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Archive for Broken


In this final post, I’d like to offer four thoughts on applying the story of Job to our lives.

First, focus on what you affirm to be true about God. Those who know me are aware that I have a deep distaste for cliché Christianity and “pat answers.” I think those things should be categorically rejected. Neither can we praise mystery without restraint. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Job struggled deeply, but his struggle was the struggle of a believer who clung tightly to his convictions about what he knew to be true of God.

Second, it is possible to serve God with a pure heart in the midst of suffering. It’s important to remember that suffering does not give you a hall pass on faith and the practice(s) of faith. You can and should live your faith to the best of your ability in spite of your circumstances.

Third, be aware that there are always bigger purposes at work in your life, whether you know it or not. Job endured his entire battery of suffering not knowing about God’s conversation with the accuser at the throne. We must realize that when suffering strikes home God is not being capricious or arbitrary. He’s not playing cosmic games with his creatures to alleviate his own boredom. At the same time, what you experience is not always about you. There are larger forces and purposes at work even though we may not see them as such.

Finally, any suffering helps us to identify more closely with Christ. If you lay the life of Job atop the life of Jesus you’ll quickly identify several interesting parallels. Both suffered greatly, both suffered innocently, and both understood the fickle nature of friends and followers. Ultimately, both Job and Jesus found help on this earth in the end. For Job, it was restoration, and for Jesus, it was resurrection. Never forget that suffering is the primary tool that God invests in your life to make you more like Jesus. In Paul’s quest for knowledge of Christ, he wrote, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10, NIV). The former does not come without the latter. That was true of Paul, and its true of us as well.

Categories : Broken, Evil, Job, Suffering
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I suppose volumes could be written on Job and his suffering. I think that the 30,000 foot view of the book as a whole provides some helpful insights regarding the broken places in our lives.

Observation One: Job insisted that his suffering was within the framework of the sovereignty of God. In chapter 2:10 he asks, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” Job is not certain as to what was happening to him, and even less certain as to why those things were happening. But he realized just the same that nothing could touch his life without God’s sanction. Behind the suffering stood Satan, and behind Satan stood God.

Observation Two: Job highlights the fact that there is such a thing as innocent suffering. Sometimes our suffering is the direct result of a particular sin or sins. But some suffering occurs that is not directly related to any sin. Suffering can be the result of human malice, negligent behavior, irresponsible governing, human selfishness, or natural disaster. All suffering is a consequence of the fall. But not all suffering is the direct retribution of particular sin. The whole point of the story is that Job was innocent. We insist on an economy where good people have good things happen to them and bad people have bad things happen to them. If bad things happen to you, you have done something wrong. Job is a blanket protest against this analysis of how things are in the world.

Observation Three: No matter how we prepare ourselves for the possibility of suffering, nothing can adequately prepare us for the actual shock of reality. It’s not unlike diving into an ice cold pool or stepping into a cold shower. In Job 3:25 Job said, “What I always feared has happened to me. What I dreaded has come true.” Job had already thought about these things. He knew it was not beyond possibility, and to that extent he was prepared. But awareness of the possibility or even the probability doesn’t decrease the pain.

Observation Four: Job doesn’t know at the beginning or the end the root of it all…God’s conversation with Satan. God’s intent was to prove that humans can love him, fear him, and pursue righteousness without any prompt material reward. Satan’s contention was that human’s pursuit of God was grounded in self interest, that humans are merely mercenaries, offering their devotion to the highest bidder.

Observation Five: Though his lament was loud and strong, at no point did Job abandon his faith. Why? He knew God was there and he believed God to be loving and just. Job struggled deeply, but his struggles were the struggles of a believer. God does not blame us if in our suffering we honestly vent our despair and confess our loss of hope, our sense of futility and our lamentations about life itself. But in the midst of his complaint lie deep confession. Job affirmed the right things about God’s character and nature.

Categories : Broken, Evil, Job, Suffering
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“He (Job) was blameless — a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil.” (Job 1:2; 1:8; 2:3, NLT)

Any time we discuss the problem of evil and suffering, we are going to face challenges. Those challenges are never more poignant than those times in which the particular suffering strikes us as irrational and unfair. How do we reconcile the lack of proportion between the depth of the suffering and the seeming innocence of those who are afflicted?

One of the benefits of studying the book of Job is that it affirms the innocence of Job. Please notice I didn’t say he was perfect. But on three occasions in the first 25 verses he is called “blameless and upright.” And that was God’s evaluation of his life! Whatever he endured in his suffering was not divine retribution.

Assuming you’re familiar with the story, I’ll skip re-telling the detail of the plot. Suffice it to say, Job had ten children and massive wealth. He was pious and devout to God. It was not pretense. He had his act together in every area that counts: his family, his finances, and his faith.

