Archives for : Hard Times

By His Stripes We Are Healed-Isaiah 53

53 Who really believed what we heard? Who saw in it the Lord’s great power?[a]

2 He was always close to the Lord. He grew up like a young plant, like a root growing in dry ground. There was nothing special or impressive about the way he looked, nothing we could see that would cause us to like him. 3 People made fun of him, and even his friends left him. He was a man who suffered a lot of pain and sickness. We treated him like someone of no importance, like someone people will not even look at but turn away from in disgust.

4 The fact is, it was our suffering he took on himself; he bore our pain. But we thought that God was punishing him, that God was beating him for something he did. 5 But he was being punished for what we did. He was crushed because of our guilt. He took the punishment we deserved, and this brought us peace. We were healed because of his pain. 6 We had all wandered away like sheep. We had gone our own way. And yet the Lord put all our guilt on him.

7 He was treated badly, but he never protested. He said nothing, like a lamb being led away to be killed. He was like a sheep that makes no sound as its wool is being cut off. He never opened his mouth to defend himself. 8 He was taken away by force and judged unfairly. The people of his time did not even notice that he was killed.[b] But he was put to death[c] for the sins of his[d] people. 9 He had done no wrong to anyone. He had never even told a lie. But he was buried among the wicked. His tomb was with the rich.

10 But the Lord was pleased with this humble servant who suffered such pain.[e] Even after giving himself as an offering for sin, he will see his descendants and enjoy a long life. He will succeed in doing what the Lord wanted. 11 After his suffering he will see the light,[f] and he will be satisfied with what he experienced.

The Lord says, “My servant, who always does what is right, will make his people right with me; he will take away their sins. 12 For this reason, I will treat him as one of my great people. I will give him the rewards of one who wins in battle, and he will share them with his powerful ones. I will do this because he gave his life for the people. He was considered a criminal, but the truth is, he carried away the sins of many. Now he will stand before me and speak for those who have sinned.”

Gods Promises

What can be said about God’s promises to us?

  1. He has promised to supply every need we have. The Bible says: “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus”. That’s Phillipians 4:19. Now notice, God has obligated Himself only to the extent of our needs. That would include food, clothing, shelter, companionship, love, and salvation thru Jesus Christ. It would not include the multiplicity of luxuries that we have come to think of as needs.
  2. God has promised that His grace is sufficient for us. (II Corinthians 12:9). in fact, He has made provision for our salvation by His grace through faith. Read Ephesians 2:8. It is through an obedient faith that we have access into the grace of God according to Romans 5:2.
  3. God has promised that His children will not be overtaken with temptation. Instead, He assures us that a way of escape will be provided. This promise is recorded in I Corinthians 10:13. Jude wrote: “Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present your faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy” (Jude v 24). Darius, King of the Medes, said to Daniel, “Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee” (Daniel 6:16). He did deliver Daniel from the den of lions.
  4. God has promised us victory over death. He first resurrected Jesus by way of assuring our resurrection. Peter said: “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:32). Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:3,4). Later on he adds: “but thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:57).
  5. God has promised that all things work together for good to those who love and serve Him faithfully (Romans 8:28). It may be difficult for us to see and understand how this is accomplished at times, but God has promised it, and He will deliver.
  6. God has promised that those who believe in Jesus and are baptized for the forgiveness of sins will be saved. (Read Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38).
  7. God has promised His people eternal life (John 10:27,28). In closing, let me appeal to you to live so that the promises of God will be yours.

Psalm 91- Gods Protection

You can go to God Most High to hide.
    You can go to God All-Powerful for protection.
2 I say to the Lord, “You are my place of safety, my fortress.
    My God, I trust in you.”
3 God will save you from hidden dangers
    and from deadly diseases.
4 You can go to him for protection.
    He will cover you like a bird spreading its wings over its babies.
    You can trust him to surround and protect you like a shield.
5 You will have nothing to fear at night
    and no need to be afraid of enemy arrows during the day.
6 You will have no fear of diseases that come in the dark
    or terrible suffering that comes at noon.
7 A thousand people may fall dead at your side
    or ten thousand right beside you,
    but nothing bad will happen to you!
8 All you will have to do is watch,
    and you will see that the wicked are punished.
9 You trust in the Lord for protection.
    You have made God Most High your place of safety.
10 So nothing bad will happen to you.
    No diseases will come near your home.
11 He will command his angels to protect you wherever you go.
12 Their hands will catch you
    so that you will not hit your foot on a rock.
13 You will have power to trample on lions
    and poisonous snakes.
14 The Lord says, “If someone trusts me, I will save them.
    I will protect my followers who call to me for help.
15 When my followers call to me, I will answer them.
    I will be with them when they are in trouble.
    I will rescue them and honor them.
16 I will give my followers a long life
    and show them my power to save.”

