Pouring out our soul

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But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord.

1 Samuel 1:15 ESV

Have you ever been distressed to the point where your body aches? Have you ever wept bitterly because of loss or injustice? Have you felt a pain that could be described as your spirit being broken to pieces? Hannah did. She had been left barren, ridiculed by her peers, rejected in society, provoked, and deeply grieved. And this went on for years. If you find yourself relating to Hannah, either now or in the future, may I encourage you to do as she did? Fall at the feet of Jesus and pour out your soul. Don’t be afraid to weep and fast and pray for days, or months, or even years. A breakthrough is around the corner. The Lord is listening and He will act. It may not play out how you predetermined. But God always has your best interest in mind. Please allow your struggles and distress to draw you to Jesus, not drive you away because He’s already near.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:18 NIV

Peace brothers and sister. You are loved.

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Tough Questions #2: Why would a loving God allow bad things to happen?

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“Pain removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.”

C.S. Lewis

 

Today we try to respond to yet another really hard question. I myself have had to wade through these waters during difficult moments of my own life. But I’ve come out the other side liberated, not from pain, but from the crushing blow of doubt. Few things in my life have contributed to my faith life the tragic experiences I’ve had to endure. That has helped my love for God extend to new heights.

…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…

1 Peter 3:15 (ESV)

Life is hard. There’s no way around it. Tragedy hits everyone. Some will experience more pain than others, but no one will escape it. That’s led many people to question the goodness of God…to wonder where He is in the sufferings of their life. I don’t ever want to take away from the pain inflicted on anyone. Everyone’s story is unique, but the answer to the question above is not and that answer can write the next chapter for anyone’s story.

Just like with my last post on why a loving God would allow people to go to hell, I want to keep the answer simple and biblical. Also, I will give you a three-fold response that you could share with anyone. From that, I hope a much deeper conversation would result.

  1. Humanity is broken. We all have a sinful nature from birth (Psalm 51:5). That’s because the very first humans, Adam and Eve, chose sin rather than obedience (Genesis 3). Every human since has suffered from the same ailment. And because of that nature, we often times choose sin over holiness. That choice results in pain inflicted on ourselves and others. No one’s sin ever just affects them. Our sin has domino effect that can disrupt and destroy lives. You add billions of people who suffer from the sin condition, that’s a lot of pain in the world. That’s a lot of greed, perversion, anger, violence, and pride. God provided the cure for our brokenness. He died for our sins and promised His Holy Spirit to anyone who calls on Him. The Holy Spirit is the only thing that can empower humanity to live beyond themselves, to live for eternity and not temporary, and to consider others better than themselves. But here again we see the factor of free will. Because God is so loving, He has allowed us to freely choose the course of our life, even if it’s not a good one.
  2. There are other forces at work in the world. God is sovereign. That’s indisputable. But there is a severe darkness that pervades the world and the hearts of a lot people. Satan is the dominate force behind that darkness. Not the little man in red with a pitchfork. The epitome of evil who tried to rebel and overthrow God. The one who has been leading people into lives of destruction. The one who’s soul mission is to destroy you and revel in that destruction. The one who has waged war on everyone’s soul. Ephesians chapter six says that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. So much of what we struggle with in life, we can’t even see the reality behind it. And I know, that is a hard concept to grasp.
  3. Our pain is never the end of our story. God is the master of bringing beauty out of our ashes (Romans 8:28). Just read through the life of Job in the Bible. He was a righteous man who Satan sought after to destroy. Job lost his kids, his home, and his health. The worst things in life happened to Job. But through it all, God met with Job and his faith and character went to an all new reality. And in the end, everything was restored to Job, more than he even had before. Job’s life is an ideal ‘beauty from ashes’ story. So is the life of Joseph in the book of Genesis. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and then sent to prison on false claims. But neither of those things were the end of Joseph’s story. God raised him up to be second in command of the nation of Egypt and he went on to save the lives of thousands. Joseph would later proclaim to those responsible for pain in his life, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

Isaiah 61:1-3 (NIV)

God is in the joy-giving, heart-healing, and life-giving business. Sometimes, that is done best in walking through our darkest days. Quite often pain and suffering can be the instrument that refines us into having more of a godly character and softens our rebellious hearts.  Instead of looking for a scapegoat for the hardships in the world, we ought better use our energies being a part of the solution and not adding to the problem. If everyone devoted themselves to the One who created them, the world would look vastly different. Until that day, when Jesus returns to set all things right, we can live each day to improve the lives of others. We can use lessons learned through our own trials to walk through the fire with others. And we can keep our eyes set on the day when the hurt will cease. That day is coming.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Revelation 21:4 (NIV)

