Tag Archives: trust

Making Sense of Suffering

First of all, making sense of suffering is an almost impossible task. The tragedies that the author of It is Well with My Soul, a hymn that has comforted countless grief-stricken, heart-broken people, are almost incalculable. Horatio Spafford lost so much in a short span of time that it would have been quite understandable if he had given in to bitterness and fury. How did he cling to faith in the midst of such pain?

Most of us have known the wrenching devastation of grief and suffering. Platitudes don’t help. It would be better if those who try to explain our misery would just remain silent. When there are no answers, we don’t need someone to try to give them to us.

Where do we turn? Where is the God who promises protection and provision for His children? How can God claim that “never again will you fear any harm” and be “mighty to save” (Zephaniah 3:15, 17)? How can a loving God allow so much suffering?

Scotty Smith, founding pastor of Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee, wrote a wonderful book, Objects of His Affection. In the eighth chapter of the book, he offered his thoughts on the love of suffering. The love of suffering? Whose love? Can we really believe that God can love us through suffering? Can’t He just take our suffering away or keep it from happening altogether? Can there possibly be a purpose in our suffering?

We draw close to Holy Week, the week of the passion of Jesus. Smith noted that God has responded to the suffering of His world through His Son. Jesus Himself spoke of His purpose in coming into our world. After His encounter with Zacchaeus, Jesus said, “The Son of Man has come to seek and save those like him who are lost” (Luke 19:10). Mark’s gospel recorded these words of the Lord: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Smith wrote: “To desire the saving of many lives over the preservation of one’s own life is the way of the cross. It is the saving of many lives that defines the suffering of Jesus.” It is ultimately the suffering of Jesus that can help us gain a better perspective. “It is the suffering of Jesus that answers our cry for justice in the face of evil, suffering, and injustice. And it is the suffering Jesus who knows how to console us until the promised day of vindication and consummation of our redemption.”

“The Way of the Cross Leads Home” is not just some trite religiosity. It is a life view. It is a way of facing the tragedy and pain with hope that sin, evil, and death are not the end of the trail. The cross is our symbol of what we mean to the Father. The cross is His statement that nothing would prevent the ultimate destruction of that which seeks to destroy us. Even through a veil of tears, we continue to be a people of faith, trust, and love.


His eye is on the sparrow

“What is the price of two sparrows – one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows” (Matthew 120:29,30)

“Mrs. Civilla Martin, author of this gospel hymn text, tells of a visit in 1904 to a bedridden Christian friend. Mrs. Martin asked the woman if she ever got discouraged because of her physical condition. Her friend responded quickly: ‘Mrs. Martin, how can I be discouraged when my heavenly Father watches over each little sparrow and I know He loves and cares for me.’”

What song would you write about your response to the circumstances of your life? With much to complain about or to grieve over or to be terrified by, it might seem that our lyrics might display our disenchantment or disgust or anxiety. Or we could live in trust and faith …

God said to Joshua: “Be strong and very courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged . For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

David said to Goliath: “You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies – the God of Israel. This is the Lord’s battle and He will give you to us!” (1 Samuel 17:45-47)

Nehemiah said to the residents of Jerusalem: “Don’t’ be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Nehemiah 8:10)

Paul said to the church at Rome: “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky about or in the earth below – indeed nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38,39)

Jesus said to His disciples: “I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give you is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)

John Henry Howett wrote: “Let us sing even when we do not feel like it, for in this way we give wings to heavy feet and turn weariness into strength.”

Civilla Martin wrote: “His eye is on the sparrow and I know He’s watches me.”

What song will you sing?

There’s a pill for that

Have you noticed the content of drug ads these days? You may not, because you either tune it out or mute the sound. In a typical 30 or 60 second commercial, about 10-15% tells you all the wonderful benefits of the latest wonder drug. The rest focuses on the side effects that could easily convince you that you will die a horrible death if you take this product.

The Opioid crisis is no joke. Pain medications are responsible for a tragic upswing in addictions and deaths due to the abuse of these drugs.

We are an over-medicated society. Overweight? Take a pill. Can’t sleep? Take a pill? Losing your virility? Take a bunch of pills. Want to spice up your love life? First, get two bath tubs, turn them to face the sunset, you lie in one, your partner lies in the other, take a pill and voilà! Sorry, I don’t get the two tubs.

Before we all empty our medicine cabinets into the trash can, we realize that modern medicine has allowed us to deal with serious physical, mental, and emotional issues with the proper use of medication. There are many of us who deal with depression, anxiety, and other challenges that benefit from the right prescriptions.

I don’t think we were created, though, to fill our bodies with chemicals. I think we were designed to function quite well if we eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, and avoid all stress … Where did you stop on the list? I didn’t get past “eat well.”

There is a deeper problem, I think. Pills won’t make my prayer life more significant. Pills won’t induce me to be more compassionate and loving. Pills won’t convince me that my relationship with God can be so much more meaningful. I won’t find my spiritual life in a pill bottle.

