When Forgiveness is Difficult.

Have you ever wondered why sometimes it’s so hard to forgive? We know that we ought to forgive and we know that forgiving is good for us, so why does it sometimes seem impossible?
Beloveds, many times it’s because when someone we love betrays our trust, the pain we feel is so intense, all we want is to lash out because we feel so helpless.
Listen to how David lamented about being betrayed by a close friend in Psalm 55:12-14,
“For it is not an enemy who taunts me—
then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—
    then I could hide from him.
 But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend.
 We used to take sweet counsel together;
    within God's house we walked in the throng” (ESV).
If it had been an enemy who had betrayed him, David could have handled it. But this was a close friend, a counselor, someone with whom he had shared the secrets of his heart. That kind of betrayal is so very painful! Why? Because when we’ve opened our hearts and given our trust and that trust is broken, there’s no place to hide from the pain.
Have you ever stubbed your toe on a table, and you’re jumping around holding your foot  when the other person in the room says something like, “What happened?” and you feel like you want to bite their head off? (I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s ever experienced this!) There’s something about the intensity of the pain combined with feeling like that table leg just jumped out and blindsided us that makes conversation impossible!
You may say, “But, Suzanne, when my toe stops hurting, I can talk to my friend again. And I don’t have to forgive the table leg, I’m the one who stubbed my own toe!” And you’d be quite right! But that sensation of pain and feeling like something hit us from out of nowhere is what makes us want to lash out, and forgiveness is the farthest thing from our minds.
When we stub our toe, or fall out of a tree, hit our thumb with a hammer, or bump our head on a shelf, it’s obvious that we have been physically wounded. We can put some ice on it, go see a doctor, take an aspirin, certainly pray over it, and in a little while we’ll feel better.
But when someone hurts us emotionally or spiritually the wounds are very painful, and they go very deep. What’s more, they’re invisible and we don’t have any way to bandage them up.
To make things worse, we not only feel excruciating pain, but we can also be shocked, embarrassed, confused, and angry. Sometimes we feel so angry, we forget that before we got angry, first we got hurt.
If we jump straight from pain to anger we don’t realize that we’ve been wounded, and while we’re feeling the anger, our wound is going untreated.
If a person falls out of a tree and breaks their leg, they don’t stay up at night planning ways to get revenge on the tree. They treat the wounded leg.
Likewise, when we are hurt emotionally or spiritually, the first thing we should do is treat the wound, not look for someone to blame. When we’ve been hurt, first we must tend to the hurt, then we can deal with the issues behind it.
That, Beloveds, is where forgiveness comes in.
Where we get confused is where we think what we’re dealing with is anger, but what we’re really dealing with is pain. We think that forgiveness is a way to let the person who hurt us “off the hook,” so they’ll never have to take responsibility for their actions. And because we’re angry, that’s the last thing we think will satisfy us.
But here’s how it really works…
Forgiveness is the medicine, the healing balm that we apply to the situation, that heals the painful wound.
The equation is: Forgiveness = Healing = Freedom.
This means that as soon as we are wounded, instead of leaping over the pain straight to anger, we stop, and realize our condition: “I am hurt!”
Where there is loss, there is pain and there is grief. It is important that we acknowledge this and not run away. When we feel the loss, the pain, and the grief, our hearts remain soft and open. When we run from them, our hearts become hard and we turn to rage and blame.
In Ephesians 4:32, Paul reminds us to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (ESV).”
To be kind to one another, first we must be tenderhearted. To be tenderhearted, we must stay present with what we’re feeling and not close off our hearts. To forgive, we must remember that we have been forgiven.
When we remember that we have been forgiven, we also remember that we are not alone. When we remember that Christ’s Holy Spirit lives within us, to help us, guide us and comfort us, we turn away from anger and we turn toward our Savior.
We need the help of our Savior because forgiving is difficult, and often we can’t do it on our own.
But look what Isaiah prophesied about Jesus, as paraphrased in The Message translation:
He was looked down on and passed over,
    a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
    We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
    our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
    that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
    that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
    Through his bruises we get healed (Isaiah 53:4-5).
The English Standard Version says, “…and with his wounds we are healed” (53:5b).
Jesus was wounded for our sins. Our sins, and all the suffering they cause, were placed on him. And he suffered our punishment.
Yet he said, “…Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34a ESV).
When we find it difficult to forgive, we must stop - realize that we’ve been wounded, and be present with the pain. Then we can turn to Jesus immediately, because he knows what it means to be wounded by sin. By his wounds, and through his forgiveness, we are healed, and with his help we can forgive, as we have been forgiven.
Remember, we are not alone. As God said to Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 ESV).
Is there anyone in your life, including yourself, that you haven’t been able to forgive? If so, you’ve been wounded, and your wounds need healing! Please stop chasing after the person who hurt you and turn to the one who died to save you. He will teach you to forgive, and his love will set you free.
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36 ESV).

