“The Why? in Suffering”

cloud-of-missoryMy Sunday school class is currently studying, the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7.  As a matter of fact, my pastor-husband Earl, is doing a 4-part sermon series at Charlestons Presbyterian Church on the Sermon on the Mount, as well. As many know, the beginning of the sermon starts with what are referred to as the Beatitudes, which means “exalted happiness.”  Declared as blessed are the poor in spirit, those who  mourn, the gentle, those who hunger and thirst, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who have been persecuted – those that have been insulted and accused falsely.

But here are listed human frailties as well – people who are suffering in one form or another.  This crowd of people, who because of their gentleness or humbleness, those who were merciful toward others, those who tried to stay pure and make peace, could also be ridiculed and thought less valuable by many people.

Recently, a fellow employee at the company in which I work asked me why there is suffering.  She was watching the death of someone she cared about and could not fathom why he must suffer and why family and friends had to endure the suffering of someone they loved so deeply.  Upon his death, she told me she was asked to give the eulogy. She was wondering what she could possibly say. aged-woman

The question of suffering is not a new one.  It has been pondered by humans in every generation.  But I did offer her an answer that has allowed me to somewhat better accept the suffering of my fellow man and lay all my hope in God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  I tried to offer her a little of God’s comforting presence by allowing her to see God’s promises through His Word.  I told her that her faith in knowing Him would allow Him to help her become closer to Him and to understand suffering.

According to Genesis, we came into being because God created us.  “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).  In knowing this, I know that my soul (the living being within me, that makes me animate), living in this shell called a body, belongs to God.  And God has every right to have us returned to Him.

I’ve learned in my sorrows, and that without them, I would be less than human, not more.  Without human sorrows, we haven’t loved enough, felt compassion enough or been in a relationship with other God-breathed sisters and brothers.  Without sorrow, I wouldn’t be like Christ, Who wept at the death of Lazarus, (John 11: 1-36).  And Jesus promised Martha concerning Lazarus, “your brother shall rise again.” John 11:23.

In our seeking out God due to the suffering we face, we are calling out to the Great Comforter.  We are mourning the loss of someone we love.  We are showing to others our compassionate spirit and that God dwells within us.  We show that we have feelings and that we are not apathetic or stoic or spiritually dead on the inside.

Praise God that He uses our suffering to offer others the extreme privilege of showing compassion to others.  Without suffering, we would never know deepest love and compassion.  If no one ever suffered, no one would ever learn to help those who are less fortunate or in need.  Jesus was surrounded by those who suffered, and He showed them all God’s compassion.  We are to be like Him.

crosses-of-golgathaJesus suffered immensely on the cross even while His mother suffered at the foot of the cross.  But Mary knew Who Jesus was and knew His suffering was for the good of all mankind.  Suffering can bring Christ to His lost sheep – touching the very souls of those who are afflicted by turning them to Jesus Christ Who had compassion and love for all people, and Who died that they might all be saved and be granted eternal blessedness.

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Message of the Beatitudes – Seven- Peacemaker

     “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.”  Matthew 5:9

     So here I am, wondering, do I have what it takes to be a “PEACEMAKER”?

     There could be a difference between a peacemaker and a peacekeeper.  It might be helpful to distinguish between them.  Personally, I believe a peacekeeper is one who tries to a great extent to avoid conflict. This is someone who will not cause waves in a situation.  They just want to keep the peace.  I believe that I might be basically just a peacekeeper. 

     On the contrary, I believe a peacemaker may even have to bring conflict to the surface between individuals to help reconcile any differences.  These are people who are not afraid to iron things out.

The key difference is; a peacekeeper knows that conflict exists but tries to avoid any flare-ups between parties.  A peacemaker takes the potentially hazardous conflict and attempts to reconcile the parties by putting an end to the controversy.

