Catalytic Convictions

Once upon a time, there was a girl. She was a good girl. She did all the right things growing up, never gave her parents any real trouble, went to church, and knew all the right answers in Sunday school and church camp. This girl went away to a small Christian college and did well. She met some solid Christian friends and mostly held up to her ideals. She had a few missteps along the way, but by the grace of God, none of those missteps were scarring.

Then, that girl went to graduate school. For the first time in her life she felt totally alone. She sought out a Christian community, but no one seemed to have room for a lonely college student. She spent all of her time at school, work, or studying. In short, she was miserable. She still sought after God, but his voice was becoming quieter, and the call of the people around her was louder. She started making connections with people in her class, and that made up for some of the void she felt. After work, she went out with the group and drank a little too much but managed to keep her nose pretty clean. Gradually, these tightly held convictions began to fall aside. Would Mom be happy? Probably not, but at least she wasn’t sitting at home on Friday night watching Nick at Night. Then, she became better friends with a couple girls from class. They invited her to parties, and that made her feel good … until that one night. Only by the grace of God was that situation not as bad as it could have been.

That girl was me. I was the squeaky clean girl that everyone loved to tease because I never did anything wrong. I had strong convictions, but they were rarely tested. I was painfully shy and always wanting someone to be my friend. Thankfully, throughout my childhood, I had a solid group of friends that filled that need. Did I still crave the acceptance of the “cool kids?” Yes, but I managed to get through it with my friends. In college, I had a strong network of godly women who provided me with deep connections and professors that respected and affirmed me. However, when I went to graduate school, it was like the rug was pulled out from beneath me, and I was left to pick up the pieces alone. I sought Christian community, but there didn’t appear to be any room for me where I was looking—so I looked elsewhere. My friends in graduate school were all nice people and pretty tame by the world’s standards, but I didn’t want to live by the world’s standards. Gradually, their invitations and the “fun” they regularly engaged in, coupled with my desire to be accepted, wore down my convictions that were once so strong.

I remember that night well. I could have made a terrible mistake, but God reminded me who I was when I needed it most. I remember going home horribly ashamed of myself and the life I had been living. Ashamed of the impression I was giving off to those around me. Ashamed that I had allowed my desire to be loved and accepted take me so far from where God wanted me.

I called my friend the next day and apologized to her for how I had been acting. She accepted but had no idea what the problem was. I had allowed my firmly held convictions to be eroded by the world around me. I wasn’t blinded by my convictions, I was losing them. I resolved then and there that I needed to stay firm in my convictions. And while I could still socialize with those around me, I needed to create boundaries for myself so that I did not compromise what was most important.

The definition of conviction is “a firm or fixed belief.” Everyone has convictions. Sometimes it is the conviction that there is only one true God. Sometimes it is the conviction that if there is a God, there are many roads to that God. Sometimes it is that there is a strict moral code that should be followed, while others believe that our conscience should guide our convictions. There is, by nature, a tension between opposing convictions.

If there is only one true God, there cannot be more than one. If there is a strict moral code, your conscience—no matter how well intentioned—is not a good interpreter of right and wrong. Convictions are not wrong. We as Christians should have strong convictions based on what the Bible says, but we cannot allow these convictions to push others away. When we tightly cling to our convictions like a life raft, we often push aside those around us that are drowning. While we cannot, and should not, jump off the raft to join those who are drowning like I almost did, or try to force those around us to jump on the raft, we can move aside to allow them access to the raft until they are ready to climb on themselves. We can use our convictions to guide our responses to people toward truth, but we cannot force those around us to embrace our convictions, especially if we are a Christ follower and they are not.

So, how do we live in the tension between the truth found in God’s word and the grace that Jesus so freely provided for those who were so different from himself? On Monday we saw Jesus’ response to the woman caught in adultery. By Mosaic law she should have been stoned. The Pharisees were ready to act on their convictions and hoped that they could bring down Jesus in the process. However, Jesus, who was the only one who had the right to throw the first stone, looked beyond the offense and into the heart of the person. He saw a wounded woman that was caught in a life of sin. Instead of meting out punishment, he offered grace and forgiveness. We don’t know if she went on and left her life of sin or not, but I’m sure she carried that gift of grace with her the rest of her life.

The Pharisees knew the law better than anyone and allowed their convictions to blind them to the fact that they were looking at the Messiah they had been waiting for. They no longer saw the humanity in the people they were supposed to be serving, but saw sinners and lawbreakers.

Just like many Christians unfortunately do today, they allowed their theological conviction to be a catalyst to treat people differently.

John 9:16
Some of the Pharisees said, “This man Jesus is not from God, for he is working on the Sabbath.”

