Archives For suffering

Why?

Chris —  February 13, 2017 — Leave a comment

“Why?” we cry out when we suffer. While we cannot understand all the reasons for pain. There are comforting answers to consider.

Many of you have prayed recently for our niece Michelle who underwent major surgery last week. Michelle (the daughter of one of my wife’s many sisters) is the mother of five daughters and a pastor’s wife.

Michelle is home and recovering. But more surgeries and a long road await.

Yesterday I preached at Johnston Evangelical Free Church in Iowa for Michelle’s husband Jeremy. The title of my sermon was “Why?” I preached on 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 and the Apostle Paul’s comments on his own painful afflictions in that passage.

Of course, we cannot understand intellectually or comprehensively why people suffer. We might as well attempt to individually name every grain of sand on the beach as to explain all of God’s sovereign ways. All of God will not fit between our ears.

But, amid pain, God does give us comforting answers to consider  that sustain us and help us find our way forward.

You can listen to the sermon on Johnston Evangelical Free Church’s web site.

 

Early Book Gift Ideas

Chris —  November 23, 2015 — Leave a comment

Hopefully, you are buying a present for at least one reader this Christmas. Here are a few ideas to consider.

 

The final pages of The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name:

One day, John knew, Heaven would come down and mend God’s broken world and make it our true, perfect home once again.

And he knew, in some mysterious way that would be hard to explain, that everything was going to be more wonderful for once having been so sad.

And he knew then that the ending of The Story was going to be so great, it would make all the sadness and tears and everything seem like just a shadow that is chased away by the morning sun.

“I’m on my way,” said Jesus. “I’ll be there soon!

Why?

Chris —  September 12, 2015 — Leave a comment

In the context of life’s most difficult moments, we want to know “why?”

We might at as well ask to to pluck the planet Mars from the heavens between our thumb and forefinger and flatten it between our hands like a piece of Play-dough. We have neither the strength nor the wisdom to comprehend the reasons of the Universe.

Indeed, flattening Mars between our palms would be far easier than understanding all the reasons of life and history.

However, having acknowledged how little capacity we have for understanding the reasons of God in the universe, we should be quick to note that it is not as though we have no understanding in hard times. There is so much we do understand.

To begin with, love is real. There is truth in Queen Elizabeth’s words after 9/11 that grief is the price we pain for love. The depth of pain we feel when met with sudden loss reminds us of the reality of love. Grief hurts so much because love is so real.

Still more, amid loss, we understand more about the love of parents for children when we see their grief. Could any reasonable person explain the feelings of a mother for her child by merely saying that evolution organically programmed mothers to care for their young?

A parent’s love for his or her child also assures us that the present path on which we find ourselves is the only possible avenue forward towards redemption. Had there been any other option, God the Father would have pursued it rather than giving his only begotten Son (John 3:16). Sending a child to die is the last option any parent would choose.

No, we cannot pluck Mars out of the air like we are taking decorations off our Christmas tree. Nor can we understand why life can hurt so much. But we can be sure that love is real. And that the God who loves us so much that he gave His only Son is the one true God who can be trusted even though we cannot comprehensively understand why.

See also:

Reflections on the Road During Our Time of Grief

Amid Tragedy, Let’s Talk

The Danger of Cherry-Picking Only Praises from the Psalms

Incurable Cancer and the Problem of Good

The Real Problem of Evil

Ask, “How Long?” Instead of “Why?”

9 Reasons Tim Keller’s Book on Suffering is Superb

Andy Naselli’s interview of John Frame regarding the Problem of Evil

Men seek an understanding of suffering in cause and effect

Job: A Writer of Superb Genius Has Erected a Monumental Work

When Suffering Avoid “I Hate Thee” and “I Hate Me”

The Christian life is about a journey to the heavenly city.In our sermon this morning, I used “The Road” to picture the journey God’s people are making which will one day end in the Heavenly City. (You will be able to listen to the sermon online soon). So “The Road” references the story of how God will buy back or redeem his people from the pain and death of a fallen world.

We meditated on 5 aspects of “The Road.”

