Why Does A Good God Allow Suffering

28 Mar

Recently I was part of a team of people from two churches helping a godly woman as her cancer battle came to an end. She was well cared for, but dying is tough. It’s painful and uncomfortable for the person dying and those they love. Any reasonable person has asked, “Why does a supposedly good God allow suffering?” Also, “Isn’t he strong enough to end suffering today?”

I’ve thought about this for a long time and I’ve come up with 11 ways a good God could allow suffering to continue. I’d love to hear more if you have some. I’m deeply indebted to Dr. Clay Jones of Biola University and Dr. John Feinberg’s book The Many Faces of Evil for help in processing this subject and creating this list.

1. Suffering reminds us that this world is fallen. When we endure suffering or witness the suffering of others it should serve as a reminder that this world is not as it was intended to be. Sin is rampant and its effects are seen everywhere.

2. Suffering should point us toward heaven. Christians have been promised a time when suffering will end (Rev. 21:4). When enduring or witnessing suffering, we should be drawn to the fact that the eternal destiny for the Christian is a place where there will be no more suffering. This will not totally eliminate the pain of suffering here on earth, but it provides us confident hope.

3. Suffering may provide God a platform to manifest his power. In John 9:1-3, people assume a man blind from birth is handicapped because of the sin of his parents. But Jesus lets us know that there are times these cases of suffering are only happening so God can be glorified by displaying his power. In our day, God may provide a miraculous healing that leads non-Christians to acknowledge him. Without the suffering preceding healing that wouldn’t be possible.

4. God may use suffering to remove a cause for boasting. When things are going well in our lives we tend to become self-sufficient and arrogant. Suffering can remind us of our need for God.

5. Sometimes God uses suffering to display the Body of Christ. When someone is hurting, other believers can step up to help him or her. They can run errands, provide meals, help them financially, or encourage them with prayer.

6. Suffering can promote sanctification. Suffering can lead us to turn away from sinful things that may be leading to our suffering. It can refine your faith. Suffering can educate the believer by forcing him or her to focus on God so he can teach them. God can also use suffering to cause the believer to understand his majesty and sovereignty in ways they otherwise would not be able. Suffering gives the believers intimacy with God as it drives him or her straight to their Creator. And it sanctifies as we realize we are imitating Christ in our suffering.

7. Those experiencing suffering can minister to others. This can impact believers and non-believers alike. Believers who suffer can encourage other brothers and sisters in Christ who are also suffering. This is especially true with people who are experiencing the same kinds of suffering. Those who suffer well can show the strength of their faith to non-believers who may be attracted to Christ because of this.

8. Suffering can prepare us for future trials. Withstanding one trial is in no way a guarantee that we will never experience suffering again. Sometimes lessons learned during one round of suffering help us during another round.

9. Suffering prepares believers for judgment day and the rewards it brings. As Christians are made more Christ-like, their deeds are more reflective of God’s will. Thus when Christ returns and the believer’s deeds are judged, there will be greater reward because there will be more righteous deeds evident in their life.

10. Suffering can humble the believer so he or she can someday be exalted. If we are to be great in God’s eyes we must first be brought low. Suffering can give us the humility we need to ultimately be thought of highly by the Lord.

11. Suffering may ultimately be how God brings us home. This was the case of the woman I wrote about at the beginning of this post. The suffering of cancer that leads to death is ultimately a good thing for the Christian because once death has happened we are at home with the Lord.

I’d love to hear more from you to add to the list!

 

Some Thoughts on Gay Marriage

13 Dec

A couple of weeks ago after the State of Illinois officially passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage, I decided to deliver a message at Village Church focused on this decision. I stayed quiet for a long time as I journeyed with the Lord to find the proper response to changing cultural norms. There’s no doubt what the Bible says. Marriage is between a man and a woman. That’s clear.  But polls show society is moving away from what Scripture says and toward “marriage equality.” So, how are Christians supposed to react? When laws redefine something that God established are we to continue to work for change, move to another place, or is there another way? A biblical way? That’s where I tried to head. You can hear my message HERE (It’s the November 10th message).