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4 Ways to Stay Strong in Your Christian Faith

1. Remember that God is Always There

Even in the driest times, when you just don’t feel God’s presence, you need to remember that God is always there. He does not forget you. True faith is developed even when you don’t feel God.

Deuteronomy 31:6 – “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (NIV)

2. Do a Daily Devotional

Developing long-term habits is important to maintaining your faith. A daily devotional will keep you in the Word and enhance your prayer life. It will also keep you closer to God even when you struggle in your faith.

Philippians 2:12-13 – “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (NIV)

 

3. Get Involved

Many people become apathetic over time, because they do not feel connected to a church body. Some churches do not offer ways to connect. Yet, there are a lot of activities on campuses and in the community. You can even look into other ministries. The more connected you are to the body of Christ, the more likely it is that you will maintain your faith.

Romans 12:5 – “so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (NIV)

4. Talk to Someone

If you feel separated from God or you find yourself backsliding, talk to someone. Try your oldyouth leader, a pastor, or even your parents. Talk through your issues and pray with them about your struggle. They can offer insight into how they have worked through their own struggles.

Colossians 3:16 – “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (NIV)

Escaping Sexual Sin Befor It’s To Late

Why are so many strong Christians succumbing to sexual sin? We must remember that we as Christians do not live in a vacuum but in a culture filled with temptations that stir lust. Many people have fallen because they underestimated the power of sexual temptation.

Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth has the strongest teaching about sexual sin because Corinth, like our culture, was saturated with sexual temptation.

The Bible declares that God is faithful and no matter what temptation we face, He will provide “a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

God’s will for us is to overcome temptation, but it will cost us dearly, especially our pride. The preceding passage (1 Cor 10:12) warns us: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” God is telling us that the first step in overcoming temptation is to beware of the attitude, “It couldn’t happen to me.”

As the wisdom of Proverbs says, pride sets us up for a fall.

The Rev. Gordon MacDonald, a wonderful pastor and at one time president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, shares in his book Rebuilding Your Broken World about a time when he was asked about how Satan might get him. He answered:

All sorts of ways, I suppose; but I know there’s one way he wouldn’t get me. “What’s that?” He’d never get me in the area of my personal relationships. That’s one place where I have no doubt that I’m as strong as you can get. A few years after that conversation my world broke wide open. A chain of seemingly innocent choices became destructive, and it was my fault. Choice by choice by choice, each easier to make, each becoming gradually darker. And then my world broke — in the very area I had predicted I was safe — and my world had to be rebuilt.

He goes on to quote from My Utmost for His Highest: “An unguarded strength is actually a double weakness.” Here is a man of God with a good marriage who had written books on family life and yet fell into adultery. Why? Because he thought it couldn’t happen to him and left this part of his life unguarded.

If David, who was “a man after God’s own heart,” Gordon MacDonald, and many other strong men and women of faith yielded to sexual temptation, it could happen to you. God is telling us through these words of Paul — “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor. 10:12) — that our vulnerability to sin increases when we think it could not happen to us.

Almost all Christians, especially Christian leaders, who have fallen to sexual temptation would tell you that they did not think it could have happened to them.

1 Corinthians 6:18 warns us, “Flee from sexual immorality.” It is easy for pride to convince us that we don’t really need to FLEE, and that this instruction is for weaker Christians. We mislead ourselves into thinking that instead of fleeing we can stroll away, looking back once in awhile, because we are strong enough to resist or flirt with temptation. Admitting that we need to flee takes real Christian humility. Remember, overcoming sexual temptation will cost your pride dearly.

When do you need to flee?

When you find yourself thinking about a “friend, co-worker, ministry partner, counselee” and how much you enjoy being with this person — FLEE!
When you look forward to spending more time with this person and you make sure you look especially nice if you know you might see your “friend” that day — FLEE!
If you begin to fantasize about being with this person or knowingly start touching your “friend” in “innocent “ ways — FLEE!
When you become more secretive about your interaction with your “friend” because people like your spouse might “misunderstand” your friendship — FLEE!
If you receive cards, e-mails or presents from this person that you would not want your spouse to see — FLEE!
When you find yourself comparing your spouse in an unfavorable way to your “friend”– FLEE!
If you start confiding in your “friend” about your marital problems — FLEE!
Anytime we feel we must keep something secret, this would indicate that sin is crouching at our door. If you are experiencing sexual attraction to someone – or experiencing some other kind of temptation over a few days – go to your spouse or someone you can trust in the Body of Christ. Bring the secret out into the light of day and ask for prayer and accountability.