I believe peacemaking requires more Christian attributes and gifts than does peacekeeping.  Peacemaking requires forgiveness whereas peacekeeping may avoid the discussion of forgiveness altogether.  Does someone have to ask for forgiveness before reconciliation takes place?  I believe so.  I have discussed this with Earl.  I have determined that he is correct when he says forgiveness has to be asked for before one can forgive or be truly reconciled.   Doesn’t God call people to repent and ask forgiveness from Him?   I’ve argued that I can forgive people regardless of whether they’ve asked for it or not.  This really is wrong.  What I’ve actually done is made peace within myself in order to avoid conflict from without.  This is a peacekeeper’s way of dealing with situations.  It may even be an insult to tell an individual, “I’ve forgiven you,” when he or she may actually believe that I need to ask for forgiveness from them!  People are not truly reconciled by just making peace within ourselves.

This is where a peacemaker makes all the difference.  Instead of burying my head in the sand and pretending discord doesn’t exist, I need to vocalize how I’m feeling and get the feelings of the other person involved.  Then, with a Christ-like attitude, begin to understand and work on improving the situation that has caused such a struggle in the relationship.

Jesus was very clear about this during the Sermon on the Mount verses, again Matthew 5.  Look at verses 23-24 “If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”    

This is a very serious directive that Jesus has given us.  It could quite possibly be put like this way.  If you are in church and The Spirit reminds you that you and your brother or sister are at odds, leave church before offering yourself to God and be reconciled with your sister or brother and then come back and be reconciled with God.    Our relationship with our fellow brothers and sisters is so important to God that He doesn’t accept our worship until we have truly reconciled with our sisters and brothers – provided, of course that it is possible to reconcile with them!  Paul said it this way, “If possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”  God’s ministry and goal for all individuals is reconciliation.  That is not just reconciliation with Him, but between all of us.  How do we expect God to reconcile with us in our sins, when we can’t even reconcile with each other for wrong doings?

Peacemaking is a never ending requirement during this lifetime in order to be like sons of God.  This is the ministry of Christ that He has given to us. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  Let us look to His ministry of reconciliation whenever and wherever it is possible – as far as it depends on us – through Christ our Lord.

Message of the Beatitudes – Six – Pure in Heart

Jesus said the pure in heart are blessed because they will see God.  Matthew 5:8

Our fellowship with God and knowledge of His ways depends on our purity of heart.  Jesus is saying that to receive the blessing of seeing God, we must become like God.  But how does that happen?

It’s possible to be passionate about God, spend time with Him regularly and still sin.  To become more pure in heart requires a thorough inspection of all of our faults and sinful ways and then asking God to do what is necessary in our lives to cleanse our souls.  No, we cannot cleanse ourselves of our sinful nature, but we can take steps by identifying the problem(s) by His Holy Spirit and then asking God to remove them.

This may be a stretch as an analogy, but when I think about cleansing my soul in order to see God, I keep thinking of what it takes in order to prepare for and endure a colonoscopy.  YUCK!!  Ok, let me tell you how my mind works!  We first acknowledge that we may have a sin problem, we seek the advice of a Doctor (The Great Physician, God), Who then recommends that we go through a procedure of cleansing by His Holy Spirit.  It involves filling us up with His Spiritual presence and allowing Him to purge us.

1)      Sometimes we have trouble acknowledging that we have any problem at all and we continue to feel the results of the imperfections of sins that are affecting our life – not seeking any advice from the Great Physician at all.

2)      Other times we acknowledge that there may be a problem, we seek advice but we don’t like what we hear has to happen in order to cleanse the imperfections from our life, so we leave the doctor’s office and don’t do anything with the advice because it may cause some discomfort in our comfortable lives.

3)      Then there are those that acknowledge the problem, seek advice and regardless of the disruption it causes to cleanse the imperfections out of our lives, we prepare ourselves and do all we can possibly do to remove all the bad behavior from our life.  And when we are finished, we ask the Doctor to do His part to look and see if there is anything left that needs to be removed in order for us to go forward and live a life full of His presence.