The Key to Overcoming Anxiety.

Many times and in many ways the Bible tells us to “be anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4:6). In fact, Paul reassures us that if we will not be anxious but in all things make our requests known to God, God will give us – not earthly peace, but his peace – and his heavenly peace will guard our hearts and minds in the power and authority of Jesus Christ (4:6-7).
What keeps us from believing this, and why are we still so anxious and filled with worry?
Jesus gave us the key to understanding in his sermon on the mount. Let’s have a look at what he said:
““Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25 ESV).
He begins by telling us not to be anxious about anything in our lives; things as essential as where our next meal is coming from, to things like clothing that we sometimes take for granted, like clothing, that for some can mean the difference between freezing to death or surviving another day.
And honestly, if we back up a few verses in chapter 6, we read that Jesus actually begins this thought by telling the multitude not to be lovers of money. He’s telling us, as he told them, that we are not to be anxious for any of the “essentials” – not money, not food, not clothing, not even about our very lives.
That may have been easy for Jesus to say because after all, he is the Son of God, who turns water into wine and serves up bread from the storerooms of heaven. But the question is, how are we supposed to not be anxious? Especially today, when being anxious has become a way of life for so many people.
Beloved Friends, Jesus is saying that God never intended for us to constantly suffer from anxiety. Anxious worry was never built into God’s original design for humanity. Worry arises as a symptom of mankind’s fallen condition, and even after we are saved, we can become anxious because we occupy a broken world where everything seems to be falling apart. Life on earth can be scary and painful, and God is invisible so it's hard to walk by faith. We love Jesus, but we're worried about what’s going to happen next!
Jesus knew this. And because he knew this, he gave us keys that unlock the chains of worry. Let’s listen to what the Master said:
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (6:31-32).
It’s perfectly fine to eat food and wear whatever kind of clothing suits us. God knows that we need these things, and he intends that we have them. The point isn’t whether we should eat food or get dressed. The point is not to be anxious about our lives at all.
Jesus goes on to instruct us that instead, we should “…seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (6:33).
Ok, now we’re getting somewhere, but how exactly do we seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness? What does that mean?
Let’s look for a minute at what Paul wrote to our Brothers and Sisters at Philippi:
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13 ESV).
Both Jesus and Paul are telling us that the key to overcoming worry can be found not in our strength or in any earthly means of support, but rather that the secret to being content in all circumstances is found in God’s strength and in his kingdom.
Ok, but how do we do that? Peter gives us another key when he says, “…Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:5-7 ESV).
So, through Peter, the Holy Spirit is saying that instead of worrying about what kinds of earthly things we should “put on,” we should be “clothing” ourselves with humility. That when we hang on to anxiety, we are operating from a place of pride because we’re depending on our own strength and not on God. And that the way to clothe ourselves with humility is to literally cast, or “throw” (Greek: epiripto) all our cares onto Jesus. Because he cares for us! And he is mighty! He can handle everything better than we can, so why are we worried?
This is what Paul was talking about when he wrote to the Philippians, “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19 NLT).
Jesus preached in his Sermon on the Mount that our Father God knows everything we need. Paul wrote that even in terrible circumstances, he had learned how to be content. Peter instructs us that when we have cares and worries, we are to literally throw them onto God. Are we seeing a pattern forming here?
Let’s look one more time at what Paul said: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13 ESV).
Notice that he didn’t say something like, “God has seen to it that no bad thing ever happens to me.” Or, “God promised me that I will always be rolling in dough and my bank account will always be full!” (The “dough” God gives us is the Bread from Heaven, but that’s for another post!) Or, “I’m not worried because I’ve worked so hard for God, he owes me big time!” No, Paul didn’t say any of those things, because he was a seasoned, mature man of God. He knew better than to boast or complain, because he had years of experience serving God in a broken world under his Belt of Truth.
Paul knew that times could get tough. He also knew that good times would come, when he could rest and be comforted. But he wasn’t filled with worry about future challenges, nor was he overly impressed when he was showered with abundance. Paul had learned that the secret to being content in all circumstances is only unlocked with one key. And that key is remembering that in fact we CAN do ALL things, but ONLY by depending on Christ and HIS strength, following God's will, and not our own.
When we cast all our cares on God and depend on him to see us through both the good times and the bad, we can live our lives in peace and confidence, knowing that no matter what happens, God will make a way to see us through.
Let’s close with Peter’s final words to the church, before he was executed by the emperor Nero in Rome, around 64 AD:
“…Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’
 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (2 Peter 5:5-11 ESV).
So dear Friends, cast all your cares onto God. He is standing by your side, ready to strengthen you, equip you, and establish you in everything that he has called you to do. Don't worry about tomorrow. Jesus is also waiting there ahead of you, in every moment of your future, to guide your every step. There is nothing to fear. He's got you in the palms of his hands.