  1. Know where the Road started & where the Road ends. The story we are in began in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1-3) and it will end in the Heavenly City on a New Earth.
  2. Recognize that the basic problem of the Road is personal. People – created in the image of God to love him and one another – broke their personal relationship with God. The consequence of brokenness is hell – separated from God for eternity. Revelation 21, that speaks of the heavenly city, also warns of the Lake of Fire or hell for those who do not follow Christ (Revelation 21:8).
  3. Understand that personal offenses require personal solutions. Only Christ can repair the Road. Christ did this by becoming human without ceasing to be deity – – living a perfect life – – going to the Cross to pay the penalty for sin – -and rising victoriously. In this sense, we might think of Christ as a “bridge” as much as a road. Through his atoning work, he made it possible for His people to spend eternity with Him.
  4. If you have not already, accept the invitation to follow Christ. We accept the invitation by believing in Jesus and following Him (Romans 6:23, John 3:16, Ephesians 2:8-9). So the Road is for those who choose to accept Christ as Lord and Savior.

[13] “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. [14] For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Matthew 7:13-14

  1. The timetable on the road isn’t what we expect. On the Road, we encounter devastating delays when we least expect them. And the end will come much sooner than we can imagine (Revelation 22).

If you know that you need to make a decision to follow Christ – – that you haven’t been living in light of eternity at all – – then do not delay. Make a decision to follow Christ at once.

If you have questions, then talk to a mature Christian at once.

We are available to you at The Red Brick Church.

See also:

What Do Christians Mean When They Reference the Gospel or Good News

A Football Illustration: Ron Brown Shares the Gospel

CDB_6739As we mourn the loss of one of the young people in our community, and the loss of a man from s surrounding community, tomorrow at the Red Brick Church (9/6/15 at 9:00 AM), Pastor Chris Brauns will preach on Revelation 21-22 and the image of a New Heaven coming down from Heaven as a bride adorned for her husband.

The picture of Emily going to the basket – – the ball went in for the record – – made me smile at the time.

The picture of Emily scoring means so much more now.

I take pictures of young people because I love them and so does our community. And we need them. Images of young people are good for our souls. Seeing their smiles full of future potential motivates us in the present.

At times of great loss we are reminded that there is another category of images we need even more than photographs. We need the beautiful, true, and hopeful images painted by the power of the Holy Spirit in the words of the Bible. These images from God show us how we can be hopeful even at our times of greatest loss.

There is, perhaps, no more beautiful and hopeful picture for times of loss than the picture painted by Revelation 21-22. Read this – – perhaps aloud – – and pray that God will help you see it.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,2 and God himself will be with them as their God.[4] He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

[5] And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” [6] And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. [7] The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. Revelation 21:4-7 ESV)

Not only do we need to read these words individually, we need to reflect on them together. Tomorrow in our morning service at the Red Brick Church, we will picture this in our mind. And because it is the Word of Christ we can be confident that, if we receive it prayerfully, these images will be living water for our souls.

If you don’t have a church home, then come. Be our guest. Drink deeply from the certain truth that this image will be a reality: the heavenly city will come down from heaven as a bride adorned for her husband. Picture it.

See also:

Pictures We Need

Amid Tragedy Let’s Talk

9 Reasons Tim Keller’s Book on Suffering is Superb

Suffering with incurable cancer, J. Todd Billings points out that contemporary hymnals tend to have a far smaller proportion of laments than the book of Psalms does (Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ40).

While psalms of thanksgiving are wonderful, they are rarer in the book of Psalms than psalms of lament. Cherry-picking only the praises from the Psalms tends to shape a church culture in which only positive emotions can be expressed before God in faith. Since my diagnosis with cancer, I’ve found that my fellow Christians know how to rejoice about answered prayer and also how to petition God for help, but many don’t know what to do when I express sorrow and loss or talk about death. In some sense, this lack of affective agility in their faith is not surprising since our corporate worship has lost many of the elements that are so prominent in the psalms of lament.

Suffering with incurable cancer, J.T. Billings points out that the way we see and interpret life must account for goodness and beauty as well as suffering.

J. Todd Billings is a theologian who has been diagnosed with incurable cancer. In his new book, Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ, Billings wrestles with the problem of evil and the question of why a good and all powerful God would allow suffering.

