Looking For The Good When Bad Things Happen

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Can Good Come From Bad?

This is an age old question.  And in many ways, it is a question that tries to understand the nature of God.  As people often have said, “If God is a loving God, how can there be so much evil and pain in the world?”  Personally, I think this is the wrong question to be asking.  I recognize that not everyone who believes there is a God, which is the first question to deal with, will accept that the Bible of the Jews and Christians is the “Word of God”.

But that is my starting point.  And for a number of good reasons.  But this article cannot deal with that question either, as there would not be enough space here to expand on this belief.   This article then is written primarily for Christians who share my belief in God and in the Bible as God’s Word to mankind.  But just because we have these strong beliefs in the Divine and the Almighty does not mean that we will never experience bad things in life.  Nor does it mean that we will always understand why we experience suffering and pain.  Yet I believe that we still have much more to guide us and help us deal with the heartaches of life than many people.

    

I raise these questions today because of the recent experiences that I just went through.  I was in Papua New Guinea serving the Lord doing the ministry of Bible translation for people groups that do not have the Bible in their language.  Next thing I know, I’m being told that I have a retinal tear in my right eye and I am boarding planes to come back to Canada to get this fixed.  You can read about my experiences in the article “God, Help Me Overcome My Unbelief“.

It would be so easy to turn around and say to God, “Why me?  Can’t you see I’m giving my life to serve you over here in PNG?”.  But I’ve always thought of that question as being a self-centered and self-absorbed question.  As if the universe (or the Almighty) is supposed to bow down to our own personal likes and needs.  Sometimes I do catch myself though asking the question of “Why now, Lord?”  But this too I think reflects some level of lack of faith.  If God really is God, then He knows what is going to happen, and so events in life never catch him by surprise.  And if we really have faith in Him, then we too should not act surprised.

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I believe that the best question we should be asking when bad things happen to us is this one, “What now Lord?”  In other words, we ask God, given the current circumstance that we are in, what is it that we can and should do in the situation.  Sometimes God will reveal to us that there really is nothing we can do, except to hold on even stronger to our faith that He will work things out.  And to believe that good can and will come out of this bad situation.  Romans 8:28 says:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose.

I also believe that there are many times when we are to take action within these new circumstances, under God’s guidance of course.  In other words, to respond according to the spirit, not according to our natural earthly desires and behaviors.  Our natural inclination when something bad happens might be to get angry, or to take things out on another person.  Our supernatural response though is to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  (1 Thess. 5:18)

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This is much more that just being an optimist, or trying to be a “half full glass” kind of person.  Even as we give thanks to God, acknowledging Him as our Lord through tough situations, we ask the question of “What now Lord?”  We want to be proactive and to ask God to help us make the most of the situation.  This is what is called “Redeeming the Time.”  To “redeem” means “to rescue; to buy back”, and so when we redeem the time, we are taking back the situation and by God’s strength and direction we are making and finding ways to allow good things to happen.

You see, I believe that a life of faith is a partnership between a person and God, and both sides have their part to play.  And that is how I approached the situation with my recent eye surgeries.  (Yes, plural, as I needed three surgeries.)  I actively trusted God to take care of me, and He did so in some amazing ways.  But I also have actively been seeking how to make the most of the time I now have been given to be back home.

And what have I done?  I have been actively seeking ways to be with my family and do things together that would not have been possible if I was still in PNG.  I have been in meetings in our international office in Dallas, and having conversations with young aspiring missionaries.  These have been precious moments that couldn’t have taken place while I was in PNG.  And I am reconnecting with my home churches as well as some potential new supporting churches.  And so this time off of the field for me has been one of seeking and finding great opportunities to see good things come about.

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You need to ask the question then: “How do you respond when bad things happen to you?”  Is your focus upon yourself, and your sense of pain that the situation may be causing you?  Or are you putting your focus upon God who will not only guide you through the tough times in life, but will provide great opportunities to see some good come out of the situation.  It is a choice.  What are you going to choose?

Praise God

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Jesus Is Someone You Can Trust – Pt. 1

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 7

TRUST: “A relationship bond that takes a great number of good deeds to earn, and only one bad deed to lose.”

