A Stone’s Throw Away

April 10, 2017 – Monday
gethsemane
Read:  Luke 22:39 – 46, TLB
Focus: v. 41, TLB

He walked away, perhaps a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed this prayer: “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup from me. But I want your will, not mine.”

So, picture this: your best friend and you have been through an amazing few days culminating in a very moving farewell dinner where he tells you he is going away and you can’t follow. You head off up to a garden place and he says he needs time to pray about some momentous events ahead and he wants you to stay awake and pray for him and for yourself to be strong. He heads off a little ways away and is gone long enough that you fall asleep. He checks back a couple of times and wakes you up and asks again for prayer. Eventually he just gives up and tells you to go ahead and sleep – but what does that say about his friends that they can’t even prevail in prayer for him? He is just a stone’s throw away, sweating great drops of blood – and you fall asleep!

Jesus went to the cross for all to pay the price for sin and provide salvation – making a way for us to come to God. He was pretty much alone at the end (speaking in earthly terms). Today we are all just a stone’s throw away from someone in agony, who needs our prayers and our help: the homeless, the abused, the grieving, the hurting. Because of Christ’s work on the cross we have the Holy Spirit to help us to pray and give help to the ones God sends to us. Are we sleeping – or are we awake and praying and doing what we know to do? We are as close as a stone’s throw for a reason – let us get up and not sleep through the opportunity to minister in His name!

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In the Midst of Sin

March 18, 2017 – Saturday
perfect
Read:  Romans 5:6 – 8
Focus:  v. 8

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Someday, when I am a better person, I will start going to church. Someday, when I get rid of all my bad habits, I will feel I can accept Christ as my Savior. Have you ever heard someone say similar things when you brought up the idea of them attending church with you or accepting Christ as their Savior? The idea is that when they get to be a better person then they will turn to God. The problem is that it is impossible to become a better person so you can then be on the same level, spiritually, as God Himself. You can’t, I can’t, and neither can anyone else. It is only God who can place us in that relationship with Him by removing all that prevents us from standing before Him.

Each of my children has expressed to me how they felt they could never measure up and be perfect so they could not become Christians or serve God. Somehow they got the idea that perfection was up to them to achieve BEFORE they could be in God’s presence. They tried but it didn’t work so they gave up. Later on they came to understand that this kind of perfection is not what God is asking of them. He initially just wants us to turn to Him to be our perfection by faith in Jesus Christ His Son.

The Apostle Paul makes it very clear in our scriptures for today that Christ died for the ungodly. We don’t have to wait until WE become perfect to stand in God’s presence. The truth is that’s what Jesus came to do for us. He died for our sins while we were still sinners. The truth is that all the efforts of all who have tried to live perfectly righteous lives by perfectly keeping all of God’s Law have failed and that is part of the purpose of the Law. It is to show us that we can’t do it on our own. Jesus Christ died to make it possible for each of us to come into God’s presence “just as if” (i.e., justified) we were perfectly righteous. We are covered over with Jesus’ “Robe of Righteousness” and that is all God sees. Jesus died to make it so. Our perfection before God is not a perfection of action but rather it is found in the intent of our heart to love and serve God in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit who enters in when we receive Jesus Christ as our Savior. We can live life the way God intends when we allow His Spirit to be in charge.

While we were still sinners God made this possible. He did not wait until we were somehow “good enough” to stand before Him. Are you still striving to be “good enough” or are you faithfully depending on the finished work of Jesus Christ who died on the Cross for your sins and in reality for the sins of the whole world? Have you recognized that His death is working for you?

All Sinners Can Be Justified

March 6, 2017 – Monday
Justified
Read:  Romans 3:21 – 26, NIV
Focus:  vv. 23 & 24, NIV

“. . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

This is a rather bold statement made by the Apostle Paul when he wrote to the church at Rome (also the church at Rome, NY). I added that last, not as an addition to Scripture, but rather as an addition to understanding it since I pastored a church there for 7 years. The word “all” in this writing does not refer only to the members of the church at the seat of the Roman Empire which was called Rome. It is really meant to include ALL the people of this world – past, present, and future – with absolutely no one left out, except of course Jesus, the only sinless being to ever live on this planet.

