Friday, August 29, 2014

Part 4: Joyfully living life to its fullest in Plan A (because there is no Plan B)

In continuing to share what I am learning through reading the book When God Weeps: Why our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty by Joni Earickson Tada and Steven Estes, I will pick up where I left off in Part 3 and answer this question: Why would a loving God choose for some to suffer yet deliver others?

As Paul reminds us in Romans:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36, ESV)
We don't know the mind of God nor can we pretend to.  However, God gives us other clues in Scripture that help us understand in part about why we suffer and helps us to be encouraged to continue to run the race of life.

Philippians 1:29 - "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake." (ESV)
In Acts 14:22, Paul and the other apostles taught that "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." (ESV)
Romans 8:16-17 - "The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him." (ESV)
I Peter 4:12-13, 19 - "Suffering as a Christian Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (ESV)
I Peter 4:19 - "Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (ESV)

Job recognized the value of his suffering in his proclamation: “When he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”

When we suffer in this life, we join Christ in His suffering, and we become a reflection of God’s glory in the midst of it. Contrary to a popular line of thought today, being a Christian doesn’t mean having a life of ease and no troubles. Instead, it often means more troubles because that’s exactly what Jesus warned his disciples about during His earthly ministry. In Luke 9:23, Jesus said that if anyone wants to follow Him, he must pick up his cross and follow him. The cross definitely doesn’t represent ease or promise no troubles. Becoming a Christian also doesn’t mean we no longer suffer the effects of the fall. I like what Steve Estes says on page 59 of his book about what happened at the cross when Jesus said “It is finished” and what Jesus will finally do with His second coming: “ …the purchase of salvation was complete, the outcome settled with certainty. But the application of salvation to God’s people was anything but finished.”

As Paul reminds us several times, sanctification is a daily process and won’t be complete until we are united with Christ in heaven or at his return. God uses suffering to continue that work of sanctification in our lives.

Romans 5:3-5 - "Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (ESV)
Psalm 119:67 - "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word." (ESV)
Psalm 119: 71 - "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes." (ESV)

It’s the hardest times in my life that I feel the closest to God. I am a very self-sufficient and independent person, and if it weren't for the trials that were way beyond my ability to handle on my own, I wouldn't have been driven to my knees to rely completely on Christ to carry me the rest of the way. I wouldn't trade my close relationship with Christ as a result of my trials for an easier life.

Suffering also has a way of strengthening our hope and keeping our eyes focused on the goal of living with God for eternity. The suffering we experience hear reminds us of the day when God will wipe away every tear and there will be no more sickness and where we will no longer need to toil and sweat but spend our days worshiping at God Almighty’s feet. That hope can keep us keeping on no matter how hard things get.
Our trials will only last for a time but our life of peace and satisfaction is coming. Our suffering is just for a moment in eternity’s perspective.

As Jesus says in Luke 6:21b: “Blessed are those who weep now, for you will laugh” (NIV).
Yes, our day of laughter is coming! Another question may come to mind and one that even Joni asked: “Why does God pile on hardships so high?” (p. 121, Tada and Estes). Stay tuned for Part 5 for her answer and more.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Part 3: Joyfully living life to its fullest in Plan A (because there is no Plan B)

If you have followed Part 1 and Part 2 of this series so far, you know that I am on a path to answering the question: How could a God of love decree so much suffering?  I've first established the premise that God is indeed sovereign and omnipotent and is the one who decrees suffering.  Now I want to answer this question I asked at the end of my last post: Does God care about our suffering?

In chapter 6, Steve Estes, in his and Joni Earickson Tada's book When God Weeps: Why our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty, reminds us of truths of these two passages:
Exodus 3:7-8 - God sees the affliction of His people, He knows their suffering, and He has come down to deliver them.
Judges 10:16 - God became impatient over (could no longer bear) Israel's misery.

God does care about our suffering.  However, if that is the case, why doesn't He deliver us from our suffering as He did for Israel so many times?
Jesus healed so many people's illnesses and afflictions when he was in His earthly ministry, but did you ever think about the many He chose to not heal or deliver?
Paul, a faithful ambassador of the Gospel suffered so much for Christ's sake.  When He asked God to take his "thorn in his flesh" from him, God's answer to him was in essence, "No, but my grace is sufficient!" In our day today, why does he choose to heal one person miraculously of cancer but yet let another die from it?

