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Archive for March, 2016

In light of yet another terrorist attack yesterday in Brussels, Belgium, I can “hear” people all over the world asking the question, “If God is a loving God, why does He allow suffering?

Or, they may ask, “If God is a loving God, why doesn’t He just stop evil?”  I write the following primarily to the sincere seeker of truth and secondarily to the cynic, hoping what I have to say will soften his or her heart to at least be open to a viewpoint that heretofore, he or she has disdained.

Yesterday’s horrific, demonic attacks are yet another example of how astonishingly man can degrade himself through his own sin and hatred — man who was created in God’s image and likeness to do good!

brussels bombing

First, there may be an implicit level of doubt about whether God truly is a loving God, because of the existence of suffering in the world.  That is what we will be attempting to explain in this study.

But if the person asking the question approaches the subject with cynicism, he or she assumes the authority of deciding the ultimate definition of love, righteousness and justice.  But how does the created dictate to the Creator (Rom. 9:20-21; cf. Jer. 18:1-4)?

Second, the question assumes that suffering is God’s fault – but the question never considers whether suffering is due to man’s actions (e.g. Prov. 19:3; Jer. 14:4; Gal. 6:7-8).

It is rare for the person who charges God with being unfair to acknowledge that he actually sometimes brings suffering upon himself (cf. Prov. 16:2; Is. 1:5-6).

This is especially so in a world lacking in integrity, where people are often dishonest with others and even with themselves.

Third, the nature of the question assumes there is a contradiction between love and suffering; implied within the question is the notion that genuine love could not allow suffering, but we must examine whether or not this premise is accurate.

Fourth, the question also challenges the veracity of the claims of Scripture, which throughout emphatically declares Him to be a God of love (e.g. John 3:16; 1 John 4:8; cf. Ps. 136), but also of righteousness (Ps. 119:137), whose judgments are always just (Rom. 11:33-36).

If Scripture can be shown to be without error (the focus of another topic in our series on Apologetics – the inspiration, inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture) — then we must adhere to its claims about God and look to it to define what true love really is (e.g. 1 Cor. 13:4-8a) – since it is obvious that in our world, “love” has a wide range of disparate meanings.

“Righteousness and justice are the foundations of His throne” (Ps. 89:14)

“Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25)

Fifth, the question really presumes that the questioner prefers that God take away free-will, as will be demonstrated with an examination of how God dealt with Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel (Gen. 2:25-3:24; 4:1-5).

Honesty dictates that we must all be willing to forfeit free-will, because we have all caused (and will continue to do so) some level of suffering to others.  Who would want to give up all free-will and become an automaton?

Sixth, the question assumes that all suffering is bad – but is that the case?  Would the subjects of Scripture who endured enormous suffering (e.g. Job, Joseph, Jeremiah, Paul and Jesus) question God’s goodness and love because of what they endured – or did they instead praise Him (cf. Job 1:20-22; 2:10; Gen. 50:20; Phil. 1:12-18)?

Suffering does not appear to be part of God’s original purpose in Creation; it was sin that brought suffering into the world (Gen. 3:1-19; Rom. 8:18-25).  We say it does not appear to have been part of God’s original purpose because suffering will one day vanish (Rev. 21:4-5).

brussels bombing 2

Seventh, we need to be honest about how we view God and His power.  If we are honest, we must admit that we see power not as God sees it.  We see power as force – the ability to control or to enforce one’s own will.

God has that power, of course.  But the kind of power He chooses to exert is the power of love – not domination!  He creates people out of the motive of love; He gives them free will out of the motive of love.

He desires relationship out of the motive of love.  To force the people who He created in love – and with the greatest of dignity and nobility (Gen. 1:26-28; Ps. 8) — to do what He wants is not love but coercion!

Even Jean-Paul Sartre understood the importance of free will.  He wrote, “The man who wants to be loved does not desire the enslavement of the beloved… If the beloved is transformed into an automaton, the lover finds himself alone.”[1]

Therefore, I submit that we’re asking the wrong question entirely and perhaps we should change the question to this: If God is a loving God, why do we allow suffering?  In other words, created in God’s image and likeness, why do we not live the way He calls us to live to change suffering?

At some level in this discussion the blunt fact for the cynical is this: people want God to control the world – just not their own lives.

[1] Jean-Paul Sarte, Being and Nothingness (Philosophical Library, 1956), 367.

 

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After I taught on some difficult matters from Scripture this morning, someone came up to me and asked me about a challenging passage from Scripture, in 1 Kings 13.  Here is my response, just sent in an email.

