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The reality of God in the midst of suffering

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A lot of people in this world question the reality of God, especially when a catastrophic event takes place in their life.

A sudden loss of life, a devastating report from the doctor, or suddenly finding yourself out of work with a mountain of bills to pay can cause us to ask “God, where are you?”

Being a firm believer in the fact that God reigns over the universe, which includes you and I, I’ve often pondered the issue of human suffering from a Biblical perspective. [1]

I know, I know, I’ve got too much time on my hands, right?

Without trying to come off like some sort of expert on the matter, which I surely am not, I wonder why it is that in this enlightened age of knowledge and power that we brilliant humans have not eradicated human suffering once and for all.

For example, the trials, hardships, adversities, and tests of this life transcend all economic barriers and social classes. They show no favoritism or prejudice. Every one of us “gets” to participate in them.

Every person, regardless of age or nationality, regardless of religious or political affiliation, all of us seem predestined at some point to walk the lonely paths of these human maladies.

From where I sit it would seem that these life issues are handed out randomly, without discretion, thought or (human) reason as to who can deal best with a particular trial.

Of course, I have no way of knowing whether such a thing actually happens, or if there is some far off Heavenly committee that meets on a frequent basis to decide such things, but believing that God reigns, also brings with it several practical questions.

For example, if God really is in charge, then where is He when…

  • Evil people are blowing up innocent men, women, and children?
  • The helpless and innocent are starving to death?
  • A Christian marriage falls apart?
  • Our children, raised in Godly homes, decide they want no part of living for Jesus?

Where exactly is God when all of these things are happening? Isn’t that what most reasonable people want to know? Just where is God when people are suffering?

These are hard, tough questions, aren’t they?

And more times than not, these hard questions are not easily dismissed with a cursory “well, God is in charge, so He must know what He’s doing” answer.

The truth is, God does know exactly what he is doing, just as he knew what he was doing when he created man the way that he did.

You see, we were/are created in His image. That means we were made to resemble God. Of course, God is not flesh and blood as man is, but we understand that the first man Adam was created in perfection.

Being created in the image of God sets human beings apart from the rest of creation, such as the animal, or plant worlds, for example.

We were also created to have dominion over the earth, to have the ability to commune with God, and to establish a relationship with him.

So, what does this brief foray into the story of man’s creation have to do with the hard questions I posed?

Essentially this; man was created with attributes that no other part of creation was granted. Because we were created in His image and likeness, we were given the ability to choose, think, and reason.

It is precisely because of these unique, Godly attributes that Satan appeared in the garden. His mission: to corrupt this perfect, created image of God, and convince man to use his Godly attributes for evil.

Adam and Eve made a terrible decision when they chose to rebel against their Creator. They were told that death would be the result of their disobedience, should they choose to do so, yet they did it anyway.

By choosing their way vs. God’s way, they marred the image of God within themselves, and in doing so passed the damage on to every single person who would ever be born. That includes all of us, in case you didn’t know that. [2]

Unbeknownst to Adam and Eve, because of their careless disobedience,the thought process of mankind was forever altered that day. In one disastrous moment, man was changed from a ‘pure in thought’ worshiper of God to a being possessing the potential for unlimited evil.

Sadly, we now see that unlimited potential for evil being played out without reservation all over this world. The powers of choice and reason, Godly attributes once solely used for good, are now the weapons of individuals wholly given over to the ideology of evil.

Today of course, man is still created in the image of God, but there is a difference now. Because of what happened in that garden, we now bear the scars of sin. [3]

Mentally, morally, socially, and physically, we bear the inescapable effects of sin. The evil and immorality that we are seeing displayed on a daily basis in our world is the result of this corruption.

Every single one of those hard questions I posed can be traced back to the fall in the garden of Eden, when Satan corrupted the pure thoughts of God’s highest creation.

And yes, I am aware of just how simplistic that sounds. Everyone knows that the problems this world is facing are very complex, and that (supposedly) the greatest minds available are working hard to find solutions.

