Last Sunday, I preached on the leadership qualities found in 1 Peter 5. During the course of the sermon, I mentioned how people are desiring to return back to “normal.” Here is what I said:
“What I hear people say they are ready for things to get back to “normal”, what they are saying is they are ready to go back to the way of life they had before this shelter-in-place / social/physical distancing we have had to do over the past few months. This has been really difficult for many people, many businesses, and many relationships. What I have not heard a lot is, how is God asking us to use this time to grow closer to him? We keep saying we are ready to get back to normal that I get nervous we haven’t been asking God is if he wants us to go back to the way things were. See, getting back to “normal” is a coping mechanism because we are seeking some sort of control back in our lives. We find comfort in our routines. But seeking to get back to “normal” is also selfish in many ways because we are wanting our lives to go back to the way they were, free to do as we wish and go where we want. This is one of the challenges I have as a leader of this church. There are many pressures to bring back the social dimensions of the church sooner rather than later. Why? Because relationships matter. We were not made to be alone or to distance ourselves from others for prolonged periods of time.”
The truth is I do not want us to return back to “normal” because “normal” may not be who we were actually meant to be. This is why I think it is important to constantly find how God is working in the midst of this pandemic and whether or not God wants us to go back to “normal.”
See, “normal” for many means we go back to living just the way they want without changing to fit the needs of those who may need an adjustment to their way of life. My wife and I have an 11 year old daughter who is very asthmatic, and a 9 month old who was a premie. I get concerned about both of them being exposed to anything that could potentially put their health in danger.
I do have to say, I have noticed more and more people seeking to be more considerate of other people who may be health compromised. I do hope this is a new way of life.
Maybe God is using this time to help us be more understanding of the needs and circumstances of those around us. Maybe God is using this time to help us see how we should value relationships and showing us what we can actually live without.
When I say I do not want to return to life as “normal”, I mean I do not want to be selfish or only think about my rights or my “to-do” list. We are ll in this together and everything we do impacts another person in on way or another. My prayer is we all find ways to live in this world in more peaceful ways I pray we all can find ways to demonstrate the love of God for the world, in more ways than we ever dreamed. Maybe God is using this time to reveal a level of compassion we never dreamed possible.
I recently saw this video and think much of what it says is spot on:
What are your thoughts?
As you and I continue to move forward and returning to life, how do you sense God leading and moving during these past few months? How is your relationship stronger with him? How is your faith life?
I pray you continually see the work of God in and through your life and we all learn to live in a “new normal” way of life that is more eye-opening about the work and presence of God in your own life and in the world.
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In my “past life”, I was a martial arts instructor. This was a huge part of my identity and how I lived in the world. I would love to watch MMA fights, advance in rank, and there were times I really enjoyed being in charge. This was something I really enjoy practicing, teaching, and helping people achieve their goals.
When I stopped martial arts, and pursued a calling into vocational ministry, I had already earned the rank of 5th Degree Black Belt. I don’t say this to brag. My wife even says it’s pretty cool to be married to a pastor who knows “karate.” I like that :).
There are a number of books and classes on how to defend yourself, and most are good. I would encourage you to find books, videos, classes to help learn more techniques.
Since living into this calling in ministry, I have learn there are several things I still carry with me from my martial art days. I do believe these are key to helping people stay safe. In a way, these “tips” are something you can do to keep you safe, maybe even help if you have to defend yourself.
Number 1: Confidence
You have to have confidence in who you are. This means you have to know how much you can handle emotionally and mentally in any given situation. You have to be able to control your temper and find ways to stay calm in any situation you are in. Can you walk into any room and have the confidence not to conform and just be yourself? Do you draw attention to yourself in any negative way? If you purposefully bring negativity in your direction, then you’ll have to be good at using your hand/feet to be able to physically defend yourself. 98% of all self-defense is making sure we know what we can handle and to work to not bring negativity to ourselves.
Number 2: Mind Your Tongue
Now, you have to be able to control what you say. One of the things I tell my kids all the time is, “you don’t have to say everything that comes out of your mouth.” This is something that takes discipline and forces us to change what we think about. If we can control our thoughts, we will better be able to control our words. This is especially true to help make sure we are not causing other people to o get angry, on purpose, causing us to have to physically defend ourselves.
Number 3: Know Your Surroundings
You have to be able to pay attention to everything going on around you and know what could be an obstacle. You see this in spy movies when they’re training their agents. One of the tricks is to look at your surroundings, slowly, from left to right. This may seem odd, but it really works. It’s a mind trick for Western thinkers. Since we are taught to read from left to right, our minds can and do remember information, remember what we see, more when we look at our surroundings from left to right. Try it and just see what you can tell the people your with about what you saw.
Number 4: Stand On The Strength of God
“If God is for us, who can be against us?” That is a question in the book of Romans chapter 8 and is a great truth to pay attention to. Now, does this mean no harm will come to you? Nope. But it means that we can always rely on the reality God is with us and we do not need to be afraid of other people, or what they can do to us physically. Unfortunately people do get hurt. They get hurt in unimaginable ways. I so wish this were not so. Many people get hurt by the hands of others who over powered them. This is not their fault. There is evil in the world we cannot escape. But, I can promise that if we continue to lean on God, then we can always remember who we are and that Jesus keeps his promise to never leave us or forsake us. Even in the darkest times, God is with you, working to protect your soul and seeking to give you the strength you need to survive and find new life in him. If you have been hurt by a person (physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, spiritually) I am so sorry and I pray you are able to stand strong in the truth of God and justice (things being set right) happen in your life.