In this verse, Jesus has just healed a blind man on the Sabbath. This violated many items on their “dos and don’ts list” for the Sabbath, and so they clung to their convictions instead of rejoicing over the healing of a person.

After watching this miracle, these men mercilessly attacked the healed man, insulted him and his family, and then threw him out of the temple. When Jesus heard what had happened, he sought him out and revealed that he (Jesus) was the Son of Man. The healed man, in response, affirmed the deity of Christ and left a changed man. Jesus then condemned the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees and their guilt under the law they so faithfully attempt to uphold.

 

Questions:
What convictions have you held so tightly that they have caused you to become blind to the people around you or to treat them as “less than?”

On Monday, we encouraged you to think about the messy person in your life. Have you said or done anything to love them with both grace and truth this week? Or are you allowing your convictions to negatively affect how you are responding to them?

Next Steps:
Pray for that messy person, and ask God to show you how to love them like he does. Don’t allow your firmly held convictions to disregard the soul of that messy person. Don’t give up on your convictions, but allow room for Jesus to work through your words and actions.

Prayer:
Jesus, thank you that you love messy people. Thank you that you came for those who were lost and didn’t know they needed you. Thank you for showing us perfect grace when we were the messy people. Help us to live in the tension between grace and truth. Help us to stand up for what is right but also love those around us so that they may see your face through us. Thank you for your daily reminders that we are still messy people in need of your grace. Amen.


This post was written by Julie Mabus. Julie Mabus is a writer with the LivingItOut Bible Study. She has a passion for thinking about big ideas, art, reading, and seeing God reveal himself through creation. She is married and is homeschooling her four young children.


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My Lowest Moment

A decade ago on a hot, humid July evening, I received a phone call from my wife. She was crying. She informed me that she had just gone to dinner with another man, went back to his place, and slept with him. A week later, she left me for good for that man. I was destroyed. My whole world was turned upside down. And at the bottom of my fall, there stood only Jesus Christ with a pained look on his face that said, “I tried to warn you not to go down that path.” You see, years prior to this, I had an adulterous affair, too. My wife and I tried counseling, but I had caused too much damage with my selfish act. So, everything that happened to me, I brought upon myself.

It was at this lowest moment that Christ began to build me back up. The Scriptures warned me of exactly what would happen (see Proverbs 5, 6, 7). But, since my relationship with Christ was strained, to say the least, due to my lifestyle choice, I could not hear him. In the Scripture passage about the adulterous woman and her accusers, Jesus told the woman at the end to “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11, NLT) It was not until I left my sinful lifestyle choice that I could hear Christ and see that he was there for me all along—if only I would have listened.

You see, I am in no position to judge anyone. Christ calls us to love others; he will handle any “fixing” that needs to be done, not us. While love means doing things for others that are beneficial for them, even when we may not feel like it, it does not mean avoiding the truth. Love is the tension of grace and truth. A person who first recognizes the sin in their own life is better equipped to lovingly present such truth to another human being. As Caleb pointed out this past weekend, this recognition helps us change our posture so that we can live in that tension between grace and truth. It changes the “us versus them” mentality to a “we are in this thing together” mentality. No longer are we standing over someone; now, we are walking beside them.

Why did the Scriptures warn me of avoiding adultery? God knew the pain I would inflict upon others and myself if I continued down that road. He was trying to save me and everyone else involved from the pain and scars that continue today for all of us. God’s commands and admonitions are there to protect us, not frustrate us. As followers of Christ, we are to present such life truths with the same attitude that Christ has for us: out of love and for another’s benefit, not for their shame.

 

John 13:35
“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

 

Questions:
Read 1 Corinthians 13. What is love? What is love not?

How do you typically view people who have made lifestyle choices of which you do not approve? What is your natural posture toward them?

Next Steps:
Stop and pray that God will show you how to love people you disagree with and remind you of how he loved you instead of judging you. Ask him to help you change your posture toward them.

Prayer:
God, remind me of all the grace and forgiveness you have shown frail, imperfect me. Help me to change my posture so that I can love other frail, imperfect human beings with the love that you have shown me. Amen.


Due to the sensitive and personal nature of the content, this post was written anonymously.


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Traversing the Tension

Caleb Kaltenbach, author of Messy Grace, closed out the “You Asked For It” series for us this past weekend. Building up to this series, many of you submitted questions that dealt with how we are to respond to those who do not believe what we believe, specifically those in the LGBTQ community. These are great questions, and as Ben Snyder pointed out a couple weeks ago, God loves a seeker! Not only can he handle our toughest questions, he rewards us for bringing them straight to him.