So how do we become pure in heart?  Psalm 139:23-24 states: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”.  Because “…the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts” (1 Chronicles 28:9).

You must do some serious soul searching and ask God to help you discern what it is in your life that is literally offensive to God.  He knows and understands your motives.  If your motives are not God centered, you are offending Him and hence, unclean – impure!

Once you’ve reflected and identified the offense(s), you need to repent (confess to God and turn away or repent from the sin in your life with His strength).  When you are tempted by Satan, do what Jesus did when He was tempted by Satan, reflect on God’s Word.  Filling your mind with the Scriptures helps ensure that you stay strong.  Knowing Scripture, makes you know God and knowing God, makes you become more like Him.

Seeing God –  Be Blessed.

Message of the Beatitudes – Five – Merciful

Matthew 5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

Life is a struggle.  We fear.  Life hurts.  Now we’ve been judged by others.  When life throws us into a pit, and we can’t find a way to climb out, who has shown us mercy and offered us a hand to get out?  Sometimes we only catch a glimpse of judgment on the faces of those who see us suffering – as if they’ve never worn anyone else’s shoes and have never been down-trodden.

But perhaps judgmental reactions are what they received while down in their own pit, and it’s the only reaction they understand.  Perhaps their behavior is due to their unbroken spirits in the Lord. They do not acknowledge that God has shown them mercy, and that they have more power to show mercy once they experience it themselves.  But to experience mercy, we all must acknowledge that we owe God a great debt and that we are unable to repay it and that God has offered to forgive us, undeservedly.  Mercy is a form of grace, which is undeserved favor.  Mercy is undeserved compassion and forgiveness.

So let’s back up for one moment.  What is mercy?  Mercy is an active empathy extended to relieve someone in misery, pain and/or distress, regardless of who it is.  This includes our enemies.    We should be on the lookout for those in distress and not pass by on the other side of the road.  We should have a heart of pity and our deepest desire should be to help no matter who the sufferer is.

Jesus lived a life of mercy.  He spent His time surrounded by those less fortunate; he suffered with the suffering, the addicted, the homeless and the prostitutes.  With whom do we surround ourselves?  What judgmental attitudes block our ability to extend mercy?  God’s desire is to be seen through us.  The Holy Spirit desires to penetrate that which hinders us from being God’s light to a suffering world.  

Have we become an indifferent people?  Are we now a people who lack concern for others?  If we have suffered, we should be the first to show compassion and mercy upon those that are suffering.  For we know that God pulled us up out of our pits when God showed mercy on us.  We should never condemn others.  Yet if someone stumbles, we are not to accept their sin as good, but we are to lend a helping hand and offer them God’s forgiveness.  Even Jesus said to the adulterous woman, who was condemned by the Pharisee’s, “Where are they?  Has no one condemned you?”  When she indicated that nobody had, Jesus then mercifully said, “Then neither do I condemn you.  Go now, and leave your life of sin.”

Suffering is not always for no reason.  Suffering allows us to become better Christians – having compassion for those who are suffering perhaps something we’ve suffered ourselves.  What have we suffered and how can we use that experience to help a fellow brother/sister through the trials or sins in which they find themselves?

For one of the greatest blessings of receiving mercy is to be merciful ourselves.

Message of the Beatitudes – Four – Hunger and Thirst

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  Matthew 5:6

We are told that we are what we eat.  What we take into our bodies and digest, becomes part of us.  What we consume could be healthy or unhealthy.  If I took an inventory of my daily intake of food, most nutritionists would chide me because I consume large quantities of pasta, bowls of candy, container after container of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream (seriously addicted to Edy’s)  and pots of coffee.  I KNOW the effects of this type of diet.  Sometimes I forget that food from the refrigerator and soda from a can are not the only ways to satisfy my hunger and quench my thirst. 

