Jesus is rest.

Jesus is rest.

“For I satisfy the weary ones and refresh everyone who languishes.” (Jeremiah 31:25, NASB)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28, NIV)

A prophesy from Jesus about Himself:

The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue,

to know the word that sustains the weary.

He wakens me morning by morning,

wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.

The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears,

and I have not been rebellious;

I have not drawn back.

I offered my back to those who beat me,

my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;

I did not hide my face

from mocking and spitting.

Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,

I will not be disgraced.

Therefore have I set my face like flint,

and I know I will not be put to shame.

He who vindicates me is near.

Who then will bring charges against me?

Let us face each other!

Who is my accuser?

Let him confront me!

It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me.

Who is he that will condemn me?

They will all wear out like a garment;

the moths will eat them up.

Who among you fears the Lord

and obeys the word of his servant?

Let him who walks in the dark,

who has no light,

trust in the name of the Lord

and rely on his God.

But now, all you who light fires

and provide yourselves with flaming torches,

go, walk in the light of your fires

and of the torches you have set ablaze.

This is what you shall receive from my hand:

You will lie down in torment. (Isaiah 50:4-11, NIV)

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Christmas for Newtown Connecticut

The anguish of what has happened at in Newtown Connecticut is unimaginable to me. There is nothing in all the world like a child. There is no beauty the same as a child reaching to hold your hand. There is no joy the same as a child wrapping her arms around you. There is no love the same as a child showing you the scribbledy picture he made just for you.  The heartbreak of Newtown, Connecticut is more than voiced prayers can touch; only the groanings of God can express this pain.

This elementary teacher’s story reflects the real reason we have Christmas. Jesus came to us to hide us in His love; to protect us from the enemy; to hold us close when we were in our most desperate time. The Christmas story does not end in a cozy manger, but continues to a blood-streaked cross and finally culminates with an empty tomb.

I know Christ is with these suffering parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, classmates, teachers, and friends. But I cannot fathom the grief this causes His heart; no one can. He lived this grief at the cross, and He lives it once again now as sin has brought such agony to these precious families.

We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. (Romans 8:26b)

The grasshopper

I’m not sure I ever believed I would really write about this, though I have thought about it before.  But I think now is the time.

I hate the term “defining moments”, because it’s really overused and seems cheap.  But there are times in life that you think maybe, just maybe, had more to do with many things that followed than you ever realized.  Set the tone for who you were going to be.  Led to things you wouldn’t have imagined, for better or for worse, from that one instant of decision-making.

For me, just such a time happened when I was about 7 years old and playing with a neighbor boy–I’ll call him Steve–about the same age.  There was another boy there, too.  I think he was a cousin.

I came over and immediately found a game being played I didn’t understand.  Steve, who was friendly to me–and who I secretly had a crush on–told me he and his cousin were in the “I Hate Grasshoppers Club”.  They asked me if I wanted to join.  I had no real idea what they were talking about, until Steve explained they tortured and killed grasshoppers.

I’m not sure I really even knew what the word torture meant.  Both boys were so friendly.  I decided I would be a part of their club.

But that wasn’t the defining moment.

We went into their backyard, looking for grasshoppers.  I was secretly hoping we would not find any.  They did, however.

Over the next length of time that seemed a few seconds short of eternity, I watched Steve shove the grasshopper in an empty milk gallon and fill it halfway with water.  Watching the grasshopper struggle in the jug was one of the worst moments in my life.  I really do mean that.  It isn’t because it was one of the worst things that has ever happened in my life, just by the act of the grasshopper drowning.  There are many things worse than a grasshopper drowning.  But it was one of the worst things that ever happened because I was a witness to it, and I did nothing.

I didn’t know then how much that one choice would be setting my feet on a path that I would struggle to break from for years and years.

But that wasn’t the defining moment, either.

Finally, when the grasshopper did not drown after a long struggle, Steve took a nail and said he was going to drive it through the grasshopper’s body.  We were standing on the cement driveway and he had an old nail.  In many ways, I can remember that event better than I can remember yesterday.

