Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Daily Devotional Wednesday 3rd August

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” James 1:22 NIV
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Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon

Morning

"Who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will."
Ephesians 1:11

Our belief in God's wisdom supposes and necessitates that he has a settled purpose and plan in the work of salvation. What would creation have been without his design? Is there a fish in the sea, or a fowl in the air, which was left to chance for its formation? Nay, in every bone, joint, and muscle, sinew, gland, and blood-vessel, you mark the presence of a God working everything according to the design of infinite wisdom. And shall God be present in creation, ruling over all, and not in grace? Shall the new creation have the fickle genius of free will to preside over it when divine counsel rules the old creation? Look at Providence! Who knoweth not that not a sparrow falleth to the ground without your Father? Even the hairs of your head are all numbered. God weighs the mountains of our grief in scales, and the hills of our tribulation in balances. And shall there be a God in providence and not in grace? Shall the shell be ordained by wisdom and the kernel be left to blind chance? No; he knows the end from the beginning. He sees in its appointed place, not merely the corner-stone which he has laid in fair colours, in the blood of his dear Son, but he beholds in their ordained position each of the chosen stones taken out of the quarry of nature, and polished by his grace; he sees the whole from corner to cornice, from base to roof, from foundation to pinnacle. He hath in his mind a clear knowledge of every stone which shall be laid in its prepared space, and how vast the edifice shall be, and when the top-stone shall be brought forth with shoutings of "Grace! Grace! unto it." At the last it shall be clearly seen that in every chosen vessel of mercy, Jehovah did as he willed with his own; and that in every part of the work of grace he accomplished his purpose, and glorified his own name.

Evening

"So she gleaned in the field until even."
Ruth 2:17

Let me learn from Ruth, the gleaner. As she went out to gather the ears of corn, so must I go forth into the fields of prayer, meditation, the ordinances, and hearing the word to gather spiritual food. The gleaner gathers her portion ear by ear; her gains are little by little: so must I be content to search for single truths, if there be no greater plenty of them. Every ear helps to make a bundle, and every gospel lesson assists in making us wise unto salvation. The gleaner keeps her eyes open: if she stumbled among the stubble in a dream, she would have no load to carry home rejoicingly at eventide. I must be watchful in religious exercises lest they become unprofitable to me; I fear I have lost much already--O that I may rightly estimate my opportunities, and glean with greater diligence. The gleaner stoops for all she finds, and so must I. High spirits criticize and object, but lowly minds glean and receive benefit. A humble heart is a great help towards profitably hearing the gospel. The engrafted soul-saving word is not received except with meekness. A stiff back makes a bad gleaner; down, master pride, thou art a vile robber, not to be endured for a moment. What the gleaner gathers she holds: if she dropped one ear to find another, the result of her day's work would be but scant; she is as careful to retain as to obtain, and so at last her gains are great. How often do I forget all that I hear; the second truth pushes the first out of my head, and so my reading and hearing end in much ado about nothing! Do I feel duly the importance of storing up the truth? A hungry belly makes the gleaner wise; if there be no corn in her hand, there will be no bread on her table; she labours under the sense of necessity, and hence her tread is nimble and her grasp is firm; I have even a greater necessity, Lord, help me to feel it, that it may urge me onward to glean in fields which yield so plenteous a reward to diligence.

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Today's reading: Psalm 60-62, Romans 5 (NIV)

View today's reading on Bible Gateway

Today's Old Testament reading: Psalm 60-62

For the director of music. To the tune of "The Lily of the Covenant." A miktam of David. For teaching. When he fought Aram Naharaim and Aram Zobah, and when Joab returned and struck down twelve thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt.

1 You have rejected us, God, and burst upon us;
you have been angry-now restore us!
2 You have shaken the land and torn it open;
mend its fractures, for it is quaking.
3 You have shown your people desperate times;
you have given us wine that makes us stagger.
4 But for those who fear you, you have raised a banner
to be unfurled against the bow....

...read the rest on Bible Gateway

Today's New Testament reading: Romans 5

Peace and Hope

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us....

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James

[Jāmez] - supplanter.

1. The son of Zebedee, and the elder brother of John, and one of the Twelve (Matt. 4:21; 10:2; 17:1; Mark 1:19, 29; 3:17; 5:37; 9:2; 10:35; 41; 13:3; 14:33; Luke 5:10; 6:14; 8:51; 9:28, 54; Acts 1:13; 12:2). From the foregoing references several facts emerge:

James'father Zebedee, was a Galilean fisherman and prosperous, since he employed servants to assist in the management of his boats.