Trust!  Who do we trust these days?  We trust a mechanic to fix our car when it is not working.  Or do we?  Are we skeptical when we see the estimate and wonder, “Do I really need to fix all these things?”  We trust the professor of a class to impart wisdom and knowledge to us, right?  But what if they are wrong, or biased in what they teach?  We trust the pastor or the priest because they are “men of God”, but then we hear about the various scandals that rock the churches and we realize that they are just as human and flawed as we are.

All of us can identify with this question of “Who can I really trust?”  In the consumer market world that we live in, we are bombarded by advertisements and the voices of many who are asking us to trust them, and trust the product or service that they are trying to offer us.  Now for the most part, these many voices are asking us to make decisions that are somewhat trivial, like what shampoo to buy, and where to take our vacation, etc.

But what about the really important questions of life?  For example, “Why are we here?”, “Is there a God?”, and “What happens after we die?”  These are the questions that really matter in life, and so we must be careful as we choose whose voice to listen to regarding eternal and spiritual questions.  There are still many voices out there crying for our attention, but one voice above all must be given a chance to be heard.  And that is the voice and the words of Jesus in the New Testament.

    

 This is now the 7th article in this series, “GOD’S STORY, your story” as we look at the book with this title written by Max Lucado.  In chapter four, Lucado starts by sharing a true story about a pilot of a small aircraft who had a mild stroke while flying and lost his sight.  An air force jet pilot was sent up to help guide the man down on to an airstrip by voice alone.  It took eight attempts, but the blinded pilot was able to safely land his airplane.  How did he do it?  By listening carefully to the voice of the man who he literally had put his life into his hands.

Now many good things are said about Jesus.  Many say he was a good man who helped others.  They would say that Jesus is one of the best teachers of morals and ethics.  Look at the “Sermon on the Mount” for example in Matthew chapters 5-7.  Some world religions other than Christianity would even say that Jesus is one of their prophets.  This is not new, for even in Jesus’ day there were people saying that Jesus was perhaps Elijah or John the Baptist come back from the dead, or another great prophet.  (Matthew 16:13-15)

But Jesus challenged his disciples even more (and us today) when he asked the question, “But who do you say that I am?”  And to answer that for ourselves today, we would need to look very carefully at what Jesus did and said so long ago.  Certainly we notice, even in just a casual reading, that Jesus was one who performed great miracles.  He healed many people.  In fact, he made the blind to see again, the lame could walk, and even those who had died and were buried were raised back to life.  (Read 11:38 – 12:11 and notice how even Jesus’ enemies admitted that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead.)

    

Now follow along with what Lucado says about Jesus on pages 72-73:

Jesus commanded people to pray in his name (John 14:13-14).  He claimed to be greater than the temple (Matthew 12:6), greater than the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8).  He claimed his words would outlive heaven and earth (Mark 13:31) and that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him (Matthew 28:18-20).

And what about his “I AM” statements?  “I am the light of the world.”  “I am the bread of life,” “the resurrection and the life,” and “the way, the truth, and the life.”  And most stunning, “Before Abraham was born, I am!”

By claiming the “I AM” title, Jesus was equating himself with God.

 It is interesting how some people can be okay with Jesus being a good moral teacher, and maybe even credit him with the ability to perform miracles.  But when we look at the verbal claims made by Jesus, we are faced with two stunning and opposite choices.  Either Jesus was an egomaniac and delusionally deranged!  Or, Jesus was who he actually claimed to be, namely, the very Son of God come down to live among people.

    

Given these two choices, I have chosen to believe that Jesus is God’s Son.  And not just because he “claimed” to be God’s Son, and not even because he did perform some great miracles.  I rest my faith in Jesus ultimately on the fact that he rose again from the dead after being crucified on a cross.  There is just too much proof in the New Testament that this event of Jesus’ resurrection was not a hoax, or just a misunderstanding of his physical condition.  No, Jesus rose from the grave and proved himself to be God in the flesh.

And so, when it comes to the question of who do I ultimately trust with my life and my eternal future?  There is only one really excellent choice, and that is to trust in Jesus.  We may not be able to see into our future (like not seeing the runway), but Jesus will safely guide us to our eternal destination.

[God’s Story, Your Story] Max Lucado.  Copyright [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011]  Used by permission.

