Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: hard questions

Still searching for comfort

Last week I wrote about finding comfort in God.  It sounds “spiritual”.  It sounds “Christian-y”.  But is it possible?  In this up-side-down, hyper-political, messed up world we live in – life can feel overwhelming, even too big for God to step in and fix.  Every day, we get more than our fill of discouraging news from around the world.

It’s not only us modern-day believers who look at the state of the world and struggle with God’s apparent…(dare we say it out loud?) ...absence?  …lack of involvement?  …delay of justice?

We saw last week that Paul counseled the Corinthian believers regarding God’s involvement in their afflictions.  But we can go further back and still see similar questions being asked of God.  When the psalmist who wrote Psalm 94 looked around at the state of the world and how his fellow Israelites were treated, he had this to say:

Psalm 94:3-7
Lord, how long will the wicked – how long will the wicked celebrate?
They pour out arrogant words; all the evildoers boast.
Lord, they crush your people; they oppress your heritage.
They kill the widow and the resident alien and murder the fatherless.
They say, “The Lord doesn’t see it.  The God of Jacob doesn’t pay attention.”

What he sees seems a lot like what we see – wickedness and arrogance ruled the day.  People selfishly acting as if God doesn’t notice or doesn’t exist.  Although he doesn’t see an immediate end to the state of affairs, the psalmist knows where to find some measure of relief…and he still believes, that at some future point, God will come through for Israel:

Psalm 94:12-15
Lord, how happy is anyone you discipline and teach from your law
to give him relief from troubled times until a pit is dug for the wicked.
The Lord will not leave his people or abandon his heritage,
for the administration of justice will again be righteous,
and all the upright in heart will follow it.

And while looking forward to a God-fixed future can provide some measure of hope, he didn’t end the psalm there.  The next part of the psalm is what caught my attention:

Psalm 94:16
Who stands up for me against the wicked?
Who takes a stand for me against evildoers?

The emphasis is personal now – Who stands up for me…Who takes a stand for me?  The psalmist knows that rescue and justice and right-ness are all coming at some point, but what about me: right-here, right-now, in all the mess I’m living with?

He continues:

Psalm 94:17-19
If the Lord had not been my helper, I would soon rest in the silence of death.
If I say, “My foot is slipping,” your faithful love will support me, Lord.
When I am filled with cares, your comfort brings me joy.

Earlier, the psalmist acknowledged that God’s discipline and teaching from the law gave him relief from troubled times.  Now, the psalmist affirms that if not for the Lord’s help, he would be overcome by the wicked and evil present around him.

Lastly, we can all identify with the feeling of being filled with cares.  We even have phrases to describe this – When it rains, it pours | Bad things come in threes | That was the straw the broke the camel’s back.  But the psalmist has shown us that it is the culmination of God’s discipline, teaching from the Scripture, and trustworthy help that brings us supernatural comfort and joy.

God will fix it all in the future, but He hasn’t abandoned us.  He hasn’t left us to go at it on our own until the time He finally brings justice to the world.  His comfort is here for us now.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

A question of belief

Can I be open and honest with you?

Throughout my decades as a follower of Jesus, I have had several mini-crises of faith.  Times of struggle or tragedy in my own life (or in the lives of those that I love) have caused me to pause and wonder a number of different things, like:

·       Does God really care what happens to us?
·       Is living the Christian life really worth it?
·       Do I really believe all this “Jesus stuff”?

These are hard-core questions, and our pride may make it difficult for us to admit to other people that we wrestle with these kinds of thoughts.  But we wonder, just the same.  And it’s hard to reason through these kinds of questions.  Our feelings can be all over the places, especially when life goes sideways.  Throw in the daily struggle with sinful desires, and we can easily start a mental tailspin.

As our feelings ebb-and-flow and our actions are typically tainted with at least some level of selfishness, we can’t rely on ourselves to answer these questions and doubts.  This is where it is helpful to look at what Jesus explicitly said about us and about Himself. 

John’s record of a conversation between Jesus and Martha can help as we deal with our questions and doubts:

John 11:17-27
When Jesus arrived, He found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.  Bethany was near Jerusalem (less than two miles away).  Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother.

As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him, but Mary remained seated in the house.  Then Martha said to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.  Yet even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give You.”

“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus told her.

Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live.  Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she told Him, “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who comes into the world.”


Martha was going through what was likely the toughest time of her life – her brother had fallen sick and she watched over him as he died.  God hadn’t answer her prayers to heal Lazarus.  Jesus didn’t arrive in time to rescue Lazarus from the pain he was suffering.  Martha had been grieving for four days when Jesus arrived.