The Honor of Being a Pastor

10 Dec

Recently I met with a friend’s mom who has terminal cancer. I visited her because she just moved back to Chicagoland after many years away and doesn’t have a church. She was in incredibly good spirits and shared wonderful stories with me. We prayed and shared communion together. It was an incredible honor to be able to serve her in a small way in the last weeks of her life on earth.

Our meeting got me thinking about the job of pastor. There are times it’s tough. Spiritual warfare is a very real part of the job (that’s never included in the job description that churches post on job websites). The hours can be long. You have to work hard to protect your family from being neglected because of the work of the church. The pay isn’t always great. There are many critics. Pressure to perform on Sunday and make great leadership decisions weighs on you. But we have to remember it is an honor to serve.

That word, honor, has stuck with me recently as I reflected on my afternoon with a dying woman. It was an honor to serve her. I was every bit as blessed as she was. God called me to the job of pastor, but it’s more than a paycheck. So much more. It’s an honor to know the God of the universe who can do anything he wants without me, chooses to use me to extend his love and kindness to others.

Even if you’re not a pastor, God still wants to give you the honor of serving others. Remember that when a phone call comes late at night or you have to go out of your way on a busy day to help someone. God could have used anyone in the world to do what you’re doing, but he chose you. What an honor to be used by God!

Cell Phone Parents

12 Oct

It’s not too surprising when a college friend tells you they don’t like reading. When you’re being assigned hundreds of pages for classes, few like it. But many years ago a friend gave me her reason and I’ve never forgotten it. She hated reading because her dad was an avid reader. I thought that was a weird reason. Isn’t a parent who loves books supposed to inspire their child to read? But her dad was obsessive about it. He read on the couch all evening long. Sometimes he would have his nose in a book throughout dinner. She said it was rare that her father didn’t have a book in his hand. And, though this is unlikely to be true, it made her feel as though he loved books more than her. He spent way more time reading than engaging her. What else was a kid to think? This led her to hate books because they reminded her of a remote father.

I’ve noticed something on our local playground when Anna and I are there with the kids. I call them “The Cell Phone Parents.” There are moms and dads who bring their kids to the park and then ignore them while checking Facebook, Twitter, or returning texts. They are looking at their smart phones the whole time, disengaging from their children. In fact, the only time they engage their children is when they look up from the screen to announce it’s time to head home.

I’m one of these parents. I confess. I won’t act as though I perfectly do this or anything. Seeing other parents totally check out has been convicting. I wish there was a group where I could just admit, “My name is Cisco and I’m a smart phone addict.” Even when hanging out with my family in the park that phone is screaming from my pocket, “Someone may have sent you a text!” “Maybe someone posted a funny picture on Instagram!” “You could be missing a hilarious hashtag party on Twitter!!!” The possibilities are almost overwhelming!

But I don’t want my kids to hate technology because their dad used it to escape them. In fact, I don’t want my children to think anything came between us. Of course, they know Jesus and Anna come before them. This isn’t about worshiping your child by making them think they’re the center of the universe. Instead, it’s about your boy or girl knowing you love them and value the time you have together. I want them to have memories of their dad getting home from work, throwing his bag down, and spending the next several hours enjoying them.

Overcoming smart phone addiction is a marathon not a sprint. It sounds a bit ridiculous, but this is hard. I’ve started taking some tangible steps to move the process along. When I get home from work, I put the phone in our bedroom and leave it there for several hours. If I’m tempted to see if anyone has sent me a Facebook Friend request I have to walk to the other side of the house in order to check. And I have to explain to the family where I’m going. “Um, I have to make sure my socks are properly folded in my dresser.” Yeah, that doesn’t work.

I’ve also started taking a one-day fast from the internet (smart phone included) each week. Man, is that hard! But I’ve found that I don’t really miss much. Email responses can be sent the next day. And, frankly, I’m not missing out on a lot if I ignore a day of social media chatter.

There are so many distractions around us, but if we blink our kids are grown up and out of the house. Let’s work hard, with God’s help, to cherish every moment we have with them.