Forged in the Fires

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I’m a history teacher. You probably already know that. I also have a biblical worldview. So I can’t help but to see spiritual undertones wrapped up in historical events. A recent lesson in my US History class involved the Great Depression. We explored causes and effects of what would be considered the worst economic crisis in recent memory. The well accepted dates of the depression (at least for the US) was 1929 to 1939. It came on the heals of one of the most prosperous decades in US history; the Roaring Twenties. As we had been covering this topic over a couple of weeks, I had been considering other forces at work besides the economic ones.

Here’s what I mean. The 1920’s were regarded as a carefree era for many, full of parties, and absent of the dread of war and international conflict. Many Americans were making it big with the stock market and booming business. Some historians label the decade as America’s adolescent years.  When the economy slows, and the stock market comes crashing down in 1929, the adolescents comes to an abrupt end. Thus begins the depression.

I believe that God allows certain things to happen in our lives in order to makes us who we were created to be. The Bible is full of stories where God gives people over to their lifestyle choices, knowing the tragic effects it will have, in order to forge a new person. Just read through the book of Judges and you’ll see several generations that needed to be drawn back to God through the trials that they brought on themselves. Now, I’m not making the claim that all hardships faced in life are brought on by ourselves, but many are. I’m NOT saying that people deserve hard times. I’m saying we NEED them.

Many of those who’s lives were shaken by the cumulative effects of the economic depression had nothing to do with causing it. But the benefits could be gained by all. When we are in the process of going through hard times, it’s difficult to see the benefits to be gained. We can see our struggles. We can see pain. We can easily drown in doubt and despair. But that can’t be the end of our story. And for that to not be the end, we have to make a choice.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…

Romans 5:1-4 (ESV)

Those who fought in World War Two are often referred to as America’s greatest generation. That generation was forged out of – you guessed it – the Great Depression. Those men who fought on the front lines, and those women who worked as nurses and factory workers, grew up in the fires of the Great Depression. They knew what it was like to fight. In a time when unemployment spiked over 20 percent, a nation had to come together and had to persevere, or it would crumble. That generation took the lessons learned in fighting poverty, and applied it to fighting for freedom from Nazi and Japanese aggression. A people who grew up with nothing, knew how fragile it all was. A people who had to persevere are a people who value God’s goodness. A people who have suffered loss, know what humility is all about. A people who have had to struggle, know what it is to lean on God, and on God’s people. You can’t place a value on those lessons.

In another unit, I teach about how steel revolutionized America and Europe, paving the way for a major industrial boom. That became possible because William Kelley and Henry Bessemer developed a new process of making steel. In simple terms, you take the iron ore, melt it down with intense heat, and inject high pressure air into that molten metal. The combination of the heat, air, and pressure burn of the impurities. The end result is a much much stronger metal. Without purifying the ore like this, it would not be possible to build the expanded railroad system, skyscrapers, or the massive bridge networks that linked cities.

The trials of life are hard, no doubt about it. But trials are also helpful in making us more useful in life. Those who know what it is to struggled in life are the best equipped to help others who struggle. I’ve had a spouse commit adultery which led to a rough and hurtful divorce. I’ve lost my father, grandfather, and grandmother, all whom I was extremely close to. I’ve suffered physical challenges that caused me to give up something I love. I’ve held my children as they battled through illnesses. I’ve been broke. I’ve been turned against by those I care about. I’ve battled depression and addiction. I am no stranger to trials, and I’m guessing, neither are you. You have your own story of hurt, disappointment, betrayal, and loss. That is your fire. And it’s meant to make you stronger. Your fires give you a voice into the lives of those who are hurting. Your fires draw you closer to the God who made you. Your fires can make you burn brighter as the light of the world that you were created to be in Christ.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

2 Corinthians 4:6-11 (ESV)

I hope that you find encouragement in your time of need. Know that there is purpose in pain, and hope in your hurt. Don’t keep your story to yourself, whether your in the fires now, or you’ve come out on the other end. Your story is important. Feel free to share them here if you’d like. Your struggles are important. Don’t give up but take heart. God has not abandoned you, and never will.

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters