A Good God and a Hurting World

This upcoming week marks one year of this pandemic.

This upcoming week also marks our little boys first birthday!

Jethro was born into a hurting and fearful world. Around this time last year, while the rest of the world was experiencing sickness and death, we were celebrating new life. Two things that are complete opposites.

Like any other parent, I want the best for Jethro, and this world misses the mark (by a lot). During the first year of life, he didn’t get to see the smiles behind the masks, he didn’t get to play with his friends in the nursery, and he still hasn’t met all his extended family. One of hardest things I have struggled with this year is the fact that Jethro will grow up in a broken and hurting world.

As I wrestled with this reality, God has recently led me to the book of Job, where God continues to shine light on the contrast of a hurting world and a sovereign God.

Job teaches us that God sovereignly governs our world. He is just, and He has supreme reign over the universe. (Job 1: 8-9) As I tell our CBC kids, God is King.

So naturally, the next question that follows is: “Why does God allow pain and suffering?”

Well, Job also shows us that God is wise. Throughout the book, Job, his wife, and his friends, continuously question the reason behind Job’s suffering. His friends assume that his sin is the cause of his suffering, and Job accuses God of being unjust. God responds by reminding Job that he does not have a universal perspective like God does, and thus, Job should trust God’s wisdom. Job withdraws his claim that God is unjust and repents.

Recently, I have led a few conversations with kids, where I must simply say, “I don’t know.” I don’t know why God allowed sin into the world. I don’t know why God created Satan. I don’t why He allowed Satan to enter the garden. I don’t know why God doesn’t just heal everybody.

But I do know that God sovereignly reigns and that I can trust Him. As Job did, I can trust God even as I grieve the brokenness in our world. (Job 1: 20-22)

So, as we mourn a year a sickness and celebrate a year of life, we can remember that God is still reigning supreme over all creation, and He is still just. Nothing, not even the state of this world, can change the power and character of our God.

What’s God Teaching You?

I have a good friend who’s notorious for asking me a question every time we get together. I love my friend, but I bristle every time. His question presses me, holds me accountable, and makes me evaluate my life. That’s a good thing. So, as it goes, we hop in the golf cart together or sit down for lunch, and he asks: What’s God teaching you?

That’s a great question. For starters, it reflects sound theology. God is a speaking God, which means he is a teaching God, too (cf. Psalm 86:11). And aren’t we glad! So, we do well to listen to what he has to say in his Word and learn what he teaches. Furthermore, God has come to us in Jesus, the greatest teacher who has ever lived.

Second, Christians are students. Not like 7th grade English but more like an apprentice. There’s a word Jesus uses for his followers: disciples (Greek: μαθητής “mathētēs”). Disciple means “student or learner,” which means part of following Jesus is to always be learning from Jesus.

I think that’s why I bristle. I know God is a teaching God. I know my discipleship is largely defined by (and dependent on) what I am learning from Jesus — and applying to my life. Put that together and you come to a simple point: If you’re not learning, you’re not following. That’s tough, but it’s true.

So, as a matter of accountability (and hopefully to your encouragement!), let me offer an answer to my friend’s question: “Hey Neal, what’s God been teaching you lately?”

Time is marching on. I look at my family, my church, my friends and my neighbors. I’m struck with a question: “Where has the time gone?” It’s passed on by. Reflect on the past (e.g. 2020), but learn from it. The Bible implores us to “make the best use of our time” (Eph. 5:16). Have dinner with your family and play a board game. Leave work an hour early to surprise your wife. Take advantage of the day God has given you. Leverage your life for gospel influence. Grab life by the horns. Make the phone call. Submit the form. Whatever it is, do it now under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. We must redeem the time.

My attitude affects other people. I wish I were more level-headed. I’m more of an up and down kind of guy. I have to watch that about myself. In doing so, the Lord has taught me the power of emotions. In short, attitudes are contagious—to the good and to the bad. The moods we carry tend to splash on people. A simple verbal exchange may make more impact than we know. As a follower of Christ, I want to be known as someone who has “been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

Let’s just say it: The best attitude is a positive attitude. Anything less is to bring reproach upon the person of Christ and the power of his gospel. We may not be happy, but we must always be filled with joy (cf. Gal. 5:22). Proper theology leads to positive thinking, and those two make a dynamic duo.

