Archives For Suffering


1 I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up
and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;
you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
By your favor, O Lord,
you made my mountain stand strong;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.

To you, O Lord, I cry,
and to the Lord I plead for mercy:
“What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me!
O Lord, be my helper!”

11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
12 that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

Remember the four-fold process from the last post? Let’s follow it through this psalm just to let you get a hang of how to organize it?

Introduction:

1 I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up
and have not let my foes rejoice over me.

Report of Crisis:

Verse 2 – “Cried for help”

Verse 3 – “Sheol”

Verse 9 – “The pit” “death”

Verse 11 – “Mourning” “Sackcloth”

Deliverance as An Accomplished Fact:

O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;
you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.

Conclusion: A Vow to Praise

O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

Do you see how this works? Remember, there are always nuances to this but you saw the format as it played out. This is an individual psalm of thanksgiving, meaning, it is a very personal psalm. We do not know the circumstances behind this psalm but it probably was during a time in David’s life where he experienced some type of physical illness or even some depression. Perhaps there was loss (“mourning”) somewhere but the thankfulness expressed to God was an accomplished fact. God did it and it was a time to rejoice.

Verse 11 shows just how joyful David was. His mourning was turned to dancing (If you have a legalistic background change the word “dance” to choreography if that makes you feel better :)). But the moment of joy came in God hearing his lament. Because of this, David will come to God with a gracious and grateful heart. David got a little cocky (vv. 6-7) with God trusting perhaps in his own riches rather than the riches of God.

“Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God” (Rom. 11:33).

You ever trust in yourself rather than in the Almighty? Do you trust in your strength? Do you trust in your intellect? Do you trust in your status? David said God made his mountain stand strong. Any strength he had came from God and God alone. Give thanks to God for his wonderful blessings.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Discuss a time when your weeping/mourning was turned into joy/dancing?
  2. Has the Western mindset of “do-it-yourself” hindered our spiritual growth? How so?
  3. Why is it important to remember God’s deliverance and to be thankful for those times He answered?

 

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1 By the waters of Babylon,
    there we sat down and wept,
    when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
    we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors
    required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How shall we sing the Lord’s song
    in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
    let my right hand forget its skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
    above my highest joy!

Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
    the day of Jerusalem,
how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare,
    down to its foundations!”
O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
    blessed shall he be who repays you
    with what you have done to us!
Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
    and dashes them against the rock!

Continuing our journey through some lament psalms we come to a particularly interesting category of lament psalms called community laments. Individual lament looks at individual problems where the community laments approach God from the standpoint of a group of people. The difference is that the psalmist intends on voicing the psalm as a representative of his people. Sins may be involved (aren’t they always ;)) but it is the sins of the people (i.e., collective disobedience) rather than specific sins of a person.

This particular psalm is voiced from the context of Babylonian captivity (i.e., Exile) and comes to us without a specified author.[1] Babylon took many of the people of Israel away (hence Exile) in the sixth century BCE and many of the Israelites would not return for decades (70 years?). This particular season brought many Israelites to two recognitions: 1) the brevity of their communal sin and 2) their dependence should not be in their own ability to write history but in the one who created it.

Notice in this Psalm the community is weeping and longs to return to Zion, the holy city. They find that they have to endure the context they are in but their understanding is that “this world is not their home” and Zion is the place they need to be both physically but ultimately, spiritually. Notice that they can’t even sing the “Lord’s song” in a land where the song is not recognized (v. 4). This land that they are in is filled with injustice as implied in verses 8-9 is that their little ones were dashed against rocks. Whether that’s literal or figurative does not take away from the fact that they are experiencing a communal low.

So what is their solution? Trust in God that he will repay their enemies for evil and to remind themselves of the hope that is protected in the memory of Jerusalem, their highest joy. I am reminded how important this psalm is as we find ourselves in post-election America. I will not go far as to say the U.S. is Babylon (some make a strong case for this) but I also am reminded that our hopes, our dreams, our greatest reality can never be in a human institution. The monarchy of Israel was never God’s intention nor is it his intention to wield the wills of his kingdom through the United States of America or any other human institution.

