suffering: a hard lesson

Category : barbarian, faith, fear, hope

 

Israel spent a long time (500 years or so) suffering in Babylon.  Perhaps the one thing that they learned, perhaps even the main reason for the suffering in the first place, was to learn that there was only one God. 

In other words, they became monotheistic.

Now this may not seem like a big deal, but Israel really struggled with this idea that Yahweh (God) was the “one true God”.  They kept getting distracted by all the other religions around them.  They couldn’t learn that lesson while Moses was leading them.  They didn’t learn it during the period of Judges.  They couldn’t really even grasp it under David and Solomon.

It took 500 years of captivity, punishment, and slavery before they finally learned that there was only one God.  We live in a safety first world.  We can’t even imagine the need for suffering.  We can’t even conceive that suffering might be useful.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think God causes suffering.  I don’t think he wanted Israel to go through 500 years of exile.  I don’t think he wants us to have to suffer.  But because we have free will, I believe God has to let these things happen.

G.K. Chesterton once said that it wasn’t suffering that caused meaninglessness, it was too much pleasure.

We live in a world where all of your pleasures, no matter what they are, can be met.  And yet, we also seem to live in a world that is overrun in hopelessness.  Could part of the reason be that we focus completely on pleasure, and never take time to seize the opportunities suffering presents?

The Bible is filled with people who suffered, yet found meaning.  And I think if we look at our own lives, we’d find that same pattern.  Sometimes, just like it was for Israel, suffering is not only informative, it’s necessary.

walking on water

Category : David, God, choice, different, taking action, trust

 

In the last post, I spoke about David’s belief that God would be with him when he faced Goliath.  He didn’t need any more evidence. He didn’t have to wait for “just one more reassurance.”  He just took past experiences and applied them to his life.

Yet so often we don’t act with that same assurance.  Sometimes we want to wait for absolutes before we act.  We play it safe and ask, “God, should I do this, or should I do that?”  Waiting until God gives us some kind of definitive answer. 

Now on the one hand, this is a very valid and legitimate question to ask.  It can be a very bad idea to act without knowing God is there to support you.  But in many cases God has already told us to act, he doesn’t need to repeat himself.  For instance, Jesus already told us to love our enemies.  We don’t need to pray about whether we should love them, we just need to do it.

No matter what decisions we make, or what actions we decide to take, we must always move with God.  As bold as David was, he never would have survived without God’s help.  In fact, that’s the whole point of the story.  David was much smaller than many of the Israelite soldiers.  He was the youngest child (which Israelites viewed as ‘inferior’).  If David had come up to you or I, we would have laughed at him, and said, “sure whatever kid.”  He didn’t fit the mold of manly man, let alone hero.

Which is exactly why God chose him to act.  No one could confuse God’s action as something David did on his own.  Casting Crowns sums up David’s attitude saying, “I’ll go, but I cannot go alone.”  This was David’s life philosophy.  He was aware that it wasn’t his own abilities that would take down Goliath (or the bear, or the lion) but it was God.  He went, but he didn’t go alone.

In Me

If you ask me to leap
Out of my boat on the crashing waves
If You ask me to go
Preach to the lost world that Jesus saves
I’ll go, but I cannot go alone
Cause I know I’m nothing on my own
But the power of Christ in me makes me strong
Makes me strong

Cause when I’m weak, You make me strong
When I’m blind, You shine Your light on me
Cause I’ll never get by living on my own ability
How refreshing to know You don’t need me
How amazing to find that you want me
So I’ll stand on Your truth, and I’ll fight with Your strength
Until You bring the victory, by the power of Christ in me

If You ask me to run
And carry Your light into foreign land
If You ask me to fight
Deliver Your people from Satan’s hand

To reach out with Your hands
To learn through Your eyes
To love with the love of a savior
To feel with Your heart
And to think with Your mind
I’d give my last breath for Your glory

With God’s backing, we can accomplish anything.  As David found out even giants are no match for God.  Or as Peter discovered, even walking on water is possible when we live out a life of faith.  What can God do with our lives, if we choose not to walk alone?

intentionality: taking a risk

3

Category : God, barbarian, sharing faith, taking action, trust

   

I just finished an amazing book – Chasing Daylight by Erwin McManus.  Over the course of a weekend it has radically shaped the way I view my life.  And my relationship with God.  McManus has a gift of rephrasing the world so you see it in a new way.  But more on that Friday.