Hebrews 11:6
And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

So, when it comes to responding to those to whom we find it hard to relate or hard to understand, Caleb challenged us with this answer—live in the tension of grace and truth. Instead of leaning toward all grace and no truth or all truth and no grace, live in the middle because that’s where Jesus lives.

John 8:2-11 (NIV)
2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

The last line of this story demonstrates Jesus’ perfect ability to live in the tension of grace and truth. “Then neither do I condemn you … Go now and leave your life of sin.”

If you haven’t yet encountered the question of how we, as Christ followers, should respond to the LGBTQ community, you will. Unfortunately, Christians have demonstrated again and again the tendency to lean toward all truth and no grace, as Caleb experienced growing up. “Christians hate gay people” was the message he learned early on.

The real truth we need to remember is that we are all messy people, and God loves messy people! He sees through all of my mess and sees his child. Because he loves me in the midst of my mess, I can love others in the midst of theirs. I may not do this perfectly, but I have been fortunate enough to have had two people demonstrate this kind of love toward me. Art and Margaret showed me grace and truth in one of the lowest points in my life.  They essentially said to me, “we forgive you, now go and leave your life of sin.” And I did.  I wouldn’t be where I am today if they had not walked in that tension so beautifully in that moment.

Throughout the rest of this week, we will be looking at how to live in that tension of grace and truth.

If you would like to purchase a copy of Messy Grace, you can go to cedarcreek.tv/book.

 

Questions:
Who is the messy person in your life?

Which end of the grace and truth spectrum do you typically lean toward?

Next Steps:
If you struggle to respond with both grace and truth to those who believe differently than you, read Messy Grace. If you don’t have time to read the book, have a conversation today with a trusted friend who can help you understand your own tendency to lean either toward grace or toward truth and challenge you to live in the tension.

Prayer:
God, I am forever grateful that you love me in the midst of my mess.  Thank you, Jesus, for showing us what it looks like to live in the tension between grace and truth. As I interact with those around me who believe differently than me or who appear “messy,” first help me remember that I’m messy too; and second, help me to find that balance between grace and truth.  I know I cannot do this on my own.  Thank you for your never-ending love. In Jesus name, Amen.


This post was written by Rochelle Sikora. Rochelle is a wife, mother of two, and writer and editor for the LivingItOut. She is also currently pursuing a master’s degree in ministry through Wesley Seminary.


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In the Face of Suffering

As Ben said at the start of this series, most questions people have about God and Christianity are not so much matters of the head as they are matters of the heart. Although the existence of evil is a serious question, both logically and theologically, many of us view it as a personal problem rather than a philosophical one. Of course, that makes perfect sense considering it’s something we all have faced personally – everyone including Jesus himself.

Suffering comes in a wide variety of forms and elicits a similarly wide variety of responses. Perhaps you’ve felt (or currently feel) abandoned and alone. Maybe a friend has betrayed you, leaving you broken and making it hard for you to trust again. Maybe your peers mock you on a regular basis, and you’re just plain sick of it.

How do you respond?

Some people shut down in the face of suffering – and shut everyone else out. In short, they give up, wondering whether God understands or cares. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there are those who rage against their suffering. They’ll take out their anger on anyone, including God. “It’s not fair!” they think (or yell). “What kind of cruel God sits up on his heavenly throne, inflicting pain on his creations?”

Of course, we know that our God not only cares about our problems but also understands. And he is not the kind of God to detach himself from the problems of our world. In fact, he cared so much about our problems, he allowed himself to be born into our world – so that he might experience our pain and suffering for himself.

And boy did he.

Near the end of his time on earth, Jesus was accused (Matthew 27:12), betrayed by one of those closest to him (Luke 22:4), and mocked by the very people he came to save (Luke 22:63). He also suffered great physical pain and abuse, crying out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

However, not once did Jesus run from his heavenly Father; nor did he run from suffering itself. He accepted his death on the cross (Matthew 16:21-23), and even went to the wilderness to fast before beginning his ministry. Not only did he go 40 days without food – he was also directly tempted by Satan, the accuser.  And not once did he sin.

So, what are we to make of this?

Does this mean we shouldn’t be upset when faced with suffering? Of course not! If you’ve read any of the Psalms of communal lament (check out Psalm 44 for an example), you know that bemoaning one’s situation is completely biblical. However, shutting other people and God out or raging against them won’t solve anything on its own. After shaking your fists or screaming at the sky, you’ll usually find your problems unchanged.