Satan loves it when we keep secrets in the dark because of shame, fear, or pride – but remember, darkness is overcome by light. Often this alone can break the power of temptation, but it will cost you your pride.

Many are unwilling to sacrifice their pride by admitting their struggle with sin to get the help they need. There is great wisdom in these words by Rick Warren:

If you’re losing the battle against a persistent bad habit, an addiction, or a temptation, and you’re stuck in a repeating cycle of good intention-failure-guilt, you will not get better on your own. You need the help of other people. Some temptations are only overcome with the help of a partner who prays for you, encourages you, and holds you accountable.

Tragically, too many people – because of family background, having experienced sexual abuse or abandonment, or having a long history of struggling with lust – need significant ministry, yet are unwilling to get help until they are forced to do so after yielding to sin.

Yes, there is a price that your pride must pay to overcome temptation – but please take a moment and consider the much greater price of yielding to temptation. Consider the damage to the cause of Christ, to your family, and to your Christian witness, along with the pain you will cause yourself and the ones you love the most.

God has given us everything we need to overcome temptation, but it will cost our pride dearly. However, I plead with you to consider the even greater cost of yielding to the temptation.

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How to Avoid Temptation to Sin

Human beings are naturally inclined towards sin. Everyone feels the urge to sin at some point because sinning gives us tangible yet fleeting benefits at the cost of moral and spiritual ones. Temptation is the urge to sin. We’re judged by the degree to which we thwart our temptations. Because of humanity’s sinful nature, everyone, at some point, fails to resist their temptations. Luckily, we’re never alone in our quest to thwart our temptations. In the words of the Bible: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 English Standard Version) In this guide, you’ll learn strategies for avoiding temptation and for combating it when it does find you.

STEP 1–Identify your temptations and the personal flaws that create them. Everyone has their own temptations. Though Jesus never sinned, even he was tempted to. (Hebrews 4:15) Spend a few moments self-reflecting to identify your personal temptations. Then, pin down the personality traits that lead you to temptation – maybe you’re insecure or you’re never satisfied with yourself. Perhaps you prioritize pleasure over responsibility. No two people are exactly alike. Your temptations might resemble those of your friends, family, or other associates, but there’s also a chance that they’re unique to you. A priest, counselor, or other trusted person can help you discover your unique temptations and the flaws from which these temptations developed.If you’re having a hard time defining exactly what your temptations are, begin by pinpointing the things in your life that make you sad, then try to find a thought process or habit you possess that leads to these things. For instance, let’s say you’re in a committed relationship with a woman you love but you frequently feel intense guilt because you flirt with other women. Search your heart. Ask yourself, “what do I think or do that makes me want to act like this?” After some reflection, you may find, for instance, that you’re worried about whether you’re still attractive. The source of your temptation in this case is your sense of insecurity.

STEP 2—Set reasonable goals for fighting temptation. Your aim when fighting temptation should take into account the fact that, as a human being, you’re incapable of perfection. Don’t set an un-achievable goal like “I will never sin again.” If you do, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Realize that you will inevitably sin again (and again and again). Set a realistic goal that takes this into account.For instance, if you’ve been neglecting your child’s vocal recitals in favor of nights spent at home watching TV, you might set a goal of never missing another vocal recital (except for emergencies) and of reducing your time spent watching TV every week by four hours. This goal is well within your grasp.
For a few very serious sins, it is absolutely necessary to set a zero-tolerance goal – for instance, you should obviously never commit murder or marital infidelity. These sins can cause irreparable damage to others’ lives.

STEP 3—Take responsibility for yourself. You were blessed with free will for a reason. Don’t waste your opportunity to act decisively against your personal temptation by giving into the separate temptation of inaction! Stand up and take action now. Make it your goal going forward to not give in to your temptation. The hardest part of overcoming your temptation can be getting started. Don’t sabotage your journey before it’s begun by telling yourself you can’t do it.When Jesus died, he gave us authority over the forces of evil. (Mark 16:17) Never fear or run from the forces of evil in your own life. With hard work and sincere faith, nothing is beyond your grasp.

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Why Does God Allow Tragedy and Suffering? The Answer.

The following message was delivered on July 22 by Christian author and apologist Lee Strobel, just days after the deadly theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. Lee has graciously given us permission to post it here on Lights Burning20130731-161523.jpg.