There is a sense where we all struggle with singing the Lord’s song in a foreign land. We all are living in tents and our temples have yet to be built. We read Scripture that reminds us (like Zion reminded the Psalmist) of better things. Our hope does not lie in parties, partisanship or policies. Our hope lies in the Kingdom of God. It always has, it always will.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some things your church community could possibly lament about?
  2. Why is it important to stick to the kingdom of God rather than human institutions?
  3. Why is it so hard to have a kingdom-vision for your community rather than a democratic, republican or whatever vision?

[1] Was this psalm written pre-Exile anticipating Babylonian captivity or was it post-Exile written during the experience of Exile? Not sure. In the end it does not matter as it seems the point is clear that the captivity was a cause to approach God and make their requests made known to him.


God, give us grace to accept with serenity

the things that cannot be changed,

Courage to change the things

which should be changed,

and the Wisdom to distinguish

the one from the other.

 

Living one day at a time,

Enjoying one moment at a time,

Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,

Taking, as Jesus did,

This sinful world as it is,

Not as I would have it,

Trusting that You will make all things right,

If I surrender to Your will,

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,

And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

 

Amen.

 


Slide Design by GracewayMedia.com

We are starting a new series in our Wednesday night class called “A Messy World.” I thought about this series a year ago but have put it on the back-burner until now. The basic premise is that because of The Fall we all live in a messy world (messed-up) world. Sin is pervasive no matter who you are and the only cure for this messy world is placing our full faith and devotion in Jesus Christ. Last night to begin our lesson I decided to trash the youth house to give it that messed-up appearance.

Below is an outline of our study. You can also download a copy of our introduction and first lesson below. Let me know what you think.

·         The Messy Beginning (1 Lesson)

·         Personal Messes (3 Lessons)

o   Addictions

o   Depression

o   Idolatry

·         Relational Messes (3 Lessons)

o   Family

o   Friends

o   Significant Others

·         Spiritual Messes (3 Lessons)

o   False Christianity

o   The Sinful Nature

o   Suffering

·         The Clean Ending (2 Lessons)

o   Return to Eden

o   Admitting our Mess

Download: INTRODUCTION

Download: Lesson 1 – Teacher Copy


© articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com

Let me start with my story so that you can understand where I am coming from. First, I have to give a disclaimer. I was taught to be careful when disclosing information about my past as it might give license for people to justify their actions. Sort of a “Well Robbie went through it so can I” mentality. I think the readers of this post know better than that so please do not misinterpret my story as license. Secondly, I am not sure why I am telling all of you this now as many of you are finding this out for the first time. I guess because I have seen a few of my own youth struggle and have heard of so many others that I feel it is probably time to share my story. I have been ashamed of my past and have told very few people but now I am no longer ashamed because the past is what has made me into the man I am right now. In the words of Paul:

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. (1 Cor. 15:9-10).

I hope this post (albeit long) will help you if your child is using drugs or if you are using drugs and are reading this. I certainly did not get mixed-up heavy into drugs but nonetheless…

My Story

I was in the sixth grade when I first tried marijuana.

Let that sink in a bit.

I was 12 years old. Some neighborhood buddies and I had skipped school and we had gone into the woods when a guy pulled out this little bag filled with what looked like grass clippings to me. I remember he pulled out this weird looking pipe and put the “grass clippings” into this pipe and inhaled as he lit it. The stuff smelled like body odor with a hint of the smell when one burns leaves. It was my turn to take a “hit” from the pipe. I inhaled and coughed my brains out. I felt nothing… My friends were acting like idiots while I felt nothing.

The next time I tried it was when I was in the 8th grade. My buddy and I went to the top of a hill by the elementary school I attended and I tried it again. Only this time I felt something. I felt good. I felt relaxed. It was amazing. They tell you “Nothing beats the feeling of your first high” and you really don’t understand what that means until you experience it. From that moment on, I was hooked.

