Monday, July 16, 2012

Where is the Hope?

Please Don’t be Angry at God!

 For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion. So great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men. (Lamentations 3:31-33)

Zacchaeus Tree - Jerusalem
There is a young mother I know, a dear friend, who grew up in Bethlehem, Israel. Her family still lives there. It sounds so exciting to have grown up in the place where Jesus was born. It would be awesome to see and walk the same streets He walked while on earth and during His ministry.

I would love to visit Jerusalem – a city rich in religious history and see the hill (Calvary) where Jesus suffered and died on the cross. Remembering the sorrow and pain He endured for me and all people makes me sad, but at the same time I rejoice in the gift of life and grace which is available to all because of His suffering and death. The sight of Mount Calvary should bring me to my knees in humility, thanksgiving and praise.

About a year ago my friend went back to Bethlehem to visit her mother and father, sisters and brother. As she related to me the details of her visit, it occurred to me that not much has changed there since the time of Jesus ministry and the years following His death and resurrection. The Jews still reject Jesus as the promised Messiah and Christians are still persecuted for their beliefs. As if that weren’t enough they now also have to fear the Muslims who are trying to take over. Their lives are in danger each time they leave the relative safety of their homes.

In the “Christian” section of town there is no clean water to drink or to bathe in and clean with. There are no flushing toilets or running water to wash dishes. There isn’t enough food for everyone and no money to buy it. Christians live in fear of death if/when they take a stand for the truth.

Although my friend and her little son are all alone here in the states, she was very happy and relieved to return. She now truly appreciates the fact that she can turn on her kitchen faucet to get a drink or wash dishes. She realizes what a privilege and gift it is to be able to take a shower everyday and have a toilet that flushes, or to flip a switch and have the lights come on. It is a welcome relief to be able to hop in her car and safely go to the store to buy groceries and household needs.

It was heartbreaking for her to say good-bye to her family. She hated to leave them, knowing they were living in such horrible conditions. She came home feeling helpless and distraught for their sake. Their situation seemed hopeless. She asked me; where is God? Why does He let His people suffer this way when He has the power to stop it? She informed me that she no longer prays and is feeling very angry with God.  

Has God really deserted the people who love Him in the Middle East? When people fall on hard times or lose loved ones to death, has God deserted them also? Does He close His eyes and turn His head away from people who suffer from disabilities or debilitating diseases? Is He punishing them for wrong doing or for a specific sin they committed?

We can confidently answer those questions with an adamant “NO”. God is our loving Father. A father who truly loves his children would never deliberately harm them, but he would at times, discipline them. Undisciplined children grow into selfish and uncaring, irresponsible and foolish adults.

He knew suffering and persecution
This life is a constant struggle. Every day we face heartache and pain. Many times we are persecuted for doing what is right and for loving God. Jesus struggled also when He was here on earth. He knew what it was like to lose loved ones to death. He cried at the tomb of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35).  The fact that as He hung on the cross, He asked His most loved disciple John to care His mother, seems to indicate also that Joseph, His step-father was not longer alive(John 19:26,27). He felt a deep compassion for all who were sick and suffering. He Himself suffered persecution during His ministry and in the end gave His life as the ultimate sacrifice for all people.

Jesus reminds His followers to be prepared to suffer persecution because of Him, but at the same time He reminds and reassures us that in the end we will be rewarded. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven...(Matthew 5: 11, 12)

Just as earthly fathers discipline their children because they love them and want what is best for them – God our heavenly Father disciplines us, His children also. He tells us in Hebrews 12: 5,6; My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.

Spend time in worship and prayer
Although God does not cause heartache and pain to come into our lives, He does sometimes allow it. If we never had trials or hardships, why would we need Him? Have you ever noticed that when your life is running smoothly and things are going well you don’t seem to find time to spend in prayer and worship?  Do you skip going to church on Sundays with the excuse that you are so busy during the week and need Sunday to stay home and rest?

We easily forget that time spent in worship and prayer offers us the rest we truly need – rest for our souls. When we begin to lose our connection with God we tend to make light of sin and disregard the sacrifice Jesus made for us. We become focused on our own needs and the here and now, and put God on the back burner.

The apostle Paul once asked God in prayer to remove a physical burden from him. He doesn’t tell us exactly what that burden was. He refers to it only as a thorn in my flesh, but he does tell us God’s answer to his prayer - my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Physical weakness and pain, and emotional suffering drive us to our knees in humility and prayer to God. They make us realize that we need Him. When we come to Him with all of our needs, we are made strong by His almighty power.