It was the worst mass shooting in American history – 70 people shot by a gunman, 12 of them killed, while they were watching the midnight showing of a new movie just 21 miles from where we’re sitting. There are no words to describe the anguish being felt by those who are suffering today; our heart and prayers have – and will – go out to them. There are so many tragic stories, so much pain. And many people are asking the question, “Why? Why did God allow this?”

This has been a heart-rending summer for Colorado. First came the wildfires, which ravaged the houses of hundreds of our neighbors – and prompted many of them to ask the question, “Why?”

And those two tragic events are on top of the everyday pain and suffering being experienced in individual lives – maybe including yours. There’s illness, abuse, broken relationships, betrayal, sorrow, injuries, disappointment, heartache, crime and death. And perhaps you’ve been asking the question, “Why? Why me? Why now?”

 

That “why” question goes back thousands of years. It was asked in the Old Testament by Job and the writers of the Psalms, and it was especially relevant during the 20th century, where we witnessed two World Wars, the Holocaust, genocides in the Soviet Union and China, devastating famines in Africa, the killing fields of Cambodia, the emergence of AIDS, the genocide in Rwanda and the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. And the 21st Century didn’t start any better. There was 9/11 and now the Syrian slaughters, and on and on. Why all of this if there’s a loving and powerful God? Why do bad things happen to good people?

Several years ago, I commissioned a national survey and asked people what question they’d ask if they could only ask God one thing. The Number One response was: “Why is there suffering in the world?” Incidentally, I did find an interesting statistical quirk – people who are married were much more likely to want to know why there’s so much suffering. I’m just sayin’.

But if you’ve never asked why our world is infected with pain and suffering, you will when they strike you with full force or they come to a loved one. And Jesus said they are coming. Unlike some other religious leaders who wrote off pain and suffering as just being illusions, Jesus was honest. He told us the truth. He said inJohn 16:33, “You will have suffering in this world.” He didn’t say you might – he said it is going to happen.

But why? If you ask me point-blank, “Why did God allow the gunman to spray the Aurora movie theater with gunfire just two days ago?”, the only answer I can honestly give consists of four words – “I do not know.”

I cannot stand in the shoes of God and give a complete answer to that question. I don’t have God’s mind. I don’t see with God’s eyes. First Corinthians 13:12 says, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

So when you ask about specific individual events and want to know why this particular thing happened, we won’t get the full answer in this world. Someday we’ll see with clarity, but for now things are foggy. We can’t understand everything from our finite perspective. And frankly, the people suffering from the Aurora tragedy don’t need a big theological treatise right now; any intellectual response is going to seem trite and inadequate. What they desperately need now is the very real and comforting presence of Jesus Christ in their lives. And I’m so grateful that so many churches and ministries of this community are helping them experience that.

But for us, let’s focus on the big, overarching issue of why God generally allows suffering in our lives – your life and mine. Friends, this is important: even though we can’t understand everything about it, we can understand some things. Let me give you an analogy.

Once Leslie and I were driving from Chicago to Door County, Wisconsin, which is that thumb-shaped peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan. We were driving up the highway in the dark, when it started raining heavily and we hit dense fog. I could barely see the white stripe on the edge of the road. I couldn’t stop because I was afraid someone might come along and rear-end us. It was frightening!

But then a truck appeared in front of us and we could clearly see his taillights through the fog. He apparently had fog lamps in front, because he was traveling at a confident and deliberate pace, and I knew if we could just follow those taillights, we’d be headed in the right direction.

And the same is true in understanding why there is tragedy and suffering in our lives and in our world. We may not be able to make out all the peripheral details of why — they may be obscured from our view — but there are some key Biblical truths that can illuminate some points of light for us. And if we follow those lights, they will lead us in the right direction, toward some conclusions that I believe can help satisfy our hearts and souls.

What are those points of light? Let me go through five of them that I’ve personally found helpful whenever I’ve been prompted to ask the question, “Why?” The first point of light: God is not the creator of evil and suffering.

This answers the question you hear so often: “Why didn’t God merely create a world where tragedy and suffering didn’t exist?” The answer is: He did! Genesis 1:31 says: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

But if God is not the author of tragedy or evil or death, where did they come from? Well, God has existed from eternity past as the Father, Son and Spirit, together in a relationship of perfect love. So love is the highest value in the universe. And when God decided to create human beings, he wanted us to experience love. But to give us the ability to love, God had to give us free will to decide whether to love or not to love. Why? Because love always involves a choice.

If we were programmed to say, “I love you,” it wouldn’t really be love. When my daughter was little, she had a doll with a string in the back, and when you pulled it the doll said, “I love you.” Did that doll love my daughter? Of course not. It was programmed to say those words. To really experience love, that doll would need to have been able to choose to love or not to love. Again – real love always involves a choice.

