If you’re in pain, whether physical, mental, emotional, relational, financial or spiritual, that pain can blot out everything else and become all-consuming. What can you cling to when you’re walking through the dark valley of pain and suffering? The most powerful thing you can cling to is the cross. When you’re suffering, run to the cross.
Why is the cross so powerful? Because it’s a picture of God’s love for us that is much more powerful than human words. Think about it: one of the biggest arguments against God is that if he was so loving, then why would he allow suffering in the world?
What does the most famous verse in the Bible say? “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
We believe that God is not some cold and calloused Being far removed from all the pain and suffering in the world. He loved us enough to suffer with us, to suffer for us. If God loves us enough to suffer for us, there must be a good reason for it to go on, even if we can’t fully understand it.
When you’re suffering, cling to the cross where God suffered for you. That’s one of the things that makes Christianity unique among all the religions of the world. We believe that our God suffered for us. So when you hurt, know that Jesus hurt. When you feel abandoned, Jesus felt abandoned too. When you’re treated unjustly and unfairly, Jesus walked through that as well.
God loves us, he cares enough to embrace suffering on our behalf. Even if you’ve lost a child. God’s lost a child too. That’s why Jesus is called Immanuel, which literally means “God with us.” When you’re suffering, run to the cross.
This sermon answers the basic question: What does it mean to be saved?
The Bible claims that God is all-loving and all-powerful. But how can you explain the Bible’s description of God given the existence of evil? Or, let me state the argument this way: given the reality of evil and suffering in the world, God may be all-powerful but not all-loving. That is, God has the power to stop evil but chooses not to. This turns God into a distant, removed, deistic god unconcerned with the affairs of the world.
Or, God may be all-loving but not all-powerful. That is, God loves us enough to stop the suffering in the world but doesn’t have the power to do so. This retains the compassion we so long for in God, but it robs Him of His sovereignty and divinity. So according to this argument, given the reality of evil in the world, God can be all-powerful or all-loving, but not both. If He was both, he surely would have stopped evil and suffering long ago. And yet it not only lingers, it flourishes, rampaging across our globe leaving a trail of death and destruction in its wake. What kind of God would allow that? Surely not an all-powerful and all-loving God!
And yet the Bible makes the claim that God is both all-powerful and all-loving. He spoke the universe into existence. He is all-powerful. 1 John 4:8 explicitly says “God is love.” He is the very definition of love. So how can you reconcile the claims that God is all-loving and all-powerful with the reality of evil and suffering in the world?
I’m going to be talking about this perplexing question Sunday in week three of our series Step Into the Light. But I would love to get your take. How do you answer this question?
Maybe I’m the only one that secretly worries that God is mad at me. I promise Him something and then don’t follow through. I know the right thing to do, the thing God would want me to do, and I don’t do it. I care more about myself then others. I fail to live up not only to God’s expectations, but even my own. Sometimes I’m a disappointment in my own eyes. Surely I must be a disappointment to God.
But that’s the trap. We assume God sees us the way we see ourselves. We assume God judges us the way we judge ourselves. And when we assume that, we rob the cross of its power. The Son of God didn’t come down and die for our sins so that we could still stumble and struggle to gain acceptance with God. Jesus died so that our sins would be forgiven, once for all. Here’s a beautiful piece of Scripture, “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10)
The Bible is explicit on this: when Jesus died for your sins, he imputed his righteousness to you. Your acceptance before God never has been and never will be based on what you do, but on what Christ has done. As Christians we know this from the theoretical sense, but we forget it on the practical level. We assume that every time we fail, God is up in heaven shaking his head, disappointed with yet another mistake we’ve made.
The Bible is crystal clear for those who believe in Jesus: You and God are fine. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1) If you’re living under a constant cloud of self-condemnation, Satan is keeping you in chains that Christ already set you free from. You and God are fine, so quit worrying about it! Go and live in freedom, knowing that your Heavenly Father loves you and has forgiven you.
Everyone struggles with this question. Christians, non-Christians, religious, non-religious. Why is there so much pain and suffering in the world? Why would God allow such evil to continue? If you want the question posed in the starkest way possible, listen to this interview with renown British actor and prominent atheist Stephen Fry:
It’s a question we all have to wrestle with, especially Christians. Here’s how the popular argument goes: Given the reality of evil and suffering in the world, if God is all-powerful, then God doesn’t care enough about our suffering to stop it. If God is all-loving, then he must want to stop suffering but be unable to do so. And yet the Bible claims that God is both all-loving and all-powerful. You can’t square the two. The way this argument is constructed, you can’t have the God of the Bible and pain and suffering in the world.
And yet Christianity believes that both are realities. We have an all-powerful, all-loving God who created us, and evil and suffering still exists in the world. Why? How can we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory statements?
This subject of pain and suffering will be the subject of several blog posts over the next week. We’ll be discussing these issues tonight at the Conversation and Sunday during my sermon at Mt Vernon Church. If you’re in the area, worship with us, or join us on-line for a livestream of our services (www.mtvchurch.tv).