I remember that the babysitter–probably about 16 of so–had come out of the house and was watching, with something like a mix of skepticism and acceptance.  I remember thinking how it must be okay, to some level, to be doing this if a babysitter could watch and do nothing.

I remember watching Steve drive the nail in the grasshopper’s body, and the agonizing struggle of the insect’s kicking legs, and then a stillness.

But even that was not the defining moment.

I went home and I felt awful.

I many times tried to block the whole thing out of my mind.  To some people, it might seem trivial, even funny.  It was, after all, an insect–and there are millions of them.  To me, it was ghastly.  And it became worse every time I thought about it.  To this day, I have never gotten over the guilt of it–it is a very conscious, shocking guilt, like having cold water thrown in my face, every time I think of it.  I believe because I thought, ever after, How could I have let that happen?  I didn’t think I could have.  I didn’t know I was the kind of person who lets something like that happen.

It was a far worse wound because I had done it to myself.

The defining moment, though, was a part of the story I haven’t told.

Back up to when the boys found a grasshopper in the backyard.

I felt so sorry for the small grasshopper.  I did not want them to torment it.  And I also desperately wanted to be liked.  And I saw an opportunity to do something that was really I think the most horrible thing I had ever done in my life up to that point.

Off to the side, sitting on the porch, perfectly at peace, perfectly still, was a large grasshopper.

I said, “What about this one?”

I become ill thinking about it.

Steve let out some cry of excitement.  Both boys congratulated me.  They let the little grasshopper go.

And the grasshopper that struggled in the gallon of water for all those long minutes, the grasshopper that had had the nail driven through his body . . suffered because of me.

I have never let it go.  I don’t think I will ever let it go until I am face to face with Christ.  It has been on the earthly-permanent list of things I cannot forgive myself for . . since the moment after the grasshopper died.  I walked away from that house knowing something had happened . . I had lost something in myself that I could not get back, no matter how hard I tried.

But God has brought to my attention that, even in what to me is irredeemable, God has worked.

Because in the most extraordinary way, at the age of 7, I experienced the reality of substitutionary atonement.

One grasshopper died in place of another, doing nothing to deserve this changing of places.  Just being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Jesus died in place of me, doing nothing to deserve this changing of places.  But, in this case, I wasn’t innocent, too.  I was totally guilty, making the changing of places a trillion times more unbearable.

But Jesus wasn’t at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Jesus claimed He was at the right place at the right time.  Jesus claimed, before He was ever placed on the cross, that He was going to be tortured and killed.  And He claimed that this was so all the guilty people who wanted to be innocent . . could receive their innocence back by His carrying of their guilt.

It’s an overwhelming premise.  It’s unequivocally the most defining moment in history: not the cross itself, but that Jesus reveals, in essence,

I will go to the cross for you.

When I realize what He did, to me it is more astonishing than His resurrection from the dead or any of His other miracles.  Stop here.  Look hard at this love.  Gaze at it for as long as you want.  It is not pretend; it does not go away.  This is the greatest miracle of all.

This is love supernatural.

But it is not just supernatural.  It is beyond that.  It is a love beyond what angels can afford.

It is the love of God.

I believe it is the love of Christ that is the best proof He is God, because there is nothing of such infinite quality in the entire world.

You can turn away.  It is possible.  You can click out of this blog and pretend you never read it.  You can scoff at the love of Christ.  You can even hate it.

But you can never find it anywhere else.

And if you turn away, you will be on your own when it comes to your conscience.

My sin has demanded the sacrifice of God.  But it in no way necessitated it.  God was under no obligation to act on the demand.

And yet He did.

By the love of Christ, I WILL NOT turn away from Him who, when He saw my future and my fall into the hands of eternal darkness and separation, volunteered Himself, revealing in essence,

Here I am.  Take Me instead.

And He did it knowing I was the one to point Him out.

Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that left Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished.