Unbeknownst to Job, there is a conversation at the throne of God. Satan’s accusation was that God’s followers follow him merely motivated by God’s blessings and protection. He argued that if the blessings and protection of God were removed, the followers would no longer follow.

Which leads to a strong question: Why do you follow God? Is it for the blessings and benefits? Or do you follow God because he is God?

Categories : Broken, Evil, Job, Suffering
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Oct
14

What Happened? (part 2)

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The world has not always been this way. The good news is that it will not always be this way. Even in the midst of chaos in the garden, we find Genesis 3:15, which reads, “And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” (NLT).

This verse is the first mention of the gospel in the Bible. This prophetic word anticipates the coming Christ who will turn right side up all that was undone by the fall through his death, burial and resurrection. The good news of the gospel is that God has offered hope to us in the midst of chaos. We are not without hope or help. God has intervened in our broken world and our broken lives.

The work of Christ on the cross enables and empowers us to find hope in our broken world. But that’s not all. Christ provides the assurance that one day we will be completely delivered from the presence of sin, evil and suffering. Revelation 21:3-4 states, “I heard a loud shout from the throne saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’”

The world has not always been this way, and thankfully will not always be this way. In the meantime, our suffering is an invitation for us to look up, seek God, find help, and receive hope.

Categories : Broken, Evil, Suffering
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Oct
12

What Happened?

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The story of creation begins with God who spoke, created, named, blessed, finished, and rested. The account is accented with the steady refrain “and it was good…” God created and placed the man and the woman in his creation. Humankind was created with a profound capacity for knowing God intimately. Created in the image of God, they were distinguished from the rest of the creation. There in the garden the man and the woman lived perfectly in the presence of God. But living in the presence of God comes with strings attached. God demanded obedience to his will and his commands. Under those conditions, the man and the woman lived in innocence, perfection, joy, and purpose. What does that have to do with suffering? A lot.

First, we discover that suffering was not created by God. God is good and did not create suffering and evil. He created a good world for the good of his creatures. Humans were good and blessed beyond measure, made in the image of God, with an unhindered relationship with God.

Second, there was a time when suffering did not exist in our world. It is not original and has not always existed. When we look at life and our world today, somehow we are reminded that this is not the way it is supposed to be. What happened?

While not a part of creation, evil and suffering do exist. The world is not the way it was and it is not the way it is supposed to be. Humans were created with wonderful privileges and significant responsibilities. But in Genesis 3 we read that they did not follow God’s will or obey His commands. The account begins with a tempter who calls into question God’s truthfulness, purpose, sovereignty, and goodness. It is interesting to read that from Genesis 2:4-3:24 he is “The LORD God,” the covenant making God who not only creates but enters into relationship with his creation. When the tempter addresses Eve, he simply refers to “God.” Adam and Eve got into trouble when they forgot their covenant relationship with God and focused on themselves. But before we become too hard on Adam and Eve, we need to remember that every day we face the same choice: God or Self?

The results of their fall are devastating:
They experienced shame as they discovered their nakedness;
They became estranged from God and tried to hide from him;
They experienced alienation from one another as they attempted to fix blame;
Pain and sorrow entered the picture: for her, pain in labor and delivery, and for him, toil in working the land;
The pair was banned from the garden;
Ultimately, there was physical and spiritual death.
The creation account of chapters 1-2 is accented with the resounding “it was good, it was good, it was good.” From chapter 4 forward, the story is punctuated with a new refrain “and he died, and he died, and he died.”

We have been born in a fallen world. We have never known Eden. Still somehow we know this is not the way it is supposed to be. The fall disrupted the relationship with God, with one another, and with creation. Sin originated in the garden. But it didn’t stay there. Its effects spread to all people of all time.

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Oct
06

Framing the Conversation (part 2)

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Now that we’re aware of some potential missteps in the conversation on evil and suffering, how do we proceed in a healthy and productive way that is honest and authentic?

First, any conversation concerning suffering must be conducted with deep and abiding humility. Clearly the most obvious question we pose when we face adversity is the question “why?” That’s a great question that, by the way, never offends God. It is our nature to seek understanding when trouble comes. But the question “why?” often leads to “why me?” If we get locked up thinking about why adversity has struck we’ll transition from seeking understanding to defending our innocence. In other words, we begin to rhetorically declare that we are not deserving of what we are facing. But humble spirits and humble hearts lead us from “why?” to a better question: “what?” What is it that God is saying through my pain? What is it that God is trying to teach me? What is it that God is trying to develop in my character through this challenge?

Second, any conversation concerning suffering must be done with balanced Bibles. If you’ve ever had a tire on your car get out of balance you know the frustration that can develop from such a seemingly small problem. When we think about suffering in a Christian context, sometimes we misunderstand a number of important texts (or ignore them altogether). There are many Christians who possess an attitude of triumphalism that is more American than Christian. I quick reading of Hebrews 11:32-40 will show you what I mean by this. It is true that many times God’s people receive spectacular and miraculous deliverance. It is also true that many times God’s people do not receive spectacular and miraculous deliverance. In this life, anyway.

