people who are trying to oppose the church and limit the reach of the gospel. I’ve got news for you. They don’t hold a candle to the devastation that can be caused by the people within the church. And no one is immune. It could be me. It could be you.

There is a constant battle in this world. Jesus Christ has called us to shine the light of the gospel and share His love and salvation with others. However, our enemy will do all that he can do destroy the work of the church. And I think he has an easier time working within the church than coming at it with outside forces.

Gossip. Telling other people things they have no business knowing. Airing our frustrations publically to others within the church and even to those outside the church, rather than appropriately addressing them with the appropriate people or leadership.

Lack of trust. Automatically assuming that someone has done something wrong or has false motives. Not supporting leadership, as they pour their time and lives into helping the church move forward and grow. Questioning actions and motives of leaders and those serving, and drawing others into the discussion.

Judging. “Can you believe they are doing that?” “If it was up to me, we would not be doing it this way.” “I wish we did things like that other church.” The assumption is that those leading or serving have not carefully considered what they are doing or presenting. As if they are not doing what they think is best for the overall ministry of the church and to reach people with the gospel.

These are just a few of the things that can afflict and impact the work of a church. And they can kill unity and bring division. You know why more people are not involved in leadership and serving in the church? Because it hard. It is sacrifice. It has a cost. And it is easier to sit on the sidelines and commentate and throw rocks.

But for those of us who might decide to act in such a manner, we might want to consider otherwise. If we are acting in a manner that would bring us in opposition to what God is working to accomplish, do we think that it will be without consequence? Jesus said that the gates of Hell would not stand against His church. If that is the case, do you think he will allow one of us to stand in the way of building His church?

I try to challenge myself with this thought from time to time. Are my actions building up or tearing down what Jesus is building in His church? Am I a part of the problem or am I helping to build the church? I think our American mindset has too often clouded our perspective in the church. We think it is our right to contradict or air our frustrations about what we don’t think is right. Maybe we have a legitimate concern. If so, it should be addressed with those in leadership. If we handle it some other way or just complain and gossip about it, we are in sin. This is the church of Jesus Christ, established by Him. And He takes the church and its business seriously. And He will defend it.

As I look back on my life, I know that there have been times when I have gossiped and acted unfaithfully towards those who God has placed in leadership. Thankfully, God has been gracious and disciplined with kindness. But it was humbling and sometimes painful. I pray that my life would be devoted to building up and not tearing down. To encouragement, not sabotage. To standing with Christ, not opposing Him and His work in the church. Leaders are not perfect. But they are directly accountable to Jesus Christ for their actions. I think He can handle things better than we can.

I am glad that I am in a church where there are many who are committed to building the church and serving and encouraging others. We have weathered many storms. We will weather many more. Not because we are always right or are so wise or strong. But we will prevail because Jesus said we will prevail. If we place our trust in Word and His work in us to accomplish His work through us, He will build His church. I for one, want to be working with Jesus, not against Him. I pray that it would be so.

Together for His glory…

I’m Better Than You

The alternate title for today’s edition was “My Sins Are Not As Bad As Your Sins.”  We will rarely utter either of these statements out loud to anyone. However, if we examine are thoughts, I think they are very prominent in our way of thinking. As such, it reflects a misunderstanding of Who God is, who we are, the seriousness of our own sin, and the radical nature and magnitude of God’s mercy and grace.

As we become entrenched in the political season, we are confronted with many issues that frequently divide our nation. They can also divide the church, the body of Christ. Pick your issue. These are things that we feel very strongly about, and if a candidate or someone we know does not think the same way we do, we malign or belittle them. How can they think that way? What is wrong with them?

It is no different in the church. Again, pick your issue. Jesus said that the world would know that we are His by the way we love each other. And yet, on any given Sunday, in any given church, you can probably find gossip spreading in various corners of the building or right out in the open, as we express our “concern” over someone or some situation. “Did you hear what he said?” “Did you see what they wore to church?” “Did you hear what the leadership did?” “You know what I heard?” I could go on for a long time. The list is endless.