Martha was looking toward future events for comfort, instead Jesus directed her to look at who was standing next to her.  What Jesus offered was Himself.  It is in this conversation that Jesus states one of His greatest “I am” statements: I am the resurrection and the life.  If we believe this statement, then Jesus guarantees that even if our bodies experience physical death, we will still live – forever.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t say to clean up our lives and then He’ll give us eternal life.  He does not tell Martha to examine her life to see if she really does believe in Him.  He also does not tell her to make sure she continues to act a certain way.  In fact, Jesus does not tell Martha to look at herself, at all.

Jesus said that those who believe in Him have eternal life, no matter what else happens in this life.  Based upon what Jesus said, our hope and eternal security are found exclusively in Him – not in our circumstances, not in how we feel, not in how we behave.

Do you believe this?

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Struggling with not knowing God's purpose

Last time, we saw how Jesus’ disciples struggled to trust His plan, even after He explicitly told them what He was planning.  Now we’re going to look at the other side of the equation, the one we’re much more familiar with – struggling to cope when we do not know how God’s plan is going to unfold.

But first, a quick recap of the situation:

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are siblings who live outside of Jerusalem in a town called Bethany.  They also are very close to Jesus.  The Scriptures say repeatedly that Jesus loved them.  One day, Lazarus becomes so sick that the sisters send someone to make the several-days long hike to find Jesus and bring Him back so He can heal Lazarus.  As soon as He gets the news, Jesus says “Lazarus’ sickness will not end in death, but is for the glory of God” (John 11:4).  So that means He immediately gets up and leaves for Bethany, right?  Nope.  Instead, He waits.

John 11:6-7
So when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.  Then after that, He said to the disciples, “Let’s go to Judea again.”

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  They didn’t get to hear Jesus’ response.  They just knew someone had gone to get Jesus.  Surely, He would come to Bethany as quickly as He could.  Probably only stopping to sleep, definitely moving as quick as possible during the daylight.  I can easily imagine the sisters trying to encourage their brother:

“Just hang on, Lazarus.  Jesus is coming.  When He gets here, he’ll make you better.  Just hold on.”

But what’s going through Lazarus’ mind?  He can feel his body giving out.  He’s likely in pain and suffering.  He wants to hold on, so Jesus can fix him…but he’s not sure how much longer he can keep on holding.  Does he worry about dying?  Does he worry about what happens to his sisters if Jesus doesn’t arrive in time?

And then…Jesus doesn’t arrive in time to perform a healing.  Lazarus dies.  His family and friends go through the Jewish burial ceremonies, prepare the body to be buried, and then put him in a cave of a tomb – sealing the entry with a large rock.

Their emotions had to have been all over the place.  They watched, helplessly, as their brother died.  Did the messenger not reach Jesus in time?  Was He delayed?  Why did this happen?  Why were their prayers unanswered?  They grieved and processed these questions for several days…and then Jesus shows up.

As if their world wasn’t topsy-turvy already, now a new round of emotions flooded over them.  Frustrated, surprised, angry, bewildered…how would you have felt?  While the sisters separately approached Jesus, they both had the same mindset:

John 11:20-21, 32
As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him, but Mary remained seated in the house.  Then Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”…As soon as Mary came to where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and told Him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!”

I believe they were 100% right.  Based upon other comments Jesus makes in this chapter, I am certain that had He been there, Jesus would have healed Lazarus.  Even though it wasn’t what Mary and Martha wanted…He waited, and it wasn’t because He didn’t care:

John 11:33-35
When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, He was deeply moved in His spirit and troubled.

“Where have you put him?” He asked.
“Lord,” they told Him, “come and see.”

Jesus wept.

This moment answers the questions we often struggle with: “Where is God when bad things happen?  Where is Jesus when everything is wrong?  Where is God when it hurts?”

His timing may not be what we would choose, but we’re not abandoned.  He’s not cold and distant.  Jesus is deeply moved and troubled as He sees us struggle.  Jesus weeps right along side of us. 

Jesus cares deeply about what we’re going through.  Jesus weeps at how we are affected by the consequences of sin.  He knows that without Him, both physical and spiritual death is inevitable for all of us.

And although we struggle to see it, He knows exactly what He’s doing.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

When disease hits too close to home

I’ve been dealing with some annoying health stuff for the last 9 months or so.  Nothing life-threatening, but I’m working with Doctors, changing my diet, taking meds and supplements, evaluating potential causes, blah, blah, blah…you know the drill.  Even though it’s not something that will kill me, it is frustrating that my body isn’t working as well as it used to.  I’m not that old, really.  But when you pile this recent development on top of my near-sightedness, my semi-frequent migraines, and a slightly unstable right shoulder…I get the feeling that it’s not going to get any easier as the years continue to pile up.

When I look around at my family, it seems I’m not the only one.  There’s high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, bi-polar struggles, and a long list of other maladies.  I’m sure you and your family could come up with a similar type of list. 

