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Wit and Wisdom of Gateway Church Athens GA

As we begin our new church life … so too a new blog!

Category Archives: Adult Bible Study

Why Evil is Evil

The Bible has a broad definition of evil.  Evil is anything that flows not from loving God but rebelling against Him.  Randy brings an interesting point to light.  Good can exist without evil, but evil can’t exist without good.  Metal can exist just fine without rust, but rust can’t exist without metal.

I can get my arms around this analogy.  It makes sense in many ways.  Evil is corruption.  Look at this definition:

corrupt: adjective
 
1.    Guilty of dishonest practices, as bribery; lacking integrity; crooked: a corrupt judge.
2.    Debased in character; depraved; perverted; wicked; evil: a corrupt society.
3.    Made inferior by errors or alterations, as a text.
4.    Infected; tainted.
5.    Decayed; putrid.

Do any of those definitions strike a familiar cord?  I have worked with plant material my entire professional career.  I understand corruption and decay.  I’ve made a good living over the last 40 years dealing with the results of terrestrial corruption.  We all have seen the damage disease can do to people, animals and crops.  Some human diseases are insidious such as AIDS, meningitis and cancer.  These can kill quickly or slowly, but kill they do.  Recently on the news was the tragic death of several teenagers from a “brain eating amoeba”.  All they did was go swimming in a lake.  One boy simply used a nasal wash from tap water and was infected.  They all died within days.

We just dealt with hurricane Irene.  Joplin and Tuscaloosa were laid low by tornados a few months ago.  Earthquakes in Japan and Tsunamis in Indonesia killed hundreds of thousands.

Rom 8:19  For [even the whole] creation (all nature) waits expectantly {and} longs earnestly for God’s sons to be made known [waits for the revealing, the disclosing of their sonship]. For the creation (nature) was subjected to frailty (to futility, condemned to frustration), not because of some intentional fault on its part, but by the will of Him Who so subjected it–[yet] with the hope that nature (creation) itself will be set free from its bondage to decay {and} corruption [and gain an entrance] into the glorious freedom of God’s children.  We know that the whole creation [of irrational creatures] has been moaning together in the pains of labor until now.

God warned Adam that the day he sinned would be the day he would die.  He died spiritually as soon as he ate and although he lived for many years physically, the die was cast and sin was turned loose on mankind and the earth.

Gen 2:17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil {and} blessing and calamity you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die. 

We learned in Genesis chapter 3 Adam started the entire process of corruption by doing the one thing God told him not to do, thus he committed the first sin.  Sin then turned corruption loose and after so many years, we see it’s bitter fruit all around us.

Gen 3:17-19 And to Adam He said, Because you have listened {and} given heed to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, saying, You shall not eat of it, the ground is under a curse because of you; in sorrow {and} toil shall you eat [of the fruits] of it all the days of your life. Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth for you, and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you shall return.

Two kinds of evil: Primary and Secondary.

Moral wrong doing is primary evil.  Suffering as a result of primary evil is secondary evil.  I saw an excellent example of both types of evil today on one tv show.  A man was coming home from work and discovered his wife had been brutally killed at home.  (Sounds much like David Jansen in “The Fugitive”).  The police went to work and figured this man had killed his wife.  Circumstantial evidence “proved it” and he spent 25 years doing time for a crime he didn’t commit.  Then DNA evidence proved his innocence and he was released from prison.  (He isn’t bitter, because during his time in the pen, he became a Christian and God did a work in his life!).  The primary evil of murder collected an innocent man in it’s wake and produced the secondary evil of a wrongful conviction.

Jesus said in John 16:33In the world you have tribulation {and} trials {and} distress {and} frustration …  It’s no wonder.  We live on a planet whose forces are corrupted and we are surrounded by people who are corrupted through a sinful nature.  Yes, I think tribulation, stress and frustration are going to be more the rule of the day than the exception!

If you can objectively stand up and take a “50,000 foot view” you can see that sin has had the opportunity to multiply, hide, grow and expand almost limitlessly for thousands of years.  We exist daily in an environment where we are in constant contact with both primary and secondary evil.

It’s simply God’s abundant Grace that keeps the whole thing together and keeps us alive!

Col 1:17 And He Himself existed before all things, and in Him all things consist (cohere, are held together).

Heb 1:3 He is the sole expression of the glory of God [the Light-being, the out-raying or radiance of the divine], and He is the perfect imprint {and} very image of [God’s] nature, upholding {and} maintaining {and} guiding {and} propelling the universe by His mighty word of power. When He had {by offering Himself} accomplished {our} cleansing of sins {and} riddance of guilt, He sat down at the right hand of the divine Majesty on high.

Next week: Rebel Forces attempt an overthrow of the kingdom!