In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus told the parable of two men who went to the temple to pray. One man, a Pharisee, was very sure of himself. He thanked God that he was not like other people, like the tax collector standing near him. He bragged about how wonderful he was. Can you imagine the nerve of this guy? Who would ever brag to God about how great they are? However, when we compare ourselves to others, tear them down, or gossip about them, aren’t we doing the same thing? We are basically saying that we are better than they are.

On the other hand, the tax collector would not even look up to heaven. He beat on his chest and cried out to God for mercy, because he knew he was a sinner. He knew his standing before God. Apart from God’s mercy, he knew that he was without hope. And Jesus said that he was the one who went home justified. “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)

Friends, every single one of us is like this tax collector, whether we realize it or not. We have no standing before a holy God. If we try to stand before God in our own goodness or abilities, we will be utterly rejected. And yet, somehow, we seem to raise ourselves above others. We look at the lives of others and think to ourselves, “Well, at least I am not like them.” Really? Have we forgotten the price that was paid for our sins? Each of my sins nailed Jesus to the cross. Even if I had been the only person who ever lived, my sin would have nailed Him to the cross. And it is the same with you. Our sins, every single one of them, are a rebellion against our holy Creator.

When we look at someone else and malign them for their particular sin, it reveals pride in our lives. This is the pride of the Pharisee, forgetting that he needed God’s mercy just as much as the tax collector. Now, I think it is important that you don’t misread me here. I am not saying that the issue of sin should not be addressed. Issues of sin within the church should be addressed in a biblical manner (for the record, this does not include gossip). When sharing the gospel of Christ with others, it must include the seriousness and consequences of sin. Otherwise, what are we being saved from, poor self-esteem? Hardly!

In the end, I think most people know they are sinners, unless their consciences have been completely seared by sin. The Word tells us this in Romans 1:18-32. God makes it known to them. In my wife’s testimony, she tells of growing up without knowledge of the Bible or Who Jesus Christ was. But she said that when she would go outside and look up at the night sky, she said she knew that there was a God, that He was mighty and holy, and that she was not. When she heard the gospel, she knew she needed what Christ was offering to her.

The problem with us Christians is that we can forget we need the gospel, just as badly as those “sinners” need it. And we need it every day, not just on the day of our salvation. Our need of the gospel never ends. It is the very work of God to transform us from the enemies of God to being welcomed to His table, as His very sons and daughters. It is the righteousness of Christ that brings us to God and holds us as His very own possession, for all eternity.

So, as we live each day, we should remind ourselves that we have been given a gift so much greater than we deserve. We deserve the judgment of God. If we are in Christ, we have been given a glorious inheritance that is beyond our imagination.

And as we view the world’s events and conditions, we need to remember that there is only one thing that will bring true change. It is not economic growth and prosperity. It is not more money in our bank accounts. It is not political change, with the correct candidates or parties or policies. It is not in the education system. In the end, it is not in anything that we can create, build, or legislate. True change will come only through the transformation of individual lives, families, and communities through the gospel of Jesus Christ. And we are called to demonstrate this and live it out regardless of the circumstances in the world. We are called to live it out to those who need a Savior, just as badly as we do.

Together for His glory…

Examining My Idolatrous Heart

“The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy.” 2 Chronicles 36:15-16

As I have mentioned before, I listen to the Bible while exercising. Depending on my consistency for exercise, I listen some weeks more than others. I have found it to be a great supplement to my study of the Word and I recommend it to you. I have now made it through 2 Chronicles. The final chapter contains the verses above, which is followed by the judgment of God on His people. These two verses contain several things for us to consider.

God is persistent. For years, through multiple prophets, God had warned His people about their idolatry and their rejection of Him and His law. They were without excuse. The people could not say that they were unaware of God requirements. God had even brought smaller judgments and trials on the nation, in order to turn their hearts back to Him, but the revivals were short-lived. They would turn away again. Yet, God continued to warn and call His people to return to Him.

The persistence of God flows from His compassion for His people. God was protecting them from the emptiness and passing satisfaction brought by their pursuit of the gods of other nations. God knew that they would find no greater fulfillment or lasting joy than in their covenant relationship with Him. He wanted the best for His people, not just for the present generation, but for future generations. Therefore, He continued to warn and call them back to Him, in spite of their repeated rebellion.