Zebedee had a house in Jerusalem and was known as a friend of the High Priest, Caiaphas, and his household. This would mark Him as a man of social position.

His mother's name was Salome, whom tradition says was a sister of the Virgin Mary, which may help to throw light upon the relation of her sons to the Master. This would also make James a cousin to Jesus after the flesh.

James worked in partnership with his father and brothers and was busy with his boats and nets when the call of Christ reached him.

His name is coupled with his brother John in the lists of the apostles, which could mean that when they were sent forth two by two, James and John would be paired. Evidently they were men of like spirit and disposition and received from Jesus the title "Sons of Thunder."

He was on terms of special intimacy with Christ, although he never attained the distinction of his brother John.

His life came to an untimely end when he was martyred by Herod Agrippa. The cup and the baptism of pain and death were his. Seventeen years passed between his call to service and his death. He was the second of the martyrs and the first of the apostles to give his life for Christ.

We have no word from his pen nor word he spoke unless Acts 4:24-30 be an exception, but James was content to be a disciple. He never sought fame, power, a great name. He had no ambition to be first.

2. The son of Alphaeus (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13). We know little of this James apart from his own name and his father's name, coming to us under the double form of Alphaeus and Clopas (John 19:25 R. V.). Evidently he did nothing that needed any record. We do know that this son of Alphaeus was called the Little (not the Less ). Perhaps he was short of stature and to distinguish him from others of the same name he was known as "James the Little."

His mother was one of the devoted women who stood by the cross and visited the tomb.

He had a brother Joses, who was also a believer (Mark 15:40; 16:1; John 19:25).

Tradition says that he had been a tax-gatherer. It may be his father Alphaeus was the same Alphaeus who was the father of Levi the tax-gatherer, who became Matthew the Apostle.

3. The Lord's brother ( Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3; Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; 1 Cor. 15:7; Gal. 1:19; 2:9, 12; Jas. 1:1). Acute controversy has raged around whether this James was an actual brother of Christ and also one of the Twelve.

The Man with Camel's Knees

Because of his relationship to Christ we deem it necessary to devote a little more attention to this honorable James. How exactly was he related to the Lord? There are some writers who affirm that there are only two persons by the name of James in the New Testament and that the one we are presently considering was the son of Alphaeus and Mary the sister of our Lord's mother, that is, the James under No. 2. Various explanations have been given of this third James.

He was a child of Joseph by a former marriage. Those like the Roman Catholics, who argue for the perpetual virginity of Mary, are against our Lord having any natural relatives apart from His mother.

The word "brother" or "kinsman" is used loosely, and means "cousin," according to Jewish usage. If he was a son of the virgin Mary's sister, then he would be our Lord's cousin, or "cousin-brother," as the Indians express it.

He, being the natural son of Joseph and Mary after their marriage, was actually our Lord's half-brother. The language of the passages cited under this James indicates that he had a relationship with Christ within rather than without the immediate family of Joseph and Mary. In the remonstration with Christ concerning His preaching, the whole circumstance points to James as being one of Mary's sons ( Matt. 12:46-50). The facts are these:

I. He is spoken of as being among the sisters and brothers of Christ (Matt. 13:55, 56; John 2:12; 7:3, 10).

II. He was not a believer during our Lord's life. Along with the other children of Joseph and Mary, James did not accept the Messiah-ship of Jesus (Matt. 13:57; Luke 7:20, 21; John 7:5 ). There can be no doubt, however, that he did not remain unmoved by the goodness, unselfishness and example of Christ. Living with Him for almost thirty years must have left its impact upon James.

III. He was a witness of Christ's resurrection (1 Cor. 15:7). It would seem as if James was won to faith by a special manifestation of the risen Lord. Seen of James! Paul would only know of one "James," the one often alluded to in the Acts of the Apostles. The result of that glorious sight and conversation transformed James into a disciple and a believer. It is after this experience that we find "the brethren of the Lord" joined with "the apostles" and "the women" assembled together in the upper chamber (Acts 1:14).