Perhaps we just need to accept an invitation. Read the words Jesus spoke two thousand years ago and see if they don’t apply today to the hurting, the lonely, the overstressed, and the needy: “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Sounds like the right prescription to me.




We live in a day when vulnerability is a fact of life. With cell phone cameras catching awkward, embarrassing moments, “journalists” looking for dirt, politicians who play loose with the truth, exposés of sexual abuse and oppression lighting up the news, our society is painfully open to “gotcha” sound bites and video clips.

We might think this is a product of our 24-7, nothing is off limits age, but Jesus was often confronted with the “gotcha” crowd. In our study of Mark’s gospel, we have encountered numerous confrontations when His critics and opponents tried to trap and discredit Him. Finding their efforts futile, they finally conspired to kill Him.

One of those attempts is found in all of the synoptic gospels. Frustrated because they had such difficulty cornering Jesus on theological and cultural issues, they decided to go political. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

“Teacher, we know how honest You are. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us – is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

You would think Jesus was subjected to a modern-day press conference with loaded questions and not-so-subtle insinuations. Surely they had Him this time. He would be walking another fine line of insulting His Jewish brethren or promoting civil disobedience.

As usual, they had underestimated their man. Jesus deftly called for a Roman coin. “Whose picture is on this?” In response to the obvious answer, Jesus said, “Give Caesar what belongs to him and give God what belongs to God.”


This really wasn’t about taxation; it was about truth. Instead of trying to trap Jesus, I wished they would have tried trusting Jesus. They would keep on trying to trap Jesus until they thought they had won. How sad. The Truth stood before them and they couldn’t see. They were the victims of their own “gotcha” moment.

Stylish bomb shelters

CNN reporter Elizabeth Stamp did a feature on billionaire bunkers in April. She discovered a developer who had turned two abandoned U.S. Army Corps of Engineers missile silos into condominiums. For the prosperous survivalist, one can choose a 900 square foot half-floor residence or 2-level penthouse with 3600 square feet. The latter starts at $4.5 million. There are other available comforts in the complex – like a pool, general store, theater, bar, and library.

If you want to get away from it all, why not do it in style?

Talk of apocalypse is on the rise. Volatile and divisive politics, increasing and worsening violence, erratic and deadly weather events … the list of factors that create a pall over the future grows by the day. Are we on the brink of nuclear war? Are there strains of bacteria we cannot fight off? Will terrorism become the irresistible force? Will an asteroid collide with the earth? Does humanity have a realistic chance for survival?

I don’t remember when I heard it first, but I’m glad I did hear it: “I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know Who holds the future.”

There are indeed many reasons for concern. I am not naïve about the myriad dangers that lurk nearby. But I refuse to live in fear. You won’t find this exact quote in Scripture, but there is truth is these three words I can hear the Father saying: “I’ve got this.”

What we leave out

On a hospital medical chart, a doctor wrote: “I saw your patient today, who is still under our car for physical therapy.” What a strange place to have therapy! Obviously, the ‘e’ was missing.

We are guilty of leaving things out from time to time. Perhaps that’s why our mothers continually reminded us to say “please” and “thank you.” We can miss the moment and not notice that something is missing. A word of encouragement that is never spoken … an act of kindness that never happened … an expression of gratitude that remained unsaid.

We are busy people, too busy. We can be overcome with the press and pressure of our schedules and not notice the moment that just slipped by.

C.S. Lewis was addressing students at Oxford University in the fall of 1939. Nazi Germany had just invaded Poland. The young men in the audience were beginning to feel tremendous anxiety as the storms of war threatened.

In part, Lewis said: “Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment as to the Lord. It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present time is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.”

We cannot change yesterday and we have little to say about what the future may bring. We can live this day. We can practice His presence this day. We can open our eyes and hearts to the divine appointments on our daily calendar.

Regret comes when we could have or should have, and we didn’t. “Lord, thank You for this day. Help me to live in this moment in time with anticipation of great possibilities!”

Slow is good

In 1989, Carlo Petrini launched a global, grassroots organization “dedicated to preventing the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteracting the rise of fast life and combating people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, and how our food choices affect world around us.” Slow food … they have a chapter in Atlanta and involve people in 160 countries around the world.

Slow is good, right? In a hurried world, it makes sense to do more than just take your time eating well. We were not designed to live at this pace. The price tag for our mile-a-minute lifestyles is staggering. Suffering from information overload, we find it increasingly difficult to process what we need to know when we need to know it. The ravages of stress and pressure take their toll, and that’s just with our kids! 72% of adults say they feel stressed most of the time.

Here’s a test: Complete this statement – “I don’t have time to ……”

Often the answer has to do with sleep, exercise, choosing and eating food, time alone, time with friends or family, time to focus on spiritual matters.

Fatigue is not our friend. The physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual strain wears us out. We are more susceptible to depression. The lack of motivation for needed change leaves us feeling sad and hopeless. Our brain function is impaired. Feelings of guilt, resentment, and agitation grow.