Number 5: Don’t Worry About Getting Hurt
We cannot escape this life without any pain. But we do not need to be afraid of the pain. Pain can work to bring us closer to understand grace. Pain is a way of showing us what is wrong. The reality is, we live in a fallen world and no one is immune to pain or can escape it. Pain is not just physical. Pain is also mental, emotional, spiritual, even in our relationships. You do need to know how much pain you can handle so you can know what you need to do if/when you have to defend yourself. But know that there is still good that does come out of pain. The good that comes out is making you into the person God created you to be.
Now, did any of these surprise you? To be able to defend yourself, you have to know yourself: what you can handle, what you are willing to do, can you control your anger, where do you like to go, what type of people are your around, are you prepared to handle any law enforcement/legal issues that may arise? Take time to evaluate these questions, take time to know the law on self-defense. Trust in the gifts and person God is creating you to be. The absolute best defense is to trust completely in God and to stay out of trouble or any areas that are tempting, but not good for you.
““Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.”
Exodus 20:8-11 NASB
YHWH gives this Sabbath command for the people. This is more of an invitation to stop being restless and live in a restored relationship with YHWH, as at the beginning of creation. Not only is this invitation (command) for the people, but also for all of creation (animals, vegetation, land) to allow the created order to flourish, through times of rest, as designed by YHWH.
The Sabbath command is placed within the middle of the Decalogue, giving it significance to what YHWH finds important as well as show a balance in how to fully live out the relationship with YHWH (commandments 1-3) and with people (5-10). It is as if YHWH is saying, we are not able to accomplish this unless we take the time to rest (cease from normal work) and take the time to praise, celebrate, and glorify God on this holy day. “…the Sabbath would communicate that Israel’s whole life was to be lived in imitation of the Lord.” (Blackburn, 71) The covenant YHWH is making with Israel is working to set Israel apart, making them holy. This is something the people are to teach to their children, grandchildren, and through the generations.
זָכ֛וֹר֩ (remember) is used to begin this section of this commandment. The active state of remembering o keep the Sabbath day holy (set apart) is an act of keeping YHWH as the only God Israel would pay attention to and live for (commandment number one). “The force of the Sabbath, then, is not simply in remembering the fact that God created the heavens and the earth, but also remembering how he created the heavens and the earth, through establishing an order that brings blessing and ensures Israel’s well-being.” (Blackburn, 111) Again, this commandment is set here as a reminder (an invitation) to step into the creative work YHWH has done, is doing, and will do in the world. It is a command to live in such a way that Israel has a completely whole relationship with YHWH, not like the other nations who worship other gods. “Remember” is a key theme throughout the Pentateuch and the rest of the Old Testament. There were many times when Israel “forgot” YHWH and his law and chose to go their own way. But “remember” is also important with YHWH because he never forgets his people or his promises, something Israel was supposed to embody. “Remembering” the seventh day, as a day of rest, is a tangible reminder of what Israel was to be about—the work of God in the world as his priests and a holy nation to the rest of the world. ““Remembering” is more than a mental act, it is an active observance (see God’s remembering in 2:24).” (Freitheim, 229)
The seventh day (symbolic of the day YHWH rested) is a שַׁבָּת, לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ (Sabbath to the LORD your God). This was to be a day different from the other six days of work. The Sabbath day is a day to stop doing “normal”, “everyday” work. “Derived from a verb meaning “to cease, stop,” especially from work, the sabbath day was patterned on the divine rest from labor at the termination of creation. It was a day of rejoicing and feasting, related particularly to creation (Ex 20:8-11).” (Alexander, 304) When Israel ceased from work, they were being set free from the burden of having to work for everything as the other days of the week. Stopping normal work allows Israel the opportunity to remember they need to rely on YHWH to provide for them, and to celebrate all that YHWH has done and has provided. “Not having to work freed the people from their material burdens so that they could celebrate their relationship with God and their families. On a holy day, numerous sacrifices were offered at the sanctuary to honor God and to provide an abundance of meat for feasting. Israel was commanded to make each *sabbath holy by observing it as a day of rest (Ex 20:8; Deut 5:12; cf. Ex 31:15; 35:2).” (Alexander, 425)
לֹא-תַעֲשֶׂה (you shall not) is expressed as an action that should not be taken in the future. YHWH giving this command, for future Sabbath days, is setting it apart and making it holy, making this day something different from the rest of the week. Brevard Childs writes, “Throughout the Old Testament the Sabbath is described as holy (Ex. 16:23, Lev. 23:3, Neh. 9:14, Is. 48:13).” (Childs, loc. 929) YHWH is working on making his people holy. At the same time, YHWH is using this command as a teaching moment to demonstrate the rhythm of creation. “God’s resting is a divine act that builds into the very created order of things a working/resting rhythm. Only when that rhythm is honored by all is the creation what God intended it to be.” (Fretheim, 230) As we have seen earlier, this command (invitation) is not just for the people; it is also for the created order (animals, vegetation, land). If Israel does not live into this command, then there will be consequences, and the consequences will bring chaos because there is not a time of rest. Not keeping the sabbath is a violation of the created order; it returns one aspect of that order to chaos. What the creatures do with the sabbath has cosmic effects.” (Fretheim, 230)
The Decalogue, Ten Commandments, teaches how Israel was supposed to live in the world. If Israel obeyed and kept this covenant, they would be blessed and be regarded as YHWH’s “treasured possession”. (Ex. 19:5) The people of Israel would experience the blessing(s) YHWH has in store for them. For Israel to experience the blessings this covenant would bring require them to be obedient to the voice of YHWH and keep their end of his covenant. If they do not keep this covenant, or obey his voice, the people will be like restless wanderers not able to find the rest, completeness, and identity they have in YHWH. “Restless wandering is a result of sin and its punishment. Thus *Cain was sentenced to be a “restless wanderer” (Gen 4:14 NIV), no longer able to settle and facing the insecurity of threats from enemies…Rest is therefore about more than safety and settlement; it also concerns restored relationships with Yahweh. It is an objective reality and an inner state.” (Alexander, 688)
Following the commands, and living into the invitation of YHWH’s rest allows Israel to live in a complete, restored relationship with YHWH. Israel as priests to the world would be the examples of how the rest of the world could enter into this kind of relationship with YHWH. “It is to this that Exodus 20 appeals, inviting Israel to participate in a weekly sabbath modeled on the original, very good creation (so also Ex 31:12-17).” (Alexander, 697)
Arnold, B. T., & Choi, J. H. (2003). A guide to biblical Hebrew syntax. Cambridge University Press.
