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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: Suffering

General David

I just wanted to drop you a note and let you know I was thinking about you. Your lovely wife gave me your address and I have been trying to find time to write. It’s now 06:15 and I thought I would simply take the time. I’m sure you’re relaxing and catching up on some shut eye since it’s so early.

Things are going well here in Dawg country unless of course you are a Braves fan. Seems there aren’t that many around here lately. Any way things at church are getting interesting. I’ve been blogging on the book “The Goodness of God” by Randy Alcorn. Every since Tom asked us to reconsider our mission statement of “Helping people experience God” I’ve been doing that exact thing. It’s funny, but you pop into my mind during this entire exercise, especially recently. Let me tell you why.

I have been reading a book by a pastor in Oklahoma, Craig Groeschel. “Chazown”. It’s the Hebrew word for vision. This book challenges the individual believer to take risks for God. He poses a series of questions that I put on a business card (one enclosed for you). Here are the questions:

Chazown (pronounced khaw-ZONE)

Passion: What do you absolutely love to do?

Impact: What do you do that has significant impact on others?

Secret Belief: What do you secretly believe you can do but never tried?

What gifts do you have that you have never put to use?

Here is where you come in. You took a big risk for God. While I am sure you’ve asked yourself “What was I thinking” more than once in the last few weeks, still, you searched out God and you took the steps. What an inspiration that is for me personally. What I admire about is that you had the guts to do it and trust God to take care of your family. You and I haven’t spoken much in recent months. That’s my loss and I am sorry I haven’t taken the time to be more available. But I wanted you to know what I believe the Lord want’s me to say to you.

I want you to read Luke 4:1-30. This is where Jesus announces who He is and what His mission is. Then he proceeds to talk to everyone about 2 incidents in the old testament. The widow at Zarepath (1st Kings 17) and Naaman the Syrian (2nd Kings 5). When the congregation heard what He said, they exploded with rage and wanted to kill him. They were going to pitch Him off the cliff but Luke tells us he simply walked away. While there are months of sermons in here just a couple of points for you to consider.

Read the stories Jesus referred to in the passage. They are remarkable. The widow woman was in the midst of a three year drought. You can bet water and meal were at premiums and very scarce. She had no resources to draw upon and things are so bad, she is getting ready to make a biscuit or two and then die. Along comes Elijah and asks her for the first biscuit and drink. She says ok and does it. She risked EVERYTHING she had for God and God came through for her in a big way, the meal and oil miraculously never ran dry. Then after that experience was over, her son dies mysteriously. Elijah again calls on God and He comes through with another miracle.

Naaman on the other hand was very wealthy and yet had a disease no one could help him with. He took a risk and did the simple thing God asked him to do and washed in the river Jordan and he was healed.

You’ve stepped out in faith and God will honor that big time. Tom spoke last Sunday of Oral Roberts and his faith. Bob Tuttle described Oral as a man who would lower his head and run at a brick wall expecting God to move it before he hit it. You know what? God always did.

The actions you’ve taken are tough. You’ve had the faith to do what you believe God has called you to do. He will honor that for you David in many ways. There will be many times when you will ask yourself “What was I thinking?” Yet don’t’ despair and don’t give up. NEVER NEVER NEVER give up (Sir Winston Churchill). Remember, Jesus had things to do for God as you do. When they were going to kill him He simply walked away. He hadn’t fulfilled what he was called to do. It wasn’t his time yet.

Lord: Keep my friend David in your arms. Keep his lovely wife and his two wonderful sons and protect them while David is away enjoying the leisurely life of the military. Encourage him Lord when things look horrible as they often do in military training. Let him know you love him and we love him Lord.

Oh and Lord please let the Holy Spirit awake David in the morning and not allow him to oversleep. He needs to get to breakfast on time so he can have strength for the day!

(He he he he ha!)

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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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