I need sunshine. Our region of North Carolina has received record-breaking rainfall this winter. I thank God for the rain, but I do like the sun! I’ve learned this — I need to be outside. I need to run. I need to pitch baseball with my son. I need to walk the dog. That’s just how God has wired me. Part of Christian discipleship is simply knowing yourself all the while, knowing that God knows you better than you do (cf. Psalm 139). Pay attention to your tendencies, your habits, your personality, etc. Ask God to help you learn yourself, that you may live happy and holy.

We’re living in a season that’s like no other. If there ever was a time to learn from Jesus — it’s now. So, if you don’t mind me asking, “What’s God teaching you?”

A Point of Reference

I’ve been thinking about being younger for a long time.

It isn’t working.

Actually, I find myself at an interesting age and stage. Old enough to have had many experiences to draw from. Old enough to recognize that many are younger, smarter, and stronger. Old enough to recognize the shortness of days. And yet, young enough to have something to contribute. Young enough to plan ahead. Young enough to have much hope for the future.

There is much to reflect on. There is even more to look forward to.

From this perspective, looking at the past as well as the future, Psalm 71:15–18 has been on my mind lately. It reads:

My mouth will tell about your righteousness and your salvation all day long, though I cannot sum them up.

I come because of the mighty acts of the Lord God; I will proclaim your righteousness, yours alone.

God, you have taught me from my youth, and I still proclaim your wondrous works.

Even while I am old and gray, God, do not abandon me, while I proclaim your power to another generation, your strength to all who are to come.

No matter our age, no matter our stage, God has given us much to reflect on and much to look forward to. And, as long as we have breath, we are to spend our days in praise and awe of God.

Reflect, for example, on His character, self-existence, holiness, justice, mercy, grace, perfection, goodness, immensity, and infinitude. These eternal qualities are ever-present. We are also to declare the wonders of what He has done. For example, think of His mighty works in creation, His stepping into His creation in the person of Jesus. Consider His sinless, humble life, His torturous death on the cross, His bursting forth from the tomb, His glorious ascension into heaven, His work to prepare a place for us, and His advocacy for us before the Father.

These reflections are not to stay within our own mind. We are called to share them with the next generation and with all who will listen.

Whether in our youth or old age, we have far more to be thankful for than we will ever be able to express.

Be strengthened in your faith by what He has already accomplished. Be hopeful in what He has promised. Be strengthened because of who He is today.

A Call to Love

“What are you doing for Valentine’s Day?”

If this were a sitcom the question would likely be asked of a clueless guy who has nothing planned.  This would be followed by all sort of embarrassing blunders as the guy tries to pull something together at the last minute.

For some, Valentine’s Day is a Hallmark holiday, designed to pressure them into giving outward material signs of love and devotion for that special someone in their life.  For others, Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to go above and beyond in displaying their devotion to the people they love.  Many fall somewhere in between.

At the heart of it all (pun intended) Valentine’s Day is about expressing love.  Whether the impetus behind that is greeting card companies or centuries of tradition, the intent is to take a special moment to express love for others.

In preparing to write about this I looked up different Bible verses on love and relationships.  But then I saw it.  The one verse that seemed perfect for this Valentine’s Day.  Are you ready?  Here it is:

But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also. And if anyone takes away your coat, don’t hold back your shirt either.” (Luke 6:27–29, HCSB)

If that is not what you were expecting, you are not alone.  This is not what I was looking for or intended to use.  Yet, when I read those words, I knew these were the verses I needed to write about.

The one thing everyone can agree on is that we live in trying times full of tension.  No matter which side of any argument you fall (and there are many) we are all battling in uncertain polarizing times.  In the midst of this struggle, I believe we have forgotten Jesus’ words from Luke 6:27-29.

There seem to be a lot of angry people out there.  This is especially apparent on social media among Christians and non-Christians alike.

Christians are called to be more than honest decent people of integrity.  We are called to do more than help those in need.  We are called to share the love God has for a world of sinners who neither deserve His love, nor His mercy.  This means we are to love those who hate us.  We are to love those who suppress us.  We are to love those who abuse us.

Not only to love these people but pray for them.  We are directed by scripture to pray for the people who hate us.  We are not to pray against them, we are to pray for them.  This is a real measure of our love for our enemies.

I encourage us all to try the following.  Before posting or saying anything negative or contrary, spend some time praying for the object of our indignation.  Pray that God would have His way in the life of the person or people involved.  Pray that His will be done in all things.  And pray that our words honor Him.

I believe this approach will change us all.  And what better day to begin an intentional effort to love and pray for our enemies than on Valentine’s Day?