We made it to Jerusalem yesterday and spent today touring the area of Masada, En Gedi, the site of Qumran, the Dead Sea, and Jericho. It has been very difficult to upload these pictures because the internet connection has been very weak. Today was a wonderful day filled with rich history that surrounds Scripture and its preservation.
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Deafening news echoed through the streets of our community and the hallways of our schools. A typical day turned into a memory seared into our minds and hearts.
I awoke to the sound of my phone Thursday morning unaware that the looming experience would change the course of life for so many. There was no information about what had occurred at the address and no way to prepare my mind and heart for the experiences that would follow.
As I went through the day, the image of a precious little girl lying on the ground and the sounds of a broken mother haunted my memory. The tears and questions from siblings trying to find understanding seemed inescapable. As a pastor, these are the moments when words fail. Just as many struggled with questions, I found myself in the same battle to find resolve – to find answers.
I wish I had answers that could immediately take away the pain and mend the broken hearts, but I do not. For those in our community, struggling with the events of the day, I want to offer the truths that I am holding onto this very moment.
Suffering is Real
I long for the day when sin and death are no more, but that is not today. I look forward to a time when there are no more tears and pain, but that is not today. Today, the pain is real, the suffering is real, and death has dealt a blow to our lives, leaving us wanting. We want the suffering to end, and we want the pain to be relieved.
For some, the only option they see is ending their life. In the trap of despair, darkness and the world entice us with mirages of hope. In our attempt to soothe the pain we throw ourselves into these fabrications of false hope only to find ourselves in more pain and sorrow. The thoughts of hopelessness begin to increase and become louder than the truths of our God, our Creator.
As we search for answers, it is easy to become mislead by the false hope of having the answers. What could we have done? Was there something we missed? Was it my fault? Why did this happen? We think that having the answers to these questions will offer the resolve we need, only to find that we are suffocated by the waterfall of questions that come after them.
Suffering is real. It is a part of life that we cannot escape this side of heaven. As Believers, it is not a matter of whether we will face suffering, because we will. Jesus told us that we would have trouble in this world (John 16:33). This idea sounds pessimistic and hopeless, but it is not. How do we know? Because even though the pain is real, the hope of Christ offers something far greater.
God is Greater
In that same verse, Jesus told his disciples to fear not because he has overcome the world. As we hear the questions, echo in our minds, and as the tears flow in mourning, we must hold on to the truth that in Christ, there is hope no matter the pain in our lives.
God is great enough to handle my questions. He is not shaken by my questions of doubt. He is not insulted by my struggles to trust that he is good. He is great enough to understand that my mind is battling to convince my heart of the truths of Scripture. He is loving enough to know the count of every tear that falls and hold the pieces of a broken heart in his hands.
God is greater than today. This immediate moment or the memory that is burned into our minds does not limit God’s ability to see me through the circumstances. He is eternal; he sees the grand scheme of life when I am blinded by the pain of the present.
God is good. There is no darkness in him, though it seems like the darkness of this world clouds his glory. I do not understand, but I can trust who he is and how he is at work. He loves us and those that are suffering. His heart breaks with ours, and he sheds tears over our pain and suffering.
Yes, suffering is real, but my God is greater. As a pastor, these are the truths that I hold onto in times like these.
Sometimes things are overwhelming. I’m am not talking about a busy schedule; I am talking about those things that happen when it seems like hope is lost. These moments are hard, and we tend to ask the question, “where is God?” There is a simple answer to this question – He is right there with you.
We need to look no farther than the account of Joseph in Genesis. At times, things were pretty rough and overwhelming in Joseph’s life. Where was God when Joseph’s brothers threw him into the pit? Where was God when Joseph was sold into slavery? Where was he when Joseph was falsely accused of attempted rape? Where was God as Joseph was innocently thrown in prison and then forgotten about? Where was God? Acts 7:9 tells us, “And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him.”
We live in a Genesis 3 world. This means that everything around us is corrupted and tarnished by sin. Evil takes place all around us because mankind rebels against the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, God. Jesus told the disciples that they would have trouble in this world, but they were not to fear because he had overcome the world (John 16:33).
Are things overwhelming? I want to encourage you to have hope. I am not speaking of hope as if it is wishful thinking; I am talking about an anticipated certainty. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 tells us, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Don’t lose heart. I cannot promise you that your current situation will change, but I can guarantee you that if you lean into God and the truth of his love, you will find hope. This is because our momentary affliction is nothing compared to the eternal glory that awaits us. Our circumstances do not change God’s love and purpose for our lives. We trust in God’s plan, and we faithfully proclaim with Joseph that what is meant for evil, God intends for good (Gen. 50:30).
