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
A perfectly good God exists, and evil exists. This is a challenging enigma to contemplate and understand. After all, a good God would stop all evil and suffering from happening, so we would not have to experience it, right? This is where we need to pause and consider some of the characteristics of God and consider how God works in the world.
God is omnipotent. This means that God is all-powerful. Wouldn’t it make sense that an all-powerful God would be able to eradicate all evil in this world? But there is still evil, and many use this as an argument against God, or his goodness. This argument comes in because we have a misconception about the concept and reality of real power, mainly how God uses his power.
Real power is not coercing and forcing your will and desires on other people or situations. Real power comes from restraint, as well. Underlying the all-powerful nature of God is that his nature is of love. God can, and maybe sometimes does, prearrange circumstances to make sure things turn out as he intended, but this does not mean this is how God acts all the time.
Real power also comes from restraint. Since God is all-powerful, he can do anything he wants. Since God is loving, he does not desire his creation, us, to follow and serve him out of anything but a desire and a sincere love for him. Everything has been set in motion and is perfectly aligned and created to make life habitable here on earth for humanity. If there were one, seemingly insignificant part out of correct alignment, life as we know it would end. For example, if the core temperature of the earth was a degree hotter, or the earth’s axis was off by .01, life would not be sustainable. This is true even if the moon was an inch closer to earth. Everything is placed in the proper placement and, therefore, has been given natural laws to run so life can continue. Even though J.L. Mackie says the argument that God limits himself in our world takes away from the teaching God is omnipotent (all-powerful), this is one of the best ways to describe what’s going on.
Another aspect of God’s restraint from merely taking control and erasing evil comes from his great love for the created order, especially humanity. If God wanted people to follow him, no questions asked, he would have robotic slaves. This is not what God desires. God desires a relationship with his creation. Because of this, God has given humanity the “gift” of free-will.
Free will has been a blessing and a curse for humanity. It has been a blessing because we have been allowed to learn, to make our own decisions, and to choose what we believe. It has been a curse because we have also been given a chance to do good or to do evil. There is much evil because people have exercised their freedom to bring evil into the world, maybe even into our situations. This is called moral evil.
Moral evil does not explain all that is wrong in this world because there are things that happen that occur because we live in a world where sometimes things happen beyond our control. We cannot stop the destruction of natural disasters. We cannot always prevent illnesses and diseases that take life. We cannot stop people from making the wrong decision. We cannot stop the consequences from the actions of others affecting us (i.e., Enron or financial systems doing what they believe is right). This is called natural evil.
This brings us to the next question, “did God create evil?” Saint Augustine argued that God only created/creates good things. And since the whole universe is God’s, it is fundamentally good. He also says that evil is not a created thing; it is an entity and, therefore, evil is the lack of good. God is all-powerful and has created an incredible world and universe. He is also unchanging and eternal, but the created order isn’t. Creation is mutable and changeable and, therefore, is corruptible to manifesting as evil. This lines up with the account of the fall in Genesis 3-11. Creation, humanity, rebelled against God, and brought evil into the world.
Bishop Irenaeus taught something a little different from Augustine. John Hick has his rendition of this teaching—Adam and the original creation were innocent and immature but were offered the opportunity to do good by loving God and people. He goes on to say that evil is here because this is an “inevitable stage in the gradual evolution of the human race.”
There is an argument that we cannot know good without knowing about evil. J.L. Mackie argues this with a few points: evil is a necessary counterpart to good, evil is a necessary means to good, and the universe is better with some evil. One of the issues with this kind of thinking is that it implies God is the One who created and brought about the evil and suffering we experience in this life. There is evidence to support this thought in scripture, but we also have to understand people are going to do what they are going to do.
To know evil means we have the opportunity to know good. To identify good means we know what is evil. And this is precisely why we were given the Law in our Bibles—to understand how we should live, so we do not end up living an evil life and corrupting the world even more. The created order is designed to do what God set in motion through natural laws. Humanity is the only part of the created order that has been given the gift of knowing right from wrong. God must have known we were going to make the choices we made and still make today, right?
