Are pain and difficulty a result of sin or lack of faith? Part 3, When God doesn’t make sense.

All of us carry around in our hearts an image or idea of what we think God is like.  But I think it’s important that we let God speak for Himself.  So many of our ideas are shaped by the media, by culture, by our past, by our parents, sometimes even by disappointments in life.  But let’s let God speak for Himself.  That’s what we are attempting to do in these posts where we are addressing “When God doesn’t make sense.”

“Let Me be God” is what I addressed in the last post. That’s one thing God says to us. Another thing I think He would tell us is that pain and difficulty are a reality but not always as a result of sin or a lack of faith.  The reality is that for purposes that we don’t always understand God allows painful and difficult experiences in our life.

James is so clear about this out of James 1:2-3 “Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way [not “if” but “when”] let it be an opportunity for joy.  When your faith is tested your endurance has a chance to grow.” 

The reality is you and I don’t get a vote.  Suffering simply happens.  We cannot choose whether or not we will suffer.  We don’t get to choose how we’ll suffer.  We don’t get to chose necessarily how long we’ll endure it.  But one thing we do get to choose is how we respond to it.

When you read through this history of the Bible or the history of the Christian faith you will see a trail of suffering and struggle.  But somehow in our generations many Christians have come to believe that pain and hardship must be a sign that we’re doing something wrong.  Or that God doesn’t care about us.  Or that we must not have enough faith.  And nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, many of the heroes of the Bible both men and women were people who never were delivered from their struggles.  In fact, in Hebrews 11, that great chapter on faith says “But others trusted God and were tortured preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free.  They placed their hope in the resurrection to a better life.  They were too good for this world.  They wandered over deserts and mountains hiding in caves and holes in the ground.  Their life was hard.”  Verse 39 “All of these people we have mentioned received God’s approval because of their faith yet none of them received all that God had promised.” 

They didn’t just have the good life.  They suffered and had significant struggles.  But they are honored here for their faith in spite of the fact that they weren’t always delivered.  They rank among the greatest Christians of all times.

One day Jesus was asked very directly about this whole issue of sin and suffering.  In John 9 the Bible says that Jesus was with His disciples and the disciples come to Jesus when they confront a man who was blind from birth.  And they say, “Jesus who sinned?  Was it this man or his parents?” Jesus very directly and clearly says “Neither one.  This has happened so that the power of God and the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

Pain is often not at all about punishment but rather about God’s desire to demonstrate His power.  Many times suffering is not at all about a rebuke but about a refinement.  It is often not about your failure but rather about God’s attempt to build your faith.  So God says, “Let Me be God.  I’ll decide what I’ll allow into your life but don’t think your suffering is necessarily connected to any kind of sin or lack of faith.”

Next time we will consider a third thing I believe God says to us today.

“Let Me be God,”–When God Doesn’t Make Sense, Part 2

It’s likely over the next few posts some of us will have our ideas of God challenged. But I want to encourage you to just read each post all the way through, even though they are lengthy in content. You owe it to yourself. Take time to digest it and then to take the Bible yourself and see if what is said is true. I’m convinced that if God in the flesh were here this morning there are at least two things He would say to us on this topic.  

I’m convinced God would say, “Let me be God.”   

We must begin by having an accurate understanding of God and His character.  How many of you are familiar with this thing called Glamour Shots?  Have you ever walked into somebody’s house and one of the family members have had a Glamour Shot and they have it setting up on their mantle.  You go, “Wow!  Who is that?”  The guys and the gals that do these glamour shots are miracle workers in my opinion.  A lot of times what they do is not just a touchup.  It’s a complete remodel.  I’m very impressed.  

Here’s the point: Some of us carry around a glamour shot image of God.  We’ve airbrushed it and changed it and remodeled God just a little bit so that it barely resembles the real thing and reflects more how we think God should be rather than what He’s really like.  