Speaking only for myself, just once I would like to hear someone on a national platform stand up and say what a lot of us already know: that whatever it is we’re doing to make things better, it isn’t working.

And it never will work.

Which is why God sent the antidote for our sin sickness in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.

What man ruined in the garden of Eden, God restored on an old rugged cross.

Does God still rule and reign today, even in the midst of human suffering?

Of course He does! He reigns in the hearts of all who have made him Lord. He said he would never leave us or forsake us. [4]

No matter what comes, I have this assurance, that He will be by my side and in my heart at all times!

Be blessed,

Ron

[1] 1st Chron. 16:31, Psalms 97:1, 99:1, 146:10, Isaiah 52:7

[2] Romans 5:12

[3] James 3:9

[4] Hebrews 13:5

 

 

 

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Do you believe, I mean REALLY believe?

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“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;”  and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”             2nd Timothy 4:3-4

The misguided congregation of Elevation church has done exactly that. They have placed in the position of pastor a young man that is openly sowing unbelief in the midst of his own congregation, and none dares to call him out on it.

This ‘pastor’ recently preached a message to his congregation, stating that he had doubts in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Furthermore, he claimed that no one in the congregation fully believed these things.” [1]

Wow! The ‘pastor’ of the church openly declared that none of his congregation was without doubt regarding the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. There is not one single person attending that church that is convinced by scripture of the truth surrounding the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ? What kind of a place is this?

This my friends, is an abomination. It is a slap in the face of Jesus Christ that an unbeliever such as this man would be placed in the position of shepherd over God’s people.

Yes, I’m sure many of you didn’t like that. It’s awful harsh and judgmental, isn’t it?

It’s also the truth.

At the end of this debacle the ‘pastor’ stated “I have my doubts. Is that alright? Do you need to find another church now that you know the man with the mic has doubts? I have my doubts.”

The answer the congregation should have given was a resounding YES!, followed by an immediate mass exodus to the nearest exit doors, never to return.

I may have doubts about my own capabilities, motives, and yes I even have doubts about my personal value to God’s kingdom. It’s a very normal and human thing to doubt such things about ourselves. If you’re reading this, I dare say you feel the same way at times.

That being said, I can however testify with 100% certainty that I have no doubts as to the truth of the death, burial, and resurrection of my Savior. None. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

Everything I believe about Him, indeed my very salvation is secured by the truth of His death, burial, and resurrection.

To doubt this is to acknowledge that I have yet to pass from death to life. [2]

If He did not die, I am still lost. If He did not raise from the dead, I am still lost. There is NO MIDDLE GROUND!

How can I be so certain about this? It’s because I have a relationship with Him! I know exactly who He is! Every page of scripture has His DNA embedded in it! He is the Word that was made flesh and dwelt among us!

What about you? Do you REALLY believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Or are you seeking for a ‘teacher’ who will lead you down the path of fables?

My sincere prayer is that you can answer YES to the former while rejecting the latter.

Be blessed and secure in His Truth!

Ron

 

[1] For the record, I do not endorse or agree with every article or post from the Pulpit and Pen.

[2] John 5:24

Calling evil good,and good evil

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Perhaps you have heard it said that things today are not what they appear to be. Maybe you’ve lived long enough to see the evolution of what used to clearly be either right or wrong now muddied to the point of uncertainty. You might have even noticed that what was once undeniably black or white has now been replaced with “fifty shades of gray”.

All of this is a result of man’s attempt to create a utopian society where he is god and master of his own destiny, where absolutes simply cannot be tolerated. Right or wrong are seen as relics of a people whose time has come and gone.

In their place has arisen a new code of conduct whereby a simple yes or no has been replaced with maybe. The position of absolute right or wrong has been declared extinct, giving rise to the more palatable position of undetermined.

What we are witnessing is man replaying one of the most insidious chapters in its history from Genesis 3:4, in what is commonly referred to as “The Fall” as recorded in the book of Genesis.

Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”   Genesis 2:15-17

Here we see that the Creator has given clear, concise instructions to His highest creation. God did not use words like maybe or undetermined, but rather He specifically said “You Shall Not”, leaving exactly no wiggle room or uncertainty regarding His expectations.

Enter the adversary into the garden, knowing full well what God had said and what was meant by what He said. The enemy needed to do something about God’s clear instructions to Adam and Eve, because to do nothing would be to allow the relationship God had with man to blossom.

And that was something Satan could not tolerate.

So he came up with a plan to sow uncertainty in the hearts and minds of Adam and Eve. How would he do that? By insidiously twisting God’s Word to make what had previously been clearly understood as though it wasn’t clear at all.

Then the serpent said to the woman,You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  (Genesis 3:4)

With one seemingly innocent statement, the enemy of our souls planted doubt and uncertainty in Eve’s heart and mind, thus altering forever the relationship between God and man.

Good had become Evil, and Evil had become Good.

Now, if you’re thinking all of this is nonsense it is worth noting that history has seen this before. Try as we might to want to believe we are somehow enlightened to the point of discovering a new order of things, we are merely following in the footsteps of another nation that was also once the dominant power of the world.

In the book of Isaiah, chapter 5: 8-32, we see six “Woes”, or statements of judgement pronounced upon six types of sins.

  1. Greed
  2. Drunkeness
  3. Mockery of God’s power to righteously judge sin
  4. Distorting God’s moral standards
  5. Arrogance and Pride
  6. Perversion of justice

The distortion of God’s moral standards is called out in verse 20 of Isaiah chapter five.

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

Society today has chosen to retrace the steps of ancient Israel and Judah by exalting sin. How are we doing this? By calling perversion and immorality by another name. Today we refer to those sins as virtuous and freedoms of expression, while calling Godly righteousness evil or bigoted.

Sexual perversion is commonly known today as an alternative lifestyle, one that is openly accepted and applauded, while opponents of such conduct are labeled as haters and oppressors.

Pro abortion advocates are looked upon as caring people deeply committed to women’s rights, while pro life advocates are called extremists or religious fanatics.

Good has become Evil, and Evil has become Good.

So where is all of this leading us? I don’t have a crystal ball so I cannot predict the future. What I do possess however is God’s Word, and in it you will find a very clear description for where all of this is leading us.

Rather than me giving you the details, I urge everyone to read it for yourself and to become acquainted with what God has said is coming upon all the world. Here’s a hint though: read Paul’s letters to Timothy and to the Thessalonian church just for starters.

If you’re honest and open minded, you might be surprised to learn that none of this has taken the Lord by surprise. In fact, you will find that all of this perversion of justice has been foretold many times over in the Bible.

We are simply repeating the mistakes (sins) of those who have gone before us.

May God have mercy upon us is my heartfelt cry, even though we are undeserving of such.

Be blessed,

Ron

 

 

Create in me a clean heart,O God;

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Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.   Psalm 51:10-12

This was the prayer of David after he had fallen into deep sin. This once humble shepherd boy turned giant killer, the apple of Gods eye, has been knocked off of his lofty throne by pride, arrogance, and lust.

Having committed adultery with Bathsheba, and then having her husband killed in a vain attempt to hide his sin, King David found himself in bitterness and anguish of soul. As you read Psalm 51, the depths of this anguish nearly jumps off the page, and no doubt many of us can empathize with his sorrows.

For the rest of his life David would pay a tremendous price for his moral failures. Not only he, but his family as well would suffer the consequences of “the pleasures of sin for a season”. Indeed, his own son tried to take the kingdom from him, and never again would David know complete peace and contentment in his life.

thou-art-the-man_peter_rothermel_david_nathan_b

Thou Art The Man- by Peter Rothermel

There are several lessons to be gleaned from this tragic episode in the life of Israel’s beloved king, not the least of which is that none of us has to be a murderer or an adulterer to have need of a clean heart and a right spirit within us. All of us are in need of these things.