What these passages do mean, however, is that Jesus understands. He knows what you are going through not only because he knows all things, but also because he’s experienced it personally. So you can turn to him for comfort, trust in him for guidance, and rely on him for strength. When you are ready for healing, what you need is help and hope. Jesus can provide the help and hope you need because he knows. He’s been there, too.

 

Questions:
What struggles are you currently suffering from?

How do you usually respond to suffering?

Do you know whom you can turn to for hope and help when you are ready for healing?

Next Steps:
Pray to God about your suffering. If you’ve been holding back in your prayers, let yourself be open and honest about your suffering. Ask him for the comfort, guidance, and strength that you need.

 

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, we thank you for being a personal God who understands our suffering. We rejoice that you don’t abandon us in our hardest times but instead meet us where we are. Please give us the comfort we need during our suffering – the kind of comfort we can’t find in worldly things. Help us to trust you and to see our next steps. Give us the strength to continue striving in this imperfect world until we reach the end of our races. May your will be done. Amen.


This post was written by Payton Lechner, a regular contributor to the LivingItOut Bible Study.


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He Carries Me

“Do you want to get well?” To someone who is sick, or depressed, or even just feeling down, this is an odd question. Of course you do! Yet, Jesus chose these words when speaking to a man who had been paralyzed for his entire life (John 5). Maybe you are like that man, wanting to walk and to change his life situation, but waiting for someone else to help you. Well, let me be the one to say that Jesus is the only one who can. If you are ready to be healed and to find your new life in Christ, I encourage you to dive into the promises of hope and healing that are offered in the Bible.

If you have followed any of my LivingItOut submissions, you know that I have suffered from depression and anxiety, I have battled against the desire to compare myself to others, and I have struggled to rest in the truths God promises in the Bible. Let me share some that have been particularly encouraging to me in times of trials and healing.

Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

It is often when we are at our lowest points that we realize something in our lives needs to change, or that we are missing something. God does not say that following him will be easy, but he does promise to be with us along the way. The popular “Footprints” poem tells a story of a man who has a dream about a conversation with the Lord. In it, he sees two sets of footprints in the sand – his and those of the Lord. However, he is troubled because when he was at his lowest points in life, he saw only one set of footprints. The Lord replied, “I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.” When we are tired and run down from the effects of life, often what we need is to rest in the arms of the Lord, to let him carry us, and to let him heal us.

Jeremiah 29:10-13
10 “… I will come to you and fulfill my good promise… 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

As Ben mentioned in the first week of this series, he received many questions from people wondering why bad things happen to good people. Yesterday, we read in John 9 about a man who was born blind and the way Jesus addressed the reason behind it. In the midst of sorrow, loss, sickness, or even at the end of a bad day, we can reflect on the promise that God wants good things for us. He has great plans for each of us, and he does not want us to be harmed, whether we realize that in our current situation or not. He promises to listen to us, to be with us, and to answer our cries.

John 10:10   
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

John 14:6
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus made a lot of bold statements about himself, many of which resulted in his arrest and subsequent death on the cross. But I like these two promises found in the Gospel of John. Jesus offers us full life, while the world offers temporary satisfaction that will only leave us empty in the end. Jesus also provides us with the golden ticket to inherit eternal life in heaven, saying that belief in him is the only way that we will be able to get to God. While this may seem unbelievable, Jesus does not leave any ambiguity about it. No one comes to the Father except through him. And, if he is the one who offers love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and goodness (Galatians 5:22-23) in our lives, why wouldn’t we want to be with him?

Hebrews 11:1 
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

How can I be so sure that God is with me and that he wants the best for me? Because I have lived it. I believe in God’s promises. I strive to seek him first so that he will provide exactly what I need (Matthew 6). I believe that he gives me rest when I am weary and that he carries me. I believe that his plan is for me to prosper, maybe not financially in this life, but spiritually in the next. I believe that he is with me until the very end (Matthew 28:20). And even though I can’t see God with my eyes, I believe that he lives in my heart because I have accepted that Jesus is the only way to inherit eternal life, and that I have been blessed with the Holy Spirit. For that reason, I can be sure of that for which I hope.

 

Questions:
Are you struggling, and do you want to get well?

What is the most difficult thing for you to believe about God?

What is preventing you from believing in God’s promises?

 

Next Steps:
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, seek counsel from God through prayer because he promises to listen. Even if you don’t think he can hear you, he will answer in one way or another. Find someone to whom you can ask your difficult-to-answer questions, whether it is a friend or campus pastor. Join a Group or send us an email at LIO@cedarcreek.tv.

 

Prayer:
God, even when I don’t feel your presence, let me know that you are with me. I pray that I can find rest in you when I am hurting and burdened. Let me receive the full life you have for me, and give me the confidence to believe in your promises of hope, healing, and forgiveness. Amen.