In God’s economy, His view of the world, we are all sinners and cannot stand in His holy presence. This makes for a difficult conundrum because it is His desire that we would be able to do so. He wants us to be in fellowship with Him so that means we need to be able to meet with Him. We can’t find a way to do this so God did it for us. First he set up a system of sacrifices and laws (called, The Law) which temporarily (from our stand point) enabled mankind to interact with a holy God. All the while God set in motion a plan to help mankind to become able to stand before Him. He knew we could never do that by ourselves. That is where His Son, Jesus Christ, came into it. He actually stepped into the sacrificial system in the role of “perfect sacrifice” to make God’s plan work on our behalf. The old system of yearly, monthly, daily or even moment-by-moment sacrifices is no longer necessary. It was based on temporary substitutes for our own blood but that has now been made null and void through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus.

In the Jewish view of the world there are either Jews or non-Jews, called Gentiles, and this is the only conformation that Paul is alluding to in verse 22 –  “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile.” He is talking about the “righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Theologians speak of this as “imputed or imparted righteousness.” In other words, it is not our righteousness but that of Jesus, the Son of God which is given to us. So that is what God sees instead of what we, on our own, would be able to show Him. All of us are in the same boat whether Jews or Gentiles, we have all sinned and are sinners. To “fall short of the glory of God” indicates that if we try to stand before God on our own we could not! We are justified only because of Jesus’ act of redemption on the Cross. Praise the name of Jesus!

God’s Higher Ways

12-11

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Working on computers for so many years has caused me to refine my problem-solving skills. Over the years I developed a method in my head for attacking the problems set before me. Think of it as an internal flow-chart that leads you on the path to eliminating all possibilities until you have a minimal number of causes left for the problem at hand. It is built on knowledge, experience and a mind that was designed more for logic than anything else. It has taken me over twenty years to get to this point.

I don’t want you to think I’m boasting. These skills are more a part of my natural make-up and a whole lot of experience. Read that as: God made me this way and I’ve managed to mess up enough times that I learned something. At the same time, the design of my mind makes me lousy at other things and there are so many areas in life I’m not good at. I need Jesus. It’s as simple as that.

Our passage tells us “Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts.” God goes on to say, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” Here’s the point: God’s ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. God has a better way of thinking.

I might be skilled at solving technical problems but God’s skills are higher than my skills. I’ve had times where I went down a rabbit trail when trying to solve a problem and it took hours before I realized what I missed. This is a little bit of what God is talking about in our passage. The wicked and the unrighteous have thoughts and ways of acting that need to be changed – they aren’t working. God is the ultimate problem-solver and his ways are higher than my ways.

Have you ever caught yourself in wrong thinking? Did you ever find yourself down a path that clearly wasn’t the path of God? I bet you have; so have I. I’ve found problems I couldn’t solve and, at times, the answer was simply to bring in someone to help. This works the same way in life. Yes, you can bring more heads together when trying to find a solution to a problem you have, but I’d suggest you bring in the smartest one you know – God. Are you in a tough bind? Are you facing a difficult decision and you don’t know what the answer is? God already knows what’s best for you. He knows the answer—His ways are higher than any other.

Christmas is about God solving our biggest problem. We were dead in our sin. We had no path to a solution. No way, no how. God’s ways, however, are higher than our ways. He had a solution that we could never come up with. He sent Jesus to come and take our sins away. He sent Jesus to breathe new life into our spirits.

As you lift your heart in prayer today, consider God’s ability to solve the greatest problem of your existence. Don’t you think He can handle the little problems as well? Consider anything that is causing you anxiety right now; think of those problems you are looking for a solution to. God knows the answer. Take it to the Lord in prayer.

 

Why Me, Lord?

Why Me - Scripture LogoThis verse is a reminder that, in the midst of pain and suffering, God is with us and is waiting to show His love to us.  How will you respond to suffering?