Next, any conversation concerning suffering must move beyond pat answers and clichés. I have come to the place in life where I can hardly enter a Christian bookstore because I’ve lost patience with the Christian plaques and platitudes that are available for people to adorn their homes and offices. Just once I’d like to see a knick-knack for sale with a scripture reference from Job! As Christians we live in the tension between faith and mystery. We want to know, but many times we don’t or even can’t. We live in mystery, which according to the apostle Paul is like looking at life through tinted windows (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Finally, any conversation concerning suffering must focus on the cross. Romans 8:31-32 declares, “What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?”
If God has permitted such suffering to come upon his own Son, who am I to think I am exempt? Through the cross we learn that God’s love and presence is constant, and that there is nothing can separate us from the love of God. The cross is not simply the entry point of faith. The cross is the totality of our Christian experience. The cross helps us encounter God through the forgiveness of sin. The cross is the way we understand our lives and our adversity.

Categories : Broken, Evil, Suffering
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Oct
05

Framing the Conversation

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This weekend I kicked of an eight week series titled Broken. In the first message I attempted to offer some helpful words that would equip us to frame the conversation about suffering and evil in a healthy and meaningful way. One of the problems I think we face when we discuss suffering and evil is that we make some false assumptions that are counter-productive. These assumptions become “left turns” that lead us down side streets to frustration. Here are three such missteps.

The first misstep is failing to recognize that suffering and evil are universal experiences that touch each of us. How many times have you seen a news story on television where the eyewitness being interviewed regarding the tragedy said something akin to “I can’t believe this happened in our little town (or neighborhood, or community, or school…)?” If we are blind to the universal nature of suffering and evil, we will fall prey to an attitude that affirms that such events are restricted to others who do not have the same advantages we enjoy. It’s the kind of attitude that holds that those events on the news should happen in the slums, among minorities, the poor, or drug addicts or gangs. Evil and suffering are expected in those contexts, but not on our suburban cul de sacs. This conviction affirms the American dream which encourages us to work hard enough to be able to create geographical distance from the existence of evil and suffering in the world. But the reality is that we are never out of the reach of evil and suffering. We cannot isolate ourselves from it.

Another misstep is to believe that our resources and our resourcefulness can insure our security. Or to be more specific, my money will buy my security. When we have this attitude we think we can prevent most anything because of our education and our work ethic. We can beat the odds. If something does happen it can be minimized because we’re pretty smart. But we cannot insulate ourselves from adversity no matter what we have or what we know.

The final misstep is perhaps the most important one I need to acknowledge. It is the conviction that I am entitled to security because God owes me security. When we possess this attitude we believe that God is somehow under our obligation because we are good people who do good things. Don’t get me wrong, character and integrity are always to be affirmed. Moral and ethical behavior should as well. Volunteerism and active participation in any number of good causes should be celebrated. But none of those things will guarantee security. They will not prevent evil and suffering from touching your life. You cannot put God under your obligation.

Next time I’ll post some thoughts I have concerning how we can frame the conversation in a way that will be beneficial to us.

Categories : Broken, Evil, Suffering
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Oct
01

Broken

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All we have to do is live long enough and we will suffer. It is one of the universal principles at work in our world. Suffering is indiscriminate reaching all people in all places. Suffering is blind to our ethnicity and our checking account balances. It is indifferent to age, gender and education. Suffering has been a part of history. We can identify eras of suffering with single words like crusade, inquisition, slavery, holocaust, or 911. Suffering has multi-faceted dimensions. One may suffer as their physical body grapples with disease while another is bereaved by the loss of a loved one. Another may suffer financially during a down economy while another struggles to pick up the pieces of a marriage that has collapsed. Some may suffer quietly as they work through clinical depression while another struggles violently to be freed from an addiction.

The question on our lips is one of the prominent questions of the Bible. “I am sick at heart. How long, O Lord, until you restore me?” (Psalm 6:3, NLT) This weekend I’m beginning a series titled Broken. If you’re in the DSM area I’d like to invite you to come and worship with us. If not, I’ll be posting reflections each week about the previous weekend’s messages.

Categories : Broken, Suffering
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Sep
23

Broken

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Here’s the artwork for the upcoming series of sermons I’ll be preaching at Ashworth Road on the subject of suffering. I’ve really enjoyed the reading that I’ve been doing to prepare for the series and I’m praying that God will use it to bring comfort and help to those who are struggling. The series begins the first weekend of October. I’m excited about it and pray that you won’t miss a weekend!

Categories : Broken, Preaching, Suffering
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