IV. He became a pillar of the Church at Jerusalem, rising to eminence (Acts 12:17; 15:4-34; 21:18, 19; Gal. 2:1-10).

V. He became known for his piety and was named "James the Just." Tradition has it that he was a Nazarite from his mother's womb, abstaining from strong drink and animal food and wearing linen. We are told of his strict adherence to the law (Acts 21:17-26; Gal. 2:12).

VI. He was the writer of the epistle bearing his name, which has always been attributed to "James the Just." But such was his character that he styled himself not as the brother, but only theservant or "slave" of the Lord Jesus Christ. His epistle gives us an admirable summary of practical duties incumbent upon all believers.

VII. He was a man who believed in the power of prayer, as evidenced by the space he devotes to it in his epistle. Because of his habit of always kneeling in intercession for the saints, his knees became calloused like a camel's; thus he became known as "The Man with Camel's Knees."

VIII. He was cruelly martyred by the Scribes and Pharisees, who cast him from the pinnacle of the Temple. As the fall did not kill him, his enemies stoned him, finally dispatching him with a fuller's club (see Matt. 4:5; Luke 4:9). Across from the Valley of Jehoshaphat, there is a sepulcher called "The Tomb of St. James."

4. James , the father of the Apostle Judas (Luke 6:16 RV). We have no further record of this James. Hastings states that, "the A.V. 'Judas the brother of James' is an impossible identification of the Apostle Judas with the author of the Epistle (Jude 1)."

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August 2, 2011

Whose Voice Do You Hear?

Mary Southerland

Today's Truth

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me(John 10:27, NIV).

Friend To Friend

Dan and I had been married one year when we moved to Fort Worth, Texas, so Dan could attend seminary. I desperately wanted a teaching job, but none was available. Instead I was hired as a secretary in an insurance office. It was definitely not my idea of a dream job, but I had a plan. Every day, on my lunch hour, I call the school district's personnel office to ask, "Do you have a job or me yet?" After several weeks, a frustrated voice finally responded with the words I had been longing to hear. "Mary, will you teach anything anywhere?" she asked. Finally! I jumped at the job offer and made an appointment to visit my new classroom that afternoon. The principal escorted me up a flight of stairs, pointed to a door, and said, "That's your classroom. Good luck!" With a knowing smile, he turned and walked away...quickly.

Stepping into the classroom, I froze at the astonishing sight before me. Some children were jumping on desks while others crawled under tables, all screaming and yelling at the top of their lungs. Paper and food littered the floor. In the corner sat an obviously frazzled substitute teacher, who was desperately trying to gain control of her students...uh, make that mystudents. The classroom was in total chaos. My first thought was, "What have I gotten myself into?" The next few weeks certainly answered that question.

Each classroom was arranged in learning centers instead of desks. The students moved from center to center as they completed assignments, a plan that naturally invited noise. I learned that because of overcrowding, each teacher had been asked to select two children to form a new classroom...my classroom...and of course, each teacher had chosen his or her two most difficult students.

The first few weeks were a nightmarish battle for control. After losing my voice twice, my sister, Betty, a veteran first grade teacher, gave me some great advice. "The louder you are, the louder the children will be. If you want to get their attention, speak softly so they will have to be quiet in order to hear your voice." I put her advice into action the very next day. As the children entered the classroom, I greeted each one with a silent smile. In my hands was a brightly wrapped box. Curious, they asked, "What is that, Mrs. Southerland?" I merely smiled and said nothing until every student was quietly seated. "I have a new plan," I began. "Sometime during the day, I will call your name once. If you hear my voice, you may choose one prize from our new prize box. If you don't hear my voice, you will miss the opportunity to select a prize and I will call another student's name." It worked like a charm! In a matter of days, my students learned to listen for my voice above all others.

Stress comes when we allow the many voices in life to drown out the only voice that really matters, the voice of God. We can't obey every voice we hear. If we try, we will end up in total failure, carrying a heavy load we were never created to carry. Obedience to God is not a heavy load because we don't have to carry it alone. God's strength and power bear the burden of our obedience to Him. The more time we spend in God's Word and in prayer, the easier it will be to recognize His voice.

Let's Pray

Father, I come to You today, wanting and needing to hear Your voice. I am drowning in the expectations of others and am so confused about the next step I need to take. Please give me Your direction and the strength to follow Your plan for my life.

In Jesus' name,

Amen.

Now It's Your Turn

Read Psalm 32:8 (NLT) "The LORD says, "I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you." What comfort does this verse give you about God's plan for your life as opposed to your plans or the plans of others?