–by Stuart Townsend[1]

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. (Isaiah 53:4-5, NIV)

[1] From How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, Stuart Townsend

Thorns

Thorns are a part of the curse on the earth resulting from Adam’s sin, and Christ wore a crown of thorns when He died on the cross.

In the moments of His trial, ridicule, and persecution, Christ offered his body, mind, and soul to receive the curse for us.  And on the cross, when the Bible tells us He was not even recognizable as a human–something no picture or movie can ever portray–Christ was opening His hands to invite the curse we deserved onto Himself.

Then God said to the man, “You listened to what your wife said, and you ate fruit from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat.
    “So I will put a curse on the ground,
       and you will have to work very hard for your food.
    In pain you will eat its food
       all the days of your life.
    The ground will produce thorns and weeds for you,
       and you will eat the plants of the field.” (Genesis 3:17-18, NCV)

The soldiers twisted some thorns into a victor’s crown, put it on his head, and threw a purple robe on him. (John 19:2, ISV)

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Photograph by Les Chatfield, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/elsie/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Published in: on February 25, 2012 at 9:06 pm  Comments (1)  
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Tiny Tim

“Somehow he gets thoughtful sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.”

–Bob Cratchit, A Christmas Carol

Jesus made the lame walk and the blind see.

As the sun went down that evening, people throughout the village brought sick family members to Jesus.  No matter what their diseases were, the touch of his hand healed every one. (Luke 4:40, NLT)

There is something unsaid in Tiny Tim’s statement, something we are left to wonder.  Why isn’t Tiny Tim healed?

Tiny Tim has no doubt that Jesus can heal.  And from the story, we can guess that he loves Jesus very much.  Yet Tiny Tim is not healed.  At no point in the story does he receive a miraculous touch from Jesus and go running through the streets, shouting his good news.  As a matter of fact, according to Dickens’ story, Tim recovers because a transformed Ebenezer Scrooge pours money into doctors and he improves little by little over time.

I thought it was very interesting to see a Christian adaptation of the Christmas Carol that had Tiny Tim’s family praying for Tim’s healing instead of Scrooge intervening.  Tim’s father then says that he is sure God has answered their prayers and will heal Tim.  In the next scene, Tim is able to take off his crutch and walk and run.

Why was this adaptation made?  Clearly to give God more honor, to give God credit for Tim’s healing instead of Scrooge.

But is this what actually happened?

To answer this, I have to go back to the difference between who I might want God to be and who He is and why, when I try to mislead people into believing my story about God instead of the true story, however much I mean to do good by it, what I actually shield is the love of God I am trying so hard to manufacture.  The love of God does not need to be manufactured.  It does not need to be altered.  It does not need to be added upon.

For the entire approximate two-year span after my father’s diagnosis with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, our church prayed for him.  And not just our church.  His boss, a deeply godly man, fasted one day every week to spend in prayer for my father’s healing.  If it’s a matter of needing faith, my father had it from all appearances I could see.  He was sure God would heal him.

But my dad died in 2004.

Now, this is an easy story compared to others.  What about the preschooler who dies of cancer, or the baby born with AIDS?  What about the kindergartener with cerebral palsy or the teenager without limbs?  Why doesn’t God heal them?  Surely it is not because He’s waiting for the right prayer to “unlock” His mercy.  God doesn’t play “Mother May I?” with us.  There is no formula of words or concoction of “good works” that gets our prayers answered.

So why doesn’t God heal all the Tiny Tims of the world?  Well, when we ask that, why not ask why anyone gets sick in the first place?  And when it comes to it, why does anyone die?  Why doesn’t God just sustain us forever on this earth?

Well, first of all, would I want to be sustained forever here?  Even if God did not allow anyone to ever be sick or die, what about all the violence?  People could go to war and repeatedly shoot and stab each other, never to die.  People could beat each other without ever killing them.  Is that a world I want to live in?  Certainly not.