Alexander, T. D., & Baker, D. W. (2003). Dictionary of the Old Testament : Pentateuch. InterVarsity Press.
Blackburn, W. R. (2012). The God who makes himself known : the missionary heart of the book of Exodus. Apollos.
Childs, B. S. (1986). Old Testament theology in a canonical context (1st Fortress Press ed.). Fortress Press.
Fretheim, T. E. (1991). Exodus. John Knox Press.
Check out this v-log on the 5 powerful words we can and should day to each other each day. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section.
What drives your actions and your attitude? Most people will say their determination, the family, their purpose. But below that there may be something else.
Look around when there’s a crisis and what do you see? People panicking and doing what they can so they survive. This is caused by fear.
Now, there is a healthy kind of fear and a fear that cripples our senses. We, as human beings, are driven more by the crippling fear than anything else. We work longer than we should because we are afraid the work won’t get done, we won’t get promoted, we’re scared we won’t have the money, we won’t have respect.
We scramble and buy things (like toilet paper, rice, etc) because we’re afraid we’ll run out. This puts us in crisis mode to get these “needed” items “in case” of a shortage, not realizing the “stocking up” is creating a shortage.
Now here’s something to pay attention to: it’s a lot of Christians with this mindset and demeanor out there doing these things and not being peaceful about it. (I know that stings for many people.)
But here’s the thing. We, as Christians, are not supposed to fear anything, except God. Think about this: whatever you fear is your god. This means whatever we give in to so it’s appeased (money in bank, extra food, people pleasing) is actually what we now down to and worship in our everyday life. But God says to fear ONLY him (no other gods before him). If we only fear God, that we do what he says and follow Christ. This actually brings us more peace because we live with the understanding this life is not our own and we should live to glorify God in all areas of our life with complete tru at in his provision.
In times of crisis, there is always the question, “where is this God you trust?” I’ll put this question on you. “How are you modeling Christ-like behavior while in public and in private? Where are you not acting like God desires?” As I write this, I know I’m convicted.
But this is what we should look for – ways to show the living God in us, through us, and among us. How can you be the light of Christ when people are clouded by the darkness of fear? What can you do to help protect the vulnerable in our community and world?
Remember, God is always working in our world and calling people to do his work with him. So, when someone asks you, “where is God?” can you ask them to follow you so you can show them the peace and joy you exude in the midst of chaos?
I hope and pray our lives are defined by faith in the living God and not fear from anything else the world round us says or shows.
What are your thoughts on this?
While I was sitting in the airport recently, I observed the people around. Some were in the hustle and bustle of their day. Some were very irate when their flight was missed or delayed. Some were very worried about not making connecting flights. The tension in airports is very high.
The airport is also one of the places where we will see people really only caring about them. I mean, people will run over you, or treat people bad if they do not get what they want. It is as if we have forgotten who we are and who we belong to.
This attitude is not only at the airports, it is all throughout our culture. I have this attitude, “it’s all about me and my schedule”, at times. You do too. We live in a world that makes us believe we are the central focus. We go for our preferences and say this is what God desires for me. We’ll look down on people because they do not have the same lifestyle as us, or their sin has caused more harm to them than our sin has caused us. We can get to the point we end up blaming God for what’s wrong in this world and can easily forget to thank and praise him for all the good and joy in this world. We can forget that God is ultimately sovereign over this world.
WHERE WE HAVE BEEN
A couple weeks ago, we talked about why there is suffering in this world. We looked at the phrase, “everything happens for a reason” and noted that many times the reason we have suffering is because 1) we live in a fallen world, 2) our personal sin does have consequences in our lives, and 3) we humans make decisions that impact more than we realize.
Last week, we talked about finding and knowing God’s will for our lives. The first thing to do is to seek God. God’s general will for all of humanity is to 1) love God and 2) love people. Everything else falls into place. There are times God will speak to you and guide you (call you) to do more; that’s why it’s important to keep a listening ear toward what God is saying.
This week, our point is simply this: God Wins.
Now, there is so much to this statement that we have to take time to look at it closely.
To us, WE LIVE IN THIS WORLD EVERYDAY. TO US THIS IS REALITY.
If we are constantly seeing all of the wicked, negative, and evil news all around us, we will actually miss God’s work in this world.