This post was written by Ryan Cook. Ryan is the business director at Chick-Fil-A in Toledo. He enjoys spending time with his wife, son, and daughter, and watching Cleveland sports as much as anyone can. Follow him on twitter @cookfila


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A Purpose for Our Pain

This is a hard one to grapple with. Especially when we are going through it, it is difficult to see and believe that God has a good plan for our divorce or the death of a loved one. What is the plan for a terminal illness or a freak accident that alters our lives forever? Trying to find the purpose that God has for our pain isn’t easy. In fact, we may never understand it on this side of heaven. However, we can choose to believe that God has a good plan, even when we cannot fathom it. If we can do that, God is glorified, and the power of God can be seen.

Sometimes that is the sole purpose of our pain, as seen in the following verses from John. In this passage, the disciples ask why a man was born blind. In this case, his blindness was not because of his sin or his parents’ sin; it was so that the power of God could be seen.

John 9:1-9   
1 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. 2 “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”

3 “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. 4 We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. 5 But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.”

6 Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. 7 He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!

8 His neighbors and others who knew him as a blind beggar asked each other, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some said he was, and others said, “No, he just looks like him!”

But the beggar kept saying, “Yes, I am the same one!”

As Ben shared this past weekend, sometimes our response to hardships in life is to get curious.  In verse 2, the disciples see this poor man blind from birth and forced to beg just to survive, and they are curious.  They ask questions, and Jesus engages them in conversation because he knew that is what they needed in that moment.

What Jesus reveals to them is that sometimes our pain can serve a higher purpose. The blind man’s story, as painful as it was, is still being shared today as witness to Christ’s healing power.

I know how hard it is to keep that thought close at hand when we’re really going through it; I struggle with it, too. It’s really hard not to get a case of the “POOR ME”s or the “WHY, GOD”s when we are hurting. However, it helps if we can hold on to the truth of God’s goodness and his promise to never leave or forsake us. I know people who have suffered great loss and remained solid on the rock of Christ, and I know people who have crumbled and turned away. The ones who remain solid have much happier, healthier lives because they have chosen to believe in God’s promises and in the fact that God can give purpose to our pain.

These verses from 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 are great ones to memorize for times when you feel like it’s all too much. This is one of my favorites, so I hyperlinked the whole thing from the NIV translation- it’s so beautiful!

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (NIV) 
17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

How can our trouble produce glory for us that will last forever? If we fix our eyes on God and trust him, we bring him honor and glory that will give us eternal treasure. We must remember these troubles that we endure now are not going to last forever. Jesus will return and make all things right in the end!

Tomorrow we’re going to look at several of God’s promises and some other verses that you can use to help you in times of pain or distress.

 

Questions:
How easy or hard is it for you to trust God in your pain?

 

Think of an example of someone that really trusted God in a difficult situation and someone who didn’t handle something well. What differences can you see between these situations and their outcomes?

 

Next Steps:
Try and commit 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 to memory. Memorizing passages like this gives us solid promises to lean into in our time of need.

 

Prayer:
Father, thank you for my pain. I praise you for giving me the example of Jesus who is the light and shows me how to bring glory to you. Help me to learn the lessons you have for me in my pain and always choose to turn to you rather than away. Amen.


This post was written by Kelda Strasbourg, Kelda is a grateful member of the LivingItOut writing team. She has a love for Jesus and the desire to help others find that same love. She has her own business and a border collie named Emily.


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Giving Voice to the Pain

When good people suffer, we struggle to understand why God doesn’t intervene. One way we respond intellectually to these events is by being curious, asking questions about why God allowed such evil. What we need in those moments is a conversation with a friend or trusted mentor. (More on this response tomorrow!) However, when we are in the midst of the pain, reeling from the hurt and feeling bombarded on every side, what we need in these moments is someone to just listen; we need to be heard. Unfortunately, when others around us can’t recognize that, they offer up their well-meaning answers and explanations, sometimes adding to the pain instead of alleviating it.

An example of this very situation can be found in the Old Testament, in the book of Job. Job was a godly man whom the Lord had blessed with a large family, good health, and many riches. Satan accused Job of having shallow faith, suggesting that his faith in God was strong only because his life was good.

 

Job 1:8-12   
8 Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.”

9 Satan replied to the Lord, “Yes, but Job has good reason to fear God. 10 You have always put a wall of protection around him and his home and his property. You have made him prosper in everything he does. Look how rich he is! 11 But reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!”

12 “All right, you may test him,” the Lord said to Satan. “Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don’t harm him physically.” So Satan left the Lord’s presence.