Yet, in the end, the people would not have it God’s way. They wanted things their own way. They did not believe God’s warnings. In their foolishness, they did not think God would act. Or worse, they did not think He could act. They mocked His messengers and despised His prophets. They took on the practices and worship of the gods of the nations God had driven out before them. They did even more evil than the nations before them (2 Chronicles 33:9), even though they had been given the very Word of God. Their rebellion was a complete rejection of God.

Therefore, as the passage says, there was no remedy. God brought judgment on the people of Judah and Israel. They were killed or removed from the land He had given them. The temple, built for the glory and worship of God, was destroyed. The people God had chosen and delivered from captivity were now captive again. God was justified in His judgment. His persistence and compassion kept it from happening sooner. And even His judgment, He preserved a remnant of His people, once again demonstrating His compassion and faithfulness, even when His people were not faithful.

There are many lessons for us in this passage. As followers of Jesus Christ, we need to be guarding our hearts against the idolatry that is so prone to the human race. We need to continually examine our hearts, asking God to search our hearts and reveal to us the things which we are treasuring more than Him. Is God sending us reminders and messages that we are not listening to? Or worse, are we despising and rejecting them? Have we been taken captive by idols in our heart?

In the church, we are often quick to cast judgment on those outside of our evangelical Christian bubble. We target the big sin items in society. We condemn elected officials for not upholding Christian principles. If they would only operate on Biblical principles, society would be turned around. Really? The nation of Israel had the most Biblical framework of any nation that has ever existed. They had the very Word of God as their constitution, to put it in our modern framework. Yet, rebellion and idolatry and sin did not cease. There was corruption throughout the nation’s leaders, priesthood, and the people. As with Israel, all of our attempts will also fall short because of the idolatry of the human heart. At the same time we point our finger at society, sin and idolatry in our hearts could be impacting the work of the gospel through our lives and our church.

The human heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9). We deceive even ourselves. The work of the church is often hindered because of the idolatry of our hearts. Our preferences, prejudices, agendas, short-sightedness, and sin hamper the effectiveness of the church. Sadly, we don’t often realize it. In fact, we may even think we have noble or righteous causes. I have had to examine my own heart to see if there are convictions or positions I adamantly hold, but which may be working against what God wants to do in His church. I have to ask myself whether my ministry agenda and pursuits have become an idol in my life or whether they are actually helping to accomplish God’s purposes for His church.

How do we know? We have to continually examine our hearts, looking for these idols. We have to check our attitudes. When someone in leadership speaks regarding a ministry or mission, is my first reaction negative? Do I consistently question whether this is something that the church should be doing? Do I frequently criticize or grumble to others about what someone else in the church is doing? If I present an idea for ministry and it is not readily received or pursued, do I become angry and critical? Have I withdrawn from most of the activity and ministry of the church? If I have not physically withdrawn, have I removed myself emotionally or spiritually, so that I am just going through the motions? Have I become a piece of driftwood in the church, just floating around, bumping into things, causing damage and distraction, rather than intentionally engaging in ministry, under the leadership that God has put in place in my church?

I have been at our current church for 22 years. I have been actively serving, in some capacity, for almost every one of those years. And yet, I need to regularly ask myself these same questions. I routinely construct idols in my life or ministry that need to be cut down. I have disagreed with more things than I can count. There have been times when I have questioned why I am even at the church. However, God has allowed me to work through these things, hashing them out with leadership and others in the church. In the end, God has used these things to refine me and to reveal areas in my life where I was prideful and was not teachable. It is an endless process and I have a long way to go.

If you have a bur under your saddle, it may be time to lift up the saddle and see what is really there. What you find may surprise you. Instead of the glaring issue you thought was there, like an issue with a person or the church, you may find an idol you have erected in your own honor. I pray that we will be quick to hear the Word and warnings that God brings our way. We should continually examine ourselves, to see if our lives and faith are what God has called us to (2 Corinthians 13:5). The alternative is to leave God with no remedy but to discipline us, as He has always done with His people. Jesus said that He will build His church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). If the gates of Hell will not prevail against it, surely He will not tolerate one of us standing against what He wants to accomplish. My friends, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21).

Together for His glory…