Everyday events can drain us, leaving us discouraged and feeling so lowly that we have to reach up just to be able to touch the bottom. Life, for all of its joys and triumphs, also brings with it incredible heartaches and disappointments. For these, we need the security of knowing that God is working “all things together for our good”.

Who among us doesn’t need renewal from time to time? Contrary to popular opinion, there certainly is no shame in acknowledging our own inabilities to “fix ourselves” by calling upon the Lord. As a matter of fact, He tells us to “cast all of our cares upon him, because He cares for us.”

I don’t know where you are in your walk with the Lord, but I’m craving a deeper walk with him. So many things in this life cause division and separation between us and God. Even good things, in excess, can come between us and our relationship with him.

The last thing I want is to be found like David, far from God, yet I know that if I don’t pray and study his word that is exactly what will happen. Our prayer then should always be like David’s; “Lord, cast me not away from your presence.”

In perilous and uncertain times such as we are living in today, all of us need the strong hand of the Lord to sustain us, to keep us pointed in the right direction. Let’s face it, we need Him!

David understood that even though he had committed horrible sins before his God forgiveness, albeit at a cost, was available to him. The son that was born to him out of the illicit affair with Bathsheba for example, would become sick and die. No amount of fasting and prayer for him could save his life, yet this event served a greater purpose in turning David’s heart back to God.

Having done that, he began the road back to once again having a clean heart, a right spirit, the joy of the Lord, and a restored relationship with God. Yes, there were consequences for his actions, however with God’s help; David was able to persevere in spite of them.

The grace of God is truly amazing isn’t it? A God that would forgive David is just as quick to forgive us for our own shortcomings. It really is as simple as calling upon Him to forgive us and create in us a clean heart.

Be blessed on this Lords day!

Ron

 

 

 

 

 

The renewal of Spring

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The first day of Spring brings to mind thoughts of Renewal.

While much of the Northeast and Midwest are bracing for yet another round of snow and ice, winter is about to loosen its grip. It has to at some point, just as it does every year.

Soon the ice will melt away, and the snow drifts will become smaller and smaller until we almost forget about those snowplow mountains.

It’s time for Spring. Time for the seasons to change. Time for the Crocus to pop through the cold ground.

spring crocus

Photo by Wilfried Santer on Unsplash

All of us look forward to the close of another long winter, and impatiently wait for the warm spring breezes that are surely on their way.

It’s time for renewal.

As a nation, as individuals, we all need to be renewed, to be cleansed.

We all need to wash off the cobwebs and dust that have collected over these past months. The time has come to snap out of these winter doldrums!

The prophet Jeremiah knew a thing or two about renewal when he prayed for Israel to be restored to their proper relationship with God. How his heart must have been breaking when he prayed these words!

Turn us back to You, O Lord, and we will be restored;
Renew our days as of old,   Lamentations 5:21

My hope is that all of us would pray this prayer:

Lord, we have wandered far from you, so far that we can scarcely remember how we once enjoyed your presence. But we know that you are faithful to forgive us, both as a nation and as one of your children. Father, we pray for renewal. We pray for the new growth of Spring, that it will restore in our hearts that which the locust has eaten and the worm has destroyed.

Revive us O God. We are desperate for Renewal.

Ron

When “works” replace Jesus…

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Recently I came across an article that talked about pastors filling in their church calendars for the new year. The gist of this article dealt with whether or not the items that made their calendars was real ministry or simply “busy work”.

It made for interesting reading, especially when one of the pastors posted a link to his calendar for everyone to see. Imagine my surprise when lo and behold nearly every day of the week was filled from early morning till late in the evening.

Everything from early morning Bible studies and Zumba classes, afternoon staff and business meetings, to evening choir practice and healthy cooking classes filled this church’s calendar.

Frankly, it was the busiest church calendar I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of them. At first glance one would be inclined to say that this church was very busy, and they certainly were. I couldn’t imagine them squeezing anything else into an already stuffed daily agenda.