The heart of the problem isn’t disability or disease or even death.  The heart of the problem is sin.  As long as we sin, we’re doomed.  And God has put in place natural consequences for our sin–an imperfect world–and unnatural consequences–death.  God can do that because He’s God, of course, but beyond that, He is perfectly right to allow us to live in the life we have chosen.  And He can in absolute justice curse us with death for our disobedience to Him.

But God’s will goes way beyond that.

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-18, NLT)

God uses even disease, disability, and death to draw people to Him so that they may be saved.  I believe that with all my heart.  How does He know who to choose for what circumstances?  God knows every possible outcome of every possible circumstance.  And I believe He allows disease and disability and takes us in death in the full brilliance of His plan.  I believe that plan is for as many people as possible to come to salvation through Jesus Christ.  Here is what I know for sure:

For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone.

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!

For who can know the Lord’s thoughts?

Who knows enough to give him advice?

And who has given him so much

that he needs to pay it back?

For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen. (Romans 11:32-36, NLT)

Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol is pretend.  But does it insult God by laying Tim’s recovering health on Scrooge rather than on God?

Well, wait a minute.  Why does Scrooge want to help Tiny Tim, anyway?

The story is pretend, but if it was real, the only way Scrooge could have been transformed that Christmas Eve would be through Jesus Christ, no question.  Jesus is the only true change that can happen in our lives.  So if Scrooge was saved by the love of Christ that night, and then he poured a little of that love out on Tim so he could see good doctors . . . who would really get credit for Tim’s recovery?

I don’t believe Christ would get any less credit for working through Scrooge than if He had instantly healed Tim with the touch of His hand.

And Christ doesn’t get any less credit if He doesn’t heal our bodies, either.

“He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.”

Tim didn’t say this because he felt sorry for himself, or because he was bitter with Jesus.  He said this because he loved the God who, by the touch of His hand, healed the sick . . . the same God who, by the piercing of His hand, took upon Himself our eternal sickness . . so that our souls could be healed forever in Him.

He was despised and rejected by people. He was a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering. He was despised like one from whom people turn their faces, and we didn’t consider him to be worth anything.

He certainly has taken upon himself our suffering and carried our sorrows, but we thought that God had wounded him, beat him, and punished him.

He was wounded for our rebellious acts. He was crushed for our sins. He was punished so that we could have peace, and we received healing from his wounds. (Isaiah 53:3-5, GWT)

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See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Words from one of my heroes . . .

Please watch this.

I don’t have any words but these: please watch this.

Health, Wealth, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, & Why My Father Didn’t Get Healed

Panic clamped its talons on my skull, and I was waiting for my brain to burst out like yolk in an egg.

The room was framed in a fuzzy blur.

College, 2003.

I thought the world was going to end—no, not the world, but me.  I thought I was going to end.  I thought my soul was going to be squeezed until it detonated like a grenade.

I shouldn’t have gone to class.

I knew now that I shouldn’t have gone to class, but it was too late.

I’d been upset in the commute over, of course, but I told myself I’d be all right.  It’d be okay.  So what that my father was going to see a faith healer?  So what that he had been waiting, longing for the day when this man of “god” would come to town?  So what that his dementia had made him nuts and he was a totally different person and he now watched junk “religious” shows on TV?  So what that he was going to find out he wouldn’t be healed by this con artist?  So what?  He wouldn’t listen to me.  So what?

I’d walked down the long sidewalk to class, and I told myself I was going to be all right.  I was going to be okay.  So what that my father had begged people to take him (since he couldn’t drive) to see this “faith healer” after my mother refused?  So what that my father didn’t know what he was doing?  So what that, had he only been in his right mind, he would have stopped this “healing trip” in an instant?  So what that he’d told me my whole life how health-and-wealth teachers were a fraud, and now, in his weakest and desperately pitiful longing . . . in his confusion and dementia brought on by this illness . . . he’d been tricked by some wealthy, healthy “preacher” who made a living off of broken and dying?

So what?

Yeah, so what?

I’d sat down in class all right.  I’d felt a little funny, but surely it would be okay.   I opened my laptop.  I wasn’t going to tell anybody.  How could I?  How could I tell people that my father, devout to the Word of God, had been trapped in one of the most vile heresies that has ever haunted the Christian church?