A couple of weeks ago we began talking about storms in Life – those times in life when bad stuff happens to us and we suffer.  We asked the question “why do storms happen” and we answered it by talking about what sin has done to the world we live in.

Today I want to get more personal.  Why do storms happen to me?  Did I do something to deserve this? Is God punishing me?

At issue here is ultimately this question:  Does God cause storms to happen?  A lot of people seem to think He does.  In Biblical Jewish thought all things, good and bad, were attributed to God to show He had sovereignty over all things.

The reality is that God has created this world with basic laws in effect.  There is cause and effect.  So, since God created the world and He created how this world works, in some ways He can be said to have caused bad things to happen.  In some ways.

My body has been given many senses.  Like most people, 5 senses would be the right number.  I can taste, touch, hear, see and smell.  All these senses help me to discern, among other things, when I might be in danger.

Like you, I was taught early on to look both ways before crossing the street.  I remember one fateful day when a friend of mine forgot this rule.  I have no idea which ways he looked or how long but it wasn’t enough.  He started across the street and got hit by a car.  He was fortunate and only broke a few bones.  They healed over time and his life, eventually, got back to normal.  But what happened, I’m sure, still sticks with him today.  Do you think he pays more attention when crossing the road now?  It was a lesson he should have never needed to learn.  He has the same five senses I have.  In fact, he’s had them all his life.  Somewhere between his eyes and his ears, he should have seen the danger coming and avoided it.

My friend suffered the consequences from not paying attention to the natural laws God set in order.  Physics tells us that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time.  My friend and the car proved it.  I can’t walk through walls.  Can you?  I can’t see in the dark.  I can’t stare into the sun.   I can’t jump from the top of the Empire State Building.  I can’t breathe under water.  And, contrary to what my mother occasionally told me while I was growing up, I can’t grow potatoes behind my ears.  There are a lot of things I can’t do without experiencing the natural laws God set in motion.  And when I try to do them anyway, I shouldn’t be surprised when bad things happen.  From a broken nose to going blind to just plain getting myself killed.  Those are the rules and it doesn’t make sense to fight against them.

Why do storms happen?  Because the world is messed up.  We talked about that a couple weeks ago.  Why do they happen to me?  Well, that’s a bit more complicated.  I’ll offer two reasons: first, because storms do happen and sometimes we get caught in the storm; second, because we set them in motion when we break the rules.

So storms happen.  The world is a mess and, sometimes, we get caught in the rain.  A part of my morning ritual is to check the Weather and find out what the day looks like.  It often determines how I dress and whether I should pack my umbrella.  Sometimes I’m working outside and I just need to know if I get do the job I need to do.  So having a good prediction of the weather helps me to avoid getting caught in the rain.

Sometimes I can see the storms coming.  I watch the skies and I know when storms might happen.  Then, when a few drops come, I’m ready to get inside and stay safe and dry.  Sometimes there’s just no avoiding the storm.

A number of years ago my brother and I went to a Christian music festival just outside of Lincoln.  The festival was in Riverside Park in Milford.  It was in the summer of 1993 and it had been a very wet year.  There was flooding all over that end of the state and over in Iowa.  Riverside Park had its river way out of its boundaries and there was mud everywhere.  The festival was called Love-fest and that year we nick-named it Flood-fest and Mud-fest!

It was a hot hot day – over 100 in fact.  But the music was great.  We’d already seen a lot of good bands on the stage.  But the headliners that year were Whiteheart and Degarmo & Key.  Whiteheart was one of my favorite bands and I slushed through that mud all day to hear them play.  About 45 minutes before they were set to play, the announcer came out and told everyone that there were some nasty storms down south of us with tornados and all sorts of neat stuff.  It was all headed our way but it wasn’t going to hit until around 10:00 or so.  So, just to be safe, they chose to move the last two bands up so we could be sure to get them in before the storms hit.   Good news!  No more waiting.  Whiteheart was coming on stage in just a few minutes.