Chasing Daylight discusses the times God presents us with unique moments where we are given the opportunity to act on God’s behalf.  McManus calls this “seizing your divine moments.”  As God so often works, I was given a divine moment on the plane back from LA yesterday.  I felt God asking me to give my copy of Chasing Daylight to the woman sitting next to me.  I remember thinking, “yeah right, I just spent 10 hours reading this book and taking notes.”  But that excuse didn’t last very long.  So I switched to the ever popular, “but I have plans for this book.”

That’s when it really hit me, God was presenting me with a choice.  I was placed into an opportunity no one else could fill.  I doubt this woman would ever sit next to someone reading Chasing Daylight, and certainly not on her current cross-country journey.  If she was going to get this book, it was going to have to be through me. No one else could do my job for me.

I also knew that I could never look at Chasing Daylight again if I was too afraid to give a book to a stranger.  How could I claim I wanted to seize my divine moments if I couldn’t do this simple task?  So I sucked it up, and decided to give her the book.  I tried to start a conversation about the book.  But she wouldn’t bite.  This wasn’t going to be easy.  Of course I knew all of this.  Somehow I knew all along that I was going to have to turn to her and say, “would you like this book?”

Time was running out.  I could hear God saying “go! act!”  But I was still afraid.  Afraid of giving up my book because I wanted it, and afraid of looking like an idiot in front of this woman.  As the wheels of the plane touched down I turned to her and said, “I finished this book, would you like it?”

She looked at the book, and then at me.  When our eyes met I could tell she was thinking “why do I always sit next to the weird ones?”  After a brief explanation of why I was giving her my book, she accepted and said something like, “I could really learn to hear what God wants of me.”

I have no idea if she’ll ever read the book.  Maybe she thinks I’m some idiot or a Bible-thumper.  I don’t know.  But I do know that sharing God’s love is always the right thing.  Even if it’s awkward and embarrassing.  But there’s more than that – I had to intentionally choose to act.  I was hoping God would make things easy for me, but deep down I knew I was going to have to step out boldly and just “do it.”  This was my chance to do something radical. 

Just as we have to choose to believe in God, we also have to choose to act on those beliefs.  It’s not always easy.  In fact I’d say the vast majority of times it’s difficult.  It comes with risk and often sacrifice (even if that sacrifice is just a book).  We need to be intentional in not only choosing God, but in following him.

sneezing and the cross

Category : God, barbarian, radical

   

I’ve been fighting a nasty cold the last few days (hence the irregular updates for R3).  As I’ve been shuffling along with my achy muscles, taking medicine, and generally being miserable, I began to think about the cross.

That may sound like a strange train of thought, but bear with me for a moment.  Sometimes I have a tendency to gloss over what Jesus did for me.  “Yeah, yeah” I want to say, “I know he died for my sins.”  But, man, that’s such an understatement!  He didn’t just die – he died in a way that is possibly the most vicious method man has invented to kill someone.  God chose to die a painful, humiliating (crucification was for criminals), and slow death.  Just so we could be saved.

That’s all pretty shocking to think about, and it makes me a little uncomfortable.  Especially because I get pretty grumpy when I’m sick.  I tend to snap, and be rude towards people who are just trying to help me.  I tell myself that I’m not a ‘people person’ when I’m sick.  As if that somehow justifies my behavior.

So each time I’ve reached for my medicine I’ve been reminded that God suffered for me (and you).  And he did it without Tylenol.  The bottom line is my suffering is nothing compared to what he went through.  I don’t have much excuse for being mean while I’m sick if I want to follow the example God set.  If God loved us so much that he sacrificed his own son, then I can at least smile at people when I’m at the store picking up more Kleenex.

I believe God can use any circumstance to teach us something.  For me I now have a better appreciation for what God did for me.  So now, instead of being sick, I find I’m also grateful.  Grateful for God’s salvation, and grateful for modern chemistry!