Read John 10:4 (NLT) "After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they recognize his voice." Notice that the shepherd walks ahead of his sheep, gently calling them to follow. What change do you need to make in your life so that you can look for God's hand at work and listen for His voice alone?

By faith, accept the truth that God is always at work in your life and thank Him for His steadfast provision. Look back over the last few days, weeks and months of your life. Now praise Him for the things He has done. Identify the "voices" that you tend to listen to instead of listening for the voice of God.

More From The Girlfriends

Looking for a Bible Study that is both practical and powerful? Check out Mary's E-Book Bible Studies. Each one includes a study guide that you can download for your personal use or for a small group study.

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LeeStrobel-Newsletter-Header-Final
A Child-like Faith

LeeheadshotWhen I make evangelism too complicated, I think about Jack - and suddenly I gain clarity again.

For a long time, I wondered whether Jack really understood what he was hearing as he sat in our services week after week.

Jack lives in a residential facility for the developmentally disabled in suburban Chicago, and a volunteer from our ministry to mentally challenged adults would bring him to our church each Sunday morning.

Jack would always sit near the front. When the service was over, he would amble over to the pastor who had taught that day and begin talking in a low mumble. His brown hair would be tousled, his clothes disheveled, his tie askew. His face would have stubble and his thick glasses would be smudged.

I don't know the diagnosis of Jack's condition, but for the most part his thinking is unfocused and much of the time his speech is a string of disconnected thoughts. Although he's an adult, talking with him is similar to communicating with a child.

Then one Sunday, when Jack came over to me after the service, I saw that his right arm was in a cast and sling. I pointed to the injury. "Did that hurt?" I asked.

Jack glanced at his arm and then at me. He replied in his halting voice: "I come here...and hear...about Jesus...and I think about...all the pain...he went through...for me...and I think...this was nothing!"

That's when I knew that he understood. "Jack," I said as I reached out to hug him, "that's the most profound thing anyone has said to me for a long time."

Advertisement

Questions from readers:

  • Did Christianity copy mythology?
  • Can people be good without God?

Q. I have heard that the story of Jesus is just a copy of Mithras, "The Sun God" who was worshipped centuries before Christ was born. Is this true? Is there a relationship between the two? From what I have read, Christianity and Mithraism are very similar. - Tami

A. Thanks for your great question, Tami. Actually, I've received several in this same vein, so I want to give you a pretty detailed answer.

This claim about Mithras was popularized by Dan Brown in his novel The Da Vinci Code. Says one of his fictional characters: "Nothing in Christianity is original. The pre-Christian God Mithras...was born on December 25, died, was buried in a rock tomb, and then resurrected in three days."

That can sound pretty challenging at first. Did Christianity merely steal its claims about Jesus from this earlier mystery religion?

I deal with this issue in my book The Case for the Real Jesus through my interview with a leading expert in this area: Dr. Edwin M. Yamauchi, whose doctorate from Brandeis University is in Mediterranean studies. He was a professor at Miami University of Ohio for more than 35 years until his retirement.

Read the rest of this answer!

Have a question? Drop me a line atAskLee@Leestrobel.com. We'll answer the ones with the broadest interest in upcoming newsletters. Thanks to Sam Wall, former chief researcher for the Bible Answer Man radio show, who heads the "Ask Lee" response team.

Lee's Notes

• "A heck of a story" is how the Chicago Tribune capped its half-page review of my first novel, The Ambition, which is now #7 on the Christian fiction bestsellers list. I was thrilled at the very positive piece by writer Heidi Stevens . By the way, she speculates whether the fictional megachurch leader in my book is really Willow Creek senior pastor Bill Hybels - but that's certainly not the case! The pretend pastor has lost his faith in prayer and in the church, turning instead to politics as the answer - certainly the opposite of my friend Bill! As I say in the book, my story of organized crime, judicial corruption, politics and religion is merely "a creation of my imagination."

• Why not seize the tenth anniversary of 9/11 to clarify for your church or small group what Islam is really about and how we can bring the Good News to Muslims we encounter in our workplace and neighborhoods? There's still time to register for our national simulcast Unpacking Islam on the evening of Sunday, Sept. 11. Mark Mittelberg and I will be joined by Georges Houssney, who has forty years of experience in reaching Muslims for Christ; Abdu Murray, a Muslim-turned-Christian lawyer; and N.A. Qureshi, a medical doctor who grew up Muslim and later received Christ. For more details or to sign up, please visitIncastevents, which is producing the simulcast.