Wow!  What a concert!  Whiteheart came out full of energy like they always did.  They lead with the song “His Heart was Always in It” and lead Singer, Rick Florian, was all over the place.  About five minutes in he was sliding across the stage on his back when the sound was cut and the announcer rushed back out onto the stage to stop the concert.  He says things were developing a lot quicker than they thought and that we all needed to take cover as soon as possible.  What a let-down.

So my brother and decided the concert was over and we headed towards our car, parked two miles down the road at my sister’s home.  We got a few hundred feet down the road when some nice couple offered us a ride.  We took the ride and they dropped us off at a gas station just a little ways from my sister’s house.  As we walked down the road, lamenting the untimely end to our concert, we started to hear a strange sound.  It was coming from behind us – some sort of whooshing and gushing.  It sounded like a waterfall.

We had one of those movie moments.  You know the type.  The ones where everything goes into slow motion, two people turn to look behind them, see what’s coming, and get that look of absolute horror on their faces.  You know, like when there’s an explosion and you have to run as fast as you can but no one can run that fast.  In the end the force launches them forward somewhere just to the left of the screen.  What we both saw was a literal wall of water moving towards us.  It was one of those moments when some strange sound comes from somewhere deep within you and you just run.  Did we make it to the house safe and dry?  Nope.  Three seconds in that rain was enough to be drenched to the bone.

That rain was unavoidable.  We got caught in a storm we couldn’t avoid.  That happens in life sometimes.  My story is funny because no one got hurt, just really really wet.  Not all storms end so well.  Life storms are no different.  Sometimes people get hurt.  Innocent bystanders that got caught in the rain.  That’s you and me sometimes.

Back in college I had a friend who was hit by a drunk driver.  It was a Spring break and she was heading home, along with a friend, to Arkansas.  There was a drunken man driving the opposite direction on this lonely stretch of highway.  I’ve driven it before – a nice highway with two lanes on either side of nice grassy divide.  This drunkard stopped at a convenience store to buy more alcohol.  He was so drunk that the clerk refused to sell him anymore alcohol.  He left angry and took off down the road.  Another traveling couple was in that store and the encounter with the drunk man scared them.  They had lost a child to a drunk driver years ago.  So they, and the clerk, called the police and told them what they had seen.  There was an officer about a mile back down the road so he turned his lights on and sped up to try to catch the drunk driver.  He caught up with him just in time to see him drive into the center median, get thrown from his vehicle, and leave his car to continue up the embankment and directly into the path of my friends.  They never saw it coming.

Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why didn’t God stop this?  What kind of a God lets things like this happen?  I just can’t believe that, if there really is a god, that He would let this sort of thing happen.  Have you ever heard this before?  I’ve heard it many times as a justification for why a person doesn’t believe in God.  And this is the kind of story that brings that line of reasoning straight to the front.

In Ecclesiastes 7:15 the teacher of wisdom says, “In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: the righteous perishing in their righteousness, and the wicked living long in their wickedness.”

Back at college we were all asking similar questions.  Why her?  She was a good person.  A happy person.  Someone you enjoyed being around.  Someone who loved Jesus with an infectious love.  I mean, if God would let something this terrible happen to someone like her, then who’s safe?  Does He really watch out for us?  Why her?  Why me?  Then the answer came: Why not her?

I remember dropping by the hospital on my way home from visiting my future seminary in Jackson, MS.  My friend was a mess.  All sorts of broken bones.  And yet she was chattering away at how wonderful the Lord was.  He had saved her and her friend and she was spouting scripture and witnessing for Jesus like crazy.

Listen, I don’t know why she got hit by a drunkard that evening any more than I don’t know why I didn’t get hit by a drunkard that evening.  Other than to say this: we live in a world messed up by sin.  Sometimes it’s the general kind of sin we’re all born into in this fallen world.  Sometimes it’s the sin of a man whose life has somehow driven him to such levels of irresponsible drinking that he nearly killed a friend of mine.