I would smoke on and off maybe once or twice a week but I remember longing for the moments where I would be able to smoke weed the next time. After my 8th grade year I moved to Chattanooga and I thought maybe my bad times were behind me but sometimes your past catches up with you and you find the same people just in a different context. I continued smoking on and off. I started attending a Christian high-school and I thought my past was behind me.

I met some Christians who smoked weed as well and my past was not behind me.

The last time I smoked weed was the fall of 1998. I met this girl whose father was a youth minister and I became a Christian and suddenly weed was not important to me. I am not sure if I was addicted to it because I usually did it with other people and it was more social for me. But I did like it. I could share countless stories of staying up at night, running from the police, my parents finding out and all sorts of other stories. I tried LSD once and drank some alcohol but weed was my drug of choice. I did it to escape. I did it because it felt good. I did it because my friends did it.

Shortly after that, I received the news that one of my best friends growing up (who I smoked with) overdosed and died from drug use. I never got to say goodbye.

I was walking in San Francisco this past weekend leaving a Giants-Braves game and I caught a whiff of weed someone was smoking among the crowd. Even almost 15 years without touching the stuff my body had tingles and my mind traced back to those many days.

So why this post? Why my story? I hope to give you advice on what to do based on experience with what my parents did but also watching and learning from others.

HOW TO HELP YOUR TEEN…OR HOW HOW TO HELP YOU.

First off, don’t panic. I saw a stat that said that teen marijuana use is actually more than teen cigarette use. I know that your child using drugs is difficult and somewhat hard to fathom but your child needs your careful, objective and loving guidance and that takes some discernment and patience. I knew of a guy whose parents sent him off to rehab because he had tried some weed. Maybe there was more to the story but it seems it would have been better for them to discern then to panic and make rash decisions.  That does not mean minimize what they have done but don’t maximize it either.

Secondly, understand this could be a long road. Depending on their drug (mine was small in comparison) they could be in for a long road to recovery. Especially if meth, heroine, crack, cocaine and other highly addictive drugs are involved. It takes some patience, love and support to walk them through this. Remember, you are wrestling against evil and dark forces and every part of them does not want you to win. Seek the Lord’s counsel and help.

Thirdly, trust has to be earned. They broke trust when they started using drugs and it has to be earned and gained in order for them to have certain privileges. So the questioning of who they are talking to, where they are going, what are the text messages, let me see the Facebook, what did you do at school, and others are legitimate exercises to learn and earn trust.

Fourth, context is key to help. What I mean by that is what helped me was finding the right friends and purging myself of old ones. As harsh as that sounds I knew that if I was going to be clean I had to remove the unclean context. They were close friends but I knew that they would find new ones and maybe down the road when I was more mature and the time was right we could be friends again. I don’t understand why people who struggle with drugs go back to their druggie friends. That’s like saying you hate cold weather and want to rid yourself of it so you buy a house in Fairbanks, Alaska. Makes no sense. Context is key.

Fifth, find a support group, specifically one that is Christian. Ideally your home church network should be that support group but you also need to network among those parents who are struggling in a similar manner. Nobody wants to be alone and it helps to have fellow travelers who have been there and done that and can share the wounds and the victories.

Sixth, love your child unconditionally. They may scream at you. They may run away. They may struggle for years. They may cost you thousands of dollars. They may do unthinkable amounts of evil. But you love them. Unconditionally as Christ loved you. That doesn’t mean they go undisciplined or that they drain your savings but it means you relentlessly pursue them until they live a life of glorification to God. Sometimes we lose the ones we love the most but more often than not teenagers find healing and sobriety from relentless parents and a relentless God.

I hope this helps and has encouraged and strengthened you. What would you add?


I have read a few books that have changed the way I perceive Christianity, culture and the world but few have changed my life like this book.  Under the Overpass is about a journey of two guys named Mike and Sam who decided to take the words of a sermon seriously and go and live among the poor for a few months.  They sought guidance from spiritual advisers and decided to start in a Mission in Denver.  They traveled from city to city panhandling for food by playing their guitar and singing worship songs.  What you get when you read this book is a first-hand perspective at the ugliness of poverty and the grip Satan has on people with the drug culture.  Mike has an excellent flow to his writing and he has many keen incites to the heart of the gospel and its concern with those who are struck with poverty.  In this book it not only opens your eyes to basic assumptions about the homeless, but it calls into question our prejudice towards those in a lower socioeconomic status.  I wish I could find something wrong in this book as I usually find things I disagree with or something I would have said differently.  Not the case in this book.  What you get are real, authentic and raw stories about two guys on a journey to find God both in themselves and in the streets of America’s toughest cities.