And as I sat there, classmates started coming in.  People were talking.  People were laughing.  The laughing sliced through me like claws.  Why did they have to be laughing?  Why did I have to be in this room?

I was dizzy, disoriented, lost.  I knew I was too sick to excuse myself, too sick to stand up, too sick to make my way out of that horrible room.

And then the professor started the lesson.  Casually.  She was looking at me a little funny, but then she looked away, thinking I guess I was lost in thought.

And it was suddenly too much.

I didn’t hear anything.

And I started screaming.  Hysterically.  Hysterically screaming.

I woke up on the floor.

I woke up to two college professors huddled over me.  One had her hand on my head.  They were praying for me.  I had tears streaming down my face, and snot stringing from my nose, and I remember one of them hugging me, and me thinking, How could she do that?  How could she do that, when I’m so gross?

And they took me into an office, and I cried.  And cried.  And I told them my father was going today to see a faith healer.

And he wasn’t going to be healed.

I went home that day like shattered glass set together with the wrong kind of paste, fashioned in the wrong kind of way.  I felt so fragile that a mere touch would crumble me into fragments too small to see.  And yet I felt ferociously angry, ready to tear the health-and-wealth movement apart brick by brick.  And yet I was so wounded I felt as if I could not last much longer unless I hated God with as much hate as I could secretly store away.

God had done this to me, hadn’t He?  He had done this to my father!  What was this, anyway?  Cruelty?  Vengeance?  Wicked humor?  God had taken away my father’s good mind and given him this messed-up, wrecked-up one.  God had given my father Lou Gehrig’s Disease, hadn’t He?  What for, to prove He could do whatever He wanted?  To show how much He hated me?

Why is it, God, you would let wicked, awful, filthy rich people stab the frail hearts of the sick and dying?  How could You let that happen?  What kind of a God are You?

I can’t write this without tears running down my face.  Not because I still believe this.  But because the hurt, the injustice, and the absolute abuse that health-and-wealth man dealt to my father and my family . . . wounds me still.

I found out that my mother had secretly gone to the church to watch over my father (who had gone with a kind friend—my father could not drive and he was in a terrible position—how could he refuse when, to my father, it was a rejection of all hope for his healing?).

My mother sat in the balcony, tears streaming down her face.  She watched as my father, who had stood in line for hours at the door, had been rejected for the “healing platform”, slowly staggered up from his seat, walked down the long aisle, and tapped the security guard to try to get through to go down for healing.

The security guard brusquely told him he could not pass.

And my father staggered back to his seat.

And then this health-and-wealth pastor preached about money and healing.

And my father staggered up from his seat, hobble down the long aisle, and tap the security guard on the arm to try to get through to go down to healing.

And the security guard told him, no remorse, No.

And my father stumbled back to his seat as the chosen people waited on the front rows for their “healing”.

And then the health-and-wealth pastor kept preaching about money and healing.

And, yes, my father got up again.  And again.  He got up every time he had an “opportunity”, and every time he was rejected, and that security guard sent him back to his seat with not one touch of compassion.

And my father put money in the offering plate.

And then the service was over, and my father realized the horror of what had happened.  He sat there, tired from the long standing, wear from the effort he had made and the appeals . . .

And in my father’s eyes, he had missed his chance.

My father came home from that.

He wasn’t healed.

My heart breaks even now to think about my father stumbling down that aisle.  My heart breaks to think that this fraudulent movement has associated itself to Christianity to feast on naïve victims.

For a long time after that, I was far, far away from God.  My stance was, if God approved of such practices, He could just leave me alone.  And if He allowed such practices, He could count on my lack of endorsement.

My father died in 2004.

I’ve talked in other blogs about God’s hand stretched towards me, always waiting, and how God has called me to nest in His love, how He has spread His grace around me like wings.