Meditative Prayer

Have you ever come across a special Bible verse, maybe in your morning devotional or on your favorite Christian blog that spoke directly to something you were going through and you wanted to remember it, but found that it had completely slipped your mind after about fifteen minutes? Me too, and it’s not because we’re over fifty, it’s because we just have too darn many distractions, all day, every day!
 Meditative Prayer is an easy and enjoyable way that we can carry helpful scriptures with us, revisit them throughout the day, and even end up automatically committing them to memory so that they’re always on tap when we need them. Plus, Meditative Prayer is a simple method that takes us into the deeper meaning behind the scriptures, providing fresh insight every time we use it.
Want to get started? Here’s how…
You’ll need your Bible; your favorite pen, markers or pencils; and a package of 3x5 note cards or something to write on that you can easily carry with you.
Next, think about your favorite scriptures, a situation you may be dealing with, or a topic from the Bible that strengthens you and brings you comfort.
One of my favorites is from Isaiah, and I meditate on it when I’m feeling exhausted or overwhelmed:
 “but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
    they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint”
(Isaiah 40:31 ESV).
Let’s say that you’ve just come across this verse for the first time, and you’d like to be able to understand it better and remember it when you need it.
Here’s what to do:
Take a few minutes to prayerfully ask the Holy Spirit to help you either find the verse that he wants you to meditate on, or use one of your favorite scriptures, or the verse we’ve written above.
Write your scripture on your 3x5 card, remembering to add the chapter and verse so you can find it again later.
Now just set everything aside for a few minutes, and slowly read the scripture you’ve written on your card. Speak it out loud if you can.
Remember that Jesus said, “’It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4 ESV).
That literally means that God’s Word is spiritual food. It is heavenly bread that feeds our spirits. When we practice Meditative Prayer, what we are doing is taking a portion of God’s Word and we chew on it – as if every word of scripture is a bite of delicious bread.
 In fact, the word meditate can mean to ponder, mutter, reckon, chew on, weigh, add up, consider or decide. Have you ever seen a mama cow, ruminating – or chewing on – delicious grass? That’s how we want to ruminate on our scriptures. Chew and digest. Chew and digest.
Let’s look again at our sample from Isaiah, starting with the first line:
“but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;”
In Meditative Prayer, we read the line to ourselves, ruminating on one word or idea at a time, like this:
We say to ourselves, “they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.” Then we ask ourselves, “What does it mean to wait on the Lord? How can I wait on him? Lord, are you asking me to just be still and wait? Ok, I’m waiting for you, Lord. You know what’s best for me!”
Next, we ruminate on “shall renew their strength,” and we say to ourselves something like, “Waiting on the Lord is renewing my strength. Lord, when I stop what I’m doing and wait for you – when I’m in your timing and not mine – I can relax. Thank you, Jesus, that I can wait for you and trust you. Your timing is perfect, I don’t have to hurry.”
Then we take the next line, “they shall mount up with wings like eagles,” and we meditate on those words thinking something like, “Lord, I want to rise up above everything I’m dealing with, like a soaring eagle. I want to see things from a higher perspective. Help me rise up on eagle’s wings as I wait for you. Please renew my strength!”
Next, “they shall run and not be weary;” and we say, “Lord, I have been truly weary. Help me to run the race you’ve set before me. Help me to run this race with joy and not complaining. Give me your strength, Lord Jesus!”
And finally, “they shall walk and not faint,” and we say, “Jesus, I know that everywhere I walk, you go with me. You promised that you would never leave me or forsake me. You’ll never let go of my hand. Help me to walk through this broken world. Help me to walk, and not faint from weariness or be afraid. Lord, help me to be patient and wait on you, and renew my strength!”
Can you see how this is a mixture of both prayer and meditation? This method of Meditative Prayer teaches us how to incorporate God’s word into our prayers and makes his promises a part of our conversation with him. When we pray God’s Word, we remind ourselves of – and we let God know that we have heard and believe – his promises.
The key is to take your scripture card with you, and meditate on it throughout the day, It only takes a few minutes, and you’ll find that each time you pull out your card and chew on your scripture the Holy Spirit will reveal a deeper understanding of the verse to you, as you nourish your spirit on God’s bread from heaven.
We’ve listed several scriptures on what the Bible says about comfort on our Words of Comfort page, at https://speakcomfort.com/words-of-comfort/ , and here are some other verses from the English Standard Version translation that you can write on your prayer cards to get started:
When you need patience:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).
 