There was something odd however about this church calendar. I couldn’t figure it out at first, but I couldn’t shake the notion that in spite of so many agenda items something was missing.

Then it hit me. There was something missing! In fact, I noticed two missing items. The first was that there was no time built into the calendar for corporate prayer. The second thing that I noticed missing was there was not one single event or activity geared toward anyone outside the four walls of the church!

As I studied this I was reminded of something that Jesus said to the church at Ephesus, one of the seven churches mentioned in the book of Revelation.

2 “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3 “and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. 4 “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.    Revelation 2:2-4(NKJV).    Emphasis mine

Lets look at these verses in detail because I think we might see ourselves in them.

Jesus recognized the works that the church had been doing. He called attention to their labor and patience, and how many of us can relate when it comes to having patience when doing the Lords work?

Jesus also mentioned the church’s disdain for those who practiced evil. All of us understand this don’t we? We are trying to live a Godly life in the midst of a perverse and increasingly evil society, and it’s only going to become more challenging.

He goes on to list several more very positive attributes of the church at Ephesus, leaving no doubt that He knew this church intimately. Hmmm…do you suppose Jesus knows the church you attend in such intimate detail?

At first glance this church could be the model for all other churches in the area. Things were going good, and I imagine there was quite a buzz about all the wonderful things the church at Ephesus was doing.

But, and there’s always a but, right? There was a problem in the church, a problem so important that Jesus couldn’t let it slide without calling their attention to it.

It all began with the word “nevertheless”. Just hearing the word sends thoughts of “uh oh, here it comes” to our minds. Even after all of the praise Jesus gave the church, there was a “nevertheless” that cast a dark shadow on what was an otherwise glowing report.

Nevertheless, he said, this church had lost their first love.

Ouch!

What does this mean, to have lost your first love? It means that the church at Ephesus no longer loved the Lord with the same level of intensity they once had. Their passionate love for Jesus had been replaced by something else.

They had lost their zeal for Christ. Typically when this happens, we just go through the motions of serving God. Our heart is no longer motivated by the love of Jesus, we become content to do as many good works as we can, placing our trust in the deeds themselves rather than Jesus.

Ask me how I know this!

Do you know what this is called? It’s called RELIGION, and it ceases to be about a relationship with Christ. The church at Ephesus abandoned their first love in exchange for cold, formal, impersonal RELIGION.

This is the same poison that has infected the Church today. The poison of RELIGION has suffocated the once fervent relationship she had with Christ. This is why there is such apathy in the pew today. We have supplanted relationship with form, with rules, with do’s and dont’s.

But it doesn’t have to be like this! There’s more to the story! In the next verse, Jesus gave the church at Ephesus an “out”. He told them to REPENT. That’s right, simply REPENT.

Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”   Rev. 2:5   KJV

I believe that this is the message for the Church today. Remember where we came from, acknowledge we have strayed, repent and get going again.

Return to the love of Jesus, then watch how much impact our works will have on the world around us!

Maybe we should put THAT in our church calendars!

Be blessed,

Ron

 

 

Bloom where you’re planted

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No doubt you’ve heard the expression “bloom where you’re planted”, a phrase frequently heard in church. I was reminded of this phrase when I came upon the tiny plant you see below as I was walking on the beach.

beach plant 2

A tiny plant flourishing in spite of it’s harsh environment

What with the frequency of “church shopping” these days, where parishioners are leaving their current church for greener pastures, it’s worth repeating that unless there are Biblical reasons for leaving, staying put is normally best. 

While many today are running here and there seeking the “next big thing” that God is doing, mature Christians realize that the “next big thing” is largely a figment of someone’s imagination.

Either that or it’s a work of the flesh, disguised as the work of God by those looking to capitalize on those believers who are easily captivated by catchy slogans and theatrics.

Staying put where God has planted us affords Him time to refine us, to weed out those things that hinder us. This in turn produces blooms and new growth as our relationship with God grows deeper.

My hope is that we all bloom where we’ve been planted so that the body of Christ is strengthened.

 

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