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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: The Unexpected

“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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It seems like this is becoming a habit lately.

I was at the home office for a week’s meeting. I stayed until Thursday and while I normally would leave early in the morning (6-8 AM) I was unable to get out of town until around noon. I was planning to make the entire drive that day and it would have put me in Athens around 10:30 PM. But it didn’t work out that way. It was hot and I was in my business attire rather than my "travel" attire, so I was uncomfortable for the drive. Lexington is only 3 hours down the road, but I was so hot and tired I simply couldn’t make it past there comfortably. So I stayed in Lexington.

Later I got a call from the pastor indicating his lovely wife’s niece’s husband was in the hospital in Lexington after suffering brain surgery. Would I go see him? Sure I said so I get the particulars of the situation and away I go. I decided to ask for directions rather than GPS the address. It took 45 minutes to find something I could have GPS’ ed in 10 minutes. I wasn’t in a hurry and I decided against the technological answer. (This is actually key to the story!)

I arrived and met with the patient and had a wonderful 20 minutes or so of fellowship. I prayed and left. As I got on the elevator, a rather haggard looking woman got on with me. She looked really beat down. As I closed the door I asked her if she was ok, because she looked like she had a rough day.

She told me it had a been a horrible week. She came to do a brief visit with her dad and he had a stroke while she was there. There were some rather serious complications that developed and they had to put him in the hospital. His wife was in bed at home with severe depression. To top it off, her husband was at home and not available to help her. I told her I was just passing through and my pastor had asked me to stop and pray for someone. "Oh, are you a pastor?" I assured her I wasn’t but I was the lay leader of my church and I asked her if I could pray with her when she got to her car. At that she started to choke up and she said that would be a wonderful idea.

As we got to the car, I prayed using a model given to us at our last prayer training. I don’t remember exactly what I prayed but I do know I asked God to bless her and give her encouragement. She smiled at me and said she had asked the Lord that morning for some encouragement today and that I was it!

I smiled and as I left I thought about being an answer to someone’s prayer. What happened was a real encouragement for me in several ways:

First of all it tells me God is using the everyday elements of my life and speaking to me through them. I don’t normally get tired yet this time I was so tired I decided to stop at Lexington for the evening. Then when the pastor called, I was willing to go pray. I decided to take my time for once and skipped the whole technological thing and did the old "manual GPS" methodology we used in 70’s and 80’s. I asked directions and plowed my way through town to the hospital.

The folks I went to see are strong Christians and as such were armed with faith and gratitude for God’s goodness. While I was there several people came to see him and they too were strong in faith. As the crowd started to grow we held hands and prayed and I excused myself.

I assumed the people I was there to pray for was the purpose of my trip, but I don’t think it was. Meeting the lady on the elevator was the real reason. God is so meticulous about His timing, that he had me bag my GPS equipment and pursue a course that took just enough time for me to be there when the lady got on the elevator. Had I used the GPS I would have missed her.

We don’t know what impact a simple decision may have on others lives. My decision to stay in Lexington and my decision to go to the hospital and my decision to pray for a lady I had never met all came together in God’s timing to bless someone that so desperately needed it.

Isn’t God good!

I had an experience yesterday that I find to be utterly amazing. I’m not at all surprised about God’s part in it, I’m just surprised He used me.

Tuesday as I was eating dinner, two Muslim women cut in front of me in line. They were fully garbed in Muslim dress and I just stood there. As I think back on it, I am sure I was glaring. As I “glared” at them, I had the most horrible series of thoughts go through my mind. The thoughts were simply right out of the pit of hell. I immediately told the Lord I was sorry, I hated the fact I thought those thoughts and worse, that they represented what I actually thought inside. I repented but I don’t think I asked for anything. I was really too ashamed to ask for anything. I just shook my head and moved on.