Many theologians believe that God knows everything—past, present, and future—and lives within the space of being able to see and know all possible outcomes and scenarios (probable and factual). This means that God knows every possible way we could act or think. Some argue that this way of thinking about the knowledge God has means humanity does not have free will if God knows what we are capable of doing and do what we want. Scripture teaches God works all things together for good—meaning, God has a plan in place for every situation we might choose so his perfect will is done here on earth, even amidst the evil that surrounds us.
The biggest thing we have to wrestle with is not, why has God not eradicated evil, but what do we believe about God and what do we believe about how God works in this world and yours and my life. Sometimes faith has to go beyond the intellectual level and go into the heart level. This means there are some things we are going to have to be okay not being able to reconcile, and we have to trust that God is working for the good in this world. If we believe this about God, we can put simple trust that what the book of Revelation says about a new heaven and new earth are real, and God’s goodness will win in the end. The question now is, how will you and I choose to live?
“But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”
Hebrews 9:11-14 NIV
When one speaks about redemption or being redeemed, what is meant is the action of God taking place inside the core of the person. The point of why people will speak of being redeemed is to show people what a relationship with God through Jesus Christ looks like and how their life is changed after encountering the risen Jesus Christ. “Evangelical Christians are so deeply concerned for those who do not know God…people are converted…because they experience the transforming grace of God through an encounter with the risen and ascended Christ.” (Smith, 219-220)
The Hebrew word for “to redeem” is ga’al (Richter). What does this mean? We can see many places in scripture that communicate the idea of redemption (i.e., Abraham saving his nephew Lot, Boaz and Ruth, Hosea and Gomer, and then when Jesus Christ’s resurrection is taught). The idea of redemption is “the state of having been bought back from fallenness…redemption is the effect of God’s saving actions.” (Oden, 685) Redemption has To understand redemption, it is necessary to know what we have been bought back from and how redemption through Jesus Christ has come about.
In the book of Genesis, chapters 3-11, we learn how the perfect relationship between humanity and God was broken and the effects that are still being lived out worldwide because of sin now controlling the intentions of humanity. The story of Adam and Eve listening to the talking serpent and believing it, Cain killing his brother Abel, the flood, Tower of Babel all tell of the state of humanity. The concept that is brought forth from these stories is the reality of Sin in our world and how we have been enslaved to living in sin and living a life of sin. “Sin is an overarching term for human resistance to or turning away from God.” (McFarland, 140) Sin has entered into humanity through the Fall, as described in Genesis 3-11. “Sin and the fall refer respectively to the character and origin of human resistance to God.” (McFarland, 155) What humanity deals with is found deep within. It is something humanity is unable to fix or get rid of on our own. “Sin is always a matter of attitudes towards God and others, so it cannot be detached abstractly from the person of sinners themselves.” (Fiddles, 188)
When a person begins to understand the concept and reality of sin, then the reason for God and the grace given becomes necessary to take humanity out of the grip of sin. “Theologically informed sin-talk…incites believers to claim God’s grace as a power that enables the naming and vanquishing of sin both in themselves and in the world around them.” (McFarland) Sin and the fall have corrupted the heart and will of humanity. We can try to, but we cannot deny there is something fundamentally wrong with the world humans inhabit. “By affirming that humanity is one in its fallenness…original sin means that no one is innocent.” (McFarland, 154)
There is a plan that has been set in place from the beginning to bring people, “to buy,” back into the perfect relationship with God, and that plan is through the person of Jesus Christ, God in flesh. Humanity seems to be preoccupied with the notion of wrath/anger between other people, and the idea of God being wrathful, vengeful, and judging. However, the “judgment and wrath of God is never a punishment imposed from the outside, but it is God’s active and personal consent to the inner working out of sin into its inevitable consequences.” (Fiddles, 187) All of this is happening in God’s perfect time, Kairos time. In this perfect time, God “‘ issues a challenge to decisive action’. ..announces ‘the salvation that we are hoping for’.” (McFarland, I, 260) God is working in people to take away the sin that keeps people from living the full, joyful, and peaceful life that God has had in mind from the beginning. “Christians cannot imagine…that redemption was a divine afterthought. The Biblical story is one in which creation and redemption are inexorably related, since redemption in all its dimensions takes place within a world, indeed a universe, that was brought into being through God’s grace.” (Ayer, 235)
Redemption is not just about making the individual a better person and able to live in the presence of God. Through the redemption Jesus Christ has brought in his life, death, and resurrection, the person is placed in relationship with God along with others becoming a “transformed human community…a new people being formed for a new creation.” (Fiddles, 177) Oden describes redemption as “the effect of God’s saving action…an overarching way of describing, in a single word, the liberation of a captive, release from slavery or death by payment of a ransom.” (685) “The goal of redemption is not a marbled mansion, but reincorporation into the [family] of our Heavenly Father.” (Richter) Ayre writes, “Thus creation and redemption are both expressions of the one essential reality, which is God’s desire for a meaningful relationship with the whole creation, and not least with the human community.” (235) This is simply called salvation by many people.