When you feel lonely:
fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).
 
Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land (Psalm 68:5-6).
 
For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called (Isaiah 54:5).
 
When you feel afraid, or are facing a challenge:
 
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (John 14:27).
 
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2).
I sought the Lord and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed (Psalm 34:4-5).
When you want to praise God:
I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth (Psalm 34:1).
 
Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together! (Psalm 34:34:3)
 
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:6)
For peaceful rest and sleep:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:6-7).
 
If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet (Proverbs 3:24).
 
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
 
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble, therefore we will not fear…Be still, and know that I am God…the Lord Almighty is with us (Psalm 46:1-2, 10-11).

The Problem of Evil and Suffering: Part Four – It’s Not All Doom and Gloom!

“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad” (Psalm 126:1-3 ESV).
Beloved, even in the midst of trials and suffering, God wants us to be able to rejoice in him, because he has done great things for us and he wants us to be glad.
One of the things that sets us apart as believers in Christ is our ability to rejoice and give glory to God in the presence of even our deepest pain. But how is this possible? How can we as just regular people manage to see beyond loss, or suffering, or grief and give God thanks in the middle of a terrible storm?
We can do this because, as the prophet Ezra said in the book of Nehemiah, we are assured that “The joy of the Lord is our strength,” and that as Jesus said to his disciples as he prepared them to face his coming crucifixion, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (Nehemiah 8:10; John 15:11 ESV).
God intends for our joy to be full, not because we are able to continuously make ourselves happy (because we surely can’t!), and not because our circumstances always make us happy (because they surely won't!), but because the joy of Christ abides within us. Jesus made it a point to tell his closest followers that he wanted them – and all who were to follow him after them – to be filled with his joy. It is through the Lord’s joy abiding in us that we find our greatest happiness and strength.
What is it, then, that makes God so happy that his happiness overflows to fill us with joy so that our joy is full?
In the gospel of Luke, chapter 15, Jesus gave us several parables about what happens when something that is lost has been found. He said that when a shepherd finds his lost sheep he picks it up, carries it on his shoulders and calls all of his friends and says, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that is lost.” Jesus told the story of a woman who lost a part of her dowry, a silver coin, and she lit every candle and swept her house clean until she found it and said to all her friends and neighbors, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.”
Jesus said, “Just so I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10 ESV).
Notice that Jesus said that there is joy “before the angels.” Who is it that is rejoicing in front of the angels of heaven but God himself!
To illustrate this Jesus goes on to tell the parable of the wealthy father whose youngest boy leaves home, squanders his fortune and winds up eating food that he was supposed to be feeding to pigs. When this young man finally realized that even the servants in his father’s house were being treated better than he was, he set out toward home, hoping that since he had thrown away his birthright, maybe his father would be willing to take him in as a servant.
But what the young man found was not that his father had turned away from him in anger as he deserved, but he had been watching and waiting for him to come to his senses and come home. Jesus said that when the young man was still a long way off, in the distance he saw his father running toward him, and when he reached his prodigal son, the father threw himself on the boy’s neck and kissed him. He covered him with a royal robe and placed shoes on his feet and his signet ring on his hand – the declaration that everything that belonged to the father belonged to his son. And then his father threw him a big welcome home party! (See Luke 15:11-32.)
The prodigal son knew that his behavior warranted him being an outcast from his father’s house, but his father’s love for him was so strong that as soon as his son turned toward home, he ran to meet him, clothe him in his finest garments and acknowledge him before everyone. He said to his servants, “’For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found,’ and they began to celebrate” (15:24).
Beloved Friends, we are that prodigal child, God is our Father, and his servants are the angels in heaven. His greatest joy is not only for us, but God’s greatest rejoicing is because of us. Our Father rejoices in the presence of his angels whenever a child of his turns toward home.
Our Father wants us to remember him, to trust him, and to come back to him so that he can acknowledge us as his children before all of creation.
But how can we do this? What makes this possible? Here’s a really cool thing about the story of the prodigal’s return…did you know that the younger son had an older brother?
He did, indeed, but in the story that Jesus told, the elder brother was a little put-out when his little brother came home, and dad threw him a party instead of grounding him for the rest of his life. After all, big brother had stayed home, tended his father’s flocks, always been obedient, and never asked for anything. But he never got a party.
In fact, he complained to his dad when he said, “…Look, these many years I have served you, and I never  disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends” (15:29).
Obviously, that’s not the cool part of the story, because elder brother was totally not cool.
But have you ever wondered why, since the father had two sons, he didn’t send the elder boy to go out and fetch the younger? I don’t see any indication in the story that big brother ever even got it into his head to bring the boy home.
So, here’s the cool part…if we are the sons and daughters, and God is our Father, and the angels are his servants, who is the real Elder Brother? Who did the Father actually send to fetch the prodigal children?
Of course, you know already that it’s Jesus. You see, God – our heavenly Father – loves us so much, that he sent his beloved Son, his only Begotten Son, in whom God is well pleased, to come down here where we are, in this classroom where we are learning about the nature of good and evil, to fight for us, pay the price for us, rescue us, and bring us all the way home.
The best story of all is that we have a Savior, who not only loves us but was willing to die on the cross to save us and redeem us from all the effects that this world filled with sin has had on us.
Beloved Friends, we have a Hero. And not just any Hero, but the King of kings and Lord of lords. The Lion of Judah. The Light of the World. The Prince of Peace. The Lord of Hosts. The Big Kahuna. Very God of Very God. Lord Almighty.
He is our Elder Brother, and he is on our side. He’s got our back. He goes before us, he walks beside us, and he’s got all our bases covered. He has done great things for us. We do not have to be afraid, because God has a mighty plan for each one of us.
Psalm 126 closes this way: “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him” (v. 4-6 ESV).
All of this is true because “...God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17 ESV).
Because God sent his only Begotten Son to bring his children home, no matter what circumstances we face, we can praise him and rejoice because the joy of the Lord will forever be our strength.