By the way, consider these statistics from 2009:

1. 33,808 people were killed in traffic accidents. 10,839 of these deaths was a result of alcohol (32% of all traffic deaths)

2. Drunk drivers kill someone approximately every 48 minutes

3. 181 children age 14 and younger died in alcohol related accidents in 2009. Over half (92) were riding WITH THE ALCOHOL IMPAIRED DRIVER!

4. In 2009 1.4 million people were arrested for driving under the influence. This is less than 1% of the amount self-reported by adults. (147 million self-reported episodes of drunk driving)

5. An average drunk driver will drive drunk 87 times before being pulled over!

6. 1 in 3 people will be involved in an alcohol related crash in their liftetime

7. 75 percent of drunk drivers whose licenses are suspended continue to drive.

Sin destroys lives.  It causes storms to rage that sometimes catch innocent bystanders.  Sometimes the reason something bad happened to you is just because bad things happen as a result of this world being damaged goods.  Sometimes the reason something bad happened to you is simply because of someone else’s sin – and you just got caught in the middle.  Could God stop these storms from happening?  Could He stop them from raging over you?  Yeah, He could.  Does He?  Sometimes.  But sometimes will never mean all the time.

I don’t like getting caught in Life’s storms any more than you do.  I don’t like it when I, or those I love, get hurt.  Would it help if I had a reason given to me for my pain?  No, not really.  It won’t justify it and it won’t make it go away.  But I also have to ask: what kind of person would I be if I had never experienced pain?  How could I tell someone, who is going through a major storm in life, about how Jesus will be there for them if I’ve never experienced it myself?

In II Corinthians 1:3-4, Paul says, 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

Yeah, the comfort we receive from God helps us to comfort others when they are in need.  Why me?  Why not me?

Sometimes the storms we experience are not caused by a messed up world or by the sin of another.  Sometimes, I go through storms of my own making.  Sometimes, the sin is my own and so are the consequences.  Sometimes it’s my sin that causes the storm that overtakes a few innocent bystanders.  I’ve had to say “I’m sorry” a few times, what about you?

God created the world.  God made the rules and there’s no changing them because I want to do something that is contrary to the natural laws of this universe or is contrary to the moral laws of God.

The bigger question is this: since these storms in life are going to happen, how will you respond when it happens to you?

The story of Joseph, in Genesis, chronicles the terrible circumstances of a young boy sold into slavery by his jealous brothers.  I can’t imagine being betrayed by your brothers and being ripped from your family.  All sorts of bad stuff happened to Joseph but he always trusted in God and allowed God to work through him.  You know the story.

James 1:2-4 says, “2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

You can choose how you respond to suffering.  You can lose your faith or you can go deeper into it.  You can respond positively by building yourself and others up or you can respond negatively by engaging in destructive behavior and/or losing your faith.

Why me?  Why not me?  Why you?  Why not you?  Will you be the one who goes through the fire and comes out the other side stronger than ever?

I’ve watched people go through trials or times of doubt and turn to alcohol and drugs to escape reality.  And I’ve watched people go through tough times and come out the other side proclaiming loudly how Jesus was with them every step of the way.  I’ve seen some discourage while others encourage.

Which one are you?  You can choose how you respond to the storms in your life.

Stormy Weather

In Church, we’ve recently begun a series of sermons talking about dealing with human suffering.  There have been several national tragedies in recent weeks and months so I wanted to post the sermons here for all to keep up with.  There are a few weeks left to the series and I will post the remaining sermons after they have been delivered on Sunday morning.

I hope these messages will offer some help in understanding the age old question of “Why does God allow suffering in the world.”  There are answers to questions like these but, as a pastor, I have often found that the worst time to offer these answers is in the midst of great suffering.  The best time to consider questions like these is when all is calm, not when the storms of life are causing wave after wave to crash over us.

I know that this issue is at the heart of many who have a difficult time believing in and accepting God.  If you are one of those persons, these messages are especially for you.  I’ve been through a few storms in my life and I can’t imagine going through them without God by my side and, sometimes, carrying me all the way through.