 

When God allows Satan to test Job, Job’s response is to tear his clothes, shave his head, and sit in ashes—a completely broken man. His friends come to comfort him; and, at first, they recognize their friend needs no words, only their presence (Job 2:13). As Job begins to pour out his heart in anguish, they simply listen (Job 3). However, in chapter 4 they open their mouths and begin a dialogue with Job that lasts for 35 chapters, spewing advice, challenges, and platitudes. At one point, Job even pleads with them, “If only you could be silent! That’s the wisest thing you could do” (Job 13:5).

The story of Job is a great example of our need to be heard when we are hurting. As Job was grieving, he needed to give voice to the pain. It was important for him to be able to ask his questions out loud, to share his sorrows with others, and to let his anger out.

In the end, God responded to Job and restored him. He rewarded him with a new depth of understanding of who God is. Job says, “I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes” (Job 42:5), demonstrating that God blesses those who seek him.

 

Hebrews 11:6 
And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

 

When we are experiencing hurt in our life, we have an opportunity to listen to Satan, the accuser, who is telling us that our faith is too shallow and that our questions are sinful, or we can go straight to God who listens when we need to be heard. If we choose to seek God in our pain, we will come to know him more.

 

Questions:
Reread Job 1:8-12. Why did God allow Satan to test Job? Why did God allow Job to suffer – to lose his possessions, his children, and his health?

 

Are you currently hurting from a circumstance in your life? Do you recognize your need to be heard?

 

How easy is it for you to talk to other people about suffering, sickness, and sadness? How can Job’s story help you to take that next step?

 

Next Steps:
Find a friend or mentor to talk to this week. Have an open conversation about how the topic of suffering, sickness, and sadness makes you feel and the impact it has on your life. Share a specific situation that is weighing heavily on your heart.

 

Prayer:
Dear God, thank you for the story of Job. Although we do not always understand why good people must go through hardships, the Bible is clear that you are not the cause of our suffering. Help me find another Christian whom I can talk to about suffering, sadness, and sickness. Help me to yield to you and to always trust in you, no matter what the circumstances you allow in my life. Amen.


This post was written by Kaye Althaus. Kaye loves to read and do crafts with friends. She and her husband live in the quiet country and raise chickens.


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Why, God?

In the second week of the “You Asked for It” series, Lead Pastor Ben Snyder tackled arguably the most pervasive question mankind has asked in relation to God’s ways.

This question has been posed and pondered for thousands of years, dating back to the pages of the Old Testament.  It has led some to question their faith, others to defiantly forego belief altogether, and even the most devout of believers to struggle in reconciling their faith with their life experience.

The question is, “Why would a true and loving God allow the pain and suffering we witness and endure?”  Or, as Ben asked, “Why should we follow a God who allows Satan, spam, skeeters, sickness, and sadness?”

Why does God permit unspeakable tragedies, such as the recent mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas?  Why does he allow innocent children to suffer from terminal disease, predators to prey upon their victims, and millions to struggle against seemingly insurmountable foes of poverty and starvation? Even comparatively lesser troubles, such as financial worries and broken relationships, can leave us asking, “Why, God?”

Central to each of these questions is the presumption that God chooses to stand by, without taking action, as he witnesses our pain and suffering. What sort of God would do this?

To begin unpacking his response to this question, Ben went back to the beginning – literally – in the Book of Genesis where sin first entered the world.

 

Genesis 3:1-7

1The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” 2“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. 3“It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’” 4“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. 5“God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” 6The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. 7At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.

 

In the first verse of the above passage, we are introduced to the serpent (Satan) who proceeds to shrewdly tempt the woman (Eve) and her husband (Adam) with devious promises. When Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit, they receive what is promised – knowledge of good and evil. But as we know, there is a tragic cost for this act of defiance, for with their first bite of the fruit, sin is ushered into the world.

Genesis 3 also introduces us to the concept of free will, or the permission to make decisions, which opens the door to evil in our world.

This backstory is important, for while sin is indeed the root of all evil, Satan, not God, is its father.

Lee Strobel, pastor and author of The Case for Christ, spoke to this point in a sermon following the tragic 2012 shooting in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater. “God did not create evil and suffering,” Strobel told the congregation. “Now, it’s true that he did create the potential for evil to enter the world, because that was the only way to create the potential for genuine goodness and love. But it was human beings, in our free will, who brought that potential evil into reality.”