Morality and the problem of Evil

Picture 44

Dr. Michael Kruger responds to the issues of morality and evil in agnostic Bart Ehrman's book Jesus, Interrupted. Kruger is an associate professor of New Testament and academic dean at Reformed Theological Seminary. Check out this website for more responses to Ehrman's various critiques.


Lee's Links: Suggested articles from the web
Dealing with AIDS crisis
The church is the best institution to fight HIV worldwide; here's Rock Warren's plan to engage the problem.
Fading of faith in U.K.
This Jerusalem Post piece links the decline of faith in Britain to its declining influence in the world.
Science and seeking truth
Is science the only way to determine truth? Here's a response to this absurd claim - by a scientist.
God in the public square
Is America becoming an atheocracy, moving from God in the public square and endangering democracy?
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P31Header
Mary DeMuth

August 2, 2011

Uncaged
Mary DeMuth
She Reads Featured Author

"We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler's snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the LORD who made heaven and earth."Psalm 124:7-8 (NIV 1984)

As women of faith and joy, we're all birds of paradise, meant to freely soar, to live so fully engaged in the present that most folks wouldn't be able to tell that we've had difficult pasts.

That's how big God is compared to our past trials. He has already uncaged us, and He longs for us to spread our wings.

But I don't always live that way. Much like the main character Willa, in my recent novel, The Muir House, I've been stranded in my past, believing if I could discern all the devastation, I'd finally be free. Unfortunately, secrets in families don't always present themselves all bright and shiny. In their aftermath, I'm left with the question, "If I don't know everything, can I still be free?"

As I examine what the Lord has wrought in my heart, I know He has uncaged me. This is something I couldn't do on my own; it's His sheer gift of grace. Nor is it that I'm a Pollyanna now, rejoicing when bad things happen. It's that my perspective on my life is shifting from introspective pessimism to Jesusy optimism.

Why? I learned this truth: I no longer need to be defined by the trials in the past. I am not Mary who suffered (though it is part of my story). I am Mary who has been set free. Uncaged. Because of Jesus' radical, freeing act on the cross and His mind-boggling resurrection, I don't need to wallow back there; I can rejoice here, now.

We women sometimes live caged lives. Our cages (usually created from our painful past) have become comfortable. We've made our nest in them, letting them become our normal. Soaring is too scary, too new. We'd rather live trapped in our strange comfort zone.

Recently God directed me to fowler verses like Psalm 124:7-8. A fowler is someone who catches a bird in a trap. He is a hunter who observes the behavior of birds to predict what they'll do next. Then he snares the bird based on what it typically does. In like manner, Satan is our fowler. He knows our cages. He convinces us that the door to our cage is locked, that we can't flee. The truth? The door is open, but we're too afraid to fly.

Charles Spurgeon, in his commentary on fowlers, wrote this freeing sentence: "No bird of paradise shall die in the fowler's net."

My heart for you is that you'll experience uncaged, joyful freedom. That you'll be wily enough to silence the enemy's lies that holler, "Your cage is locked." That you'll take one step away from the comfortable cage and flex your wings a little. Dare to be brave today and trust that when you extend your wings, you will fly.

Jesus, please show me if I've made my past a comfort zone or an excuse not to grow. Help me picture the cage of my life as wide open. Give me the courage to step outside, to live uncaged. Oh how I want to fly, fly, fly. I trust You right now to help me soar. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Thin Places: A Memoir by Mary DeMuth

This month's She Reads book club selection is The Muir House by Mary DeMuth. The Muir House is a novel that explores trauma, healing, love new and old, and the life-changing choices people make to keep their reputations intact. Please stop by the She Reads blog and enter to win a copy of Mary's novel, a Kindle, a Nook, or a Starbucks gift pack!

Application Steps:
Ask your spouse or a close friend this question (and be willing to hear the answer): "How have I been afraid to live freely today? How am I living caged?"

Journal about one thing that you keep rehashing from the past that you can't move beyond. At the end of your entry, write a prayer to Jesus, asking Him to shed light on the issue, then be brave and pray, "Jesus, please set me free from this pain."

Reflections:
Who in my life lives uncaged? What is it about him or her that inspires me?