Now, it is important to be careful not to think that salvation and redemption are for the individual solely. It is vitally important to understand the plan of redemption is for the entire world, all of creation. “Any consideration of the Christian concept of salvation must take place in the context of what is an increasingly obvious global environmental crisis.” (Ayre, 233) When you see Jesus, as a gardener, one can see Jesus is working to tend the earth, working to help make all of creation, which also includes humanity, back into the state of perfection God designed the world to be. (John 20:1-18) This work is not something that can be done instantaneously. The process of full redemption in a person will take time.
“Christ’s work does not bring human beings immediately to the state of perfection…but recovers for them the capacity to grow into it.” (Vogel, 455) The work Jesus did through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension shows that there is much more to being made perfect than a single act. It is a continual process by which God works in and through us to make us into the image we were created originally to reflect. Vogel also writes, “It is not merely the Son’s act of becoming incarnate that is redemptive…it was fitting that Christ should accomplish salvation through his own waiting and openness to the Father’s will.” (444) Humanity has been given the gift to learn to wait on God and learn how to do the Father’s will in this life.
As we learn to do the will of God, we see the world is transformed. Redemption would not be possible if it were not for the work of Jesus Christ. “Redemption is what happens to restored humanity as a result of the atonement.” (Oden, 685) The purpose of redemption is to restore humanity. This restoration happens because of the work of Jesus Christ. This has been God’s plan from the very beginning.
Through Christ, we learn that Jesus is “fully revealing to us the secret purpose and will of God concerning our redemption; to be our only High Priest, having redeemed us by the one sacrifice of his body.” (Oden, 359) Jesus did become our final sacrifice for our sins. According to Arminian teaching, people are free to choose to live into the saving acts of God to be fully redeemed. “A fundamental conviction of the Arminian perspective is that while salvation comes to humans by God’s sovereign grace alone, this grace allows human beings freely to accept or reject God’s offer of eternal life.” (Boyd, 147)
Through the sacrifice of Jesus the Christ, humanity and all of creation has been and is in the process of being redeemed. As the Israelites have the Passover meal to remember and celebrate their deliverance, by God, from their slavery in the land of Egypt, Christians have communion. “[Communion] is an external reminder of Christ’s act of redemption.” (Boyd, 231) The reminder of communion is vital so people can remember what God has done for them, for the world, and freely choose to follow God’s will so all people, and creation, will see and live into the redemption plan. Remembering through communion, the act of Jesus on the cross, and being in fellowship with God and others, humanity can see and experience God’s sanctifying (making holy) grace within themselves. This will help people remember and live into the truth and reality they have been, and are, redeemed and being made new.
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The hustle and bustle of the Christmas season will bring even the best of us to out wits end. We hear the story of Christ being born; yet we go about our busy lives as if nothing has changed. There are so many things to worry about. The media doesn’t help. God is with us and yet we still get frustrated, angry, sad, depressed, irritated, etc.
The letter to the Philippians is a great book to read, especially in this time of year. The Apostle Paul wrote this short letter. In it, he proclaims the simple message of finding joy and peace in God through Jesus Christ.
There are many things we worry about; but do we really have to? Lifting up our concerns, our anxiousness, our worry, etc. doesn’t change our circumstances; but it does change our perspective. This is so much more than just changing our attitude. This is about complete trust in God through Jesus Christ.
When we share our burdens with Him, is it He who makes our load light. We do not have to carry it, because He carries our burdens for us and with us.
God coming down to earth as Jesus Christ tangibly shows God is with us and understands our lives. This year, allow peace to enter fully in our hearts, a peace beyond understanding, to make Christmas really come alive.
O come, O come, Emmanuel.