It reminds me a little bit of a little boy in the third grade named Danny.  Danny received the assignment in the third grade to explain God.  He has a pretty interesting explanation.  He said, “One of God’s most important jobs is listening to prayers.  An awful lot of this goes on and because of it God doesn’t have time to listen to the radio or watch TV.  Jesus is God’s Son.  He used to do all the hard work like walking on water, performing miracles and trying to teach the people who didn’t want to learn about God.  They finally got tired of Him preaching to them so they crucified Him.  But He was good and kind like His Father and He told His Father that they didn’t know what they were doing and to forgive them and God said OK.  His Dad, God, appreciated everything He had done and all His hard work on earth so He told Him you don’t have to go out on the road anymore.  He said He could stay in heaven.  So He did.  And now He helps His Dad sort of like a secretary but only more important.  You can pray at any time you want and they’re sure to help you because they’ve got it worked out that one of them is on duty all the time.  You should always go to church on Sundays because it makes God happy and if there’s anybody you want to make happy it’s God.  Don’t skip church or do something you think will be more fun like going to the beach.  This is wrong.  Besides the sun doesn’t come out at the beach until noon anyway.” 

All of us carry around in our lives and hearts an image or idea of what we think God is like.  But I think it’s important that we let God speak for Himself.  So many of our ideas are shaped by the media, by culture, by our past, by our parents, sometimes even by disappointments in life.  But let’s let God speak for Himself.  Here are three statements of what I think reflect what God says about Himself in the Bible. 

1.  God is in control and decides what He allows into my life.  I think it’s a healthy place to start by reminding us that He alone is God.  The Bible is absolutely clear that God is in control over the affairs of the world and He is in control of the details of your life and mine.  So no matter what situation you’re facing I can tell you based on the authority of scripture that God is not surprised.  Your situation has not caught God off guard.  He is not sitting in heaven ringing His hands wondering whether all of this is going to work out.  Proverbs 19:21 says “We may make a lot of plans but the Lord will do what He has decided.”  Daniel 4:35 “All the people on earth are nothing compared to Him.  He has the power to do as He pleases among the angels in heaven and with those who live on the earth.  No one can stop Him or challenge Him by saying, ‘What do you mean by doing these things?’”  The Bible is so crystal clear that God is all powerful and nothing happens to me or to you without Him allowing it.

Some people, because of their own personal journey in pain, have decided to give God a makeover. They haven’t been able in their minds to reconcile the kind of pain they have experienced and endured and a God who is all powerful and who may not change that situation.  One of the best examples of that is by Harold Cushner who many years ago wrote a book called When Bad Things Happen To Good People.  After watching his son die of a disease Cushner concludes that even God has a hard time keeping chaos in check.  And that God is a God of justice but not a God of power.  Millions of readers bought the book and found a kind of comfort in a God who is kind and compassionate but weak and powerless.  A famous survivor of the holocaust responding to Cushner’s book said, “If that’s who God is why doesn’t He resign and let somebody more competent take His place.”  

I don’t know about you but there’s not much comfort in a God who is kind but powerless.  Nor does such a view reflect the God of the Bible.  The very essence of what it means to be God is to have absolute power and control and sovereignty.  And God gets to decide what happens in us.  

2.  Secondly I think He would tell us that pain and difficulty are a reality but not always as a result of sin or a lack of faith.  The reality is that for purposes that we don’t always understand God allows painful and difficult experiences in our life. 

James is so clear about this out of James 1:2-3 “Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way [not “if” but “when”] let it be an opportunity for joy.  When your faith is tested your endurance has a chance to grow.”   

The reality is you and I don’t get a vote.  Suffering simply happens.  We cannot choose whether or not we will suffer.  We don’t get to choose how we’ll suffer.  We don’t get to chose necessarily how long we’ll endure it.  But one thing we do get to choose is how we respond to it.

When you read through this history of the Bible or the history of the Christian faith you will see a trail of suffering and struggle.  But somehow in our generations many Christians have come to believe that pain and hardship must be a sign that we’re doing something wrong.  Or that God doesn’t care about us.  Or that we must not have enough faith.  And nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, many of the heroes of the Bible, both men and women, were people who never were delivered from their struggles.  In fact, in Hebrews 11, that great chapter on faith says “But others trusted God and were tortured preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free.  They placed their hope in the resurrection to a better life.  They were too good for this world.  They wandered over deserts and mountains hiding in caves and holes in the ground.  Their life was hard.”  Verse 39 “All of these people we have mentioned received God’s approval because of their faith yet none of them received all that God had promised.”  They didn’t just not have the good life.  They suffered and had significant struggles.  But they are honored here for their faith in spite of the fact that they weren’t always delivered.  They rank among the greatest Christians of all times.  