What would my life look like today if I truly believed Jesus has uncaged me? How would I act? Think? What prevents me from being uncaged today?

Power Verses:
Isaiah 43:18-19, "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." (NIV)

Psalm 107:14-16, "He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and burst their bonds apart. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! For he shatters the doors of bronze and cuts in two the bars of iron." (ESV)

Psalm 94:17, "If the LORD had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence" (ESV).

© 2011 by Mary DeMuth. All rights reserved.

Proverbs 31 Ministries
616-G Matthews-Mint Hill Road
Matthews, NC 28105
www.Proverbs31.org

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Everything New - A Weeekly Devotional

SUFFERING- WHAT’S IT ALL FOR?

Why do bad things happen to innocent people? Is there any purpose in it all?

Here is where the issue stings. If I have to suffer, is it all for nothing? Must I pay such a high price for no apparent benefit? How can God expect me to lose-just lose?

The Bible teaches that there is indeed a higher purpose above and beyond suffering. But the way we get there is not by calling a bad thing good. We don't have to do the mental gymnastics that somehow calls a car crash that decapitates a teenager a good thing; or cancer cells, which violate all the rules of how healthy cells are supposed to behave; or soldiers who wipe out the women and children of a village. If we don't keep the moral and spiritual acuity that sees evil for evil and good for good, then we've entered a confusing fog.God is almighty, and good is what it is, just as evil is what it is. But here is the hope: God works through the bad, bringing us inexorably to a better place. How could it be any other way? He is a God of construction and repair, of putting pieces together and putting pieces back together.

We should never blithely tell someone who is in the middle of the agony of their suffering that "it is all for the good." But when the time is right, we can say with sensitivity that the God who is always good is never absent or indifferent. He holds all the pieces of our lives together into a whole that can never be calculated as a negative, but always a positive.

I have lived fifty-one of my fifty-six years years so far without a father. I can count dozens of times when I thought it would have been so good to have a father-to watch a football game I was in, to show me how to shave, to meet my fiancée, to introduce me to his friends at the shop, to ride with me as I learned how to drive. I had thought that grieving the loss of my father would have occurred in the first few years after his death, when in fact every new phase of life brings an awareness of the missing element in the equation, the falling short, the empty space. Yet the loss somehow does not tally out as a negative.

In reality there are no set equations in life; God works a different kind of algebra. If one seemingly essential part of life is torn out, life does not collapse.

My father's death meant that I grew up in Wisconsin instead of Illinois, and with an extended family who came around me like a safety net. I saw life from the perspective of a town of two hundred instead of a city of five million, enjoying regular exploratory trips to the town dump and twice-a-day swims in Lake Michigan. Later we moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin, and lived two miles from the stadium during the days of coach Vince Lombardi, when professional football players were the town's heroes and friends you saw at the department store. I figured out how to shave, and how to have a styptic pencil close at hand. The empty space was never very empty-only empty of one specific person.

It is that promise we hold onto: "In all things God works for the good of those who love him" (Romans 8:28). Not that all things are good (they're not). Not that all things add up to a positive sum (life is not about accounting). Not that all things become good things (that's just not true). Rather, God is at work amid "all things," which means all days and every chapter of life, even the dark ones. He is at work. He doesn't sleep, and he doesn't leave. Any work that God does is good, because he is God.

That is why "the Spirit helps us in our weakness" (Rom. 8:26), why we can believe "our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" (8:18), why we can live knowing that "if God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (8:31-32).

Why do bad things happen to innocent people? There really are no innocent people. We're all good creations twisted, and we live in a spectacular world that also twists and turns and breaks into pieces every day. We use our freedom for good, and we choose to use our freedom in ways that spin us out of control. When there is order, when we are receptive and obedient, then we see great things happen. When there is chaos people get hurt.

But through it all, God remains the creator of Good Things, and Lord and Master over all humanity, even when we so often choose the Bad Things.

Excerpt from Putting the Pieces Back Together: How Real Life and Real Faith Connect. Free DVD available now.


Resources

About The Author - Mel Lawrenz serves as minister at large for Elmbrook Church and leads The Brook Network. Having been in pastoral ministry for thirty years, the last decade as senior pastor of Elmbrook, Mel seeks to help Christian leaders engage with each other. Mel is the author of eleven books, the most recent for church leaders, Whole Church: Leading from Fragmentation to Engagement.
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