I want to give you the outline of the book.  There are 11 very interesting chapters.  I plan on following the order of the chapters, but I will supplement many of the ideas in the chapters with other author’s material.  Authors such as CS Lewis, Brady Boyd, Joni Ericson Tada and many others have a lot to say on the subject of suffering and I want to get every one’s perspective.

The 11 chapter headings are:

1.    Tragic Choices: Determining the origins of Evil and Suffering
2.    What’s wrong? I am: Accepting the reality of inherited sin
3.    Alternative Answers: Examining Explanations for Evil and Suffering
4.    A Clash of Worldviews: Investigating relativism, atheism, and the "problem" of goodness
5.    The Great Drama: Reviewing the roles of evil and suffering in Christ’s redemptive work
6.    Why so much evil?: Questioning why God allows Evil and delay’s justice
7.    God’s control and our freedom: Discovering how God rules despite our choices
8.    Are we promised prosperity?: recovering a Biblical view of health and wealth
9.    The World we long for: Exploring God’s eternal solution to evil and suffering
10.    Wanting more clarity: wrestling with the reasons for our suffering
11.    What we can do: Finding perspective in our suffering
   
Today we start on chapter 1, "Tragic Choices".

The book begins with a story we are all familiar with.  Somebody’s child is killed in a car accident.  The father (who is a pastor) rants and raves at God asking the understandable question: “Why?”  Then he makes a statement I found insightful.  He states:
    “In the silence I began to hear the voice of God … then, without any announcement, when I became silent, God spoke to my soul.  He had an answer for each of my three questions.”

When it comes to asking why, I think I must move to the head of the line.  Why is my middle name!  In one of our recent adult classes, the teacher mentioned that she had asked God this question: “Where were you when the sexual abuse was going on?”  I asked God the same question.  Where were you?  I found what the pastor said was true.  When I became silent, God gave me some very specific answers to my question.

When it comes to suffering and all of the associated pain and grief that goes with it, it’s ok to ask questions.  I think this pastor’s brief testimony brings out some excellent points we should remember.

1.    You have to cultivate the ability to hear God.
2.    It’s ok to ask questions.  God will answer you, He wants to communicate with you.
3.    It is hard to hear God in the middle of a storm.

Elijah is a good example of hearing God.

1 Kin 19:11-13 NASB ¶ So He said, "Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD." And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; {but} the LORD {was} not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, {but} the LORD {was} not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, {but} the LORD {was} not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard {it,} he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice {came} to him and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

I think this speaks of God’s presence in the middle of the storms we face.  With all of the noise and tumult we experience when we are in a storm, we must remember to listen for the small voice, the quiet voice.  That is the voice we want to follow.

Jesus spoke of hearing God’s voice:

John 10:3-5 NASB "To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. "When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. "A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers."

Hearing from God has two immediate benefits that I can see.

1.    You can hear him concerning comfort.  When you are in the middle of a muddle, you need comfort.  That’s the Holy Spirit’s job description.
2.    You can hear him for directions.  Obviously, when you are in serious difficult situations you need to have guidance and understanding of how to proceed.  Again, this is what the Holy Spirit does, provide guidance as well as comfort.

John 16:13-14 "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. "He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose {it} to you.

As I write this, I learned one of my favorite athletic personalities just revealed she has the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.  Pat Summitt has been a model of leadership in the world of women’s athletics.  She is a fine Christian woman and a strong leader.  I am sure she would agree she find’s herself in a difficult situation.  She probably was caught off guard by this.  Yet her response is indicative of her strong faith.  I pray for her and hope you will too.  This statement from the Tennessee athletic department speaks for the impact of Pat Summit’s life:

For Pat to stand-up and share her health news is just a continuing example of her courage. Life is an unknown and none of us have a crystal ball. But I do have a record of knowing what Pat Summitt stands for; excellence, strength, honesty and courage.

He is right when he says life is an unknown.  This fact alone is why it is important for us to prepare for life’s unknown elements as much as we can by studying God’s word and developing an intimate relationship with Him.

“The Goodness of God” by Randy Alcorn is a book that strikes a nerve deep within my heart.  He dives into a subject that has long been one of the most perplexing to mankind, “Why is there suffering and evil”.  My own testimony as well as that of so many others at Gateway is one where this question has more than passing relevance.  Everyone we know deals with this problem.  Some more than others. While we can always find someone who has experienced more or less than we have, the question always comes back to the big “Why”?

The author lays a foundation for us in the introduction to the book:

To come to grips with the problem of evil and suffering, you must do more than hear heart-wrenching stories about suffering people.  You must hear God’s truth to help you interpret those stories. … You will not find relief unless you gain perspective.

Before I started this study, these scriptures from Isaiah were forefront in my thinking:

Is 55:8-9 Amp For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.