Our hope is in the Lord. By the work of the Holy Spirit, through the redemption of Christ, God is bringing us to a place where his presence will be uninterrupted by sin. Don’t let the current circumstances lose sight of your hope in Christ. Remember that God is with you, even when you don’t see Him or feel Him.
No matter how many times it happens, it always amazes me how God orchestrates things in our lives. Several weeks ago we started a sermon series in Malachi and since then we have been walking through this book. I missed last Sunday because we were in Akron, and when I sat down this week to finish preparing, God let his glory show once again as I read this week’s passage. I couldn’t make past one verse.
In Malachi 2:17, a new section starts and as in other cases, it begins with a question and answer. God tells the people that they have wearied him by their thoughts and this verse concludes with the question that had plagued the Israelites, “Where is the God of justice?” They were God’s chosen people. If this really was the case, why had they been conquered by empires and through the generations from Solomon to present been suppressed and oppressed by their rulers. It seemed like God was on the side of the heathens, not his chosen people. Now there were many things in the history of Israel that led to their situation in Malachi, but there question is legitimate and is in the hearts of many today.
When we began to learn of all the problems Levi may have and were warned of the many complications that could accompany his birth, I was asked several times, why. They thought that because I was a pastor, God wouldn’t let anything like this happen. In their minds, these types of things only happen to people who defy God, not those that try to follow him. I was even asked by one person that isn’t a Christian, where was God in all of this? Did this situation not make me doubt? I want to share from my heart.
I praise God for what he has done in our family and how he has worked miracles in Levi’s life, but long before we had kids, Amy and I surrendered our lives to be used by God however he desired. Where was God in this situation? Everywhere! Why was he allowing this to happen? For his glory and purpose. Over the past weeks we have been able to share Christ with many people. And the way God has worked within us has poured out into the lives of others. We were able to meet, share, and pray for people that we would have never met otherwise; thousands of people were united in prayer over the life of one little boy; time and time again God showed his provision; he challenged us to pray more; he challenged others to pray more; he granted peace beyond what the world can explain; we were brought to our knees and raise with hope; he was there the whole time!
I am not sure what is happening in your life and the circumstances you are facing. I don’t know what lies in your past or the deep wounds that haven’t been healed, but I know that God that loves you and cares for you, working all things out in the end. As we have been studying through Malachi, it is easy to forget the beginning of the book. Malachi 1:2, ” ‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord.” How has he loved you? John 3:16. He loved you that much and no greater love has ever been shown, John 15:13. As a believer, the Lord is our shepherd, what more could we want? He is there when it hurts. He is there when it seems like everything is going wrong. He is there when the hope of the world has failed. He is there in pain and he is there in sorrow. He is there with comfort and he is there with open arms. He is there with love; never let Satan convince you otherwise. The joy of the morning always trumps the darkness of night.
Join us next Sunday as we look at the hope that is to come.
There are many things that I am thankful for this year. If I were to ask you, some of you could give me a large list. While on the other hand there are many of you that would simply state you have nothing to be thankful for. Take a moment and write down the three things you are most thankful for this year. I know this sound elementary, but sometimes we really need a reminder. Now that you have written them down or at least acknowledged three, cross out one of them. I know it is a hard choice, but do it anyway. You see the thing we are thankful for are not always going to be with us. I am thankful for my children, but I know they are going to turn into teenagers one day. I will love them the same, but they will no longer be little. Now that you have one of them marked off, look at the final two. Yep, you know what I am going to ask you to do: mark another one off. I know; it may seem like I am ruining your Thanksgiving spirit because I just asked you to mark out two of the three things I asked you to write down. I promise you there is a point.
Look at this last item. What is it? What I want to share with you is that if it is not your relationship to God established through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, you are missing the one thing you should be most thankful for. We rewind back to the Lord’s Supper in Luke 22:19-20. Jesus told his disciples to “do this in remembrance of me.” Isn’t it sad how quickly we forget. We forget that Jesus Christ gave his life so that we could have eternal life. Remember what Psalm 23:1 says? “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.” It is to this end that I ask you, what more is there to want? Through Jesus Christ we have a Heavenly Father that provides everything we need. Letting anything trump our thankfulness for this gift seems rather foolish.
This Thanksgiving I pray that you begin to see the true sacrifice of Christ and you let that take preeminence in your life, it comes first. I pray that amid the hustle and bustle, the material fulfillment and the indulgence of food, you begin to be truly thankful for the grace we receive through faith. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9-10) Live a great life of thankfulness.
Join us next Sunday @ 10:45 as we begin our new sermon series Unwrapping Christmas with The Integrity of Joseph.