But Billings does not stop with the problem of evil. Even though he has cancer, Billings also points out that there is a “problem of good.” As much pain as there can be in this world, there is also so much beauty and goodness. The problem of good considers the questions, “How can we explain so much beauty?” Our worldviews must explain “goodness” as well as pain. Billings writes:

The incredible goodness of creation, including the hope in new life – – in a marriage, in children, in creation as a whole–exposed me to what some philosophers and theologians have referred to as the “problem of good.” I’ve reflected already in earlier chapters on the problem of evil. But there is a “problem” (if one does not believe in a good God) explaining the goodness in the world that goes far beyond the banal. “If the world is the chance assembly of accidental phenomena, where is there so much that we want to praise and celebrate? Why is there beauty, love, and laughter? God’s creation is drenched with wonder and goodness: lush waterfalls and sandy deserts; children who can blow bubbles and wear crazy wigs: material bodies that can dance, play sports, and express sexual intimacy in the secure freedom of marriage. Who are you going to thank for it? If you have no one to thank, then you have not done justice to the “problem of good.” The beauties and delights of creation point beyond themselves; they cry out to thank someone–a Creator. Indeed, apart from the specific philosophical “problem of good,” Scripture indicates that God’s creation is not just good–it’s very good!

For the materialist (who believes that there is nothing more than random collisions of molecules) the problem of good is insurmountable. Is it really possible that Beethoven’s 9th symphony is the product of a mass of meat?

You can watch J. Todd Billings talk more about his book below:

See also:

Why Did God Allow Satan to Harm Job and His Family?

Hope: This is Just the Beginning of the Beginning

Why is God Harder on Job’s Friends Than on Complaining Job?

Hitting Hard Questions Head-On

9 Reasons Tim Keller’s Book on Suffering is Superb

Andy Naselli’s interview of John Frame regarding the Problem of Evil

I haven’t yet read Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ, but I’ve ordered it. J. Todd Billings, the Gordon H. Girod Research Professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, describes his journey after learning that he has terminal cancer the age of 39. An impressive group endorse the book.

Publisher’s description:

At the age of thirty-nine, Christian theologian Todd Billings was diagnosed with a rare form of incurable cancer. In the wake of that diagnosis, he began grappling with the hard theological questions we face in the midst of crisis: Why me? Why now? Where is God in all of this? This eloquently written book shares Billings’s journey, struggle, and reflections on providence, lament, and life in Christ in light of his illness, moving beyond pat answers toward hope in God’s promises. Theologically robust yet eminently practical, it engages the open questions, areas of mystery, and times of disorientation in the Christian life. Billings offers concrete examples through autobiography, cultural commentary, and stories from others, showing how our human stories of joy and grief can be incorporated into the larger biblical story of God’s saving work in Christ.

“Rejoicing in Lament is a profound witness to the gospel. I can hardly find words to express its intelligence, honesty, and richness.”
–Gerald L. Sittser, Whitworth University; author of A Grace Disguised and A Grace Revealed

“Every chapter brims with pools of insight, pointing us beyond platitudes to the God who has met us–and keeps on meeting us–in the Suffering and Risen Servant. This is a book not just for reading but for meditation and prayer.”
–Michael Horton, Westminster Seminary California

“Rejoicing in Lament will touch and shape those who give pastoral care, and will offer hope and meaning for all Christians who face great suffering.”
–Kathryn Greene-McCreight, the Episcopal Church at Yale; author of Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness

“Courageous, revealing, sometimes raw–this book reminds us that lament is an act of faith and that faith is a communal treasure. Billings’s testimony is that love is stronger than death. Unforgettable!”
–Cornelius Plantinga Jr., author of Engaging God’s World

“Here there is no simplistic moralizing, but a persistently questing witness to a God who is present in the midst of life-changing sorrow. To read with Todd is to join him in struggle and faith, doubt and hope, lament and praise.”
–Marianne Meye Thompson, Fuller Theological Seminary

“This profound and heartfelt book is for all Christians, for sooner or later we must all face the challenge of our own mortality.”
–Carl R. Trueman, Westminster Theological Seminary, Pennsylvania

HT: JT

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5

One hundred years ago on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 1914 shooting on the Western Front stopped. Soldiers from opposing British and German armies walked peacefully over the top, shook hands with one another, and celebrated Christmas.

The below video is a dramatic account of that event. Such a bright light in a dark place is surely worth reflecting on.

When the Christmas truce of 1914 took place, the front lines of both armies were so close together that soldiers could talk to one another through the barbed wire. Because a large percentage of the Germans spoke English, language was not a barrier.

WorldWar1One soldier described in a letter how the Truce began. On Christmas Eve, a British soldier named Edgar Aplin sang a solo with a beautiful tenor voice. The German soldiers listened in the darkness and called out for another song.[1] Aplin obliged and the Germans responded with Silent Night. Then, somehow, in the midst of the fighting, on Christmas 1914, a temporary peace took place. Despite orders to not fraternize, the soldiers agreed to not fire for 48 hours. When they were directed to fire, they shot in the air. Both sides had received special gift parcels. They exchanged gifts.