One of the places I like to sit and write is at Starbucks and McDonalds. I was at McDonalds one morning and saw many people coming into get their food and just pay attention to themselves. When, all of a sudden, a man walks in and sits down at a table with two other men. He has a concerned looked on his face. After he sits down, he hands over a letter and apologizes for his attitude and behavior and asks for forgiveness.
The other men vented their frustrations with him and told him why he was wrong. NO THEY DIDN’T. They listened to his request for forgiveness and sat there calmly talking things through. The conversation even got around to talking about faith in Jesus Christ.
Many people do not have opportunities to see this kind of behavior in the world because we get so caught up in what’s going on in our lives and what we perceive to be “news.” With all of this information being captured in our minds through our eyes and our ears, we can be filled with the knowledge that keeps us from seeing God work. We become numb to all the brokenness that we actually become indifferent to things working out for God’s glory or not.
I invite you to continually seek God and seek His heart in and for this world. See the world as God sees it: His creation that He loves so much that He will do whatever it takes to transform, redeem, recreate. He’ll do this work in and through His people more often than not.
But how can we see God working in this world through His church when there is so much negativity about the Christian church in America? How can we see God working through churches that are divided?
Statistically speaking, less and less people are believing in the power of God through His Holy Spirit, and there are less people going to worship in a community of faith. As the body of Christ, we have been gifted with the Holy Spirit to do great work and witness in this world.
Think about when this particular community faith was started in the late 1800s. There was a great desire to reach people for Jesus Christ by verbal witnessing and by acts of service. We can rekindle that desire to seek the least, the last, the lost (of all socio-economic levels).
Why do I mention this? If we lose our true heart for following God through Jesus Christ, it really all becomes about us and about our own desires and preferences. But God has given us His heart to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world because of the life changing relationships we develop.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, warned his followers:
‘I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.’
So, here is our challenge today: are there times when our zeal for following Christ less important than what we want to accomplish and do in this world, in our life? Do we lose the use of the power through the Holy Spirit in doing the work He has called us to?
The truth is we get so caught up with the negative news and junk that we lose our heart for the mission God is leading us to do. We can get so caught up with what we think is “wrong” that we forget to keep moving toward what is “right.” We get so caught up in saying what we are against and don’t always tell people what we stand for.
Every week, we gather for worshipping the Triune (three-in-one God). Every week, God faithfully shows up. There are times when I am so busy with my to-do lists and work that I can forget to pay attention to His presence. Do we expect to encounter Jesus Christ every Sunday in worship? Or do we only seek for what we think will “feed” us?
The Day of Pentecost came 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, This was a day when thousands, millions, of devout Jewish people would again descend upon Jerusalem to praise God for their harvest. It was during this time that God was showing the harvest He was reaping through the lives that were being changed.
Think about that. God had not forgotten nor given up on the world. Just because Jesus had been raised from the dead, this was not the end of the story.
GOD’S LOVE FOR US AND WORK IN OUR LIVES IS NEVER COMPLETE.
People were coming to know and follow Jesus Christ, as their Lord and Savior, by the thousands. All because Jesus’ followers were obedient to sharing the message of Christ wherever they were. The world was turned upside down by just a relatively small number of people.
Big things happen when small groups of people put their full trust in God through Jesus Christ and do His work in the world. The early followers were not concerned about what the rest of the world though they were lacking. They had everything they needed, the power of God through the Holy Spirit.
God has not given up on this world. Even with all of the chaos and negativity going on, God has given us the greatest gift and resource of all…God has given us Himself.
Our focus should really be on salvation. When we focus on salvation, we can have our eyes open to the incredible work God is doing all around us, and is inviting us to participate.
Now, salvation is so much more than where we will be after this life. Salvation is so much more than escaping hell. Salvation is living in the presence of God here and now. Salvation is knowing Christ.
This is why Jesus told Zacchaeus “today, salvation has come to your house.” Jesus was talking about himself being with and around Zacchaeus and his family.
What if salvation is not what we think it is…”getting to heaven”?
And living in perfect peace away from this world.
What if salvation is actually bringing heaven to earth?
What if it is about being “saved”, better word is “transformed” to be instruments of Christ to bring his light and love to a dark world?
Salvation is mainly about here and now not just leaving this earth to “go to heaven.”
Salvation is about transformation and redeeming (making right) the fallen, messed up world.
When the people of God live in ways where his light shines through them, we get to experience heaven (God’s full presence) here on earth and we can see how God’s love prevails and forces evil, or the hardships, to serve the purposes of God by being reconciled (reversed and made right).
So how does God’s love prevail in this world?
We have seen and learned how the worst thing in life is never the last thing. God forces the evil to be transformed and still work out the circumstances for our good – for the good of transforming and redeeming all of creation.
There are times when it doesn’t feel as if God is with us. How we feel about the closeness of God does not demonstrate the actual proximity of God to us. God is closer to us than we realize and He will be with us, working within us and through us.
As the Apostle Paul reminds us:
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Pentecost reminds us God is always with us because of the Holy Spirit. You and I are being called to be in the world to transform the world by bringing people to faith in Christ (think about who is NOT in a community of faith…have more conversations…want to learn how to talk with people about Jesus? I can help) and to serve in this world through missions – we have several opportunities coming up.
We get to help people see and experience the real presence of the Kingdom of God here and now – not just something to look forward to after this life
God’s love prevails and wins in this world because God ultimately has the final word.