But Jesus asks us to hunger and thirst for righteousness.  That means that God will fill our desires for righteousness.   But we may not see that we are starving and suffering from thirst spiritually.  And if we become those things that we take in, then what happens when we eat the junk food of violence, erotica, materialism, greed, and drunkenness?  As you think, so you are.  The things we think, we seem to become. Our spirit is looking for sustenance from God’s righteousness, but we tend to force our spirits to go on a crash diet while we fulfill the other needs our physical body demands.

In Jesus’ Beatitudes, we go from poor in spirit to those that mourn to those that are meek.  I see a pattern in the Beatitudes and a deliberate sequence.   We must first empty ourselves of self and acknowledge our need for God.  We must mourn our sinfulness and the sinfulness and tragedies of our world.  We must submit ourselves and humble ourselves to God and to others in order to even begin to have the hunger pains for God’s righteousness.  Perhaps only after experiencing the first three beatitudes do we start to hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness. 

The body and the soul have natural appetites.  The soul depends on its nourishment, health and strength from God alone.  When we empty ourselves to God and mourn our sinful state and we submit our egos and pride to be controlled by the Holy Spirit, our natural tendency is then to seek God’s righteousness.  Our soul is awakened, it begins to hunger and thirst for holiness, knowing it must be purified by the Holy Spirit.  But when our spirit is awakened, and we feel the tendency to know more about our Lord, how do we respond?

David sought God, Psalm 63:1 “O God, thou art my God; I shall seek Thee earnestly; my soul thirsts for thee, my flesh yearns for Thee, in a dry and weary land where there is no water”.

Only Christ can fill the ache in our souls. Sometimes God allows a crisis to awaken in us a deeper need for His presence and His active work in our lives.  When a crisis takes place for a believer, our souls may yearn even more to be with Him and for His righteousness.  But we always need Jesus.  A passion for His presence becomes part of our transformation into His righteousness.  Being righteous in Christ is having the righteousness of God within us, and being filled by Him.  It isn’t about physical gratification and prideful self-fulfillment, it’s about emptying ourselves of our self-righteousness.

Is the presence of God and the pursuit of His will in our lives the most extreme of all our desires?  Does it matter more to us than the food and drink of the physical body?  Christ’s righteousness is so good that the more of Him we taste, the more of Him we will want.  Taste and see that the Lord is good!  Can we become addicted to Christ more than to diet soda?  Yes!

How’s your spiritual appetite?  Are you seeking the same things the world seeks to satisfy your soul or are you seeking the Living Water and the Bread of Life?

John 6:35 “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.’”

Message of the Beatitudes – Three – Meek

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

  I am not meek, but I am working towards it. 

Most people would not admit to working on becoming a meek person.  We are usually offended when referred to as having too meek a personality or character.  Why?  From all that our culture values, to be meek is to be mild-mannered, spineless, weak, submissive, subservient, passive and even in-effective.  Meek people get trampled. 

Maybe we do not understand what being meek is really all about from Jesus’ perspective. 

Being meek is the middle ground between excessive anger and being completely dispassionate and passive.  Anger is not a sin, nor is it necessarily bad.  The bible says that we are to be angry, but sin not.  Anger can be a great motivator.  It can help us to get charged about God’s righteousness and justice.

Everyone gets angry. But anger is often a selfish response to the world and other people.  If we were left up to our own devices and decisions, everything would be going our way.  So what is it that make us angry?  We may feel anger when we lose control – when things don’t go as we planned and we begin to feel powerless to change them.  We can feel anger when other people’s decision’s adversely affect our lives without our consent.

Jesus was meek.  But Jesus also became angry.  But his anger was a righteous anger for the down-trodden and the oppressed.  His heart burned when people called by His name ignored “the least of these, my brethren.”  He promises judgment for those who truly hurt children and cause them to stumble.  His soul reacted when He saw his Father’s temple being used for profit instead of the worship of God.  James 1:19-20 “This you know, my beloved brethren.  But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” Note that when Jesus became angry, His anger was focused on those that caused suffering to others and on the disrespect shown towards God and His worship.  Jesus’ anger was never about Himself.