Some of the details of the Christmas Truce of 1914 are disputed. Historians argue about whether there was a “football” game much less if the Germans won it on penalties.[2] But there is no question that the light of peace blazed into the darkness of the trenches on Christmas Eve of 1914.

*******

A fallen world can be a very dark place. In 2014 at our church in Stillman Valley, IL we thought a lot about “darkness.” If you follow this blog, then you know there were many posts (see some of them here) about our study in the book of Job. We wondered how it could be that God allowed a man who had everything to lose it in the context of Satan’s dispute with God. We thought about the problem of evil.

Of course, our church didn’t just study darkness during the last year. We experienced it. Though our trials were nowhere near as severe as Job’s, we lived with darkness. Some found out that they have cancer. There have been broken relationships and disease. Death took a young member of our community.

Yet, as we saw in the Job series, and as we have experienced in our own lives – – light always wins. That’s how light is: the darker the night, the brighter the light.

In the Job series our church saw that, given Christ, we can trust God even though we cannot understand everything. We learned and experienced that a god small enough to be comprehensively understood is not big enough to be worshipped. But surely the God who gave his only begotten Son is the God who can be trusted and praised: the darker the night – – the brighter the light.

In the words of John 1:5, The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Light is a certain solution to darkness. We can picture it. Darkness never overcomes light.

Frederick Dale Bruner points out that in John’s Gospel, the verbs in the first four verses are all in the past or past-continuous tenses:

 In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

He was in the beginning with God.

All things were made through him,

and without him was not any thing made that was made.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

But in John 1:5, when John says, the light shines in the darkness, with the verb, “shines,” John changes from the past to the present tense.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John’s switch in tenses is electrifying. Bruner comments “suddenly something shines on.”[3] He explains that though, at Calvary, it had seemed to all outward appearances that Jesus was executed and that the darkness had prevailed – – Jesus rose again. Bruneer continues that even though now, too, by most outward indications in the present world, it may seem that darkness is winning, “nevertheless, appearances to the contrary . . . it will always be the deepest fact in all of history that, in John’s inspired words, it is ‘this Light that shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not put it out.’[4]

When the text of John 1:5 says that the darkness has not overcome the light – – the verb translated “overcome” carries the idea of “attacking with the implication of gaining control over.”[5] The same word for “overcome” appears in Mark 9:18 where an evil spirit takes over a young man. The text reads:

And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” (Mark 9:18 ESV)

The word translated “seizes” is the same one found in John 1:5.[6] Satan —the darkness—attempted to throw our King down and conquer him. And, on Good Friday, it might have appeared that the darkness won, but Christ rose from the dead. And the light shines on.

John anticipates all of this in John 1:5.

And the Light still shines today – – There are times when the darkness is violent:

Cancer rips out our hair.

Divorce devastates.

Heart disease saps our strength.

Sin ravages young people.

Death grips us.

Yet, Christ rose from the dead. He is coming again. We can be sure that the Light shines on, and will continue to shine on.

*****

The image of God as light is an important one. John R.W. Stott wrote that no biblical statement is more comprehensive of God’s essential being than the 1 John 1:5 assertion that God is “light.”[7] 

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5a

The idea that God is light carries a number of truths with it.  First, God chooses to tell us about Himself.  The God of Heaven and Earth does not dwell in shadows, but he discloses himself, again using Stott’s words, in perfect purity and utter majesty.”

The idea of God as light also communicates ethical purity and holiness. So in the verses following 1 John 1:5, John encourages his readers to walk in the light. Indeed, The light that God shines does not simply tell us who God is  — – but light from God allows us to walk.  When we know Christ, the light that we find in God’s Word allows us to confidently move forward in life.  We do not need to hesitate or be unsure. We should walk in the light.

And, as we have said, light defeats darkness. The book of Revelation promises that there is coming a time when there will be no more darkness.

And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:5

Verses like John 1:5 and Revelation 22:5 in mind, light, ought always to encourage the believer, especially on dark nights. Tonight when you see Christmas Eve lights, think of the Light. Look across the winter fields and remind yourself that God is light. In Him there is not even a trace of darkness.  He does not dwell in shadows but He blazes a knowledge of himself into human history through His Creation and His Word.  He gives us this light not simply that we can worship His excellence, but also that we can walk forward in life, that we may have right conduct.

Light always prevails over darkness. Every time.