We are already living in victory
We know the end of the story – Revelation 21:1-6
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth, ”for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.
Live as people who
Know God’s love for others (including our enemies and people we don’t like)
Go into the world showing and sharing God’s love wherever you are and with whomever you’re around
 Wesley, John. ‘Thoughts Upon Methodism,’ 1786.
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
“When you’re living in the will of God, everything is so peaceful and joyful.” “All you need to know is God’s will for your life.” “God will guide you in your life.
These, and so many more, are just some of the things we tell people about God’s will. I have said them before. While there is nothing really wrong with these statements, we do need to understand what we are saying.
God’s will. What does this mean? Does God have everything planned out for us that we are basically like his puppets for a play? How can I make sure I am living in the will of God?
Truthfully, we all have battled with this for most of our lives. We have to be careful though because often we can mistake what society, our culture, says is the right thing to do as the will of God for our lives. Think of how we are told to act, to behave, to achieve. Many people want to lead so this leaves us without as many “humble” followers as we need.
We tend to act as if this is God’s will for our lives because we will actually focus more on these attributes than following the Spirit’s historical and present movement and workings in the world and in our lives.
God’s will for our lives is so much more than just acting a certain way, or by achieving certain accommodations. God’s will for our lives has to do with our whole being, everything about who we are; and if we focus more on what will please society, we will completely miss the working of God in our lives.
Today is Mother’s Day. This is a day of great joy for many women because of their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. This is also a day of mourning for those who have lost children, whose children have gone astray. This is also a day of grief for the inability for some to have children. We recognize that all women have the incredible opportunity to be a mother-figure to many people. To be the ones who nurture and care for those down on their luck. To bring people to faith in God through Jesus Christ.
Hear this. Just because you, or someone you know may not have children, or life hasn’t given you what your heart desires, does not mean you are not living in God’s will.
To learn what God’s will is, we must first seek God AND know
OUR LIFE IS A WORK IN PROGRESS
God’s grace is with us even before we know it is. This is called prevenient grace. There is a time when we come to a place of realizing the grace of God through Jesus Christ and we accept Christ. This is justifying grace. Then there is sanctifying grace – the grace of God moving and working in your life to make you into a new creation, “born again,” made into the likeness and image of God.
There are a couple prevailing viewpoints of God’s work in our lives. Calvinism and Arminianism. Basically, parts and thoughts of Calvinism say that God has everything worked out and planned for your life, everything that will happen, even the words you will speak. God has already determined those who will spend eternity in either heaven and hell.
We discussed a couple weeks ago the concept of “everything happening for a reason.” We have noted that God may not be the one bringing the hardships in our lives. Hardships come because of the consequences of Sin. So remember we live in a fallen, messed up world.
Then we have Arminianism. To put it very simply, this is where we have the opportunity to choose God, even though he has already chosen us. Our lives are lived out because of God’s grace. God allows us to live and make decisions through our free will, a gift from God.
In this view, we have opportunities to live our lives with God, as a co-author. He will write the parts of our lives when we are following him. He also allows us to write parts of our lives when we are living for ourselves.
Our lives are a work in progress.
William Shakepeare says it like this,
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,”
Doc, Emmit Brown (from the Back to the Future movies) says, “your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it, so make it a good one.”
We will all make mistakes and will do things that hurt God and hurt people. God’s will for our lives is that we know him and follow him.
But hold on because
GOD DOES HAVE A PLAN
Yes, God does have a plan for our lives. I believe if we listen to the promptings and voice of the Holy Spirit, we will know what to do and what to say in all areas of our lives.
2 Samuel 16, Samuel learns that God is more interested in the heart of people.
John 2 says that Jesus knows people. Genesis 6 (and really the rest of the Bible, history, news, media, etc) shows us what life is like if we allow our sin to control us.
But, through all of the messed up parts of this life, God does have a plan. Take time to read through the entire Bible, not to see what God wants you to do in specific aspects of your life; but to learn about the character of God and how he has worked, will work, and is working in the world and in your life. Learn about Jesus Christ, God in flesh, who showed us how to live.
God desires for you and I to know him.
2 Timothy 2:4 “God, our savior, desires all people to be saved AND come to a knowledge of the truth.”
Psalm 46:10 “Be still and KNOW that I am God.”
Hebrews 3:15, 4:7, Psalm 95:7-8 “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
So what are some other aspects of scripture, we can pay attention to?
The 10 Commandments give us a basic model for how we should live our lives:
- You shall have no other gods before me.
- You shall not make or worship any idols.
- You shall not use the name of God in vain, or as if it had not significance.
- Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
- Honor your father and mother.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not give false testimony (lie) against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet (be jealous/envious) of your neighbor’s possession, family, etc.
The Apostle Paul also writes “this is the will of God for your lives” in 1 Thessalonians, and this same message is sprinkled throughout his writings. So I am challenging us to read through his letters this week (Galations – 2 Thessalonians)
Scripture gives us a very high standard of how we are to live our lives.
Jesus even said we are to be lights on a hill, to be salt in the world.
We cannot live this way unless God is working in and through our lives. Every time we share our faith, we can show people the light of Christ in the world. Every time we do a good deed we show people good works in this world. Every time we point people to the grace of God through Jesus Christ, we give people the opportunity to see God working in and through their lives.
When we read scripture, we see several, separate, things that are part of God’s will. Here it is in a nutshell:
Jesus summed up everything with two phrases “love God, love people.” This is God’s will for our lives.
