Thursday, June 21, 2007

On Suffering

There is a big question that for many people remains unanswered. Or at least not answered to their satisfaction. It's the question of suffering.

Why do people suffer? And especially, why do innocent and/or God-fearing people suffer? And how can there be evil, suffering, pain and affliction if God is really good and really all-powerful and really sovereign?

I have a lot of thoughts on this subject, but for now I thougth I'd simply post some Scripture and let Jesus speak for Himself (though none of these passages are from the Gospels - but I think we know who the Author is...)

I will say this one thing, though. It is not those who suffer who should question God's love. Rather, based on what Scripture says, it is those who do not who should be asking questions.

Some Verses on Suffering (NIV)

Psalm 119:50 - My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.

Psalm 119:67-68 - Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word. You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees.

Psalm 119:71 - It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.

Psalm 119:92 - If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.

Psalm 126:5 - Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.

Ro. 5:3-4- -Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

2 Cor 4:7-12 & 16-18 - But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Cor 11:24-30 - Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

2 Cor 12:7-10 - To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Phil 3:10-11 - I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

James 1:2-4 - Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

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Monday, June 4, 2007

Vision Motivates

Way back when I was in my 20's I was busily restoring a 1970 Camaro. It took around five or six years (and $17,000) to really get it where I wanted it, but when it was done it was something else! I bought it in 1984 for $250, and everyone thought I was nuts for acquiring such a junkyard refugee, let alone investing in it. But I had a picture in my head of what it could be... that vision drove me to spend many late nights under the car covered with transmission fluid or grease and many thousands of hard-earned dollars. I never complained. I could see beyond the difficulty.

Now that I am a respectable 40-something family man and homeowner, my hobbies are a bit less ambitious. The pictures are of my back yard, which came with the house we bought in the ghetto in 2004. As you can see, the back yard was ghetto too, but with some hard work and TLC (and a couple hundred bucks), the transformation is stunning.

Which brings me to the Kingdom, ministry, and people. What motivates us to keep going through the numerous hardships we face in ministry?

In a word, vision.

We encounter people who are thoroughly broken (like many of us once were) and we get a picture of what Jesus can do... to them, to their family, to their community, and beyond. It's that vision of what could be that motivates me through the long nights, dark nights of the soul, difficult situations, burnout, crazy workload, heartbreak, spiritual warfare...

What's your vision?