I believe there are seven sermons in this series in all so hang in there for more answers.

Stormy Weather - Scripture LogoI love weather.  I admit it.  My name is Dan, and I love weather.  And I’ve experienced my fair share of weather, growing up in Nebraska as I did.  I even lived in Oklahoma for four years.  Tornados galore.  Even in Mississippi I had the opportunity to experience part of a hurricane.  I’m just fascinated by the awesome displays of a nature that are so much more powerful than I am.  It reminds me of my God who is far more powerful than anything nature can offer.  I’m not a fan of destruction and pain, of course, but I don’t mind coming out of the other side of bad weather and being able to say I experienced something intense.  You may remember the storms that greeted Stacy and I as we arrived in Red Cloud last year.  That was just God’s way of welcoming me back home to Nebraska.    Anyone else enjoy the storms?

Speaking of storms, there’s a great story in Luke 8 about a storm. “22 One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. 23 As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.

24 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”

He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25 “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.

In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”

What a story!  I can just imagine being on that boat with these guys.  In my mind, I’m with the disciples one hundred percent.  The wind is crazy, the waves swamping the boat – you ever been in a boat on a lake when a storm is coming up the waves start churning?  Depending on the size of your boat, you may have experienced some of what the disciples were experiencing.  And then the rain comes.  Lightening, thunder, buckets of water.  The disciples are going nuts with fear and Jesus is sleeping like a baby.

You know, the only time I don’t like storms is when they come in the middle of the night.  Not because they wake me up and scare me, but because they don’t wake me up.  I sleep right through them.  I have to hear about them after I wake up.

So Jesus is sleeping through the storm.  He’s just not worried about it.  The disciples have to wake him up.   They were frightened and they thought He needed to . . . well, what did they think he needed to do?  Wake up and be as frightened as they were?  Or did they have some inkling that he could do something about it?  Remember, they’re still trying to figure this guy out.  And that day they figured something out.

Jesus wakes up and rebukes the storm.  Have you ever tried to do that?  How’d it work for you?  I can tell you how it worked for Jesus – the storm stopped.  The skies cleared, the waves calmed, the wind slowed.  Safety returned.  Yeah, it works for Jesus and, just like the disciples, I’d have needed a hydraulic jack and three medical specialists to get my gaping mouth to close back to normal.

You want to know another reason I love storms?  Because life is filled with all kinds of crazy storms and, every time a freak-of-nature storm passes through, it reminds me that all of life’s storms have an end.  They don’t last forever.  They pass and, usually, I’m still standing.

The storms in life happen all the time.  Some of you are going through some real storms right now.  Hard stuff.  The hail is coming down and it’s big.  The lightening is flashing and the thunder is immediate and loud.  It’s scary and you probably feel a little like those disciples in the boat with a sleeping Jesus.  And you probably have questions right now.

Why do these storms happen?  Why do they happen to me?  Did I do something to cause this?  Why does God allow these things to happen in the first place?  What can I do to weather this storm?   Will I make it through the storm?  Is this you right now?  If it isn’t, I bet it has been you at one time or another.

I’ve said it before, life is hard and, in the end, nobody gets out alive.  Storms happen.  They happen often and I’ve watched a lot of storms blow through not just my life but also the lives of those around me.  So let’s talk about the storms and the questions that come with them.

I want to spend a few weeks dealing with those times when our world seems to be raging all around us.  I want to offer some answers that are often hard to hear and accept in the midst of the pain so that we can consider them during a time of rest and understanding.  More than that, I want to offer the hope and promise that God provides in the Bible to help us through the stormy times in our lives.

I was talking to my brother in Omaha a couple of years ago about the stormy weather we had been experiencing lately.  I recalled to him how, earlier in the week, I saw the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore giving an update from Council Bluffs (right across the river) with Omaha in the background.  There had been a lot of rain and some severe thunderstorms on that day and there was still lightening flashing in the background while he reported the day’s events.  I guess the mix of weather and the current College World Series going on there made it a good location to report from.  But Cantore had been doing those spots across the country where the storms have been.  My brother told me that folks had been getting worried whenever they saw Cantore show up in their home town because, where ever he goes, the storms seem to hit.  If only the storms in life were always so easy to predict.