I’m no psychiatrist and I haven’t spent a night at a Holiday Inn, but I do know we don’t have to live on this treadmill all our lives. The psalmist urged us to cease striving, be silent and remember who is God (Psalm 46). Why is that important? Because “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Because Jesus invited us: “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Because Paul wrote to the Philippians: “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

It makes sense. The One who made us knows exactly what we need.

Where to turn

Four years ago today the woman who wrote the advice column entitled “Dear Abby” died. For more than 40 years, she responded to the curious, the discouraged, the desperate, and the quirky readers chosen for her columns. Her syndicated column reached a readership that topped 110 million people in some 1400 newspapers. At the height of her popularity, she received 10,000 letters a week. Her twin sister took over the “Ann Landers” column for the Chicago Sun Times in 1955. Abby’s real name was Pauline Friedman Phillips. Phillips helped her sister at first and then decided to write her own. Her first “Dear Abby” column appeared on January 9, 1956. An awkward rift developed between the sisters that kept them estranged for a number of years.

Perhaps they needed some advice.

We all do. We need someone to turn to. Anyone who claims to know all the answers is a person to avoid. Thankfully, we have Someone who doesn’t need to claim knowledge of all the answers; He really does know it all. He knows the what, when, how, and why. He asks us to follow His lead while trusting His love, wisdom, and grace. From the Proverbs: “Don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, revere the Lord and turn your back on evil. Then you will gain renewed health and vitality” (3:5-8).

In Peter Lord’s classic work, Hearing God, he quotes this writing of Louis Eberly:

“God hasn’t ceased being Revelation any more than He has ceased being Love. He enjoys expressing Himself. Since He’s Love, He must give Himself, share His secrets, communicate with us, and reveal Himself to any who wants to listen.”

And therein is the problem. Remember when your mother told you that you had two ears and only one mouth for a reason? Somehow we think we are supposed to talk and God is supposed to listen. What could we be missing because we refuse to listen to Him? I recommend two books worth a read, both entitled Hearing God. Both were written by two exceptional men: Peter Lord and Dallas Willard. They knew Who to turn to …

Give Thanks

Lutheran pastor Martin Rinkart lived in Eilenberg in Saxony during the siege of the Thirty Years War. Eilenberg was a walled city under attack by a Swedish army beginning in 1637. Already suffering from the plague, the inhabitants were dying by starvation as well as disease. Four pastors in the city were performing 12 funerals a day. Two of the ministers also died; one escaped. Rinkart was the only one left. He conducted 50 services a day for those who perished. In one year, he led services for 5000 people, including his own wife. When the war ended in 1648, Rinkart wrote these words:

“Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,

Who wondrous things hath done, in whom His world rejoices;

Who, from our mothers’ arms, has blest us on our way

With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.”

When I read that story, I felt small. We can so easily be overcome by challenges and difficulties. Our faith can be rocked by life’s storms. Do I have the confidence that God is sovereign, that He loves me as His precious child, that He knows the verse, the chapter, and the end of our story?

As we enter this week of Thanksgivings, may our focus lift to offer praise to the One who is never defeated, never taken by surprise, never incapable of working out His way and will.

Rinkart also wrote:

“O may this bounteous God thro’ all our life be near us,

With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;

And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed,

And free us from all ills in this world and the next.”


Me: “Lord, I can’t see clearly and don’t know what’s coming.”

God: “I got this.”

The Gracious Hand of God

Along the Journey – The Gracious Hand of God

Nehemiah began the project of rebuilding Jerusalem with his eyes wide open. He knew how desperate the situation was, he understood could no longer accept the current reality that went beyond repairing walls and hanging new gates, he was aware he would need to gather people to join him in the task, and he was cognizant of the opposition he would face.

In chapter two, Nehemiah had a confrontation with the bad guys – Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem. Dripping with contempt, they scoffed at the plan to restore the city. Nehemiah’s answer displayed his confidence that he was not unequipped for the job: “The God of heaven will help us succeed. We His servants will start rebuilding this wall. But you have no stake or claim in Jerusalem” (Nehemiah 2:20).

I love his fighting spirit. I admire his determination and confidence. He placed his trust in the God who had heard his prayers, guided his planning, and would provide in the challenging days ahead.

We see similar displays of faith and courage in Scripture. David warned Goliath that he was outmatched: “You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord Almighty” (1 Samuel 17:45). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego defied King Nebuchadnezzar as he condemned them to the fiery furnace: “We do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. But even if He doesn’t, your majesty can be sure that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18).

Peter and John were arrested by the Sanhedrin and threatened. The two disciples were ordered to never again speak about Jesus. They responded, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than Him? We cannot stop telling about the wonderful things we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19,20).

These and many others depended on the gracious hand of God to guide, to protect, to bless, and to use their lives. God has not changed. His hand is still gracious.  Let us claim the same confidence and trust as He leads us!