Response to a USA Today Article
Two Sundays, two mass shootings: Why do bad things happen to good people? https://usat.ly/2yQsAtD
The problem of evil in the world gnaws at the heart's and mind's of most people. It is a universal question. This question is complicated by a belief in God that is held by a vast majority of people. “About nine in 10 Americans say they believe in God, and one in 10 say they do not.” After being a Christ-follower and pastor for over forty years, I would say that this dilemma is the primary stumbling block to faith (trust) in God for both non-believers and believers. Non-believers struggle with the question of God’s existence and believers struggle with the question of God’s absolute goodness. It’s really hard to authentically trust someone when you have doubts about their goodness.
I don’t believe that there is a totally satisfactory solution to this problem that we can fully comprehend or explain. Still, I have come to the conclusion that God is and that God is good based on my study of Scripture and the witness of his presence in and around my life. Following is a 7 point overly simplistic explanation of how I have come to this conclusion and how I have helped others come to the same.
How can we boil down these matters and issues of the heart? I think of them in both personal and corporate lists. (I'm confident that my lists will morph along the way. Please help me with your feedback.) My aim is to identify some important issues in each category and then identify some key words that distinguish God's uncommon ways from the common ways of broken humanity. My hope is that these words will evoke many thoughts, prayers, insights and elaborations in the hearts and minds of God's people.
We can think about it by stating the matter and then by identifying a word or two that possibly pictures God's relevant core value regarding that matter. Then we can contrast this with a word or two that captures a merely human approach to that issue. Sometimes it's a clear "versus" and sometimes it's simply an "over and above" kind of distinction. Sometimes humanity's "good" ways become the enemy of God's "best. ways." (I will use "vs." as a catch all.) I list these in no particular order ... as I see them all as vitally important.
Let's begin with the personal matters:
1. Life View: Journey vs. Goals
2. Life Focus: God-pleasing vs. Man-pleasing
3. Life Motivation: Identity vs. Performance
4. Learning: Inspiration vs. Information
5. Transformation: Divine Revelation vs. Human Reason
6. Total Devotion: Well-rounded vs. Fanatical
7. Crises: Wisdom/Suffering vs. Use of Force
8. Use of Power: Humility vs. Arrogance
9. Other's Expectations: Voluntary Sacrifice vs. Capitulation
10. Guidance: Spirit-Led vs. Ego-Driven
11. Success: Abiding in Christ vs. Self-Striving
12. Self-Awareness: Responsive vs. Reactive
Now the group/community matters:
1. Teaching Truth: Internal Discovery vs. Indoctrination
2. Group Attraction: Divine Encounter vs. Human Entertainment
3. Joining the Group: Mutual Attraction vs. Recruitment
4. Human Resources : Belonging vs. Utilitarian
5. View of Others: Curiosity vs. Prejudice
6. Structures: Fluidity vs. Institutionalization
7. Constitution: Values vs. Vision
8. Navigating Paradox: Radical Middle Solutions vs. Extreme Dogmas
9. Growth: Organic vs. Mass Production
10. Leadership Style: Example/Facilitation vs. Position/Domination
11. Motivating Others: Joy/Sincerity vs. Fear/Manipulation
12. Public Relations: Excellence vs. Slickness
The heart surely matters when it come to matters of the heart. In Scripture we often see the contrast and disparity between God's values and views of life and those of humanity.
Then he [Jesus] said to them, "You like to appear righteous in public, but God knows your hearts. What this world honors is detestable in the sight of God. Luke 16:15
For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1Samuel 16:7b
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Hebrews 4:12-13
I believe that through Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit that the gaps between our values and God's can be significantly bridged. As a demonstration and witness to the watching world of a new kind of humanity in Christ, we are invited to rise up in Him and begin to live out the culture of heaven in our personal and community lives here and now.
According to a divine dream that God confirmed to me in a very undeniable way, the Body of Christ needs to gird herself up to re-rout the river of God's Spirit that has periodically been poured out and flowing afresh over the last century across the globe into a "wild life refuge." Even more specifically, a "human life refuge for the wild at heart." That is, to cast a realistic vision for what a "fully alive" woman or man or child looks and lives like and how those kinds of people can band together to live life in healthy interdependence, host God's presence and woo those who have yet to come to Jesus to trust Him with their entire beings.
I'm noodling today about the "issues of life." For me this is a word play on how "from the heart are the issues (springs) of life." But in English, it also works to say "from it are the issues (matters) of life "
"Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life." Proverbs 4:23
So ... I've been pondering such heart issues, or matters, that relate to both individual and herd (group) instincts and dynamics. Ideally, there is a symbiotic relationship between the two. We are designed by God with longings to be whole individuals who belong to a healthy family and wider community.