God had to tutor me, one-on-one, in His love.  I was way behind the class.  But He did a masterful job of catching me up.  And when I realized how God is love as 1 John 4:16 says, God very graciously began to give me answers to the hard accusations I had made about Him, until they dissolved into only wonder that He had been so good and so patient with me.

God hadn’t made that health-and-wealth “preacher” do that to my father.  God hadn’t even wanted him to.  God’s desire is for us to pursue Him and, as we follow, to learn love, justice, honesty, mercy, kindness, patience, and grace from His path.

But then why had God allowed this man to hurt my father so?  To hurt me so?

I don’t know God’s total plan.  But I do know that every second He delays before Jesus returns, He is waiting for more people to come to Him because He is love.  At the moment Jesus returns there will no more chances.  God has been waiting for people . . . people like that health-and-wealth teacher . . . and people like me.  If God had ended the world before my father had gone to that meeting . . . I wouldn’t have been saved.  The very thing I wished for would have condemned me eternally.

Really, of course, I didn’t want for the world to end, just for that preacher to be “stopped”.  But what if this experience hadn’t happened?  Would I have ever come to the point where I finally saw how much I needed God?  Could God allow this to happen so I could have time to come to Him? And, if so, how could I complain about that?

And what about the people I have compassion for because of my experience?  What if one person, even one person, comes to Christ because of the empathy God taught me through that experience (that experience which Satan and our choice to sin, not God, instigated)?

I can’t play “God”.  I can’t decide which things to stop and which things not to.  I don’t know what will lead to what.  Certainly if God stopped all evil, the world would come to an end!

I believe, “All things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (from Romans 8:28, NIV)

I forgive the health-and-wealth man and the security guard who did this to my father.  I pray God will draw them near, by His grace, and they, too, will see the love of God, which makes all wealth look as dirt on the ground.

The hardest thing for me was knowing my father had struggled to get out of his seat, staggered down the aisle, and again and again pleaded to be allowed past to walk up to the platform for healing.

But let me tell you something.  Something I know with all my heart.

On September 22, 2004, my father walked up to the gates of Heaven, and the Lord Jesus Christ let him in and nobody, not nobody, will ever again block my father from the altar of healing, because he is with the Healer.

And he didn’t pay a dime for the privilege.

Rather, his Healer gave His body, His blood, for my father.

And I know how God could allow my father not to be healed.

Because God Himself healed my father.

Forever.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.

(1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, NLT)

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See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

All things bright and beautiful?

All things bright and beautiful, the Lord God made them all[1].

A PBS special on the life of Charles Darwin ridiculed Christians with this song.  In the film, after Darwin’s daughter, Annie, dies, his family goes to church.  He won’t go in, and as he waits outside, he hears this hymn[2].

The message is that Christians live in a delusional existence, that we stubbornly cling to a belief in the loveliness of creation when all around us we see suffering and death.

Is that how Christians really think?

The only people I know who would identify themselves as Christians and think that way belong to the “health and wealth” movement.  Since they are in opposition to the book of Job, and the teaching and example of James, Peter, Paul, the early church, and Jesus Himself, they should not be showcased as examples of Christian living.

The rest of the Christians I know are intimately aware of the evil in the world.  I have friend after friend who has gone through deep hardship, from disease to accident to violence to death.  To insinuate that Christians are out of touch with suffering is not only inaccurate, but deeply cruel.  We do not cling to God because we see a bright and beautiful world around us.  We cling to God because He is the only antidote for the curse.

As my father wasted away with Lou Gehrig’s disease, he became more and more confined to our dining/living room where his hospital bed was.  From this area he could watch the birds outside the window, eating the birdseed out of their birdfeeder.  We had friends who came over and filled the birdfeeder every day so my father would be able to watch the little birds.

Are suffering and death a natural part of the struggle to survive? Or are we missing the first and last part of the story?

One day when he was watching, a hawk pierced down through the sky and snatched up one of the birds at the feeder.  Not even the fastest athlete could have stopped this from happening, but I imagine what it must have felt like to be my father, struggling at that point to even stand.

All things bright and beautiful?