Below are some memorable quotes from the book that I wish to share and let me challenge you to read the book and then put your faith to action.

  • I watched an old man take a slow, thankful sip of coffee and put his cup back on the table, careful not to spill a drop. “Come all you who are weary …,” said Jesus. It was moving to watch the weary man come, even more to see his desperation give way to peace, if only for a little while. (p. 24).
  • If we are the body of Christ—and Christ came not for the healthy but the sick—we need to be fully present in the places where people are most broken. And it has to be more than just a financial presence. That helps, of course. But too often money is insulation—it conveniently keeps us from ever having to come face-to-face with a man or woman whose life is in tatters. (pp. 36-37)
  • I felt my frustration rising until I realized how unentitled I really was. No one deserves mercy. And no one walking by owed us a dime. Mercy is, by definition, undeserved, or else it isn’t mercy. Every coin in the case looked different after that. (p. 52).
  • While kids might pretend people who don’t exist do, it’s the parents who pretend that unwanted people who do exist don’t. (p. 55)
  • Praying “Thy will be done” means you don’t believe in chance (p. 79)
  • What’s worse? To do dope or to not love your brother? Why do we kick drug users out of the church while quietly overlooking those who are ignoring their own different but equally destructive sins? Why do we reject the loving, self-sacrificing, giving, encouraging, Jesus-pursuing drug addict but recruit the clean, self-interested, gossiping, loveless churchgoer? Which one do you suppose Jesus would rather share a burrito with under a bridge? (pp. 96-97)
  • “Oh, my gosh!” I exclaimed, stopping. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” “What?” said Sam. Then he saw what I was looking at. “Oh,” he murmured. A large gray church rose up behind a wrought iron fence in front of us. The building was old and weathered. Above the mahogany double doors hung a sign in red letters: “No Trespassing. Church Business Only.” A new chain and two huge padlocks secured the gate at the sidewalk. “It would take bolt cutters and a battering ram to get into that church,” I said, suddenly angry. “ ‘Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden’? Yeah, and what, die on my front steps?” (p. 104)
  • “Then again, I guess we aren’t supposed to expect circumstances to be easy or safe just because we’ve prayed about them. We’re supposed to go into them knowing that we’ll be given what we need, when we need it.” (p. 139)
  • The words “Jesus loves you” take on a whole different meaning when you’re down and out. You hear them differently. You need them more. Just saying them to the next desperate person you meet could change his day. Wrap those words in friendship, a home-cooked meal, bus fare, and you could change his life. (p. 148)
  • We don’t go to church, we are the church. So many problems that show up on the church steps, or in the pews, or between congregations seem to start with misunderstandings about that. The church isn’t a physical building or a doctrinal statement or a perfectly produced program. It is us—we are the living expression of Christ’s presence in the world, His body. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we’ll be able to be the healing body of Christ to our sin-sick world. (p. 155-56)
  • I had discovered that I pulled better tips playing the guitar outside the liquor shop than across the street outside the family restaurant. Drunk people are more generous than sober people. (p. 181)
  • As we talked, the four of us agreed on one thing: Yes, God is alive and well on the streets of America, but so is Satan … He is busy stealing talents from promising lives. He is breaking bodies and smashing dreams. He is locking up good minds behind the bars of addiction. He is trading in the music of God for the sound of a crazy man yelling his head off in the middle of the street, destruction barreling straight at him. (p. 189)
  • The bottom line is that real love always shows itself in action. Nothing happens or changes in this world unless, by faith, we actually do something. (213-14)
  • I doubt those risks will have much to do with putting on a Christian acronym bracelet or a cross T-shirt. More likely, your journey will lead you toward utter dependence on the King of kings and a resolution to follow Him wherever He may ask you to go. (216)

Want to settle for the status quo and feel good about all the money, clothes and stuff you have?  Want to feel good about the middle-class church you attend where you have your nicely structured worship, comforting singing, warm pew and cordial hand shakes?  Don’t read this book.  Why?  It will change the way you think about Jesus, the church and your calling.  But if you want to change, read this book.  “There’s only this left to do: Walk off the edge with Him” (p. 218).