Trouble Around the Bend

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Hard Road Journey – Part 3

In Chapter One of Mark Atteberry’s book, “Walking With God on the Road You Never Wanted to Travel“, he briefly touches upon the idea that there may be a reason for the terrible spot that you find yourself in now.  But even if there was an answer to the question of “Why am I in this mess?”, the more important question to answer is, “How do I get through this situation?”

It is this second question which Atteberry now deals with in all the remaining chapters of his book.  He gives what he calls “Strategies”, or you could call them road maps, to help you and I get through these difficult times.  So if we put aside the “Why” question, then we can focus on “How do we get through this?”  But before we look at Chapter Two’s strategy, Atteberry offers us a strong caution which I think we should heed.

It is an unfortunate truth that the very time when we need to make good decisions, we often make bad choices.  When people, the circumstances of life, or wrong things we do come and hit us and knock us down, we are in pain and we reach out for whatever we think will give us comfort or relief from that pain.  And many times, what we think will help us will in the end actually harm us.

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At this point, we need to ask ourselves why we would choose things that we know are bad or wrong for us.  I believe Atteberry has got it right when he says we have an enemy, Satan, who sees us in our pain and brokenness and disguises lies as truth, and makes sin look attractive.  Regarding Satan, Atteberry writes:

He recognizes that people in pain will often grope for anything that hold the promise of relief, even if it’s temporary.  (pg. 17)

So how do we not make our situation even worse than it already is?  It’s not enough to say to ourselves, “Stop making bad choices and do what is right.”  There has to be something that is bigger than ourselves to help us to consciously and consistently choose to do what is right.  And so Atteberry challenges us in this chapter to “Commit to Strict Obedience.”

What does he mean by this?  I believe that we all do have something, or should I say Someone, to whom we ought to give our full allegiance.  It is God, and His Word contained within the pages of the Bible that will guide us in the path of right living and right choices. And it is when we commit to Him that we will find our path becomes straight and will guard our feet from slipping.

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This brings to mind for me an experience that could have literally cost me my life.  I mentioned in an earlier post (Impacting Others for Jesus) how I went down to South America while being part of the Canadian Navy.  When we got to Peru, I asked the Captain for a 3-day leave to visit a missionary couple that lived in the mountain city of Cuzco whom our church supported.

Amazingly he granted me my request and so I flew up to visit them.  While there, they suggested I take the train to go visit the world-famous ruins of Machu Picchu and I jumped at the opportunity.  The train ride was fantastic as we made our way from valley to valley through lush tropical mountainous terrain.  Then we took the local shuttle buses up the steep mountainside road which included 13 hairpin curves to get to the actual site of the ruins.

I wasn’t part of a tour group, so I used a tourist guidebook to help me traverse the ruins and find out all about its history.  What a fabulous day I had climbing in and around the old Incan city.  By mid-afternoon I was pretty much done, but then the guidebook told about taking the razor-thin trail from Machu Picchu to its sister peak called Huayna Picchu.  You can see in the picture below how steep the sides of the mountains are and how narrow the trail is between them.

The guidebook said that it was a difficult climb, but worth the effort.  I would have called the climb “dangerous”, but the view from the top was truly spectacular.  Then I realized that I would have to hurry to get the last shuttle.  Now the guidebook said, “Be careful on the trail, especially on corners.”  But I was more concerned about the time than my safety.  And at one corner of the descent, I was going a little fast so I put my foot down on the bush at the corner to slow me….but I discovered too late that the bush grew sideways out of the side of the mountain.

Suddenly I went out into empty space…..and landed on a flat ledge about 14 feet below.  I leaned over and looked at the river which was more than a 1,000 feet below.  In my foolishness, I did not listen to the words of caution in the guidebook.  And that mistake just about cost me my life.  I went more cautiously after that and did catch the last shuttle.

So what did I learn from that day?  And what am I still trying to learn today?  It is important to listen to the words of the Guidebook.  And as Christians, we have a special guidebook, the Bible.  If we will commit to listening to the message of God’s Word, then we are much more likely to find a straight path out of our current distress.  Will you commit along with me to being more obedient listeners to God’s Word?  I believe this is how we can lessen the pain and the struggle of our journey in life.

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“It’s Not My Fault!”