Evolution answers this question with an absolute

NO.

But do Christians answer this question with a happy-go-lucky yes?

Bloodshed, survival of the fittest, disease . . . these are not bright and beautiful.

But even so, as a Christian, I don’t have to answer with an absolute NO.  It’s true that bloodshed, survival of the fittest, and disease are not bright and beautiful.  But for the question All things bright and beautiful? I can answer,

Once.  And someday.

Once, creation was bright and beautiful.  And someday, creation will be bright and beautiful again.  These are the two bookends of this world: God created a perfect heaven and earth (Genesis 1-2) and God will create a new heaven and earth through Christ Jesus (e.g., Isaiah 65:17, Isaiah 66:22, John 1:4, John 3:16, John 10:9, John 11:25, John 14:6, Ephesians 2:18, 2 Peter 3:13, 1 John 5:20, Revelation 21:1)

The in-between pages to these bookends is not chance but choice.  I am not living in a world of suffering by chance.  I am living in a world of suffering by choice.  When Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, they chose suffering for this world.  And every time I sin, I reiterate their choice.

My father’s disease was not God’s choice or God’s responsibility.  My father’s disease is the choice and responsibility of mankind.  When I become angry for the suffering in this world, I find the anger must always be directed back to myself.

If this is where it ends, I might as well jump off a cliff.  But, praise be to God, it isn’t.  Just as God created a perfect world, He will one day create another perfect world, only this time, it will last forever (e.g., Isaiah 65:17, John 5:24, John 6:51, 1 Corinthians 2:7-10, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Titus 1:1-3).  There will be no more sin, and so there will be no more suffering (e.g., Isaiah 51:11, Revelation 7:9, Revelation 22:3).  Because there is will be no more sin, no one with sin will be able to enter that world (e.g., Romans 2:16, Romans 20:15, Revelation 21:27, Revelation 22:14).  Only those who have had their sin washed away by Jesus will be able to go in (e.g. Matthew 1:18-23, Matthew 25: 31-46, John 3:36, John 6:37, John 10:1-18, John 17:3, 1 John 1:2).

And, for those who enter, all things will once again be bright and beautiful.

“I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud

And your sins like a heavy mist.

Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.”

(Isaiah 44:22, NASB)

[1] All Things Bright and Beautiful lyrics by Cecil F. Alexander

[2] See And It Was Good by Ken Ham, from his book How Could a Loving God . . .?  Ken Ham lost his brother Robert to a degenerative brain disease in 2002.  The book How Could a Loving God . . .? is free to browse on the Answers in Genesis site as well.

Photograph by Dave Gingrich, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/ndanger/

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Job 42:3

Job is a man who loses everything except his wife, his life, his determination to prove before God that he is innocent, and his faith in God.

From Job’s wife:

“Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9b, NASB)

Job on his life:

“Why didn’t I die as soon as I was born and breathe my last breath when I came out of the womb?” (Job 3:11, GW)

Job on his determination to prove his innocence:

But I desire to speak to the Almighty

and to argue my case with God.

(Job 13:3, NIV)

Job on his faith:

Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven,
and he who testifies for me is on high. (Job 16:19, ESV)

I have been drawn towards the book of Job at times of loss in my life and times of fear.  Job questions God, in many ways, many times.

But I had never seen this until my Sunday school teacher brought it up this week, Job 42:3.

At the end of the book, when God answers Job with questions Job cannot answer, Job responds in humility.  One of his responses is in Job 42:3:

You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I–and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me. (Job 42:3, NLT)

Job says

too wonderful (see also ASV, ESV,  HCSB, KJV, NASB, NIV, YLT, etc.)

When Job gets to speak to God Himself, when he gets a glimpse of the Almighty’s plan . . . Job, who lost his wealth, his animals, his servants, and even his children . . . says the things of God are

too wonderful

I find that very comforting.

I had heard rumors about You,
    but now my eyes have seen You.   

Therefore I take back [my words]
    and repent in dust and ashes.

(Job 42:5-6, HCSB)

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

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