Also, Colossians 3:17, do everything for the glory of God, whatever you do.
Above all of this, always remember:
GOD IS USING YOU AND SHAPING YOU
Throughout our lives, we are given new mercies each morning. How do we use and live into these mercies?
If I were to ask you, today, “how is your walk with Jesus Christ deeper, fuller, and richer than it was this time last year?”
See, too often we can get into a “comfortable” place and desire to stay in that phase. We tend to talk more about the peace of God when everything is calm; but we talk about everything we have to get done when everything is chaotic.
God is shaping us to be people who live our lives for him and share his love and grace in a world that really doesn’t want anything to do with him. Remember, we have talked about the worst thing in life is never the last thing, and God is with us and giving himself to us no matter what we’re going through, good or bad.
The Apostle Paul writes, “And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
God is shaping us to be different, and live our lives in such a way that the world around us does not draw us in. We are to be “living sacrifices” in this world, always seeking where God is working. Always seeking to bless God with joining him in his work. Always focusing on what God will provide instead of only looking at what we may be lacking.
God is shaping us, as he uses us, to show the world what real life is. When we realize this, we understand it is
“GOD-INCIDENTS” INSTEAD OF CO-INCIDENCES
A couple weeks ago, Solomon and I went to get our haircuts. When we walked in, there was one other lady getting her hair cut and 2 stylists. As we were waiting for our names, and even while Solomon was getting his haircut, this lady who was getting her hair done, began to talk about everything wrong with the medical system, her doctor, and her illness. I stood by Solomon, watching him get his haircut and listening to this lady talk.
We were in a hurry and she was just talking and talking and talking. I am a very patient man. J
It got to the point when I felt, nudging, I needed to intervene. I could tell the stylist was getting tired of listening. So, I gave some advise about a particular doctor I tought could give her the care she was wanting and told her how I knew the doctor. Y’all, she kept talking and complaining.
Did I mention I am a very patient man?
I looked at her again and reiterated she needs to make contact with the doctor I suggested. At this point, I looked at the stylist very seriously and asked (in front of the lady), “Can I get my haircut now? We’re in a hurry.” (Not one of my finest moments.)
But, when I sat down to get my haircut, the stylist said “she wasn’t talking about any of that until you got here. I guess you were supposed to be here at this time today.”
How many of you have, in hindsight, discovered you were in the right place at the exact right time?
Throughout my life I have come to not believe in coincidences anymore. I believe these are all God-incidences, where the Holy Spirit nudges and prompts us to be somewhere, or say something at that right time a person needs to here it, or just have someone to be with.
I have had many moments like this in my life. I know you have too.
As we seek to live into God’s will, remember that life will not always be easy. We will not always know what we are doing. Plans may fall through or change. We may experience great hardship. But through it all, God is with us and is leading us.
So, what is God’s will for our life? I think the Apostle Paul sums it up nicely:
“We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,”
When we seek to live our whole life for Christ, we will see his will being lived through us no matter what stage of life of circumstance we’re in.
 Shakespeare, William. “As You Like It”. Act 2. Scene 7.
 “Back to the Future” Part 3 movie
 Matthew 22:37-39
 Colossians 3:17
 Romans 5:2b-5 NIV
“So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.
He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long.
If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you have heard questions like, “How can you believe in a God who would allow this to happen?” or “Why did God take my child, husband, wife, daughter, neighbor, friend, etc.?” or “If God is really loving then God is not all powerful and if God is all powerful then God is not loving and just.” These are reasons many atheists give for not believing in God.
These are legitimate questions people face when it comes to reconciling what is taught and believed about God with what is happening in the world.
There is a theological term that is used to when people attempt to reconcile belief in an all powerful God with all the suffering in the world: theodicy from the Greek words meaning God and justice. In other words, theodicy, is an explanation of the justice of God in the face of counterevidence, what we witness everyday.
Jeremiah, the author and prophet of Lamentations when Jerusalem was destroyed, was so distressed and depressed about the state of the people of God because of what they were going through and what he had to tell them. So, he began to feel as if God was the one who was punishing him.
Harold Kushner, rabbi and author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, writes, “Like every [person], I pick up the daily paper and fresh challenges to the idea of the world’s goodness assault my eyes: senseless murders, fatal practical jokes, young people killed in car accidents on their way to their wedding or coming home from their high school prom. Can I, in good faith, continue to teach people that the world is good, and that a kind and loving God is responsible for what happens in it?”
He writes this in the beginning chapter of his book. The reason he wrote the book is because he and his wife lost their son, Aaron, just after his 14th birthday due to an lifelong illness. Kushner began to wrestle with the notion of suffering and God.
His story is a lot like many others. Many people here can relate to this story on some level. Loss of a child, infertility, murder, cancer, a loved one taking their life, and so many more. We can look at the news and see natural disasters all over the world taking lives and causing so much destruction. Often times, we are left with, “Why did this happen?”
Over the next few weeks, we will be in conversation by looking at questions people have such as, “Why do the innocent suffer?,” “What is God’s will for my life?,” and ultimately we will focus on how God’s love and presence in this world prevails. There is no way we can cover everything and completely resolve these issues in 4 weeks, but this gives us a good starting point.
I am not going to pretend to know why everything happens in this world; but I am holding strong, and I’m encouraging you, to hold tight to the One who does know each person’s heart, cling to the One who never leaves you nor forsakes you.