One day Jesus was asked very directly about this whole issue of sin and suffering.  In John 9 the Bible says that Jesus was with His disciples and the disciples come to Jesus when they confront a man who was blind from birth.  And they say, “Jesus who sinned?  Was it this man or his parents?” Jesus very directly and clearly says “Neither one.  This has happened so that the power of God and the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

Pain is often not at all about punishment but rather about God’s desire to demonstrate His power.  Many times suffering is not at all about a rebuke but about a refinement.  It is often not about your failure but rather about God’s attempt to build your faith.  So God says, “Let Me be God.  I’ll decide what I’ll allow into your life but don’t think your suffering is necessarily connected to any kind of sin or lack of faith.” 

3.  God is not obligated to explain Himself or His purposes to us.  I’m sure most of us have heard of a man in the Bible named Job.  The Bible says that when he lived he was the most righteous man on planet earth. One day the Bible says that Satan came before the Lord and said, “The only reason Job serves You is because he’s got it made.  You’ve given him the good life.  But if You took all of that away he would curse You.”  So God allowed Job to be stripped of everything.  Remember, as we go through this, Job is completely unaware of the conversation that took place in heaven.  But here’s how the story unfolds.

Not long after that conversation the Bible says that a messenger came to Job and said, “I don’t know how to tell you this but all your animals, all your livestock have been raided.  They’ve been stolen and the family business is gone and your wealth has vanished.”  And as he was speaking another messenger came in and said, “Job, that’s not all.  When they raided your flocks all your servants were murdered.  Not one of them is still alive.”  And while he was speaking another messenger came in.  You can almost hear the panic as you read the story as he says, “Job, there’s been a freak windstorm and the house collapsed and all ten of your children have died.”  And to compound the problems the Bible says that Job also loses his health and from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head he has sores all over his body.  And finally in total agonizing desperation his wife comes to him and says, “Why don’t you just end it.  It’s not worth going on.  Just curse God and die.”  And Job somehow finds it within himself the ability to say to her “Should we accept only good from God and not trouble?”  And for the next 35 chapters you and I have a front row seat as we get to watch Job wrestle with the questions of pain and suffering.   

His friends come to him and say, “Job, the reason for your problems must be because of some sin in your life.”  There are times in the book when Job goes through deep depression and grieving.  There are times when his faith surges and he declares his loyalty to God.  There’s a couple of times when he demands that God give him the answers to his problems.  And there are even some times when he regrets that he had ever been born. 

But chapter after chapter goes by and there is no response from heaven.  Finally in chapter 38 God breaks the silence.  For 37 chapters the silence is deafening.

What would God say to Job?  “Job, I’m really sorry for all you’ve had to go through but there was a purpose in it.  And Job I have my reasons and you passed the test with flying colors.  I’m really proud of you.”  A little compassion, a little bit of answer, a little encouragement and compliment?  That’s not at all what God says. 

In fact, God doesn’t explain Himself at all.  He simply explodes.  God doesn’t explain His grand design.  He just reveals Himself and He doesn’t answer one of Job’s questions.  But for four chapters all that God talks about is His own power, His majesty, His sovereignty, His creative ability.  And at the end of it Job’s response is this, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”  God’s answer to Job is, “Job, I am God.”

And as hard as it is to accept, you will go to your grave and I will go to my grave with some questions unanswered. 

I remember when I was a young preacher I would walk through a time of tragedy with some family in our church I always felt obligated to try to explain what God was doing.  Somehow to justify what was happening in their lives.  

I have long sense learned that the most important thing you offer to people in crises is your presence and your love and your support.  Let’s face it.  Sometimes there are no words to adequately explain.  Sometimes there is not a Bible verse that can be pulled out of the scripture that somehow erases all the pain and explains what God is up to. The reality is that sometimes there are just no answers.  

1 Corinthians 13 “Now all we can see of God is like a cloudy picture in a mirror.  We don’t understand Him always.  But later we will see Him face to face and we will understand.”   

So God says, “Let me be God.” 

In the next post we will discuss a second thing God would say to us.

When God doesn’t make sense!

Here’s a 35-year-old woman who has dedicated her life to God.  Is this her reward? God, where were You when this happened?  And if You could have prevented it, why didn’t You?”

Last week a very dear servant of the Lord passed away after weeks of surgeries, procedures and unfortunate events. Her name was Valerie. She was thirty-five years old. She was the wife of my nephew, Chris. Thousands of people were praying for her recovery day and night. I have not witnessed as much prayer for one person in a long, long time. But she did not recover. God did not pull her through. On Saturday, March 12 she was laid to rest.  