 

We Will Never Forget.

The Lord Is My Shepherd
A Psalm of David.
 
 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
  He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name's sake.
 
 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.
 
You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
 
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.
 
(Psalm 23 ESV)

The Problem of Evil and Suffering: Part Three – Why Does God Allow Suffering?

“Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does” (1 Peter 5:8-11 MSG).
As photos begin to emerge of the catastrophic impact of hurricane Dorian on the Bahamas and her people – and as Georgia and North and South Carolina brace for the storm’s arrival – it’s a struggle to find words that won’t in any way minimize the fear, shock and devastation that many thousands are experiencing right now. I assure you that our hearts are crying with you, our prayers are constantly with you, and that God has not abandoned you – and he never will.
It is during times of extreme suffering that God’s grace and mercy are most present. These are the times when he most yearns to comfort us. These are the situations where he most desires to pour the balm of his healing presence into the chaos of our circumstances.
Why does God allow suffering? If God is all-loving and all-powerful, why doesn’t he stop suffering before it starts? Is there any value in our suffering, or are we just random victims of fate? Where is God when we suffer? Can we trust a God who allows so much evil and suffering to exist in the world? Is there any hope?
Dear Friends, one of the things that suffering teaches us is that we are not in control. That can be a bitter pill to swallow and a difficult lesson to learn, but it is an essential component in establishing of our faith.
Hebrews 11:1-3 says “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony.
By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (NKJV).
These verses tell us that the same God who formed the heavens and the earth and all that is in them is always working behind the scenes – in ways that for us are invisible. And that our faith is the the evidence that we do know and believe that God – and nothing but God – is in control of the universe and all creation, even though we cannot begin to understand the magnitude of his plan.
Jude, a half-brother of Jesus, encouraged us to build ourselves up in faith by praying in the Holy Spirit (1:20), and the author of Hebrews stated that “… without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (11:6 NKJV).
This world is full of suffering, and the suffering we experience is painful and real. In fact, Paul writes that “… we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering” (Romans 8:22-23a NLT).
God knows that because of the effects of sin in this world, we all experience suffering. And he knows that his entire creation is groaning, like a woman in labor, waiting for the pains to be over – and for the joy of new birth to arrive.
Paul said that after long, considered study, he had come to the conclusion that even though the sufferings that we experience are extreme, he was convinced that the glory that would be revealed in the fullness of God’s plan for us will demonstrate beyond any doubt that it has all been worth it (Romans 8:16-39).
Beloved, God knows who you are, and God knows everything that you’ve suffered. And Almighty God, who stepped down from his throne in heaven to become fully human like each one of us, and who experiences every suffering with us, will not allow one moment of our suffering to be wasted.
“You haven’t received the spirit of slaves that leads you into fear again. Instead, you have received the spirit of God’s adopted children by which we call out, ‘Abba! Father!’  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. If we are his children, we are also God’s heirs. If we share in Christ’s suffering in order to share his glory, we are heirs together with him” (Romans 8:15-17 GW).
We share in Christ’s suffering, because he shared in our suffering. His suffering is our suffering, and our suffering is his suffering. That is what he took upon himself when he became not only fully God but also fully human, and bore the punishment for our sin and the pain of ALL our suffering, at the cross.
The prophet Isaiah witnessed this in the spirit when he said that the Suffering Servant who was to come would be a man of sorrows who was acquainted with grief:
“He certainly has taken upon himself our suffering
        and carried our sorrows,
            but we thought that God had wounded him,
                beat him, and punished him.
 He was wounded for our rebellious acts.
        He was crushed for our sins.
            He was punished so that we could have peace,
                and we received healing from his wounds” (Isaiah 53:4-5 GW).
Therefore Beloved, whenever we suffer, we can be completely assured that Christ is with us and he will bear our burdens and wipe away every tear from our eyes. Not only in the kingdom that is to come but here now, where the suffering still exists. We are not alone, and although we do suffer, we do not suffer alone. Because Jesus was willing to go beyond all comfort, he is with us and he will comfort us. His assurance in the presence of our suffering is the basis for our faith.
You know the story of bold, brash Peter, who walked on water – for just a minute or two; and who insisted that no matter what happened he would stick with Jesus through thick and thin – only to deny him three times. Friends, I can imagine that Peter’s suffering before the cross was unbearable. But listen to what one of Jesus’ closest disciples says to encourage us in him: “Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world” (1 Peter 4:12-13 NLT).
Scripture tells us that in this world we will experience suffering, but that in our suffering not only are we partners in Christ, but he is partners with us. He is the stronger and we are the weaker partner. Because we understand that we are weak and he is strong, it is important for us to cast our cares onto him and not try and bear the burden of suffering on our own.
Peter said this about our relationship to Christ in suffering, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God [set aside self-righteous pride], so that He may exalt you [to a place of honor in His service] at the appropriate time, casting all your cares [all your anxieties, all your worries, and all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares about you [with deepest affection, and watches over you very carefully]” (1 Peter 5:6-7 AMP).
Beloved, God watches over us very carefully. If you are experiencing any kind of suffering today, please be assured that God is standing by to help.
“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope’” (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT).

 

Continued in Part Four.

The Problem of Evil and Suffering: Part Two – The Dilemma of Choice and the Beginning of Sin.