Fast forward to yesterday. I am on my way home and buzzing through Atlanta traffic. I had just talked to a friend for quite a while concerning prayer and a number of other church related issues. I hadn’t eaten and thought I would stop at one of my favorite restaurants to eat. I jumped off 85 and went there to eat. As I walked in, two Muslim women were in front of me in line. I stood there looking at them, not really thinking about anything. The taller of the two looked at me, smiled and told me to go ahead. I did and as I went by them, I sensed something about them that was stirring my spirit. I didn’t know what, but something. I ordered and as I walked down the line and started to pay, I looked back at them and I immediately saw a $20 bill flash in my mind. I was shocked and looked back at my tray and paid. I looked back at them again (thinking I might get a 10 or two 5’s) and again the $20 bill was there. I turned to the little Chinese lady running the cash register and gave her a twenty and told her to apply it to those ladies bill. She smiled and nodded.

I grabbed my food and split as fast as I could because I wanted to get out of line to avoid the ladies. I didn’t think it would be prudent to be there. I went to the farthest part of the dinning and room and sat purposely behind a post so they couldn’t see me. I made sure they couldn’t see me. I thanked the Lord for what He did, although I wasn’t sure of what He did. I looked up from my prayer and there was the little Chinese lady standing in front of me waving a 20 and pointing towards the cash register where two clearly confused Muslim women were standing and looking directly at me. The Chinese lady asked me if those two ladies were who I was talking about and then pointed directly at the two women. I was mortified but I said “Yes, that’s them”. She said (honestly she did) “Okray Dokrey” and smiled and walked off. The next thing I knew a very tall Muslim woman was standing beside me and said (with a huge smile) “Thank you”. I told her she was welcome and turned to finish lunch. I then heard as clear as a bell “Tell them you did that because you are a Christian”. At this point, I realize I haven’t eaten much because I lost my appetite about 5 minutes ago. So I got up, went over to their table and pulled out a chair and sat down. I had no clue what I was going to say. But as I opened my mouth here is what I told them: “I am a Christian and I wanted you to know that not all Christians hate Muslims. I believe the Lord told me to buy your lunch to let you know that He Loves you.” I don’t have words to describe their smiles. I asked their names. “I am Esra said the tall lady” “I am Wreeim” said the shorter lady. I asked her where she was from, she smiled a smile that was one of the most engaging smiles I’ve ever seen, “I’m, from Jerusalem!” Oh really I said. You know Bethlehem is close by don’t you. Her face kinda scrunched up with a bit of a confused look and Esra put her hand on my arm and said “I will explain to her” with a big smile. I smiled back and left.

Isn’t God good!!!!!!

Two Sundays ago I taught a Bible study at church talking about living in faith and walking by faith and not by sight.  The Lord convinced me I was to teach this.  I spoke to Tom about it and He agreed, it was the right thing to do.  This week I had abundant opportunity to practice my new found truths

This has been a week of extremes for me.  Extreme pressure, extreme hours, more extreme pressure and of course, travel.  A couple of days ago, I had responded poorly to a challenge I had been presented with.  Quite frankly, I responded in a not so Christ like way.  I remember thinking almost aloud while sitting in the car at the hotel: “It’s like I am two separate people.  There are times the good Dr. Jekyll is speaking and other times it is the evil Mr. Hyde.”  There is the good Andy and the bad Andy, but there is definitely two Andy’s.  I didn’t give it much thought as I had a lot of training to do.

The next morning (Thursday morning) after an allergy riddled night, I stepped out of the shower and suddenly I remembered a document I received at Onsite last November.  I was so caught unaware, that I simply stood there almost speechless.

An old Cherokee Chief was speaking to a young warrior.  He told him there were two wolves that lived inside of him.  A good wolf and a bad wolf.  They were constantly fighting.  The young warrior asked him, “Who will win?”  The wise old chief answered “The one you feed the most.”

I got goose bumps galore and in a flash, I saw something I had been told, but it didn’t sink in until this morning in the shower in a hotel in Asheville NC.  I am a task oriented person for sure. I want a formulae to work with, something I can do that makes me feel like I am accomplishing something.  I’ve not been able to overcome things in my life that are driving me batty!  I’ve tried and tried and tried, but to no avail.  Gritting my teeth and trying harder produces less results and more frustration.  That clearly isn’t the answer.