QUESTION: Why does a good God allow suffering in the world?
Why do we use different terms to describe the same experience? Depending on your background or denomination, you’ll use terms like:
- Get saved
- Pray the sinner’s prayer
- Walk the aisle
- Believe in Jesus
- Ask Jesus in your heart
- Get baptized
- Be filled with the Holy Spirit
- Fall under conviction
- Be born again
Why so many terms? I believe it’s because salvation is such a transcendent experience that human words will never be able to fully capture it. Have you ever had an experience so transcendent that human words couldn’t fully capture it?
Maybe it’s a sunset that takes your breath away. In that moment, calling it “picturesque” can’t do it justice. Guys, it’s that moment when you see your bride walking down the aisle at your wedding. In that moment, describing your bride as “beautiful” can’t do her justice. Moms, it’s that moment you hold your child for the first time after you give birth, and saying you “love” your child can’t contain the depth of emotion you feel.
Salvation is one of those transcendent experiences, when you’re forgiven of your sins, when you become right with your Creator, when the Spirit of the Living God comes to live in you, when your eternal destiny changes forever. Human words can never fully capture the power of that moment. That’s why we use so many terms to describe salvation. We’re just trying to get our arms around it.
QUESTION: What other terms have you heard/used to describe salvation?
Does God speak through dreams today? That’s the unexpected topic of conversation I had yesterday with two separate people. One was recounting a family member who had a very clear dream that she interpreted as a sign from God. The second was a note from a church member saying she had a vivid dream Saturday night that mirrored with detail the sermon I preached to her the next morning (she of course had no knowledge about what I was going to speak on).
So, does God speak through dreams to people today? I believe He does. That might make evangelicals uncomfortable. We like to preach that God can speaks exclusively the Bible. Well, if you read the Bible, guess how God often spoke to people (like Mary and Joseph)? Through dreams. If God did it then, why wouldn’t He do it today?
Some would make a good point that God doesn’t need to speak through dreams today because we have the Bible. My main argument for God still speaking through dreams is the fact that I don’t feel I have the right to limit what God can or cannot sovereignly do. If He can speak through a donkey (see Numbers 22), if He can sovereignly use a worm (Jonah 4), He can speak through a dream.
Now, that doesn’t mean that dreams will be the primary way God communicates or even that God will even use a dream to communicate. I believe that God has the right to sovereignly communicate through a dream if He so chooses. God has never spoken to me through a dream. That’s fine with me. I don’t seek it out. God speaks to me through the Bible regularly.
Important caveat: One of the biggest dangers of dreams is that they can be confusing or misleading. If you have a vivid dream, it may be your own imagination, it may be a bad bowl of chili, or it may even be an agent of darkness sent to mislead you. Relying on dreams to communicate is an easy way to be misled, since dreams can come from a variety of sources. The Bible is the safest bet, since we can rest assured that all of its words come from God.
But at the end of the day, if someone asked me whether or not I believed that God can still speak through dreams today, I would say ‘yes.’
QUESTION: Do you believe God still speaks through dreams today? Has God ever spoken to you through a dream?
Need some hope to start your weekend? Watch this baptism video and celebrate with Michael and Emily!
This season I’m coaching my 5-year-old’s t-ball team. We’re still practicing and haven’t started slugging it out of the park in games yet. Trying to get eleven 5-year-olds to all pay attention to one thing is about as fun as it sounds. Along the way I’ve learned five things that I think apply to church as well:
1. You have to have fun. I always tell the boys that’s the only rule we have. If you’re not having fun, why play the game? In the same way, church should be a celebration. Christ is risen! You’re free from your sins! Your destiny in heaven is secure! If you can’t have celebrate at church, why show up?
2. I can’t just give instructions, I have to show. I can’t simply tell the boys where to put their feet and hold their hands when they bat. For each one I’ve had to physically place their feet and move their hands to show them. In the same way, it’s not enough to simply preach to people at church. We need to practically show them what a Christian life looks like.
3. They learn best one-on-one. The kids move from hearing to understanding to learning when I work with them one at a time. Hearing it in a group isn’t as effective. In the same way, churches should always be helping people move from large group (worship) to small groups, where they can practice and apply what they’re learning.
4. They need lots of encouragement. They haven’t done this before. They’re scared. They miss the ball more times than they hit it. I spend most of my time encouraging kids to try again and not give up. In the same way, churches should be constantly encouraging their people. That’s called grace. People struggle, people mess up. The church should be a place where they receive forgiveness and encouragement.
5. My job is to get them to fall in love with the game. At the t-ball level, I’m not working on advanced batting techniques or fielding disciplines. I’m simply trying to get the kids to fall in love with the game. If I do that, I’ve succeeded. In the same way, at church our overall goal is to help people fall in love with Jesus. Programs, budgets, buildings should all help and support that one goal. If we can do that, then we’ve been successful as a church.
QUESTION: What else would you add to this list?