Why would a loving God choose for some to suffer yet deliver others? Stay tuned for Part 4!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Part 2: Joyfully living life to its fullest in Plan A (because there is no Plan B)

So, at the end of Part 1, I asked the question:  How could a God of love decree so much suffering?  Well, I am going to start answering that by using passages of scripture and quotes from Joni Eareckson Tada and Steven Estes's book that I am currently reading: When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty.

I want to first establish God's omnipotence and sovereignty that Steve brings out in Chapter 6.

Daniel 4:34c-35 - "...for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, 'What have you done?'" (ESV)
Psalm 33:10-11 - "The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations." (ESV)

To sum up what Steve says, God doesn't just permit or allow suffering, but He decrees it and acts deliberately.  

Some other verses Steve shares in chapter 5 indicate this fact as well:

Psalm 139:15-16 - "My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them." (ESV)
Lamentations 3:37-38 - "Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?" (ESV)
Exodus 4:11  - "Then the LORD said to [Moses], 'Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD'?" (ESV)

God even ordained and decreed the suffering of His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, the one who is part of the trinity-God's being:
Acts 4:27-28 - "for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place." (ESV)

Job recognized God's sovereign decree in his suffering:
“...The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21 ESV)
“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10b ESV)
“...And [his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before] showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him...” (Job 42:11b ESV)

Steve sums up God's omnipotence and sovereignty well:
"But in simple language, God runs the world. 'The LORD works out everything for his own ends--even  the wicked...''Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.' (Proverbs 16:4; Psalm 115:3)." (p. 76, Tada and Estes)

I encourage you to read When God Weeps to get the full meat of this matter.  Steve does a wonderful job of laying it all out there.  So, it is clear that God has ordained the suffering in my life as well as my children and everyone else in this world, but does God care about our suffering? Stay tuned for Part 3!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Part 1: Joyfully living life to its fullest in Plan A (because there is no Plan B)

Recently, I have been convicted by what follows part of a verse that I claim daily (..."My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." - II Corinthians 12:9a, NIV).
"Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong." (II Corinthians 12:9b-10, NIV, emphasis mine)
Ouch!  I certainly can't say that I boast gladly in my weaknesses. I definitely don't delight in my weaknesses, insults, hardships, or difficulties either.  While I don't feel as if I am currently undergoing persecution, I still remember my growing up years of going to a Christian school where I was made fun of for being loving God, witnessing, and choosing to be like Christ rather than the world.  Because I felt that it was more important to love Jesus rather than be like the other high school girls and faun over boys and go out on dates, I was accused of being a homosexual.  While that kind of persecution doesn't hold a candle to my brothers and sisters who are so dear to me in the Middle East not to mention other parts of the world, I still didn't delight in being mocked, falsely accused, and ostracized.  No one likes to feel lonely.

Maybe it's the increasing struggles I am facing with our kids or maybe it's been the fact that since celebrating our 12th wedding anniversary in June and discussing how different our lives have turned out to be from the plans we had when we got married, but I have been doing a lot of reflecting and introspection lately.  I sometimes struggle with the why's of how nothing can be easy for us.  Our boys' health and well-being are a challenge daily and nothing seems to be a simple fix.  There's the ongoing battles of services, therapies, insurances, and medication management.  Raising two kids with special needs is not easy, but God's grace is sufficient.  However, I have discovered that I need to take it a step further as Paul did.  I need to delight in these struggles God has ordained in my life.  I have begun the next step of processing what that looks like and how to actually do that.

Since I am enjoying a little time away with my husband from my daily struggles as Tim's parents graciously care for the boys, I decided it's time to put my thoughts into written words, which always helps me to process and solidify what God is teaching me and how He is changing my heart. As I sit here on a comfortable bench with beautiful blue sky above me and palm trees waving in the delightful breeze, I feel the words just pouring out of my soul.

My view as I type

I have recently finished reading Joni Eareckson Tada's book The God I Love.  I highly recommend it.  Joni is wonderful with words, is so completely transparent with her struggles, and has wonderful insight about why God allows suffering.  As a result of reading that book, I have begun to read a book she wrote with her friend Steve Estes, who pastors a church in the town where we live: When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty.  This book has been transformational in the way I think and has helped to resolve a problem in my own mind with how to address suffering in relation to God's love and design for our lives.

God is sovereign.  Therefore, everything that happens in my life, including all of my suffering, happens as a result of his design.  That means that there is only one plan for me, and no circumstance can change that.  There is no such thing as plan B or C for my life. I need to stop living with "what ifs"  and start living in "what is" and learn to delight in it.  How could a God of love decree so much suffering? Stay tuned for Part 2.