But here, in a lonely hotel room under all kinds of pressure, the Lord in his infinite kindness gave me an answer to a question I asked just the day before.  The answer came at the right time, in the right manner for me to understand.  My problem is, I’m feeding the wrong wolf.  Suddenly pieces of the puzzle of my life just plopped into place.  I had a key to my life.  Well, at least the key to a door I couldn’t seem to get through.  Stop feeding the bad wolf and feed the good wolf!  Simple yet profound.  Profound yet something I can do.  Simply stop feeding the bad wolf!  Wow!  My heart was full of hope.  I sensed the Lord smiling as one of his kids “gets it”.

I finished drying off, got dressed and logged on to prepare for my day by reading Small Straws in a Soft Wind by Marsha Burns.  This was for 5-12-2011:.

Haven’t I said that I would give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches in secret places?  Stop and ponder.  You will find that I have brought the light of revelation in areas of your life that you didn’t even expect.  Rejoice that you are growing in understanding because this understanding will make you more effective in My kingdom, says the Lord.  I have given you a taste and a glimpse of My glory, which will make you desire even more.

  Isaiah 45:3 I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, that you may know that I, the LORD, Who call you by your name, Am the God of Israel.

Oh most gracious Lord …. Thank you for your patience and kindness.  Thank you for teaching me in a way I can understand.  Forgive me for being so slow Lord but thank you for your secret places.

Hebrews 11:1 Amplified Bible

NOW FAITH is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see {and} the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses].

​Over the last several months, I’ve been looking very closely at Biblical faith and what it means.  I’ve always been one to read something and then try to figure out how it applies to me.  So it has been with the subject of faith.  I’ve really been trying to get my arms around Biblical faith and what it means for us to operate in faith.  I want to please God.  I want to do what He wants me to do.  I want to be what He wants me to be.  But in order for me to fulfill these lofty goals, I better understand faith.  Hebrews 11:6 adds a bit more fuel to the fire so to speak:

Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please {and} be satisfactory to Him. For whoever would come near to God must [necessarily] believe that God exists and that He is the rewarder of those who earnestly {and} diligently seek Him [out].

I believe the Lord has given me some guidance on this topic and I felt so strongly about it I asked Tom if I might have some time to discuss it with the class. He graciously agreed and so this Sunday during our class in the “blue room”, I want to dive into this subject and see how we can make it applicable to our daily lives.  It’s clear that faith is vital to our walk with God.  I wonder if we give it enough due consideration for it to be a force in our lives.

Take some time today or tomorrow and read the 11th chapter of Hebrews, the “hall of faith” and then meditate on it.  We are going to look at some very practical things and attempt to tie them to our daily lives at Gateway.

I look forward to seeing you on Sunday!

​Andy

PS:  Right after I posted the original blog, I received this timely “Small Straws” update:

SMALL STRAWS IN A SOFT WIND by Marsha Burns — 4/29/11:

I saw the letters “TGH”. What does this mean, LORD? “To Greater Heights!” It is time for you to go forth with a sense of action, adventure, excitement and expectation. If you stay where you are spiritually, you will miss out on one of the greatest moves of My Spirit that has ever been. Watch for opportunities to launch out in faith and do what I’ve given you to do. Be courageous, and refuse to allow fear to keep you from My HIGHEST and best, says the Lord.

Luke 5:4 When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

If you don’t know about “Small Straws in a soft wind”, it is a prophetic ministry that has been so timely and uplifting in my life.  I encourage you to check out Marsha Burns ministry as well as sign up for the daily word she sends out.  Ms. Missy was the first person to tell me about this wonderful ministry. 