So in order for us to experience love, God bestowed on us free will. But unfortunately, we humans have abused our free will by rejecting God and walking away from Him. And that has resulted in the introduction of two kinds of evil into the world: moral evil and natural evil.

Moral evil is the immorality and pain and suffering and tragedy that come because we choose to be selfish, arrogant, uncaring, hateful and abusive.Romans 3:23 says “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

So much of the world’s suffering results from the sinful action or inaction of ourselves and others. For example, people look at a famine and wonder where God is, but the world produces enough food for each person to have 3,000 calories a day. It’s our own irresponsibility and self-centeredness that prevents people from getting fed.

In other words: look at your hand. You can choose to use that hand to hold a gun and shoot someone, or you can use it to feed hungry people. It’s your choice. But it’s unfair to shoot someone and then blame God for the existence of evil and suffering. Like that old cartoon said: “We have seen the enemy, and he is us.”

The second kind of evil is called natural evil. These are things like wildfires, earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes that cause suffering for people. But these, too, are the indirect result of sin being allowed into the world. As one author explained: “When we humans told God to shove off, He partially honored our request. Nature began to revolt. The earth was cursed. Genetic breakdown and disease began. Pain and death became part of the human experience.”

The Bible says it’s because of sin that nature was corrupted and “thorns and thistles” entered the world. Romans 8:22 says, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” In other words, nature longs for redemption to come and for things to be set right. That’s the source of disorder and chaos.

Let’s make this crystal clear once more: God did not create evil and suffering. Now, it’s true that he did create the potential for evil to enter the world, because that was the only way to create the potential for genuine goodness and love. But it was human beings, in our free will, who brought that potential evil into reality.

Some people ask, “Couldn’t God have foreseen all of this?” And no doubt he did. But look at it this way: many of you are parents. Even before you had children, couldn’t you foresee that there was the very real possibility they may suffer disappointment or pain or heartache in life, or that they might even hurt you and walk away from you? Of course — but you still had kids. Why? Because you knew there was also the potential for tremendous joy and deep love and great meaning.

Now, the analogy is far from perfect, but think about God. He undoubtedly knew we’d rebel against Him, but He also knew many people would choose to follow Him and have a relationship with Him and spend eternity in heaven with Him — and it was all worth it for that, even though it would cost His own Son great pain and suffering to achieve their redemption.

So, first, it helps me to remember, as I ponder the mystery of pain and evil, that God did not create them. The second point of light is this: Though suffering isn’t good, God can use it to accomplish good.

He does this by fulfilling His promise in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Notice that the verse doesn’t say God causes evil and suffering, just that he promises to cause good to emerge. And notice that the verse doesn’t say we all will see immediately or even in this life how God has caused good to emerge from a bad circumstance. Remember, we only see things dimly in this world. And notice that God doesn’t make this promise to everyone. He makes the solemn pledge that he will take the bad circumstances that befall us and cause good to emerge if we’re committed to following Him.

The Old Testament gives us a great example in the story of Joseph, who went through terrible suffering, being sold into slavery by his brothers, unfairly accused of a crime and falsely imprisoned. Finally, after a dozen years, he was put in a role of great authority where he could save the lives of his family and many others.

This is what he said to his brothers in Genesis 50:20: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” And if you’re committed to God, He promises that He can and will take whatever pain you’re experiencing and draw something good from it.

You might say, “No, he can’t in my circumstance. The harm was too great, the damage was too extreme, the depth of my suffering has been too much. No, in my case there’s no way God can cause any good to emerge.”

But if you doubt God’s promise, listen to what a wise man said to me when I was researching my book The Case for Faith: God took the very worst thing that has ever happened in the history of the universe — deicide, or the death of God on the cross — and turned it into the very best thing that has happened in history of universe: the opening up of heaven to all who follow Him. So if God can take the very worst circumstance imaginable and turn it into the very best situation possible, can he not take the negative circumstances of your life and create something good from them?

He can and He will. God can use our suffering to draw us to Himself, to mold and sharpen our character, to influence others for Him – He can draw something good from our pain in a myriad of ways…if we trust and follow Him.

Now, the third point of light: The day is coming when suffering will cease and God will judge evil.

A lot of times you’ll hear people say: “If God has the power to eradicate evil and suffering, then why doesn’t He do it?” And the answer is that because He hasn’t done it yet doesn’t mean He won’t do it. You know, I wrote my first novel last year. What if someone read only half of it and then slammed it down and said, “Well, Lee did a terrible job with that book. There are too many loose ends with the plot. He didn’t resolve all the issues with the characters.” I’d say, “Hey – you only read half the book!”

And the Bible says that the story of this world isn’t over yet. It says the day will come when sickness and pain will be eradicated and people will be held accountable for the evil they’ve committed. Justice will be served in a perfect way. That day will come, but not yet.

So what’s holding God up? One answer is that some of you may be. He’s actually delaying the consummation of history in anticipation that some of you will still put your trust in Him and spend eternity in heavenHe’s delaying everything out of His love for you. SecondPeter 3:9 says: “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”To me, that’s evidence of a loving God, that He would care that much for you.

Point of Light #4: Our suffering will pale in comparison to what God has in store for his followers.

I certainly don’t want to minimize pain and suffering, but it helps if we take a long-term perspective. Look at this verse, and remember they were written by the apostle Paul, who suffered through beatings and stonings and shipwrecks and imprisonments and rejection and hunger and thirst and homelessness and far more pain that most of us will ever have to endure. These are his words:

Second Corinthians 4:17: “For our light and momentary troubles” — wait a second: light and momentary troubles? Five different times his back was shredded when he was flogged 39 lashes with a whip; three times he was beaten to a bloody pulp by rods. But he says, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

Paul also wrote Romans 8:18: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

Think of it this way. Let’s say that on the first day of 2012, you had an awful, terrible day. You had an emergency root canal at the dentist and the ran out of pain-killers. You crashed your car and had no insurance. Your stock portfolio took a nosedive. Your spouse got sick. A friend betrayed you. From start to finish, it was like the title of that children’s book: Alexander & the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

But then every other day of the year was just incredibly terrific. Your relationship with God is close and real and intimate. A friend wins the lottery and gives you $100 million. You get promoted at work to your dream job. Timemagazine puts your photo on its cover as “The Person of the Year.” You have your first child and he’s healthy and strong. Your marriage is idyllic, your health is fabulous, you have a six-month vacation in Tahiti.

Then next New Year’s Day someone asks“So, how was your 2012?” You’d say, “It was great; it was wonderful!” And they’d say, “But didn’t it start out bad? Didn’t you go through a lot of trouble that first day?”

You’d think back and say, “You’re right. That was a bad day, no denying it. It was difficult at the time. It was hard. It was painful. But when I look at the totality of the year, when I put everything in context, it’s been a great year. The 364 terrific days far outweigh the one bad day. That day just sort of fades away.”

And maybe that’s a good analogy for heaven. Listen to me – that is not to deny the reality of your pain in this life. It might be terrible. It might be chronic. My wife Leslie has a medical condition that puts her in pain every single day. Maybe you’re suffering from a physical ailment or heartache at this very moment. But in heaven, after 354,484,545 days of pure bliss — and with an infinite more to come — if someone asked, “So, how has your existence been?”, you’d instantly react by saying, “It has been absolutely wonderful! Words can’t describe the joy and the delight and the fulfillment!”

And if they said, “But didn’t you have a tough time before you got here,” you’d probably think back and say, “Well, yes, it’s true that those days were painful, I can’t deny that. They were difficult, they were bad. But when I put them into context, in light of all God’s outpouring of goodness to me, those bad days aren’t even worth comparing with the eternity of blessings and joy that I’m experiencing.”

It’s like the story that British church leader Galvin Reid tells about meeting a young man who had fallen down a flight of stairs as a baby and shattered his back. He had been in and out of hospitals his whole life — and yet he made the astounding comment that he thinks God is fair. Reid asked him, “How old are you?” The boy said, “Seventeen.” Reid asked, “How many years have you spend in hospitals?” The boy said, “Thirteen years.” The pastor said with astonishment, “And you think that is fair?” And the boy replied: “Well, God has all eternity to make it up to me.”

And He will. God promises a time when there will be no more crying, no more tears, no more pain and suffering, when we will be reunited with God in perfect harmony, forever. Let the words of First Corinthians 2:9 soak into your soul: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” That’s absolutely breath-taking, isn’t it?

Finally, Point of Light #5: We decide whether to turn bitter or turn to God for peace and courage.

We’ve all seen examples of how the same suffering that causes one person to turn bitter, to reject God, to become hard and angry and sullen, can cause another person to turn to God, to become more gentle and more loving and more tender, willing to reach out to compassionately help other people who are in pain. Some who lose a child to a drunk driver turn inward in chronic rage and never-ending despair; another turns outward to help others by founding Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.

As one philosopher said: “I believe all suffering is at least potential good, an opportunity for good. It’s up to our free choice to actualize that potential. Not all of us benefit from suffering and learn from it, because that’s up to us, it’s up to our free will.”