As Strobel noted, free will was God’s way of bringing about genuine goodness and love. Free will is about our ability to make choices that are not controlled by fate or God. Without the unconstrained ability to make choices, we would essentially be programmed beings no different from automatons, machines that perform functions according to a predetermined set of coded instructions. In short, there would be no value to our love because it would be involuntary.  True love, including our love of God, cannot be programmed. Rather, it is the result of our conscious actions, our feelings, and our choices.

Free will, of course, provides the opportunity for bad choices… and sin. Now, contrary to what some would suggest, God did not stand by without action in response to our sin. Far from it, he took the ultimate action through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ.

As the Rev. Billy Graham eloquently wrote, “Jesus Christ came to destroy sin’s power—and He did this by His death and resurrection for us. As we turn to Him in repentance and faith He forgives our sins, and as we yield ourselves to Him every day He helps us defeat sin’s power over us. He also gives us a new love for others, and sends us out to help alleviate the sufferings of our world.”

While there is no question that pain and suffering are an unwelcome reality of our earthly life, Christ followers can take comfort in knowing that this anguish is not entirely without purpose, and most certainly not a condition devoid of hope.

Though it may seem to be a slight consolation, pain does awaken us to God. Noted author and theologian C.S. Lewis wrote about this topic in The Problem of Pain. “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to,” Lewis wrote. “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

The good news for Christ followers is that our earthly sufferings are just that. As Strobel added in his aforementioned sermon, “The day is coming when suffering will cease and God will judge evil. Many times you’ll hear people say: ‘If God has the power to eradicate evil and suffering, then why doesn’t He do it?’ And the answer is that because He hasn’t done it yet doesn’t mean He won’t do it.”

Indeed, the story of our existence is not yet fully written. And we can take comfort in knowing that when we give our lives to Christ, the promise of heaven awaits.

In the coming days, LivingItOut writers will explore how God helps us through the responses we may have when trying to understand why bad things happen to good people. These responses are geared to address questions from:

 

  • The Curious – those who wonder why God allows pain and suffering.  The curious need a conversation.
  • The Hurting – those who are experiencing hurt from pain and suffering.  The hurting need to be heard.
  • The Healing – those who are ready to become sound and healthy again.  The healing need help and hope.

 

Questions:

Have you wrestled with the question of why God allows pain and suffering?  If so, how does understanding the source of evil and the concept of free will impact your thinking?

 

How can you leverage this knowledge, and your belief, to help others who may be struggling with pain and sorrow?

 

What can you do, even in moments of anguish, to be ever mindful of the future rewards that God promises, in this life and beyond?

 

Next Steps:

If you have wrestled with why God allows pain and suffering, think about how you’ve typically approached this question – perhaps with a near-term focus – and how embracing your faith in God’s ultimate promise can help to alleviate your burdens.  Consider also how you can be a light for others by sharing God’s love with those in your life who are struggling with pain and suffering by identifying if they are curious, hurting, or healing.

 

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, we thank you for your gift of this life and both the good and bad that we encounter on our earthly journey.  Help us to understand that there is a purpose for all that we experience.  Provide us the wisdom to treat the gift of free will with respect and full understanding of its consequences.  And help us to always remain focused on you and your glorious promise of eternal life and love with you.  Amen.


This post was written by Todd Romain. Todd is a regular contributor to and editor of the LivingItOut Bible Study.


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One Encounter with Jesus

Just as every person has a story to tell, so every Christian has an encounter with Jesus to share. That’s because Christianity isn’t a religion rooted in laws, land, status, or heritage. Instead, it’s rooted in a person, and the story he first wrote for us – one full of sacrifice, emotion, and above all else, love. Sometimes these encounters are big, life-changing moments. Other times, they’re smaller, subtler moments – moments we only recognize as significant when we look back years later. But if you’re a Christian, you’ve had an encounter of one kind or another with Jesus Christ, because at the core of our beliefs, it’s Jesus who calls us all to faith in him.

Luke 24:32-35

32 They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” 33 And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, 34 who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter.”
35 Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread.

Of course, our modern encounters with Jesus don’t necessarily look like the encounter we see in Luke 24:13-32. Instead of walking to Emmaus, maybe you were walking around your neighborhood when you saw a CedarCreek sign. Instead of talking with a stranger, maybe you were talking with a Christian friend who invited you to church for the first time. Instead of a physical encounter with the risen Lord, maybe it was an intuition, a sense of something bigger, a thought at the back of your mind that you couldn’t quite shake.

Still, there are some similarities between our modern encounters with Jesus and the biblical encounter we see in Luke 24. For starters, we don’t always recognize right away that it is Jesus we’re encountering. It could seem like an everyday event: a casual conversation with a friend, or a debate you’ve had a hundred times before; an invitation card left on your table, or a sudden desire to leaf through the Bible your parents gave you.