Sometimes they are, most of the time they are not.  If only we had a storm-prediction center like that on the Weather Channel!  Maybe you’ve asked the question before, “Why do these storms have to happen in the first place?”  Wouldn’t life be so much easier without painful experiences and times where our worlds seem to fall apart?

Well, yeah, it would.  The core of this question is the fact that it’s hard to find someone who actually likes pain.  Nobody likes pain.  We’re all seeking some sort of Utopia in this life.  What do you suppose we would have to complain about if we didn’t have pain in our lives?  I suppose we would just redefine suffering to include all those times we don’t get our way on things.  Suffering will always be with us in this life.  It’s a result of Humanity’s sin begun by Adam and Eve.

Early on in Genesis we see the effect of sin on the earth itself.  No more Garden of Eden.  No more life going on forever here.  Death was set in motion and it is death, and the decay that leads to it, that causes the storms that occur in our weather as well as the natural disasters.  It is also the force at work that causes storms in life.  We are sinful and we live in a sinful and broken world.  Suffering, therefore, is now a natural part of living in this world.  No one avoids it.

Sin is also what separates us from God.  We have to understand that much of our suffering is caused by our lack of a perfect relationship with God.  I have to state it like that because anything less than perfection will never match up with God.  And sin has so messed that up that it is impossible for us to meet that perfection.  Our relationship with God suffers to the point that so many deny Him altogether and so many do not have the kind of relationship with their Maker that they should.  Sin separates us from God.  And being separated from God will cause suffering to occur.

Can anything good come from suffering?  That’s a good question to ask.   Author Paul Patterson III writes, “Pain is not a problem in and of itself.  But rather, it is a symptom, a sign of something gone wrong.  When one places their hand on a stove, the problem is not the pain but it’s the fact they are doing something that shouldn’t be done.  The pain in this world is simply a sign that something is wrong; something is seriously messed-up.  Without pain, we may never realize that something is wrong.’”

C. S. Lewis wrote an entire book on the Problem of Pain.  He writes, “We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities, and everyone who has watched gluttons shoveling down the most exquisite foods as if they did not know what they were eating, will admit that we can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Is it just possible that God can use pain (as opposed to causing it) to draw us to Him?  Pain wakes us up to the reality that something is wrong with our world and it acts as a megaphone that speaks loud enough for us to actually hear God speak.  And when we hear God speak, we can begin a relationship with Him like no other.

American pastor and author James H. Brookes told of visiting a friend’s house and hearing the music of a bird singing. It was not the ordinary sound of chirping; instead it resembled the strains of a lovely melody. At first Brookes didn’t know where it was coming from; but when he glanced around the room, he saw a beautiful bullfinch in a birdcage. The lady of the house explained that it had been taught to sing that way at night. The teacher would repeat the notes time and again until the bird was able to mimic them. But this was possible only because it was dark and the bird’s attention would not be diverted.

How often we learn our sweetest songs when the blackness of trial closes in around us.

Pain and suffering can be used by God to bring us closer to Him.  It can be worth it in the end.  The experiences in our lives are what shape us.  They make us who we are.  What we become can be embittered by our sufferings, or we can draw closer to God and allow Him to use our suffering to transform us into the people He wants us to be.  People who please God and use our sufferings to reach out to others who are experiencing the same things.

We began the message today talking about Jesus calming the storm.  Not a single disciple in that boat was calm and sailing along without a care in the world.  So often storms bring out the fear in us.  We can look at the disciples and berate them for their lack of faith but that was a day where their fear caused them to reach out to God.  They may not have fully realized it at the time.  In fact, I’m sure they didn’t.  But they did provide for us an example in stormy times.  They cried out to Jesus.

Will Jesus always calm the storms in our lives?  No.  But He will always be a shelter, a calm place where we can go, while the storms rage on.