The question that flood, of course, is “Why God?”  This all seems so senseless.  Where’s the fairness and justice in this tragedy?  Maybe in a little bit of cynicism some of us might ask the kind of question posed at the beginning of this post.

And if you’re Chris, her husband, how do you begin to make sense out of this tragedy.  The next morning and every morning since and every morning for the rest of his life Chris will wake up and Valerie will not be by his side.  He will never again be able to hold Valerie in his arms.  He lost his wife and lover and friend and partner in ministry. 

These things surface in us a lot of raw emotions.  Because they cause us to ponder some of life’s most difficult and profound questions.  I would like to just take a few blog entries and spend a little time dealing with some of the most fundamental questions we face as human beings.  These questions have been around since the beginning of time but they’re just as current as today’s news.  Time magazine even carried a feature story with the title, “When God hides His face.”  The subtitle asks the question, “Can faith survive when hope has died?” 

Maybe that’s your question.  Maybe you’ve dealt with a set of circumstances that lead you to a lot of questions and ultimately to some frustrations.  And maybe like the Psalmist in Psalm 44 you’d like to ask God some questions.  Like, “God why are You sleeping?  Get up.  Don’t reject us forever.  Why do You hide from us?  Have you forgotten our pain and troubles?”

Maybe your frustration has led you to a place like that. I want to tell you right up front.  We as Christians also have questions.  There are things that we don’t always understand.  We don’t always know what God is up to.  We suffer and have problems as well.  Being a Christian doesn’t insulate you or isolate you from life’s problems.  I think it’s important that we drag them out, put them on the table and be honest about that from the very start. 

The great news is if you are reading these posts just checking out Christianity you’ll get a great opportunity to see Christianity in action.  Perhaps the greatest evidence of our faith is watching how some Christians walk through unbelievable hurtful situations and tragedies and come out on the other side not resentful, not bitter.  But with a peace and with a trust in God and with their faith in tact.  I don’t want to gloss over the very real and agonizing pain that even Christians endure when life falls apart.

In these posts, I want us to be honest and take a real look at Christianity in the trenches.  I don’t want to airbrush our faith or only show you pictures that are pleasant.  That’s not life.  Life is not always clean or rational or pleasant.  Many people’s biographies do not end with the words, “They lived happily ever after.”

Have you ever listened to somebody’s story, somebody who went through a crisis and they had the miracle?  They got the big answer to the prayer they were needing.  While you rejoice with them, there’s a sinking feeling in your own gut as you quietly wonder, “What about me?  How come God isn’t answering my prayer?  Am I doing something wrong?  Do I not have enough faith?  Am I not praying the right words?  Is God mad at me?”

And then, how do you respond when you pray and you pray and you pray and your mate isn’t healed?  Or how do you respond when your mate leaves you and abandons you and you pray for reconciliation but they just end up remarried.  How do you cope when life doesn’t end up like you hoped and prayed? 

This is not just a discussion for those facing the life threatening issues of cancer or the loss of a spouse or even a lost marriage. It could be a financial circumstance that you’re up against.  It could be feeling stuck in a relationship that’s going nowhere.  It could be getting passed over for that promotion again.  It could be any situation where life doesn’t make sense and you can’t understand what God is doing. You are trying your best to do the right and good things but bad things are still happening.

At the heart of this discussion there are just two simple things I’d like to be able to communicate to you.

  •        First, to draw an accurate portrait of who God is and how He works.
  •        And secondly offer some practical help for when our faith is challenged by life’s difficulties.

It’s likely over the next few posts some of us will have our ideas of God challenged. But I want to encourage you to just hear me out.  To digest it and then to take the Bible yourself and see if what is said is true. I’m convinced that if God in the flesh were with us right now there are at least two things He would say to us on this topic.

Before we move into those I need for you to spend some time in deep thought and prayer. Are you ready for this discussion? Are you ready to hear what God has to say? Is there someone else you need to invite to engage and listen as well? Give them an invitation to join us. I will be back in a day or so with the first of the two things I think God would say to us if He were with us in person today.

 

Meet the staff of NVCC

New Venture Christian Church has had some changes in staff and we wanted to take a couple minutes to present to you each of our current staff along with a brief description of their ministry areas. With the addition of Kevin Gibson this seems to be the perfect time to make these introductions and explanations.