WHAT YOU BELIEVE ABOUT GOD DETERMINES HOW YOU HANDLE LIFE’S SITUATIONS
When we look in the Bible, we see lots of people suffering. There are several verses that make us believe God is the one who brings all the suffering because it is what the people deserve:
Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds.
Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them! They will be paid back for what their hands have done. (Isaiah 3:10-11 NIV)
I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.
(Lamentations 3:1 NIV)
“Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?” (Job 4:7 NIV)
We can pick these verses out and make it seem like God is the ultimate source for all of our suffering in the world and it is because we deserve it.
But the Bible actually paints a different picture for the people of faith. The Bible shows people who have refused to let go of their faith in spite of their surrounding circumstances and see God in every situation.
Joseph (Jacob’s son) is sold into slavery by his brothers
The Israelites spent 400 years oppressed by the Egyptians
Moses does God’s work yet is so miserable that he wants God to take his life
King Saul spend years searching for young David to kill him
The book of Job is about a man who suffers terribly, yet does not give up his faith
At the center of the New Testament is a man who was beaten, abused, and finally nailed to a cross.
The disciples were martyred.
Paul was beaten and put in prison many times
Following Jesus Christ does not mean we will have an easy life; but we are promised that God is with us in every situation.
The writer of the 73rd Psalm reminds us, “my flesh and my heart my fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
And Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Philip Yancey writes, in his book Where is God When It Hurts, “Faith in God offers no insurance against tragedy. Nor does it offer insurance against feelings of doubt and betrayal. If anything, being a Christian complicates the issue.”
It is important for us to understand how the bible shows God in people’s lives during suffering. God is present in the biblical characters lives through all aspects of their life good and bad. He is with you always too.
Another notion we should consider (reconsider) is what people will often use to bring comfort:
Everything happens for a reason.
WE NEED TO RETHINK AND BEGIN CHALLENGE THE NOTION (and really stop telling others): EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON
We use this phrase in an attempt to bring comfort to those around us, to those going through hardships.
We usually mean to say that God has a plan for you and you will one day see this plan through your suffering.
Well meaninged Christians say this to try and tell people, most of what they’re going through is not their fault. There was a reason for the tragedy, suffering, illness, etc.
Yes, there are reasons why everything happens. But let’s rethink this idea for a bit, in the manner we typically use it. When we tell people “everything happens for a reason,” we find we give them an opportunity to blame God for what happened. Many, still, will come to believe they have done something wrong and God is “smiting” them and causing this to happen. Incredible guilt and shame can (and does) come upon people when we present ideas that cause them to think God caused the suffering for their behavior.
I know of a family whose 9 year old daughter developed a terminal brain cancer and the pastor of their church told them the reason their child has this cancer is because they were not faithful enough and did not come to church like they should. The family felt a tremendous amount of guilt.
When we say “everything happens for a reason,” or “it must have been the will of God,” we are also implying that God is the one who brought the tornado, hurricane, earthquake, etc. We are telling people God put it in the heart of the murderer to kill that person.
But I think what people try to say is “we live in a fallen world and a world of cause and effect.”
Things do happen for a reason. The reason could be some of the choices people make, or where they happen to be when the natural disaster strikes, etc.
We have to be careful not to attribute all disasters to God – He may not have brought them – we could easily violate the 3rd commandment (using God’s name wrongly) and misrepresent the nature and character of God..
When non-Christians hear Christians say things like, “everything happens for a reason” and “it must have been the will of God,” they are left with an impression of God that is hardly loving and just, but instead left with a picture of God who wills evil and suffering in the world.
Let’s consider some ways to make sense of the relationship between God and human suffering.
THINGS TO CONSIDER:
- God gave humans dominion (stewardship authority) over the earth
“So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” 
We live in a world that God has given us authority to take care of. God has given us intelligence, a soul, conscience for us to know right from wrong.
God, in his providence, did not leave us to our own devises to rule and care for the planet. There are natural laws set in motion that govern the seasons, help cool the plant, protect the earth and everything in it, and these natural laws are predictable.
God has also given the Law to show His people how to live. He sent the prophets to redirect people’s lives toward God. When these were not enough, God gave us Jesus Christ who taught us God’s will for us by showing us how to live in this world: “to love God and our neighbors as ourselves, to do unto others as we’d have done to us, that we forgive, that we clothe the naked and feed the hungry, that we welcome the stranger, that greatness is found in serving, and that by Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross he demonstrated to us what sacrificial love look like.” “Finally, God gave us the Holy Spirit to ‘guide us in all truth’” and the church.”
God uses his people to do incredible things here and even uses people to be the answered prayer of someone suffering, someone in need. Feed hungry children, care for the sick, seek God’s justice, encourage those who are discouraged.
We have free will.
At the beginning of the book of Genesis, we see that God gave Adam and Eve the choice to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We have always had and will always have the freedom to choose between right and wrong…God’s will be done or My will be done.
We love the idea of being free to make our own decisions and be our own person and we will defend this freedom.
Since we have been given free will, we are prone to stray from God’s path. Just look at the Adam and Eve story in Genesis 1-3.
No matter how you read this story (literally, figuratively, symbolically), you and I can still see ourselves in this story.
This story captures the idea of what happens to us, as humans, on a daily basis. Everyday, I hear the voice of the serpent trying to lead me astray, convincing me there is a better path than what God has said. I can listen to it, or I can believe what God is leading me to do or believe about Himself. When I listen to the voice of the serpent, a little of God’s paradise is lost inside me.