I’m putting it also in this blog because I love to deal with Bible difficulties and help people to understand God’s Word better.  Below is my response and answer, but I would really recommend that you read all of 1 Kings 13 first; it’s a very interesting and great read!

So, in reading through 1 Kings 13, it is apparent that God’s word to the young prophet was firm: he was to give his message to Jeroboam and return home, and under no circumstances was he to share a meal or receive any pay for what he had done.

Why then, would God allow the “old prophet” to lie to the young prophet (vv.11-19) – and why would He then give this old prophet a very clear word – the same one the younger prophet had heard from Him earlier?

First, I don’t see anywhere that God led or encouraged the old prophet to lie or deceive the young prophet; I believe that was the free will of the old prophet operating independently of the will of God.

But why would the old prophet lie?  It may have been jealousy – that God chose another prophet to speak to the king — instead of this old prophet.  Jealousy often leads people to lie.

Map of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah

Perhaps this old prophet was threatened by the younger prophet — a man who moved in tremendous power (cf. v.4).

Another possibility may have been to meet this young prophet and perhaps ask the young man to strengthen his own (the older prophet) gift, but this seems less likely.

But he deceived the younger prophet; why did the younger prophet die, but the older prophet apparently got away with lying and deception, leading to the man of God’s death?

In one sense, the older prophet had to live with the consequences of his deception; he clearly recognized the anointing and power that the younger prophet moved in (vv.26-32).  He also seemed to express genuine remorse over his own deceptive actions (vv.26-32).

Was God’s test of the young prophet harsh, or unfair?  First, God already knew the temptations that lay ahead of this younger prophet; no wonder He gave him very strict orders.

Also, consider the great power and authority the young man moved in (vv.4-5), and thus the weight of responsibility he carried (his words and actions would actually become part of Scripture, plus, his calling was also so high that he was called upon to deliver the king and the nation from idolatry).

However, Jeroboam never did repent (vv.33-34).  We don’t know for certain why he didn’t; we may safely assume it was because of his pride and hard heart, but given the circumstances of the young prophet, it is also reasonable to assume Jeroboam did not take his prophetic warning seriously.

The gravity of this event was additionally so great that it appears even the apostle Paul referred to it (v.18; cf. Gal. 1:8).

To disobey God and receive a financial reward (v.7) would have utterly discredited the prophet, his ministry and God.  By going back against God’s word and command even with the old prophet, the word surely would have gotten out and back to Jeroboam in some manner.

Recall the words of Jesus: “From whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48).  It appears the young prophet never even sought God after the old prophet lied to him (vv.18-19).

God tests His servants always, in order to ensure their faithfulness (cf. Prov. 17:3; 1 Tim. 1:19-20; 2 Tim. 1:13-14).

Finally, even the apostle Paul tells us twice in one verse that God continually examined him for his trustworthiness (1 Thess. 2:4), where the Greek word translated “approved” means to prove after testing, and note as well that “examines” is in the present tense, meaning that Paul’s life, ministry and teaching were continually examined.

On a very good and positive note, Paul could actually say at the end of his ministry that he met the challenge to end well (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

Being a man thoroughly familiar with the entire Old Testament, he knew this story from 1 Kings 13 extremely well; it must have been one among numerous areas in Scripture he used to motivate himself to indeed end his life well – the glory of God being by far the most important of all.

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Dear friends,

So many of you have shown a great deal of enthusiasm, support and interest in my ministry to the pastors of Christ Minister’s Fellowship (CMF) in Siaya, Kenya – what a blessing you are to me.

For this reason, I thought you would be interested in me giving a summary and assessment of my time there just a short while ago.  I could write multiple pages, easily – but I’ll do my best to be succinct!

First, all the glory to God for allowing me the great privilege to teach, train and mentor so many worthy, deserving men and women, who just do not have the financial means to get any biblical or pastoral training at all.

Second, there is no way Danny Gilbert and I would see the kind of fruit and success we do apart from very genuine prayers of so many (my wife, Maureen, leading the pack!).

Third, it is always a signal joy of my ministry to minister to the people of CMF: 55 leaders, the seven main leaders among them now training a brand-new tier of 25 more leaders just added to the group — plus another 10 asking to join!

CMF consists of at least 22 independent churches, banding together for mutual support and accountability.  All told, the approximately 80 members represent at least several thousand people.

Our ministry has now turned into a growing Bible institute, where our mission is to take biblical training to those who cannot afford to go.