We make the choice to either run away from God or to run to Him. But what happens if we run to Him?

I started this talk with part of what Jesus said in John 16:33. Now let me give you the entire verse: “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. But be courageous! I have conquered the world.”

In other words, He offers us the two very things we need when we’re hurting: peace to deal with our present and courage to deal with our future. How?Because he has conquered the world! Through His own suffering and death, He has deprived this world of its ultimate power over you. Suffering doesn’t have the last word anymore. Death doesn’t have the last word anymore. God has the last word!

So let me finish the story of Leslie and I driving through the fog in Wisconsin. We were following the taillights of that truck when the fog slowly began to lift, the rain began to let up and we entered a town with some lights – things were becoming clearer, we could see better, and as we rounded a curve, silhouetted against the night sky, guess what we saw? We saw the steeple of a church and the cross of Christ. After driving through the confusion of the fog for so long, that image struck me with poignancy I’ll never forget. Because it was through that cross that Jesus conquered the world for us.

As that wise man once said to me: God’s ultimate answer to suffering isn’t an explanation; it’s the incarnation. Suffering is a personal problem; it demands a personal response. And God isn’t some distant, detached, and disinterested deity; He entered into our world and personally experienced our pain. Jesus is there in the lowest places of our lives. Are you broken? He was broken, like bread, for us. Are you despised? He was despised and rejected of men. Do you cry out that you can’t take any more? He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Did someone betray you? He was sold out. Are your most tender relationships broken? He loved and He was rejected. Did people turn from you?They hid their faces from Him as if He were a leper. Does He descend into all of our hells? Yes, He does. From the depths of a Nazi death camp, Corrie ten Boom wrote these words: “No matter how deep our darkness, He is deeper still.” Every tear we shed becomes his tear.

And then the wise man told me this: it’s not just that God knows and sympathizes with you in your troubles. After all, any close friend can do that. Any close friend can sit beside you and comfort you and empathize with you. No, Jesus is much closer than your closest friend. Because if you’ve put your trust in Him, then He is in you. And, therefore, your sufferings are His sufferings; your sorrow is His sorrow.

So when tragedy strikes, as it will; when suffering comes, as it will; when you’re wrestling with pain, as you will – and when you make the choice to run into His arms, here’s what you’re going to discover: you’ll find peace to deal with the present, you’ll find courage to deal with your future, and you’ll find the incredible promise of eternal life in heaven.

As I’ve been saying, all of us will go through pain and suffering. But let me end by going back to this specific tragedy that took place two days ago in Aurora. For all the things it leaves us confused about, one of the truths it clearly illustrates is that life is so fragile and short. These people were going to a movie! They had no clue that this might be their last moments in this world. Friends, in this sin-scarred world, we never know when death will come knocking. Often, we don’t get any warning when a heart attack strikes, or when a drunk driver crosses the centerline, or when a wildfire sweeps through a canyon, or when an airplane loses power. And so the question I’m compelled to ask you is this – “Are you ready?”

One of the first verses I memorized as a Christian is 1 John 5:13: “These things I’ve written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God in order that you may know that you have eternal life.”

God doesn’t want you wondering. He doesn’t want you steeped in anxiety over whether you’re headed for heaven. His infallible, inerrant Word says you can know for sure.

Don’t rely on the fact that you come to church or you’ve gone through some sort of religious ritual in the past. The Bible is clear that we can be religious but not be in a relationship with God. Religious activities and affiliations never saved anyone. Salvation comes from knowing Christ personally and receiving His provision for YOUR sin and YOUR future. It comes from making him YOUR Savior, by asking Him to forgive YOUR every sin, and by asking Him to lead YOUR life.

But it doesn’t happen automatically. It doesn’t come by attending a great church, or being baptized, or taking communion, or hanging out with a bunch of Christians. It comes from deciding in your heart that you want to turn from your sin, to stop trusting in your own resources, and to accept the forgiveness and eternal life that Jesus purchased on the cross and is offering you as a free gift. THAT is how you gain God’s peace and confidence.

So settle it now! Resolve this today, at this moment, so that if tragedy were to strike, your eternity with God would be secure. I don’t know all the ways God is going to draw some good from this Aurora situation, but wouldn’t it be something if He were starting right now, with you personally, and using this message to bring you into His kingdom at this very moment? Let the pain of that tragedy open your heart to Christ. Let’s take what was intended for evil and watch God start creating something good from it.

Pray with me right now to receive Christ – so that you can know for sure that even if the very worst thing were to happen to you after you leave the auditorium today, it will immediately be followed by the very best thing of all.