 

Praying Together

20 Aug

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I often gloss over things in Scripture. I read the passage in the Bible, the big things (or the familiar) pop out, I think about them and then move on. I’m trying to slow down a bit. It seems better to allow God to have the time to lead me toward new things in the text. This happened as I prepared for last week’s message in the book of Acts (you can hear the message HERE). 

In Acts 21, Paul is on his way back to Jerusalem and the Holy Spirit has told him it’s going to be rough. He could be beaten, imprisoned, or worse. But Paul presses on. Some friends tried to encourage Paul to change his plans, but he refuses. Then as Paul prepares to board a ship he and some friends prayed. Acts 21:5-6 says, “After kneeling down on the beach to pray, we said goodbye to one another.” 

This is one of those spots we can skip over quickly. OK, so they prayed. So what? But as I read it over and over again this week I started to think about how often I pray with Christian brothers and sisters. Sure, there’s lots of prayer in church on Sunday morning. But what about when Anna and I have people over for dinner? When I’m talking with someone at a coffee shop do we spend time praying for each other before we say goodbye? I’m sorry to say that doesn’t happen very often. It’s a missed opportunity.

We see clearly in Acts 2:42 that new Christians spent time praying together. And we should too. When we pray with fellow Christians we encourage each other and also literally ask God to unleash His power in our lives. (He created everything you see. Imagine what He can do if we ask Him in prayer!) And if people who don’t follow Jesus are around we just may allow them to see a reflection of Him that God will use to open their heart to the gospel.

So the next time you’re hanging out with fellow Christians don’t let people leave until you spend some time in prayer. I know God will use it!

Prayer Journey

1 Aug

Christians talk about prayer a lot. And we plan to pray quite a bit. But how much do we actually do it? Think about it, the God who created everything you see wants to have a conversation with you. All you have to do is talk! And He wants to bring others to saving faith in Jesus, in part, with our prayers (Romans 10:1). 

Our church is currently involved in a 40 day prayer journey. Each person in our church received a booklet with 40 days worth of prayers and Scripture readings. They each chose 2 people who don’t follow Jesus to pray for during the 40 days. At the end of the 40 days they’re responsible to call these two people to see what the Holy Spirit has been up to. Maybe they’ll have a conversation about Jesus. Maybe it will be a chance to share their faith. Maybe this person will have already become reborn. It’s exciting to think of the possibilities!

Anna and I have really enjoyed praying together each night for the people on each of our lists. We’ve seen God begin to grow the two of us as we ask Him to reach these dear loved ones. I can already see that this journey is going to be great for the people at Village Church.

You can join us on the journey at any time. In fact, the booklets will remain available on our website (click HERE) for you to download whenever you want. If you’re willing to dedicate yourself to 40 days of prayer for two people who don’t know Jesus there’s no telling how God may use it. After you do it, please email me your stories.

 

Longing Transforms Obedience

29 May

One of the toughest things about following Jesus is obedience. We didn’t want to obey our parents. Often doing what our boss says is a challenge. So how can we be expected to obey a person we can’t see by doing things written in a book thousands of years ago?

There’s also our natural desire to make our own choices. In some parts of the world tribal elders make decisions for the whole community. We’re not a culture that allows neighborhood leaders to make decisions for us. We’re even increasingly skeptical of decisions made in Washington and we elect the people who serve there.

I’ve been spending some time with C. S. Lewis’s essays in The Weight of Glory. He writes that over time “longing transforms obedience, as gradually as the tide lifts a grounded ship.” His point is the longer we trust Jesus and obey, the easier it becomes. We witness His goodness and faithfulness. We notice how He’s always leading us to things that are good (even if they don’t seem like it at first). We feel an unconditional love when He cares for us like no one else.

It’s witnessing this love, kindness, and goodness that slowly makes it easier to obey. In fact, over time we begin to long to be led by Him. I don’t know about you, but my life is challenging. There are constantly decisions to be made and many of them could negatively effect me for a long time if I make the wrong move. I long to have someone who knows more than I do and cares about me more than anyone else to help me down this road. I didn’t always want that.

Every day, obeying Jesus becomes something I long for a little more instead of something I feel forced to do.

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