As we deal with these health issues now, it’s really easy to get frustrated.  I mean, God created everything…and could easily stop any of the health problems that we encounter.  So, why doesn’t He?

We can usually come to some sort of peace about this troubling question by reminding ourselves that we live in a fallen world, that Jesus will make everything right when He returns, and that we have perfectly good resurrection bodies to look forward to.  However, there are some situations when these answers fall short or feel hollow.  The one that really gets to me is my brother.  He has MS.  Wait…before going further, let me re-frame that for you:

My younger brother, who is in his mid-30s, has three kids under the age of 10, faithfully loves his wife, leads in a church that he helped plant, is active in his community, one of the hardest workers I know, a student of the Bible, works in end-of-life hospice care taking care of people who need help, loves Jesus and knows that he is loved by Jesus…he has Multiple Sclerosis.

MS is a failure of the immune system to function properly.  Instead of protecting his body, his immune system attacks him.  He has made adjustments to his life, but the MS has already taken ground – and it doesn’t give ground back.  He could be fine today and be in a wheelchair tomorrow, or he may be fine for many years…but all MS patients end up in the same place.  His body, in the end, will destroy itself.

I can quickly move from frustration to anger over this.  Serious, indignant, vision-blurred-by-tears anger.  God could show up and fix this, RIGHT?  So…what is He waiting for?  Why delay healing my brother?  Why wait for the resurrection?


Did you know…when Jesus was on Earth, He was asked these same questions?

The questions weren’t part of a parable or found in one of His teachings.  Jesus was asked, straight-up.  Real life was happening.  They loved Jesus and He loved them – but they were looking right at Jesus for answers as they dealt with the most unfair moment of their lives.

I need to know how Jesus answered their questions, and there are a few more things I am wondering:

What did Jesus say?
Did He show any emotion?
Did He seem to even care?

We’ll look for answers to these questions as we launch into this next study.  For now, I am clinging to something Paul wrote many years later:

2 Corinthians 4:16
Therefore we do not give up.  Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.

Our current bodies are falling apart, and it is hard to deal with.  The diseases we encounter in this fallen world are vicious, malicious, and ruthless.  It’s especially difficult to helplessly watch the people we love succumb to them.  But no matter how heavy these moments are, God helps us keep the proper perspective:

2 Corinthians 4:17
For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.


Today’s crushing avalanche will be nothing more than a light mist in comparison to the eternal glory to be revealed in us. 

Even if we cannot see it right now, because our eyes are blurred by tears.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Unworthy or Unlovable?

May I ask you a deep, hard question?

When each of us take an honest, serious look at everything we’ve done in this life – the good and the bad – do we think we deserve God’s love? 

You and I both know that our “bad” far outweighs our “good”, especially if we admit to the sinful thoughts that we keep buried inside.  Even after we place our trust in Jesus for eternal life, we can still wrestle with feelings that based upon our past sins, we are not worthy of God’s love or that God shouldn’t love us.

Our response to our feelings is often shame-driven hiding.  We avoid God and other believers because “if they only knew the real me…they wouldn’t want me around anymore, they’d abandon me”.

However, this kind of thinking is flawed because it assumes that all our relationships must be created and maintained on our own merits or worthiness.  Rather than fooling ourselves and others (and trying to fool God) into thinking that we’re “good enough” to be around…we need to honestly recognize that we’re not worthy of love, nor do we really deserve it.

But that hard, honest truth doesn’t mean we’re unlovable.

David also recognized the discrepancy in his own life between what things he had done and God’s immense love.  Look and see how he was still able to approach God:

Psalm 25:4-7
Make Your ways known to me, Lord; teach me Your paths.
Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation;
I wait for You all day long.
Remember, Lord, Your compassion and Your faithful love,
for they have existed from antiquity.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my acts of rebellion;
in keeping with Your faithful love,
remember me because of Your goodness, Lord.

The Hebrew word translated as faithful love is hesed.  Hesed means to have a zeal (in a good sense) in love and kindness toward any one; it especially refers to the grace, favor, and mercy God shows toward people or that one person may show to another.

God’s compassion and faithful love have existed longer than David’s sin.  We are just a flutter and a flash in comparison to the infinity of God and His love.  David understands that for him to have any relationship with God, it must be based upon God’s qualities – and not on David’s actions.

So, is David unworthy of God’s love?  Absolutely.  He doesn’t deserve it at all.  And he knows it.

Then is David unlovable because he’s unworthy?  No.  He is loved by God, because of who God is.

It’s not our job to carry the responsibility of being the foundation of our relationship with God.  He established that already through Christ’s death on the cross.  Are we humble enough to accept this?

Are we humble enough to accept that we are unworthy, but that we are still loved?

Keep Pressing,
Ken