In the very first verse of scripture, Genesis 1:1, Moses wrote that God created the heavens and the earth. As the creation story unfolds, God calls forth light and darkness; day and night; the sun, moon and stars; the earth and the seas; the plants, and all the living creatures that swim, walk and fly; and he brought forth the first man and first woman.
“God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31a ESV).
In the paradise he made for human beings to occupy, God’s creation was only good.
“And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9 ESV).
“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying ‘You may surely eat of every tree in the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat…” (2:16-17a).
When God gave Adam the first rule, he also gave him the first “choice” – to obey or not to obey. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was just like any other tree in the garden, as long as Adam obeyed God’s only commandment, and did not taste its fruit. As long as Adam’s choice was to obey God, the creation surrounding Adam remained very good.
But when Eve and then Adam chose to disregard God’s commandment and partake of the only thing in the garden that was forbidden them, the paradise that God created for them was lost and they fell into another world. They could no longer live in a reality where everything was only good, because suddenly, within them now resided not only the knowledge of good, but also of evil.
As soon as Adam and Eve had eaten the fruit, they realized that they were naked, and for the first time they experienced shame, and hurried to cover themselves.
Then they heard God walking in the garden, and for the first time they experienced guilt, and rushed to hide.
When God asked them what they had done, for the first time, they pointed fingers of blame.
Scripture says that the tree from which God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat was called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It wasn’t that the tree bore “evil fruit,” but that eating the fruit from that tree would give the eater a specific kind of knowledge.
Can you see that once Adam and Eve made the choice to disobey God, the knowledge of evil entered their hearts and sin itself immediately began to multiply? 
As they moved further into sin, they moved further away from intimacy with God until it became necessary for God to remove them from their original location.
Paul wrote about his personal struggle with sin in Romans chapter 7, and The Message translation puts it this way:
“Don’t you remember how it was? I do, perfectly well. The law code started out as an excellent piece of work. What happened, though, was that sin found a way to pervert the command into a temptation, making a piece of ‘forbidden fruit’ out of it. The law code, instead of being used to guide me, was used to seduce me. Without all the paraphernalia of the law code, sin looked pretty dull and lifeless, and I went along without paying much attention to it. But once sin got its hands on the law code and decked itself out in all that finery, I was fooled, and fell for it. The very command that was supposed to guide me into life was cleverly used to trip me up, throwing me headlong. So sin was plenty alive, and I was stone dead. But the law code itself is God’s good and common sense, each command sane and holy counsel” (Romans 7:8-11).
God specifically cautioned Adam that on the day he ate of the forbidden fruit he would surely die in Genesis 2:17, and Romans 6:23 confirms that the result of sin is death.
When satan, the enemy of our souls, deceived Adam and Eve into breaking God’s only commandment, he seduced them and all the generations after them into a condition of “sin-death” that has corrupted everything around us. As a result of their choice to disobey God, Adam and Eve were banished from paradise into a world that was ruined and broken by sin.
That is the world that we occupy today.
It is not the world that God originally designed to house his creation. However, it has been allowed to continue by God, in order that we would have a classroom within which to learn the knowledge of both good and evil and the struggle that exists between them as two opposing principles.