The staff offices are at 201 N Courthouse Rd, the building we call our Ministry Center We also use the Ministry Centers for classes and seminars as well as storing and packing meals for our school Back Pack Lunch Program.

The Ministry Center phone number is 804-378-7727. Please feel free to contact us if we can assist you with anything.

 My role at New Venture is the teaching minister as well as vision setter, with the assistance of our other elders. I say other elders because we have additional elders that serve as part of the leadership team along with myself. My primary ministry is to develop the teaching “diet” of the church as well as chart direction with the input and insight of others. I have been with NV since before the beginning. The actual launch date was October 4, 2004 but the concept and plans began in my heart long before then. steve@relaxedchurch.com

Joey leads our student ministry that includes middle and high schoolers. He develops the weekly gathering of teens called EDGE and plans other activities and events for our teens that focus on service as well as fun. Joey has been part of the NV staff since August, 2008. He is married to Stephanie and they have no children yet but two dogs, Goldie and Mocha.
Joey also serves in other minor roles at NV as well as volunteers in KidVenture on a regular basis. joey@relaxedchurch.com

Sharon has filled the leadership of our children’s ministry, known as Kidventure, for 4 1/2 of the church’s 6 1/2 year existence and has developed a children’s ministry that is solid, grounded in God’s Word as well as lots of fun. She has assembled, (and is always in the assembling mode), a team of dedicated volunteers that teach and care for our children with excellence. Kidventure is committed to helping our kids discover a growing adventure with God. sharon@relaxedchurch.com

 

Kevin is our most recent addition to the NV staff, beginning his ministry on February 20, 2011. Kevin is a life long resident of the Richmond area. We are excited about the leadership he brings to the development of our worship gatherings each week.
Kevin is married to Elizabeth, who is a middle school teacher in Chesterfield County. They do not have any children yet but are the “parents” of a dog named Myles. kevin@relaxedchurch.com

  


 

 

 

 

A Comeback Story Worth Telling

John A. Sarkett has written a thrilling book called EXTRAORDINARY COMEBACKS. It is a collection of 201 inspiring stories of courage, triumph, and success. In the book he tells the stories of hundreds of people who came back from defeat and tragedy and pain because they had the courage to try one more time. There is, however, one comeback story that does not appear in Starkett’s book but is none the less worth noting. It is the comeback story of New Venture Christian Church.

New Venture is about six and a half years old. Her history has been one of ups and downs. The entire year of 2010 was pretty much a downer. It couldn’t get much more down than it was during most of last year. It was the year when we lost about 40% of our church. For whatever the reason, there were several families that just decided that they no longer wanted to be a part of the mission, vision and family of NV. So they exited. It was so disappointing at times during the year that there were those who even suggested we consider backing it in and closing our doors. 2010 was an extremely difficult year.

However, there were those who still believed in the vision, mission and family of NV and were determined to move forward in spite of the challenges. And there were huge challenges. They believed that God was bigger and greater than any of them and that God had bigger and greater plans for the NV church body. So we pushed forward with all our hope in the Lord. And when I say, all our hope in the Lord, I mean all our hope in the Lord. He was our only lifeline. And we have not been disappointed.

Six months later NV is not the church she used to be. We are not the dejected, discouraged group of adventurers caught in the doldrums of what to do and where to go that we were for a season of our existence. We are alive and well. NV is a thriving church family once again, stronger than we have ever been before because of what God has done and what He has brought us through.

Our Sunday gathering are up almost 50% over our low point of 2010. We are already averaging more per week in attendance than we did the entire year of 2010. Our offerings are also averaging more than our yearly average for the last year. Our Connecting With God class, that is an indicator of health in the body, is once again offered on a regular basis. People are again talking about and giving serious consideration to giving their life to Christ and following Him in baptism. Many, many people are inviting friends to our gathering with excitement. First time visitors are in our services every week. So many signs of life and vitality fill the NV church body.

This is not to say that everything is great. We have lots of work to do to, some of which is restoring what we used to know, other is developing what is still needed for a health church family. And we are in no way serving and reaching our community as God desires and designed this church to do. Not to mention, the expansion of a world view that reaches far beyond our current vision.  We have lots of work to do.

But we are healthy and moving in the right direction, all of which is a loud and victorious proclamation that God has taken what we were just a few months ago and worked a remarkable and glorious turn around. He is good. He is our comeback miracle worker. He is our hope, now and forever.