Here is the link to sign up:  http://ft111.com/

“If you believe in Jesus, you will not spend all your time in the smooth waters just inside the harbour, full of exhilaration and delight, but always moored; you will have to go out through the harbour bar into the great deeps of God and begin to know for yourself, begin to get spiritual discernment.  If you do not cut the moorings, God will have to break them with a storm and send you out!” – Oswald Chambers Devotional Bible February 21st.

I have been called to jury duty this week and while awaiting the selection process I was given a couple of hours for lunch.  I proceeded to Barnes and Noble and as I was eating lunch, I received a vision.  It was a powerful vision that affected my breathing, my posture and I believe my life.

I saw a large three masted ship leaving a harbour at a good clip.

the_clipper_ship_blue_jacket_on_choppy_seas-large_3

It was headed out into the open seas.  I was standing on the deck and looking out the starboard side.  I could see the swells starting to build.  I could actually feel the ship moving and I adjusted my position in my seat at the bookstore to accommodate the change in the ships pitch and roll.  I looked over the side and could sense the water beginning to move.  My breathing began to pickup as I looked at the back of the ship and saw 5 “banding lines” of the type used to hold paper goods on a pallet, trailing from the ship and going back to the dock.  They were attached to the dock.  The banding lines were small and quite incapable of holding the ship to the dock.  The Lord then quickened to me the banding lines represented the things that have held me back in life.  I saw the ship was headed out to the deep open sea with an open sky and an unlimited horizon.  What was going to break the lines was the act of leaving the harbour, not waiting for the lines to be broken before I left the harbor.

As the vision faded I realized my heart beat was much faster and I had just seen that my time had come.  My ship was leaving the harbour and I was no longer going to be bound to the dock.  As I started to think through the vision, I began to see some things I hadn’t really understood before.

Things I had experienced over the last couple of months and wasn’t quite sure of why was because my ship was preparing to leave the harbour for the open waters.

I also began to realize I have been in harbour for a long time, trying to get the bands off the ship before I sailed.  I thought I had to get these things fixed in order to sail.  But it was actually the act of sailing that broke the banding lines that entangled my life.  It was in the act of leaving for the open seas that will break the lines.  I don’t have to worry about them, I simply need to look out the front of the ship and not worry about those lines, they will be broken for good, and they will no longer inhibit my ship from moving.  Since I am in a wind driven ship (ie: the Holy Spirit) I don’t have to worry about them fouling the propeller or anything like it. 

Mark 4:35 is the story of the storm and Jesus asleep in the back of the boat.  The whole story started with a command: “Lets cross over to the other side.”  As Paul Harvey would have said, “Now for the rest of the story.”

I’ve heard the Lord say a couple of things to me: “Whom shall I send to the Hispanic Mission field?”  I said “I’ll go Lord.”  “Ok” He said, “Let’s go over to the other side.”  I am in the boat and it’s leaving the harbour, heading for “the other side.”  Yes there will be storms ahead, big storms.  But I don’t want to stay in the harbour any longer.  I sense the Lord’s timing is right.  I’m where I’m supposed to be.  We are headed for the deep.  When I look at the people I have looked up to and wanted to be like in my life, they are people who have accomplished great things.  Lewis and Clarke, Earnest Shackleton, the Apostles Peter and Paul as well as many others.  All left the safe harbour of life and attempted to do great things.  Some made it, some didn’t but they all tried.  Well, I believe God has given me a charge and I’m going after it.

As the Lay Leader of Gateway, I ask you to pray for us as a church and for me as your friend and Lay Leader.  I believe God is getting ready to do a great work in our lives.  My boat is much larger than I can manage on my own and I need shipmates to help.  Anyone want to go for a boat ride????

Lord: I think of the great Irish seaman’s prayer.  Oh Lord, your sea is so big and my ship is so small.  Help me lord navigate to the other side and help mis hermanos y hermanas as they wade through the immigration morass in this country.  Help me to see them and their situation as you do and to keep focused on you and your Word as we sail this sea together.

Thanks Lord.

Now full speed ahead mates!