The ideas that God “allows” suffering or the companion thought of God “causes” suffering to teach us are prevalent thoughts that I want to understand.  God “allows” everything, so for me, the idea that God “allows” my suffering is a non starter.  You will either go crazy trying to think your way around that particular thought or end up in a place that is unscriptural.  But the idea that God causes suffering and pain in order for us to learn about Him is difficult for me to accept.  Yet there are many great thinkers and Christian writers who seem to think that exact thought.

The purpose of this study is to get some of these ideas out in the open and wrestle with them.

There are a couple of other really good points in the introduction I want to touch on.  First of all, how we answer this question will radically affect the way we perceive our world and God’s place in it.  The problem of evil and suffering is the basis the “new atheists” claim they don’t believe in God.  So as Christians, we need to study and understand what God says about it.

2 Tim 3:16-17 Every Scripture is God-breathed (given by His inspiration) and profitable for instruction, for reproof {and} conviction of sin, for correction of error {and} discipline in obedience, [and] for training in righteousness (in holy living, in conformity to God’s will in thought, purpose, and action), So that the man of God may be complete {and} proficient, well fitted {and} thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The second benefit of this study will be in exposing what the author calls “inadequate theology”.  When evil and suffering show their ugly heads, you may discover (as I have) that your theological underpinnings simply won’t hold up under the weight of life.  This process of learning can be extremely difficult and painful.  It can then become a turning point in your Christian life.  The destruction of weak, inadequate theology is a good thing.  It is important that the foundation of our life is built on the solid ground of God’s word and not the shifting sands of popular ideas.

The idea of this study is for us to be able to understand the character of the Gateway community.  We have seen suffering and pain and God seems to send us those who need ministry in the difficult situations of life.  I believe in pursuing this study, we will see more clearly where God wants to take us and who we are a a body of believers.

I plan on supporting the book with other ideas and thoughts from many other authors.  I find this study is an ever expanding one for me.  I want to know what the great thinkers thoughts are on this subject.  Of course, what God says about it is what really counts.  I think following the paths and rabbit trails of life will give God plenty of room to work with as He teaches us more about His good character and His love.

One last thought, this blog will be less than effective if you don’t participate.  Please comment and post your thoughts.  Only in that way can we learn what God wants for us.

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Julia and I will be gone this Sunday so we are going to miss our adult class and the council meeting on Monday night.  I was going to try to have something prepared for handing out that will give you some guidance in the upcoming overview of Jack Hayford’s book “Rebuilding the Real You”.  But since I can’t do that, I thought I would blog it for you.

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The first class (Sept 19th) will set a background for the book.  I am going to give a brief testimony to tie together why I think this book is so powerful.  It is a very powerful book.  The concepts Jack brings forth are life changing and I want to give you a brief backdrop about why it is so important to me.  It will be very important for you to read the book of Nehemiah before you come to class.  If you are really ambitious, you could also read Ezra.  If you haven’t read these two books recently it would be a  good background for you.  Ezra will provide background for Nehemiah.  Depending on what type of Bible you use, you may have a good introduction about the book of Nehemiah.  If you don’t have a good introduction, then here is a link to a good overview of Nehemiah.

http://www.valleybible.net/Youth/Nehemiah/Summary.pdf

The reason I like the book so much is simple.  Jack Hayford addresses questions I’ve had and not been able to adequately answer.

If I’m saved, then why am I having so much trouble with issues from the past that seem to defy solution?

What is my responsibility in dealing with past issues and what is God’s responsibility?

Nehemiah has been a favorite book of mine for many years.  Charles Swindoll wrote a definitive management study of Nehemiah  “Hand Me Another Brick”.  His book made a very good analysis of Nehemiah’s management style.  (This is still one of my favorite books by Swindoll).  Jack Hayford however goes in a completely different direction.  Jack Hayford sees Nehemiah as a Holy Spirit “type” and the book is a picture of how the Holy Spirit works to rebuild your life after you experience the new birth.  This book is some 25 years old.  Evelyn told me last week that she was a member of Jack’s church for 8 years and she heard him do this teaching.  Talk to her on Sunday and ask her for her input.  She has a set of tapes that she says is completely worn out of Jack’s teaching on this.

I will have two weeks to communicate what’s in my heart about this important subject.  Join with me in prayer and ask God for guidance and an anointing beyond the normal for this very key study on September 19th and September 26th.

I have been very busy this week, “back on the road again” so to speak.  I had a an interesting experience that I wanted to share though.  I think it is rather pertinent to our discussion on the “Secrets of the Vine”.

As I was headed towards Greensboro on I 40 and I saw a sign that said “RayLen vineyards and winery – tours this way.”  So … I went “this way”.