But no matter the situation, any encounter with Jesus starts with openness, a willingness to engage with the situation and consider that it might be more than it seems. The two disciples in Luke 24:13 could have ignored the stranger and written off whatever he had to say, but what a loss it would’ve been if they had! Only through their willingness to listen was the truth of Jesus’ identity revealed to them. As Matthew 7:7-8 says, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Another similarity between this ancient encounter with Jesus and our own encounters today is the inward response. The disciples in Luke 24:32 describe the feeling as their “hearts burning” within them. Similarly, when we respond to an encounter with Jesus with open hearts, we feel it. Sometimes it’s a quiet feeling that we’ve found something true; other times it’s a tidal wave of emotions. Either way, it elicits a change in us, calling us to the source.

But perhaps the most important similarity between our own encounters with Jesus and the encounter we see in Luke 24 is this: the outward response. Once the two disciples realize that the Lord Jesus Christ has risen, their first response is to share the news. As it says in Luke 24:33-35, “They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem … Then the two told what had happened …”

Isn’t that still our natural instinct when we receive good news—to share it with others? Of course, we all know sharing the good news of the gospel isn’t always easy. But it’s still an important part of any encounter with Jesus. For all you know, the act of sharing your story may lead someone else to their own encounter with the risen Lord.

 

Questions:

Do you have an encounter with Jesus Christ that came to mind as you read this devotional? What did it look like? How did it feel? What was your response to it?

 

Next Steps:

Think about your own encounters with Jesus and experiences as a Christian. Identify a couple close friends or family members with whom you can share these experiences.  Now share!

 

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, we are so grateful that you are a personal God. You reach out to those who are seeking, and you speak to us where we are. Help us to listen for your voice and to keep our hearts open to encounters with you in our daily lives. Give us the courage to tell others about our experiences with you. May lives be saved and hearts be changed through the stories we share. Amen.


This post was written by Payton Lechner, a regular contributor to the LivingItOut Bible Study.


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It’s All About Him

In today’s scripture reading, Cleopas and another disciple were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus on the day that Jesus rose from the dead.  As they were walking, the resurrected Jesus joined them, but the two disciples did not recognize him.  He asked what the two had been discussing.  They were surprised that the man had not heard of the events of Jesus’ crucifixion and the empty tomb.

 

Luke 24:25-31
25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. 26 Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” 27 Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, 29 but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. 30 As they sat down to eat, he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. 31 Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!

 

In verses 25-26, Jesus was telling the two disciples that they had been foolish because they did not believe what the prophets had written, that he must die and rise again.  It was necessary for Christ to suffer, to atone for sin because no soul could be saved otherwise.  “In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him” (Heb 5:9).

Scripture references to the Son of God did not first appear in the New Testament, as some might conclude from Matthew 1:18-23 (the story of the birth of Jesus). The entire Old Testament points to Jesus; it’s all about him!  Although there are many more references in the New Testament, there are references in the Old Testament that help Christians recognize that Jesus is indeed the Son of God.

Can you just imagine how outstanding the discussion would have been when Jesus spoke of the many writings of the Old Testament that applied to himself?  This story is important because it provides emphasis on the Old Testament prophecies such as these:

 

Psalm 2:7

The king proclaims the Lord’s decree: “The Lord said to me, ‘You are my son. Today I have become your Father.’”  

 

Proverbs 30:4

Who but God goes up to heaven and comes back down?

   Who holds the wind in his fists?…

What is his name—and his son’s name?

   Tell me if you know!

 

Isaiah 9:6a

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.

 

Micah 5:3a

The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies

   until the woman in labor gives birth.

 

These prophecies and many more occurred about 700 years prior to Jesus’ birth.

There is a connection between what happened to Cleopas and the other disciple when they recognized Jesus, and with many of us today.  They were blinded by their sadness of the prior days just as we are blinded by our current difficulties and cannot see God’s redemptive purpose, perhaps even the fact that Jesus is standing right in front of us.  Jesus opens our eyes, points to the Scripture, and then reveals himself as the resurrected Savior and Lord.

 

Questions:

Are there circumstances in your life that are keeping you from recognizing Christ as Savior?

 

Next Steps:

Identify who is (or whom you wish was) on the Emmaus Road with you. Ask that person if they see any blinders in your life that are preventing you from recognizing Jesus at work in your life.

 

Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, grant us the wisdom to have our eyes opened to your healing grace. Give us strength to provide spiritual support to those who are consumed by their current circumstance and cannot see you standing right beside them, offering eternal salvation.  In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.


This post was written by Jennifer Macke, a regular contributor to the LivingItOut Bible Study.


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