Divine Encounters

November 8, 2011 — 2 Comments

I work at the YMCA Monday-Tuesday from 5am-8am to make a little extra cash on the side and it helps pay for my membership.  In the few months I have been there I have experienced a few divine encounters that have left me in mourning at how people hurt.  I call them divine encounters not because I meet the divine face-to-face but because I believe God places me in that situation to be present with someone in their deep anguish.

In walks Doug (not his real name but we will call him Doug).  Doug has come to the Y now for a couple of months and he always has the greatest smile on his face and greets me with the warmth only a Krispe Kreme doughnut could bring.  Whenever I say, “How are you doing?” I know that his usual “I am doing really well” is an honest answer not rehearsed for trite conversation.  He means it. Today Doug was leaving the Y and wanted some coffee but he was waiting on the fresh decaffeinated coffee I was brewing.  So I made short conversation.

“Beautiful day isn’t it?” With a smile he said, “Absolutely gorgeous.  I am going to go play a round of golf after this.”  “I wish I could go,” I said.  “I used to play a lot but with four kids six and under golfing is one of those things that is taken off the list.  I got to have my priorities.  I am a dad first.”

What he said next I was not ready for…

“You definitely have your priorities straight.  I lost two kids in the span of nine months so cherish each moment that you have with them because you never know when it will be your last.”

My heart broke.  I wanted to cry, give him a hug and pray with him on the spot.  The amount of pain this man has endured cannot be expressed in words.  All I could say was, “I am so sorry.”

I stepped away and did a few things then I walked back because I couldn’t let the awkwardness of that conversation get between an opportunity to just be present with this man so I asked him, “How long ago was this?”  I acted like I was cleaning something beside the coffee so I could mask the desire to be close to this man.

“My youngest son died of colon cancer when he was only 21.  That was back in 1997.  Then nine months almost to the day later my oldest son died in a car accident.”

“I am so sorry,” I muttered in obvious nervousness since I really did not know what to say.  “I guess you play golf as a release?”  He answered, “Yeah but the important thing is that I have to be around people.”  The next question I asked floored me, “Did you have any other kids?”  He said, “No, that was it.”

That was it…

Three words that evoked more pain, anguish and sorrow than I have ever experienced.  In a span of nine months this man goes from having a wonderful family full of promise to just he and his wife.  I prayed for Doug.  I now have perspective when each day he tells me that he is doing really well.  I now understand that people have different levels of pain that they experience and we all assume that everybody is OK.

Doug is a great guy.  I hope he gets to see his boys some day.

Pretty sure I met Job this morning.


Teenagers passing drugsI was sitting in the living room watching TV on a break from college when I received a phone call from an old friend in Marietta, Georgia.  I welcomed the call because it had been ages since I last heard his voice.  I expected a long conversation about how things were going and talks about college and all the fun we both were experiencing.  The conversation went something like this:

Me:  Ryan, what’s up man?  Been a long time, huh?

Ryan:  (quietly and somewhat hesitant) Hey Robbie.  I don’t know if you heard yet but Johnny has died of an overdose.

Me:  (sitting down…mouth open) What?

Johnny and I were best friends until I moved from Marietta, Georgia to Chattanooga, Tennessee and we grew apart after that.  We went in different directions knowing that the path he was taking lead him to some pretty dark places in this world.  Johnny was in to the drug scene and eventually died because of it.