What a great experience.  It was exciting to shut off the phone and do something I wanted to do.  Especially since it was associated with our Sunday school class.  I stopped on the road as I went in and took this picture.  This was a row that hadn’t been pruned in a while as far as I could tell.  It was in need of pruning.  I was excited wondering if I would be able to see one in the mud on the ground but no such luck.

The Vineyard 007

I went up to the main office area and low and behold there was a wine tasting going on.  I walked in and met 4 of the friendliest people you could imagine.  They were delightful.  I told them I was there to learn about vineyards and that our class was studying John 15.  At that point I learned the make up of our little group.  There was a Baptist pastor and his wife, a Catholic lady that moved in from California and the man serving the wine informed us all that he was a reformed Presbyterian!  So add a Methodist and you have the makings of a fun wine tasting experience.

The Vineyard 005

I must admit I did taste the wine and I will also admit it was very good!  But the interesting part was the answers to the questions I asked.  I asked about vines growing along the ground.  I was told that wouldn’t happen there because they simply wouldn’t allow that to happen.  However he did tell me something interesting.  He told me that from the time things start happening in April until the harvest time in August/September they have problems all the time.  Insects, mites, fungus, rain and on and on it goes.  I think there is a good lesson here and I would love to talk about it in class on Sunday.

The Vineyard 011

Here you see the results of pruning.  I was quite interested in this because of the contrast with the first picture of the un-pruned first rows I saw coming in the vineyard.

The Vineyard 013

Here is a close up of the pruned branches.  (I wondered if it hurt when it saw the foliage on the ground?)

The Vineyard 009

Here is a section of grapes (can you see them there?) that hasn’t been pruned.

The Vineyard 008

Here is a section that is growing fruit and still to be pruned.

The Vineyard 013

Here is the closely pruned branch with grapes clearly showing.

Before I left I mentioned I was from Athens and they told me that Chateau Elan would be a great resource for us to talk to.  I spoke to Tom and I think it would be a great idea for us as a class to plan a Saturday trip to Chateau Elan and find out about growing grapes from the people that do it for a living!

What think ye?????

Rom 11:24 For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and against nature grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much easier will it be to graft these natural [branches] back on [the original parent stock of] their own olive tree.

In yesterday’s class, we talked about John 15:1-8.  As I began to think about that, I was drawn to Paul’s comments in Romans 11 when speaking of the grafting in process.  I think there is much gold to be mined in this subject.  I went back and read the verses in Romans just to put a framework on my thoughts.  Paul was speaking of gentiles being “grafted in” to the Jewish nation as a wild olive shoot.  The point is that God took a wild olive and grafted it into a cultivated plant to produce fruit.

When I look at the two passages and compare them I notice something striking.  It seems Paul is talking about the process of conversion while Jesus is assuming conversion has already taken place.  Jesus speaks of the plant processes AFTER the grafting in has taken place.  He speaks of producing fruit.

Paul on the other hand is speaking of the process of grafting in of a wild olive.  This is the conversion process.  Without the grafting there would be no possibility of producing fruit.

I have a background and training in growing things.  I understand fertilization and how plants grow.  I’m from Indiana and I understand corn.  I grew up surrounded by corn fields (although I did live in a house … I don’t want you to think I grew up in a field!).  As Gene rightly points out, there is a lot of work in farming corn.  But Jesus addresses an important point about this:

Mark 4:26 – 29 And He said, The kingdom of God is like a man who scatters seed upon the ground, And then continues sleeping and rising night and day while the seed sprouts and grows {and} increases–he knows not how. The earth produces [acting] by itself–first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe {and} permits, immediately he sends forth [the reapers] {and} puts in the sickle, because the harvest stands ready.

The farmer plants and harvests, but God gives the growth.  The growth happens based on God’s time table not because of anything we do.  You don’t’ have to do anything to corn for it to grow. 

This is not so with the vine.  It has to be attended to be fruitful.  Jesus points out that without Him, you can do nothing!  The fruit God wants you to bear is not something you can gin up with your own efforts.  This growth requires effort by the master of the vineyard.

As I think of this I am reminded of Peggy Jo and here recent testimony.  God has been working her vine, pruning and dressing it and helping her to produce fruit.  I know in my life, I’m experiencing some of the same things.  All of us are.  Close your eyes and think back to the last year in our class.  You can see the hand of the master gardener in all of our lives.

Lord: The process of pruning and cultivation of my vine is difficult.  I don’t like it at times.  Then there are times I don’t see any value in the work that has been done.  I don’t see grapes.  I think I should see grapes all the time, but I don’t.  I know you see my life differently than I do.  You know the beginning and the end.  Help me to relax and know that you know what you’re doing and according to Phil 1:6, you will complete the process!