I have sought to be a student of church communities though my 40+ years as a church leader. I have witnessed the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. I have witnessed how similar professed beliefs and terms can be held and practiced in both forms and with outcomes that are often vastly different ... some healthy and good; some toxic and bad ... even evil.
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun....”
Psalms 19:1-4 ESV
God's creation clearly reflects His own beauty, power, artistry and majesty. May His Spirit open our eyes to drink in and taste the wonder of Who He is and to Whom we belong and owe our very existence and responsive love. There are too many idle words coming our way these days. We need less rhetoric and more reality. We need to inhale the astounding sounds of silence.
Hebrews 4:9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. 11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account 14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
I made some new connections within this amazing passage from Hebrews 4. It happened during our group study this morning around our kitchen table. These connections revolve around rest, being a living sacrifice and the compassionate high priesthood of Jesus.
I believe that the primary word picture in this passage is that Jesus is the high priest who wields a sharp knife ... the living and energetic word of God ... to lay open a sacrifice on an altar to expose what lies deep on the inside of it. That sacrifice is us as believers ... Romans 12 says that we are living sacrifices to God. It's like a surgery that helps deactivate the tendency we have to rely on our own strength (soul) and works to please or perform for God ... the opposite of resting and trusting (spirit) in Who Jesus is to us and What he has done for us. It could be very scary to be laid bare and have our deepest thoughts and intentions exposed to God and ourselves. However, the passage then immediately emphasizes the sympathy that Jesus has for us in our weaknesses, temptations and neediness. We end up being invited to come confidently to the throne of God ... that is dispensing grace, mercy and divine help rather than condemnation and judgment.
Dr. E. James Wilder recently sent me some of the most often asked questions he receives about The Life Model approach to transformation and maturity in Christ. This is the post that answers the first question. These questions will be part of a proposed booklet on how to view The Life Model in light of Scripture.
Dr. Wilders Blog.
Some amazing men I meet with weekly fell into a conversation around my kitchen table this morning. We were comparing notes on what we have learned about loving our wives through the years. There were tears, wonder, laughter, confessions, prayers and insights flowing between us rapid fire!
One of the things I shared was how, as a young husband who was trying hard to "please God", I felt like I was failing Him and Terri if she ever had a problem. This drive to "fix her" was rooted in my immaturity, idealism and insecurity, but that was all neatly covered up with a thin veneer of self-generated "wisdom" and "compassion". I was going to be a "great leader" to her and make sure she was perfect and happy. I didn't give her safe emotional space to express her pressures or griefs in the way she is wired by God. Terri is a verbal processor who also needs freedom to craft emotional poetry as she gets her burdens out on the table. But I was always there to "help" her express her problems more accurately and precisely! I thought I was following the Golden Rule to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you", but I was obeying the rule on my terms rather than hers. Actually, I took it all too personally. So I would put on my "lawyer mask" and demand her to at least be accurate in describing her situation.
Fortunately Terri continued to love me patiently and the Lord gradually got through to me and helped me to mature out of my hidden insecurities. I discovered that being "right" is the booby prize of life and I learned to relax in God's love for me. The more it soaked in to my soul, the more I have been able to empathize with her when she hurts and when she rejoices ... which is her major mode these days!
“My son, do not despise the Lord 's discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” Proverbs 3:11-12
In Hebrews 12, when this proverb is quoted, the last phrase is translated "whom he receives". As a result, I have never tuned in to the angle we get from the Proverbs 3 passage, "in whom he delights".
Most of us do not make a strong emotional connection to the fact that our Heavenly Father (our true Papa) brings correction into our lives in the fundamental context of delight and atmosphere of joy. He trains us for greater things because he delights in us!
Wow! This event and promise is revolutionary. Christ's peace is a presence, not an absence, of something...something heavenly upon the earth. It is powerful and substantial - a manifestation of His resurrection life. His peace is an ongoing ripple effect of this resurrection and a ramification of His ascension up to this present day. He left us physically, but He left us His pervading peace, by the Holy Spirit. His peace has the strength to negate anything that troubles our hearts or causes us to be afraid. Jesus distinguishes the peace He provides from the lesser kinds of "peace" that the things of this world temporarily impart. This is transcendent peace that outshines any competition. It is indomitable in nature. It can literally scare the hell out of the people and environments around us. It is in the next verse that Jesus tells his followers that He is sending them out to all the world to represent Him. What would we be like if we didn't have any fear? If nothing could trouble our heart? Though troubles and fears are in the air all around us, He says that we do not have to let them in by staying more aware of His presence with us and the satisfying peace that attends it.
Peace be with you and with us all this day, my friends. Feel it. Drink it in. Relish it. Revel in it. Embrace it. Breathe it in. It's all around us and within us already. I feel it in my bones this morning as I write these words!
A VOICE OF HOPE
Michael Sullivant's Blog
I am a child of God, husband, father, grandfather, spiritual father, author, speaker and hope coach.