There is another point of application that cannot be missed. In the coming year, with a series on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), we will be reminded that, in the absence of the resurrected Christ who has ascended to the right hand of the Father and poured out the Holy Spirit on the Church believers are called to be visible lights. Jesus said,

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

******

We ought not to romanticize the Christmas Truce of 1914. After all, the cease fire was at the beginning of the War before the worst of the hatred took hold. Gas warfare was yet to come. And there would be no cease-fires from 1915-1918. Before it was over, World War I was horrible beyond comprehension. The casualty numbers tell us that England lost around a million people (2 %of their population). The number was closer to 2 million for the French who lost an estimated 3-4% of their population. Germany lost 2.5 million and around 4% of their population. The United States came to the war late and our losses were comparatively smaller at 117,000. Altogether, in World War I, somewhere between 15-19 million people died with 22 million wounded. And a flu epidemic came at the end of World War I that killed many more.

Even the Christmas Truce of 1914 was imperfect. Though the cease fire was generally observed at one point in the lines, a German sniper killed a British soldier. The soldier’s sergeant was furious and tracked down the sniper and killed him. But then he decided to pursue another sniper. The two snipers spotted each other at the same time and the German sniper shot first. So multiple families received the word that sons, husbands, and fathers had died on Christmas day.

The daughter of the British sergeant’s remembers the last time her father was home on leave in 1914 shortly before he was killed on the Western Front on Christmas Day. He came home to see his family and she ran out to greet her father before he could get to the door. He had brought her a tea set. She was so excited to tell her mom that when she ran back to the house she fell and broke the tea set. It would be her last gift.[8]

Maybe – – remembering that little girl’s precious gifts – – we ought to treasure our gifts more given the darkness.

In any case, the Christmas Truce of 1914 was only a glimpse of the light that will one day come when Christ appears. But the fact that it is still talked about 100 years later illustrates the truth that darkness doesn’t conquer light. In spite of the war that happened, the light of the Christmas truce shines 100 years later. Light defeats darkness. It did and it will. The darkness will never prevail over light because God is light and there is no darkness in Him.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

Now we need to be lights. We need Christmas Truces not of 1914 but of 2014. If soldiers in the Great War could see their way clear to be brothers on Christmas Day, then maybe we could be moved to hug more people one hundred years later.

See also:

John Murray of Westminster Seminary and World War I

Christmas Truce of 1914 Was Broken When German Snipers Killed Two British Soldiers

How One Young Soldiers Song Inspired the 1914 Christmas Truce

Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce

Why did God allow Satan to harm Job and his family?

[1] “How One Young Soldier’s Song Inspired the 1914 Christmas Truce,” The Telegraph, December 22, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-one/11302440/How-one-young-soldiers-song-inspired-the-1914-Christmas-Truce.html.

[2] Katie Daubs, “When German, British Soldiers Carolled and Played (we Think) Soccer,” December 19, 2014, http://www.thestar.com/news/world/ww1/2014/12/19/when_german_british_soldiers_carolled_and_played_we_think_soccer.html.

[3] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapds: Eerdmans, 2012), 17–18. Emphasis his.

[4] Ibid., 18.

[5] “39.48 καταλαμβάνω: to attack, with the implication of gaining control over—‘to attack, to overpower.’ ὅπου ἐὰν αὐτὸν καταλάβῃ ῥήσσει αὐτόν ‘whenever (the evil spirit) attacks him, it throws him to the ground’ Mk 9:18. The attack upon a person by a demon is often expressed idiomatically, for example, ‘to ride a person,’ ‘to seize a person’s mind,’ or ‘to grab a person’s inner life.’” This verb appears 15 times in the Greek New Testament. Sometimes it carries the idea of “comprehending” or “understanding.” See the NIV translation.

[6] In 1 Thessalonians the verb is translated by the ESV “surprise.” But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. (1 Thessalonians 5:4 ESV).

[7] John R.W. Stott, The Letters of John, Revised, vol. 19, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1990), 75. Portions of this adapted from Chris Brauns, “Light: A Most Import Statement About God,” A Brick in the Valley: The Web Site of Pastor and Author Chris Brauns, August 2, 2011, http://chrisbrauns.com/2011/08/light-a-most-import-statement-about-god/.

[8] “Christmas Truce of 1914 Was Broken When German Snipers Killed Two British Soldiers,” The Telegraph, December 22, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-one/11307513/Christmas-truce-of-1914-was-broken-when-German-snipers-killed-two-British-soldiers.html.