Lord Jesus, I believe that You are the unique Son of God. I confess to You that I’m a sinner. In repentance and faith, I reach out right now and receive the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life that You graciously purchased on the cross when You died as my substitute to pay for all of my sins. Please, Lord Jesus, lead my life – because from this moment on, I am Yours. I pray this in Your name.  Amen.

Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand

8 During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”

His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”

“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.

“Seven,” they replied.

He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand were present. After he had sent them away, 10 he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha.

11 The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. 12 He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” 13 Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.

The Yeast of the Pharisees and Herod

14 The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 15 “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”

16 They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”

17 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

“Twelve,” they replied.

20 “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

They answered, “Seven.”

21 He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

Jesus Heals a Blind Man at Bethsaida

22 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

24 He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into[a] the village.”

Peter Declares That Jesus Is the Messiah

27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Jesus Predicts His Death

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

The Way of the Cross

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life[b] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Luke 14

14 And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him.

2 And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy.

3 And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?

4 And they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go;

5 And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day?

6 And they could not answer him again to these things.

7 And he put forth a parable to those which were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief rooms; saying unto them.

8 When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him;

9 And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room.

10 But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.

11 For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

12 Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee.

13 But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind:

14 And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.

15 And when one of them that sat at meat with him heard these things, he said unto him, Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.

16 Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many:

17 And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready.

18 And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused.

19 And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused.

20 And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.

21 So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.

22 And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room.

23 And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.

24 For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.

25 And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them,

26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?

29 Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,

30 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.

31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?

32 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.

33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.

34 Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned?

35 It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill; but men cast it out. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

Micah 7- Fest upon the Word

7 I am upset because I am like fruit that has been gathered,
like grapes that have already been picked.
There are no grapes left to eat.
There are none of the early figs that I love.
2 By this I mean that all the faithful people are gone.
There are no good people left.
Everyone is planning to kill someone.
Everyone is trying to trap their brother.
3 People are good at doing bad things with both hands.
Officials ask for bribes.
Judges take money to change their decisions in court.
“Important leaders” do whatever they want to do.
4 Even the best of them is as crooked
as a tangled thornbush.

The Day of Punishment Is Coming

Your prophets said this day would come,
and the day of your watchmen[a] has come.
Now you will be punished.
Now you will be confused!
5 Don’t trust your neighbor
or trust a friend!
Don’t even speak freely
with your wife.
6 Your enemies will be the people in your own house.
A son will not honor his father.
A daughter will turn against her mother.
A daughter-in-law will turn against her mother-in-law.

The Lord Is the Savior

7 So I will look to the Lord for help.
I will wait for God to save me.
My God will hear me.
8 I have fallen, but enemy, don’t laugh at me!
I will get up again.
I sit in darkness now,
but the Lord will be a light for me.

The Lord Forgives

9 I sinned against the Lord,
so he was angry with me.
But he will argue my case for me in court.
He will do what is right for me.
Then he will bring me out into the light,
and I will see that he is right.
10 My enemy said to me,
“Where is the Lord your God?”
But my enemy will see this,
and she will be ashamed.
At that time I will laugh at her.[b]
People will walk over her,[c] like mud in the streets.

The Jews to Return

11 The time will come when your walls will be rebuilt.
At that time the country will grow.
12 Your people will come back to your land.
They will come back from Assyria and from the cities of Egypt.
They will come from Egypt
and from the other side of the Euphrates River.
They will come from the sea in the west
and from the mountains in the east.

13 The land was ruined by the people
who lived there and by what they did.
14 So rule your people with your rod.
Rule the flock of people who belong to you.
That flock lives alone in the woods
and up on Mount Carmel.
That flock lives in Bashan and Gilead
as they did in the past.

Israel Will Defeat Its Enemies

15 I did many miracles when I took you out of Egypt.
I will let you see more miracles like that.
16 The nations will see those miracles,
and they will be ashamed.
They will see that their “power”
is nothing compared to mine.
They will be amazed
and put their hands over their mouths.
They will cover their ears
and refuse to listen.
17 They will crawl in the dust like a snake.
They will shake with fear.
They will be like insects crawling
from their holes in the ground
and coming to the Lord our God.
God, they will fear and respect you!

Praise for the Lord

18 There is no God like you.
You take away people’s guilt.
God will forgive his people who survive.
He will not stay angry with them forever,
because he enjoys being kind.
19 He will come back and comfort us again.
He will throw all our sins into the deep sea.
20 God, please be true to Jacob.
Be kind and loyal to Abraham,[d] as you promised our ancestors long ago.