It is often times heartbreaking to see what the leaders of CMF have had to endure in a very chaotic, “anything goes” Church world — where leaders appoint themselves “apostles,” “prophets,” and “bishops” — with no accountability whatsoever.

In fact, these men are greedy – greedy for “gold, glory and girls.”  Moreover, they are tyrants; anyone who confronts their greed, pride or false teachings are summarily put into their place, with intimidation and threats carried out.

So the leaders of CMF – wanting to lead with true Christ-likeness – have yearned for sound teaching and godly modeling.  Only by God’s grace have we been able to supply this to them.

I never cease to be amazed at the unity and harmony between Danny and me in everything we do – from traveling together round trip, to personal ministry to the leaders, to sharing the teaching and in answering the deep and serious questions the pastors have for us.

God has used all of these things greatly to protect the leaders from heresy and false teaching, to demonstrating to them how to walk in love, humility, unity, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in sound doctrine and in a growing love for the Lord in all areas of the Christian faith.

On this past trip, I taught yet again on the deep, deep love God the Father has for these men and women, bringing them into greater confidence in their relationship with Him – especially in their devotional lives through the Psalms.

Danny and I taught even more on the Holy Trinity and how to understand how God is one, yet eternally existent in three Persons.  This teaching was critical and the pastors have really understood it and “gotten” it!

I taught extensively on worship, and by God’s grace, the people have shared with me that they learned things about personal and corporate worship they had never known.  We trust now that their respective churches will flourish ever more.

Danny taught extensively on preaching and sermon preparation.  This was paramount to their growth, because in Kenya and throughout Africa, it is assumed that to “prepare” a message is to demonstrate complete lack of trust in the Holy Spirit!

Indeed, it is expected that a pastor step into the pulpit and trust God at that moment for what to preach on!  The only problem with that is that the same God shows us throughout His Word the premium He places on hard work and preparation in the preaching of His Word!

Moreover, the congregations are treated by the self-appointed “apostles” or “bishops” to absolutely no biblical teaching – only their foolish prattling and conniving, manipulation of the poor for their money!  So Danny and I spoke a great deal on the hard work of fruitful, sincere, genuine, reverent, humble biblical pastoral ministry.

One of the leading pastors exclaimed, “We have not been taking God’s Word and work seriously enough!”

Another area of great fruit and joy is the ever-deepening, joyful relationship between the two leading pastors that Danny and I were able to bring together in reconciliation six months ago.  These men really love each other!

In fact, we found out that they do quite a lot together.  They both picked us up at the Kisumu Airport and they brought us back there.  The four of us had a wonderful lunch together before we flew home.

Another major highlight was my ability to purchase (through the donation of Bethel Church in San Jose) 25 NLT Life Application Study Bibles for the pastors.

Unknown to me, 25 pastors of CMF did not have Study Bibles and had been praying for God to provide them.  Yet they had no idea that it was burning on my heart to bring in 25 more Study Bibles.  Wow!

My Assessment

Lastly, my personal assessment: First, my life-long conviction of ministering and leading with humility and with great reverence for God’s Word was reinforced once more, as we studied the model Jesus gave us for humble leadership, which is also powerful leadership.

Second, after five trips to the same pastors, we’re learning and seeing that the Church in Siaya really is being rooted, grounded and revived.

Third, we’re seeing a depth to the Church in Siaya that has not existed, simply through our consistency with the same men and women.

Fourth, we’re seeing them come to have a substantial amount of much-needed and desired understanding of God’s Word, and how to minister it effectively to the people.

Fifth, we’ve been able to continually answer their many-fold questions about God’s Word in a manner they understand and that they can in turn implement in their lives and in the lives of the people they minister to.

Sixth, we’ve been able so far to give out a total of 80 Study Bibles!

Seventh, my joyful conviction of doing ministry together with others just goes deeper.  I am so very appreciative to each one of my fellow partners who send me financially and in prayer.

Moreover, ministering together with Danny Gilbert just gets better with each trip.  We have an incredible time together on our flights and then where we stay in Kenya.

We pray fervently together each morning before we minister, and then stand back in awe at how God uses us for His glory and for the advancement of His Church and kingdom through all of us.

Eighth, I had some of the best personal prayer and worship times of my entire life on this trip.

Ninth, I am so grateful to God for the enormous joy and privilege of ministering to so many worthy people who lack training – but who are spiritual sponges – absorbing everything we teach and growing quickly before our very eyes!

Tenth, I could not do any of this apart from the extremely enthusiastic support of my wife, Maureen.

Thank you for reading this!

Brad

 

 

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