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Hard Road Journey – Part 2

“It’s Not My Fault!”

This is the second part of a series that summarizes the key points in Mark Atteberry’s book “Walking With God on the Road You Never Wanted to Travel.”  As I wrote in Part 1, we want to try to avoid looking so much at the “why” of how we got here, and focus more on the “how do we get through” these difficult times.  But before we can, we need to briefly consider the question of whose “fault” it might be, and the answer to this may surprise us and even help us to get through the difficult times.

Atteberry suggests that we may want to carefully, and as much as possible objectively, answer the question of whether it is my fault or someone else’s fault or perhaps even no one’s fault that we are in the mess that we are in.  I would suggest that as Christians, that no matter which one of these three options might be the answer, we might even point some blame at God in our anger since we can say within ourselves, “Why did God cause / allow this to happen to me?”  I will try to address that too.

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It’s No One’s Fault: I want to start with the third option and go backwards.  I think this can be easier for some, but harder for others to accept that some things just happen.  One of the toughest situations that deeply affected our family is that our first-born son, Eric, had leukemia.  We had to leave Papua New Guinea where we were doing mission work to get him diagnosed in Australia.  Once the diagnosis was confirmed, he immediately started treatment, and then as soon as we could we headed back to Canada for 2 1/2 more years of chemotherapy.

Eric’s cancer didn’t just pull us out of the village where we worked, but it caused us to have to abandon our work there.  Since we came back to Canada in February 2002, none of us have ever been back to our PNG village.  Some of our belongings were shipped back to us, but many things have been lost forever.  Was it Eric’s fault that this happened?  Of course not.  Did this hurt us emotionally, psychologically, materially and financially?  It most certainly did.  But it still was nobody’s fault.

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It’s Someone Else’s Fault: There is no question that there are bad people out there in the world who do bad things to us.  We can be cheated, abused, ridiculed and harmed by others.  We cannot always avoid these things from happening, though sometimes we do have the choice to avoid places and times where bad things are more apt to happen.

I remember a situation where I was fired from my job and how devastating that event was to me.  I was only 16 and my manager called me into the back of the store where I saw a woman crying.  She had told the manager that I had insulted her baby the day before and she wanted me to be fired.

The truth is that I had made a comment spoken out of compassion, but also out of ignorance.  Her baby had a large purple area on the side of the face, and I had thought it was either from a burn, or some baby illness.  So I had said something like, “I hope your baby feels better soon. ”  Little did I know it was a permanent birth mark.  But there was no way to explain myself, and the manager chose siding with the customer rather than let me speak.  I had the choice then to be bitter, or learn to be more careful in comments I made.  I chose the latter.

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It’s My Fault: There are the times where we must take responsibility for our own actions and decisions, and we may be surprised at how many times in whole or in part it is our own fault for the mess we find ourselves in.  This is true for me when Jill and I left Texas after living one year there to return to Canada.

We had good reasons to come back, seeing as we had lost one pregnancy at 29 weeks while we were in Texas, and now with Jill pregnant with Eric, we felt we needed the extra support of the Canadian health system to make sure we could handle this pregnancy.  The problem wasn’t coming home, it was the way I decided as to where we lived next.

I thought living in Toronto in 1988 was a smart move, since the “hottest” economy was there.  But rents were so high, we had to live in such a crummy place that I ended up getting so sick (and reacted to medicine) that I nearly died there.  And whose fault was that?  It was mine, because I don’t remember ever seeking God’s help on this decision.  I just made a decision that was “right in my own eyes”.

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It’s God’s Fault: If we can’t explain it any other way, then we may be tempted to say it is God’s fault since He either caused it to happen or at least allowed it to happen.  But let me close by giving a quote from Atteberry’s book as he reflects on Jeremiah 29:11 where God says, “I know the plans I have for you, … plans for good and not disaster, to give you a future and a hope”.  Atteberry then says on page 12:

That verse, along with countless others, simply will not allow me to picture God as a temperamental bully who beats His children.  I cannot imagine Him toying with us, inflicting pain and suffering just because He can.  Yes, I know that He occasionally disciplines His children and that His disciplinary actions can be very painful. ….But even when He takes such measures, His motivation is love and His desire is to make a better future for His people.

(See Hebrews 12:7-11)