We all have our “Johnny’s” we can share as the rate of alcohol and drug use among teenagers is consistently (and unacceptably) too high.  A Tennessee  High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey (please click here for scary statistics) conducted in 2009 indicated that close to 70% of teens grades 9-12 have at least tried alcohol once.  There’s more…

  • 20% drank alcohol before the age of 13
  • 19% Had five or more drinks of alcohol in a row within a couple of hours on at least 1 day.  (during the 30 days before the survey)
  • 37% had used marijuana at least once in their lifetime.
  • 12% said they had sniffed glue, breathed the contents of aerosol spray cans, or inhaled any paints or sprays to get high one or more times
    (during their life).

That’s only in Tennessee but you can check any state using this website (http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/YouthOnline/App/Default.aspx).  The sad part is that there is drug and alcohol use in the church.  Some parents struggle with it…some students struggle with it and all they hear from the church is “don’t do it.”  But they do!  Why?  Rich Van Pelt and Jim Hancock in their book Helping Teenagers in Crisis give eight reasons (pp. 200-03):

  1. Curiosity
  2. Peer Pressure
  3. Fun
  4. Mimicking
  5. Declaration of Independence
  6. Disinhibition – “I drink because it helps me be myself.”
  7. Escape
  8. Addiction

Youth ministers, parents and students we fight an upward battle where many people are against us.  Teenagers just do not get the ramifications of alcohol and drugs.  For example, did you know that there is a direct correlation between drug and alcohol use and sexual activity?  If you find someone who is struggling with drugs and alcohol I can almost guarantee that on some level they are struggling sexually.  They may not be having sexual relations but odds are they are looking at pornography or sexually pleasing themselves.   There is also conflicting narratives teens hear from adults or college students.  It is true that the bible does not condemn having a glass of wine here and there but my question is, “Why bother?”  It’s expensive…in order to know your limit you have to push your limit which is a selfish motive in the first place.

So how do we help?

ENGAGE (Van Pelt and Hancock, 204-07)!

  • Look for the signs of drug and alcohol abuse (withdrawal, mood swings, resistance to authority, behavior problems like stealing or vandalism, changes in eating habits, unexpected health issues).    The signs are, “inexplicable, unprecedented and persistent.”
  • As youth ministers we need to encourage parents to face reality.  They may be in denial but we need to gently push them to face the facts.
  • Affirm the parents desire to help their children work through this.
  • Encourage professional help where needed.

Youth ministers we need to conitinually teach about drugs and alcohol and the dangers in them but we also need to help bear the burdens of those who are addicted.  If you have a teen or a parent who is addicted DO NOT GIVE UP ON THEM!!!  They will relapse, frustrate you and then come back again only to relapse again.  Rome was not built in a day and addictions built over a period of time do not go away without time.  It takes a while and it takes a village and it takes a God!!!  Which leads me to the conclusion…if healing is going to happen it must be in the redemptive arms of God.  I want to close in an odd way…will you pray for those who are struggling with alcohol and drugs?  Will you mention them by name?  Will you read Psalm 103 below and pray?  Will you then contact a person who is struggling either by a letter, phone call or text telling them you are there to help?

1 Praise the LORD, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the LORD, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6 The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.

7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
15 The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
the LORD’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children—
18 with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.

19 The LORD has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Praise the LORD, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.
21 Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.
22 Praise the LORD, all his works
everywhere in his dominion.

Praise the LORD, my soul.

 


In any conversation with a skeptic (or even a Christian) inevitably this question comes about: “How could God _____________?”  You can fill in the blank.  How could God allow Job to be tempted?  How could God destroy the world in a flood?  How could God command that all the Amalekites be slaughtered including women and children (1 Samuel 15)?  The answers to those questions are hard to come up with and we may never know completely why God did what he did this side of heaven.  Having said that, I came across some verses in Deuteronomy that at least provide some clarity as to why God would eradicate a whole nation.  Here they are:

The LORD your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods. (Deut. 12:29-31)

The context is the general laws and instructions given to Moses to transfer  to the people of God.  A large portion of this deals with the issue of idolatry and for God’s people to stay away from other gods.  Some of the detestable things these people do is they sacrifice their sons and their daughters (cf. 2 Kings 17:31; 2 Chron. 28:3).