Shortly after the fall, Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. In the course of time, both sons of Adam brought offerings to the Lord. God accepted Abel’s offering but rejected the offering of Cain, and Cain was very angry (Genesis 4).
God said to Cain, “…’Why are you angry…? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it’” (4:6-7 ESV).
Soon afterward, jealous Cain murdered his innocent brother Abel.
This pattern of God presenting mankind with a choice between good and evil and the tendency of human beings to reject God’s will and choose evil has repeated itself since the time of the fall.
Over the years I have heard people respond to the question of why God allows sin and suffering with the answer that when God created human beings, he created us with free will so that ultimately we could make the choice to love and obey God of our own volition and not as automatons. God endowed us with free will, so that we would use our free will to choose God’s way over satan’s way. And this answer is true. God did endow us with the power to choose, and his desire is for us to choose him out of a pure heart.
However, we must put that understanding in context.
Because of the choice made by Adam and Eve and their subsequent fall, every human being since then has been born into a world that is designed to highlight the struggle between good and evil.
Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit because they wanted something that they did not have, and that something was knowledge. The knowledge not just of unpolluted good, but the knowledge of both good and evil. Therefore, in response to their desire for that knowledge, God created this world to be a classroom and in this classroom the knowledge we gain is not just an idea or a concept. In it we come to understand the interplay of the forces of good and evil through hard-won experience. Because the knowledge that Adam and Eve chose to pursue was real, the experience required to gain it must also be real and therefore we experience the effects of sin directly.
But please keep in mind that even though the world we occupy is broken and the lessons are difficult, God has not left us alone and he hasn’t left us as orphans. He knows that in this world we will have tribulation, but he has already given us his plan to overcome the world and he helps us to endure through trials and suffering.
“No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it” (1 Corinthians 10:13 MSG).
We will continue in Part Three.

The Problem of Evil and Suffering: Part One – It’s Ok to Have Questions.

One of the big questions people ask about God is “Why does a loving God allow pain, suffering and evil to exist in the world?” Or, when faced with an insurmountable tragedy a suffering person may ask, “Why did God allow this to happen to me and my loved ones?”
Why do bad things happen to good people? And why don’t bad things happen to bad people? Where is God when bad things happen? Can an all-powerful God still be loving when he allows people to suffer?
Beloved Friends, it isn’t wrong to ask these kinds of questions. God wants us to come to him and ask about everything that concerns us. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8 ESV).
God wants us to seek him and he invites our questions. Even the hard ones. He not only wants us to ask and seek but when we do, he also wants to give us answers. Most often his answers come to us as direct revelation through his Word. Sometimes he reveals his truths through pastors, teachers, friends and counselors. Many times, his answers unfold only through time and experience and require the application of our patience to bloom into wisdom. As we mature, we realize that God’s answers are deeper and wider than we ever imagined as over the years he reveals more and more of his character to us.
In this series, we will explore some of these difficult questions, and the plan that God put in place from before the beginning of the world to help us cope with suffering in our lives today.
As Jesus said to his disciples, “…I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world” (John 16:33b MSG).
Please stay tuned for Part Two.

A Year of Blessings!