Straying from God’s path brings sin into the picture. The Hebrew and Greek words for SIN mean to “miss the mark.” When we do not live the way God desires us to live, we become so full of ourselves and we end up finding ourselves being drawn to the things that hurt us or others.
Sin is in every aspect of the human experience and leads to
Dictators and tyrants abusing people
Men and women violating their marriage covenant
This results in people worshipping false gods (idols) of
We have been given incredible power and authority over the earth, free will, the power to choose right from wrong. So let’s briefly look at God’s power and human suffering.
Natural disasters happen all over the world and many people die from them each year. Throughout human history, people have thought of these events as “acts of God.” Insurance companies still have clauses in their policies that talk about “acts of God.”
We now know, as a people, that these events actually have a good purpose for life on our planet. For example, earthquakes are the result of the movement of the earth’s plates, a process designed to keep the core of our planet from superheating. Without this, the earth could not support human life. Monsoons that bring terrible flooding are part of the earth’s system for cooling our atmosphere. When human beings get caught in these giant forces of nature, there is death and devastation, but these forces are essential to life on this planet.
It is okay to ask, “Where is God?” in our life situations.
So, where is God when tragedy strikes? One of the places, I believe, we can see God is him working in and through emergency personal, and disaster relief teams to bring a sense of healing and hope. One of God’s primary methods for showing the world his presence and care toward people is by sending his people out.
He sends his people to provide medical care, food, clothing, shelter to their communities and around the world so children don’t have to die of hunger. We see the state of our fallen world all over all sources of media. Much of the suffering in the world is still happening because God’s people are not hearing or answering his call. What is God putting in your heart to show how you can make a difference for transformation and healing in this world?
There is suffering that is caused by human decisions because we have been given the freedom to make these decisions. Some of the people angry with God are really angry with themselves for the decisions they’ve made. Our decisions (such as resources not being deployed out in areas of need, people not responding to God’s call on their life to share his love and help those in need) can have painful consequences for others.
In his book Night, Elie Wiesel writes about his experience as a boy in the Holocaust Auschwitz concentration camp. He says he keeps hearing the question, “Where is God now?”
The book, A Child Called It, depicts the true story of Dave Pelzer who somehow survived the worst case of child abuse in California history.
I have a close friend who lost his wife and child, while they were driving to church, because someone chose to drink and drive.
We know of businesses, who people invest their retirement into stocks, who fail because of bad accounting practices done to hide the truth of how the business was doing.
There is also suffering that is caused by illness. We live in a fallen world, and our bodies are not what God originally created them to be. Our current bodies are incredible machines that can heal themselves; but sometimes they just don’t heal like we want them to.
Leslie Weatherhead, a preacher in the 20th century told about his time as a missionary to India. A young Indian man he was ministering with had a daughter who had just died of cholera. The young man, with great resignation and grief said, “it must have been the will of God.” Weatherhead stopped him and said, “John, what would you think if someone crept into your veranda by night and held a cholera germ-covered cloth over your daughter’s mouth?” The man became indignant, “Such a man would be a monster!” Weatherhead replied, “But John, is that not what you just accused God of doing?” 
Sickness is not God’s way. When Jesus walked this earth, he spent much of his time healing people not making them sicker… So, do we blame God for the illness, or do we, with the psalmist, look at our bodies and declare that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) even though our bodies are failing us?
Disease, sickness, injury, and death are all part of having flesh and blood bodies. This is, unfortunately, part of our life. Part of the risk of living is that we might get sick and we will die. This is not God’s doing, it is simply part of having bodies like ours in a world like ours.
So, I invite you to remember that following Jesus Christ does not mean we’ll have an easy, pain-free life, and to keep thinking through what “everything happens for a reason” means when we say this other people. When we have the opportunity to listen to people going through very significant challenges, we get to be a source of comfort and God’s love, reminding them God has not forgotten them and loves them tremendously.
The truth is we live in a world where we do not always know the real reasons things happen or why people do what they do. But rejecting God won’t change the situation. Remembering God is present, asking God to be present, changes our viewpoint. We can then understand more, the Apostle Paul when he wrote (here’s a different version of Philippians 4:13), “I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.”
THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE
Christianity does not promise we will not suffer but does promise that suffering will not have the final word.
Israelites set free from slavery
David found deliverance from his affliction
And on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:21-26)
God does not bring unjust suffering upon his children; but he will force such things to serve his good purposes.
He will walk with us through all of the hardships, challenges, sufferings in this life.
NT Wright says, “We are committed, within the worldview generated by the gospel of Jesus, to affirming that evil will finally be conquered, will be done away with.”
The Apostle Paul puts it in a different way in Romans 8:18 “the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)
 Wright, NT. Evil and the Justice of God. Page 45
 Kushner, Harold. When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Page 10
 Psalm 73:26
 Yancey, Phillip. Where is God When it Hurts. Page 70
 Hamilton, Adam. Why?: Making Sens of God’s Will. Page 9
 Genesis 1:27-28
 Hamilton, Adam. Why?: Making Sense of God’s Will. Pages 11-12
 Hamilton, Adam. Why? Making Sense of God’s Will. Pp16-17
 Hamilton, Adam. Why? Making Sense of God’s Will. Page 25
 Hamilton, Adam. Why? Making Sense of God’s Will. Page 25, 26
 Hamilton, Adam. Why? Making Sense of God’s Will. Page 26
 Philippians 4:13 CEB
 Wright, NT. Evil and the Justice of God. Page 16