Let that sink in a little bit.

I know this does not solve every issue but to some degree does that not explain why a nation would be destroyed because of the sacrificing of small children?  Also we assume (falsely I believe) that God wiped them out without even giving them a second chance but read from Genesis onward and the second chance came generations before 1 Samuel 15 and others.  Another important fact to consider is that even though the children of the Amalekites were killed at least we know that they are safe with God.  As difficult as it is to accept I find comfort knowing at least they are safe with God.

I know this does not solve every caveat of the discussion at least it is one more bit of support for God and what He has done.


I have been thinking a lot here lately about what prayer is and how it works specifically in the way we normally see it in corporate worship.  There is a dimension of prayer that we may never understand and for the secret things left for God (cf. Deut. 29:29) I cannot comprehend.  However, there are some aspects of prayer I think have either been neglected or over-exaggerated.  To be certain I would like to first mention, very briefly, different prayers mentioned in Scripture using the acrostic ACTS (from Stanley Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 494-95) . 

  • Adoration – the prayers in which we adore God for His wonderful attributes in who He is.  “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name” (Matt. 6:9). 
  • Confession – adoring God naturally moves one to realize his or her state before God (Rom. 3:23) which means we are nothing without Him.  “Forgive us our debts” (Matt. 6:12) and “against You and You alone have I sinned” (Ps. 51:4) are examples of prayers of confession.  It is interesting to note that often you will find prayers of adoration and confession in the same context (see Isaiah 6:1-6). 
  • Thanksgiving –  These are prayers (not to be confused with adoration) thanking God for His work and providence in the church and the world.  “Pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:17-18). 
  • Supplication – These are prayers that are requested based on the spiritual/physical needs of the community (Phil. 4:6; 1 Thess. 5:25). 

There is more to this but I just wanted to introduce it to you before I move on to what I have been struggling with.  In church services/bulletins/announcements typically what we do is mention people who we need to pray for who are struggling with cancer, operations, or some other type of ailment.  This is not only important for a church family but is mandated (James 5:16) as intercessory prayer is one of the vehicles that keeps a church growing spiritually and physically.  But I often wonder if we, at corporate worship, pray too often with prayers of supplication to the neglect of prayers of thanksgiving, adoration and dare I say confession?  I know this is not the case with every public prayer as there are many who pray continually for the forgiveness of sins and the gratitude that comes from that release.  I struggle with the idea of getting everybody to pray for supplication when a particular brother or sister is going through something (intercession) as if to try to win over God’s favor for this particular situation.  Sometimes it comes across as the more people you get to pray for this situation the more likely God will be on your side for what you are praying for.  I know there is some Biblical merit to this as scores of stories in the Old Testament reveal that if the nation of Israel were to pray more than perhaps God would have (and He did sometimes) relented from His wrath. 

Without bordering on deism, I would like to propose that it is a good thing to get as many people praying for you, for me, for the nation, for the church, for the sick, for the surgeries, for the spiritually lax, for all situations.  But if God does not deem it fit to answer your prayer the way you want it does that change who God is?  Most of us have prayed for something and it has not worked out for the best be it bad timing, bad intentions or some other plan altogether.  I remember praying fervently for a brother who had cancer that God would rescue him from the cancer because he had a beautiful wife and two young daughters but he still lost his battle.  Does that mean God was not listening?  Of course not.  I believe that God is concerned about us even when nobody is praying for us.  He does know our hearts and intentions even when nobody else does (1 Samuel 16:7).  Is it bad to get people to pray for your situation?  In the words of Paul, “May it never be!”  Don’t you think God wants to hear our yearnings, our issues, our struggles, our doubts, our fears and our desires?  We are called to pray for the sick that they may be healed, we are called to thank God for all that he is done even in the darkest circumstances and we pray that God, no matter the situational outcome, will be with us and comfort us.  We don’t need to pray God to win His favor on us as if we are trying to impress Him…if we are His children then He already loves us and favors us to begin with. 

So please, keep praying and would you pray for me as I pray for you?