Pain and suffering remind us that there are certain things in life which we have no control over. When we lean on our ever present and all powerful God He will give us the strength to bear up under our burdens and they will in the end become blessings. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12: 10).

My husband and I once had a friend who suffered a debilitating stroke which took him from being a strong young man, completely capable of providing for his wife, and made him a man completely dependent on his wife for all his physical needs. His recovery process seemed to be going very slowly and what made it even more difficult was the fact that they lived on the second floor and each time he came in or went out he had a mountain of stairs to climb.

One day as I was leaving for work I came upon him standing on the walkway leaning on his walker while waiting for his wife to bring the car closer. I cheerfully said hello to him and didn’t realize until I looked into his face that he was crying. It was a heartbreaking scene that brought tears to my own eyes. I wished so badly that I could do something for him to ease his pain and relieve the agony he was experiencing, not only physically, but emotionally. I reflected to myself that possibly God was using his suffering to lead an unbelieving friend or relative to Christ. I encouraged him by reminding him that God has a purpose behind everything which happens to us in life.

He sometimes uses suffering, pain or sadness to make us spiritually stronger or to lead others to Him. The apostle Paul reminds us; Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer...Bless those who persecute you (Romans 12:12,14) and also; And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

"Here today - gone tomorrow"
The harsh realities of life are a reminder to us that we need God. We need Him in good times and in bad. Regardless, we have His assurance that He will never leave us. Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). The apostle Paul reminds us to fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4: 18) Our time spent here on earth is short, but eternity is forever. Life is very fragile. We can be here today with everything seemingly going well and be gone tomorrow. Death is no respecter of persons. It comes to all of us. Know where you will spend eternity!

Sin is at the root of all the problems we face. It is an inherited virus/disease which affects every person born. There is no miracle cure for it, but God rescued us from sin through the sacrifice of His holy and perfect Son. Jesus lived a perfect and sinless life in our place. He suffered the punishment we deserve for our sin by being brutally beaten and forsaken by His Father. He died a horrible death nailed to a cross at Calvary, but He conquered death for us when He rose three days later.

It is because of Jesus that we are no longer prisoners to sin, and death has no hold on us. Because of Jesus our chains are gone and we’ve been set free. We have been redeemed. We are His. We belong to Him through His never ending gift of grace, and those who love Him are attached to Him by faith. Through His Son, he no longer sees our sin, but the perfection and holiness of Jesus – The perfection and holiness required for entry into heaven.

No, God is not the cause of our problems, but He does discipline us at times by allowing sickness and pain, sorrow and suffering to come into our lives. He loves us with a never ending love. Just as parents discipline their children because they love them and want what is best for them, so also, God disciplines us, His children, because of His deep love for us. Through difficulty and suffering we are driven to His open arms. He wraps them around us and promises to never leave us.  The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe. (Proverbs 18:10)

Because God loves us, He hurts when we hurt. When we are suffering and in pain He suffers also, but He allows it because He wants what is best for us. He gives us the strength to work our way through the pain of what is seen and what is temporary (this life) so that through faith in Him we can attain what is unseen (eternity in heaven) where all believers will receive their reward. This life is fleeting. We are here today and gone tomorrow. The life to come is eternal. It will last forever and God wants the people whom He created and loves to spend it with Him.

He has not forgotten those who love Him and are suffering in the Middle East. He is the God who sees. He is the great “I AM” - the God of past present and future. He never sleeps. He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep... the Lord is your shade at your right hand. Just as the shade of a big tree is a welcome relief from the hot sun, so also, God is our relief from the painful burdens of life. (Psalm 121:3-5)He will deliver all who love Him, if not during this present life, then in the life to come.

I remind my friend and all who doubt God’s love - Don’t be angry with Him. Don’t turn away from the only true source of love in this life and the strength He offers. He loves you. He cries when you cry and laughs when you laugh. He is the source of all that is good. He wants you to come to Him with all your troubles. When you are afraid – pray; when you are lonely – pray; when the world hates you – pray; when the trials of life overwhelm you – pray. He will hear and answer.

Remember these words of Jesus; If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world... (John 15:18,19) There is hope!

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare to make no other claim
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When he shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in him be found,
Clothed in his righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before his throne.
On Christ, the solid rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
 (Christian Worship Pg. 382)

Gloria Dei! (All Glory to God!)                          

 By Kristeen

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