All of us here at Speak Comfort want to say thank you so very much to you, our readers, who fellowship, worship, and study with us. Our first year has been wonderful because of you.  We love each one of you. It is such a blessing and privilege to be part of your lives in this way.
My precious friend Jeanette and I could not have built and tended this beautiful site without our extremely talented web development team. We thank God for their expert help every day. We are constantly amazed by everything they do behind the scenes to make this work.
Our aim and prayer are to bring you the best possible content.  We hope to create some wonderful additions during the next few months, so please stay tuned!
Above all else, we give praise and thanks to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for every blessing that he pours into every one of our lives. Our desire is to serve you for his glory.
We pray for you every day, in Jesus’ name!
The Lord bless you and keep you;
 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
(Numbers 6:24-26 ESV)

How to Thrive Through the Struggle: Have a Snack and a Nap.

Elijah is one of the most famous prophets of the Old Testament. 1 Kings chapter 18 tells the story of how he called on God to defeat the prophets of Baal who served the wicked Queen Jezebel and King Ahab. When Elijah called on God saying, “’Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back [to you]’” (1 Kings 18:37 ESV), God sent fire from heaven to obliterate the altar Elijah built on Mount Carmel while all of Israel stood by, amazed.
After this great victory which caused the Israelites to abandon pagan worship and proclaim “’The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God!’” (1 Kings 18:39 ESV), the enraged Jezebel vowed to murder God’s prophet. Exhausted from his mighty labors, Elijah fled into the wilderness and hid himself under a broom tree, crying out to God, “…’It is enough, now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am not better than my fathers’” (1 Kings 19:1-4 ESV).
Have you ever been so worn out from serving that even after experiencing a wonderful success you were just too tired to go on and felt that you wanted to quit? Have you ever cried out to God and said, “Lord, I love you, but I just can not handle another thing”? Or maybe simply cried out, “Help me, Jesus!” when you felt you couldn’t manage to take another step in the direction the Lord was leading you?
If so, Beloveds, you are not alone. Think of Elijah, who suffered from prophetic burn-out; Naomi, the mother-in-law who wanted to change her name to “bitterness” (Ruth 1:20); John the Baptist, losing his cool before he lost his head in prison (Matthew 11:1-6); and Martha, who worked her fingers to the bone, threw her sister Mary under the bus and fussed at Jesus for being so hard to serve (Luke 10:38-42). Even Solomon, the most powerful king and wisest man in the world, wrote the book of Ecclesiastes to remind us that though there is a time for everything in its season, nevertheless life is full of vanity and there’s nothing new under the sun.
But listen, here’s how God responded to Elijah’s desperate plea:
“And [Elijah] lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Arise and eat.’ And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again” (1 Kings 19:5-6 ESV).
God sent an angel from heaven with a hot meal and plenty of fresh water, and after Elijah ate and then slept for a while, God sent the angel again…
“And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, ‘Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.’  And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God (v. 7-8).
Beloved Friends, God knows that there will be times when the journey is too hard for us to manage. When the broken roads we sometimes travel seem too long and full of potholes, God wants us to come to him to be nourished and refreshed.
Our Creator knows that it’s important for us to make time to eat and rest. We need spiritual food that we find in the Word of God, and we also need earthly food. We need spiritual rest and we need earthly rest.
As Jesus walked beside the sea of Galilee, a great multitude of the lame, blind and sick came to him to be healed. “Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way’…and Jesus said to them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ They said, ‘Seven, and a few small fish’…he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over” (Matthew 15:32,34,36-37 ESV).
Of course, this story of the miracle of Jesus feeding four thousand men, in addition to women and children, with just a few loaves and fishes is a Bible study all its own. But notice here that Jesus took the earthly bread that his followers brought to him and through it manifested heavenly food for the crowds. Jesus pulled bread from the storerooms of heaven to feed his people. God sent an angel with bread and water to feed his prophet Elijah.
God is the source of our heavenly food and our earthly food, and he wants to provide for us everything we need to strengthen us for the journey ahead. He knows that earthly life can be difficult and that sometimes it is too hard for us to handle.
But Jesus said, “I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”
Jesus is the Word of God, and the Word of God is fresh bread and pure water, straight from heaven, that nourishes our souls and our spirits.
God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, and he gives us all good things to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17).
So when you feel exhausted, like Elijah; or you’re starting to feel a little bitter, like Naomi; or you want to blame everybody around you because you’re working too hard, like Martha, it’s time to stop, eat a good meal and get some rest. Then pick up your Bible and let God feed your spirit. Jesus doesn’t want to send us away hungry. He wants us to be strong and rested for the journey, because he doesn’t want us to miss out on any of the treasures that he has hidden for us along the way. After all, Elijah ultimately got to take a ride in God’s chariot (2 Kings 2:11).
But even with all the miracles he witnessed, what he really needed to keep going was a snack and a nap.