Monday, December 26, 2011

Why is there so much Suffering?

I just read an article that came in the pre-Christmas mail from RZIM. It was written by Michael Ramsden--the  director of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. In the article he makes two points I find fascinating:
1. When he travels to the parts of the world where suffering seems most severe, he fields no questions about suffering and the moral character of God. The nationals, it seems, trust God in everything, even when things are going well. It is here in the western part of the world that the questions about evil and pain are loudest. Why is this so? That leads to the second point, which is really an observation mixed with hypothesis (but fascinating none-the-less),
2. "Maybe we struggle with suffering so much in the West because we are so comfortable most of the time that we feel we don't need God. We don't rely on Him on a daily basis, and so we don't really know Him as we should. When suffering comes along, therefore, it is not so much that it takes us away from God, but that it reveals to us that we haven't really been close to Him in the first place."

When I pray in times of difficulty it is helpful to remember that in praying to Jesus, I am praying to one who has suffered on an incalculable scale himself. Isaiah says of him:
"He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed" (53:3-5 NIV).
To pull these threads together, it seems to me we must, if we are Christians, live in fellowship with the "Suffering Savior" whether in good or bad times. Are you in a "sunny" phase of life? Be grounding your faith in his word. Store up spiritual strength for the times of clouds and rain. And if you are in a storm, cling to him. "The Lord's our Rock, in Him we hide, A shelter in the time of storm; Secure whatever ill betide, A Shelter in the time of storm" ("A Shelter in the Time of Storm" by Vernon J. Charlesworth).

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Cacophony of Humanity

Psalm 19:1-2

I'm going to blink and this season will be gone. September and October are my favorite months. The sun streams through the green room windows and outside the dogwood berries show bright red against brown-tipped leaves. These days you have to make a conscious effort to enjoy nature around here. Construction vehicles are repairing the railroad tracks and the road is being widened. Trees are being cut down and trucks use "jake brakes" to roar to a stop at the light. I know there are birds and crickets out there, but it's hard to get past the cacophony of humanity.

As a shepherd boy, David spent many nights out on the quiet Bethlehem hills. He did not have to contend with the noise we do today. He wrote, "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard."  I'm sure that was true then, but today it's hard to filter out all the racket.

Do you know a place where you can go to hear nature praising God? Is it naive to think that it's possible to get away from all your responsibilities for an hour once in a while to walk with God unplugged from all the trappings of technology? And, what about the laundry? That certainly won't get done if you go out for a while.

I am a nature lover. Can you tell? As more and more of the planet gets tattooed by pavement I think it takes more and more of a commitment to overcome what Richard Louv calls the modern epidemic of  "nature deficit disorder." I venture to say many people have no idea what I'm talking about in this piece. The best way to come to an understanding is to try it and see for yourself. Google "hiking trails" in your area. Get some sturdy shoes, a camera, a water bottle and your Bible. Consider this your invitation to go listen to nature's praise.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Who is Blessed?

Psalm 1:1

I can't think of anything more practical than having the Lord's blessing in my life. But, sometimes when I look at what I'm going through I start to wonder aloud, "What am I doing wrong?" The usual answer in my case is frustratingly simple--I've lost sight of one of the basics again.

Psalm 1 offers us foolproof advice that's often read, but poorly practiced. Have you ever sought out advice from the wrong people? I have, and I'm not proud of it. But what we may miss here is the difference between our world and the world of the Psalmist's day. The difference? Technology.

We don't have to do anything to solicit advice in our day. All we have to do is lace up and walk out the door or swipe the screen of our smart phones. In so doing we enter Aldous Huxley's Brave New World so full of noise that we can hardly think a thought for ourselves without the influence of some voice somewhere. To grasp this fully just try to imagine navigating a whole day without any media or advertising influences. Music, billboards, radio, TV, newspapers, computers, books...the list is quite long.

You may not intentionally sit down for coffee with the worst person on your block for advice, but is that the only vehicle for advice today? I think not. We can just as easily forfeit the Lord's blessing in our lives by mentally buying what the world is selling as we sit at a bus stop, watch the evening news, or squint at the skywriting at the beach. Mark it down, there isn't an issue or topic you can raise for which the world doesn't have wicked counsel .

What's the solution? Awareness! Don't be caught off guard. You must be able to train yourself to find the lies in the messages around you. Oh yeah, there's some good stuff in verse two as well. But, that's for next time.

Sensing Spiritual Moments

Sometimes we find ourselves in a moment where everything around us seems to shout the presence of God. They may come often for some, but as rare as a comet for others. I'm in one as I write this out in my back yard by the fire on perhaps the most beautiful evening of the year. The kids are in bed and I've dimmed my screen to avoid spoiling the starlit sky.

Sensing Spiritual Moments requires something intangible of us, and in my experience, they come when I least expect them. We cannot manufacture them and they cannot be scheduled in our planners--thought we can plan time to be alone in nature with His word, or in communion with close believing friends.

I was reminded by our missions trip teens on Sunday evening about a memory forged en route from New Mexico to New Jersey. We were returning from two weeks of ministry and travel and were experiencing the tension of events beyond our control. We became aggravated by our slow progress at rest stops compounded by vehicle trouble and allowed an open door for Satan to stir up strife. One of our students recognized the danger and soon Bible verses were beating back the darkness and we fought frustration with worship music.

I am certainly not known as a mystic, but I cannot explain to those who were not there how intense this season of praise became. The Spirit of God descended on that van like Sinai and we all spoke about it afterward. Perhaps you have experienced this too?

Sound theology reminds us that God is always with us. But, if we are honest, we spend the majority of our days thirsting for a sense of the divine that seems just out of reach. I think Paul knew what I mean when he wrote, "now we see in a mirror dimly." Our spiritual senses are not near what they ought to be, they are dull to the point of regularly missing our Father's omnipresence.

Is there anything we can do to cure this deficiency? I mostly encounter these "spiritual moments" when I sense that I have been a part of something that God is or has been doing. When we are battling darkness and cling to the Lord, or when he comes through for us in power, these are the times of spiritual exhilaration. For a biblical example, consider Miriam's dance and song after being delivered from Pharaoh's death chase in Exodus 15.