The meek are not easily provoked to anger; they patiently bear and put up with injuries and affronts;  they carry themselves courteously and affably to all; they have the best thoughts towards others; they do not envy the gifts and graces of other people, and they are willing to be instructed and admonished.  Meekness is patience during the midst of injuries.  Meekness produces peace.  It is proof of true greatness of soul.  It comes from a heart too great to be mowed down by insults.  It even prays for those who tear down.  He that is constantly ruffled, and raises a storm of passion when wronged, is at the mercy of every mortal that chooses to disturb him.

The meek are those who quietly submit to God; who can bear insult; are silent, or return a soft answer; who, in their patience, keep possession of their own souls.  To be meek is one who controls his strength and uses it appropriately.

You cannot achieve meekness without first achieving humbleness.  We submit ourselves to God and know that we can do all things through Him.  We humble ourselves into servant-hood…to love, to have compassion, to serve those around us, even those who are against us.  To be meek is to be wise….

So, what keeps us from being meek?  Ego.  

Besides the meek inheriting the earth, the bible refers to other blessings for those who are meek.  “The meek shall be satisfied.” “The meek He will guide and teach.” “The meek will become wise.” “The meek will be filled with fresh joy.”

So, what’s not to like about being meek?

Message of the Beatitudes – Two – Mourn

Matthew 5:4 – “Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted

     What comes to your mind when you think of mourning?  To mourn or lament is to express passionate grief from the soul.  How many of us have ever grieved so hard that we couldn’t speak, we couldn’t function, we couldn’t think straight?  Our tears were like rivers overflowing, and we were inconsolable.  Think of this as your soul mourning.  But is there anything that we should mourn? 

  • We should mourn our sins because they have hurt others and grieved God
  • We should mourn those who are out of relationship with God
  • We should mourn the unrepentant
  • We should mourn our poor spiritual condition

After our first beatitude “Blessed are the poor in spirit” where we admitted our need for God and denied self, we must now ask God to cleanse our souls of all unrighteousness.   In Romans 8:26-27 “And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groaning’s to deep for words; and He who searches the heart knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because he intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

In mourning, we allow the Holy Spirit to cleanse us.  It is in this grief process, that we allow God to take the hurt, sin and renew our poor spiritual condition, forgive us, and allow us to forgive others and at the same time, to restore our souls to what God intended us to be. 

As we age, we naturally tend to become more jaded, hard-hearted, and less compassionate.  We tend to have a “what-ever” attitude.  It takes a lot for us to grieve others’ misfortunes.  We tend to think; if only they made better choices, pulled up their bootstraps, worked a little harder…etc.  We lose sight of the most telling attributes of Christ: His love and His compassion. 

So this means mourning all those who may not be in the right spirit with God.  So as not to sound judgmental, let me tell you about my grandfather.  Many years ago, in my Baptist life, I must have brought the subject of Jesus up with my grandfather one too many times.  Finally, he had had enough of the debates, and he informed me that he was an atheist and if he came from dust, then to the dust he’d go back.  He had no desire to determine if there was a God or even if there was an afterlife.  And then he told me that if I brought the subject up again, he would have nothing more to do with me.  I was stunned.  I was hurt.  I was so very sad.  My soul grieved for my grandfather’s soul, and I prayed for years that he would have a change of heart. 

When we don’t truly grieve our poor souls and the poor souls of others, we are not emulating Christ.  Jesus gave voice to the anguish in His soul.  He grieved over Jerusalem, He grieved somewhat His imminent death, He grieved abandonment, and He grieved those who persecuted Him.  He was in prayer with the Father always for Himself and for others.  Receive the blessing of being comforted by having God who cleanses our souls of all unrighteousness and who grieves the souls of others.

One of the most comforting verses I know comes from Psalm 55:22, “Cast your burden upon the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never allow the righteous to be shaken”.

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