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Posts Tagged ‘suffering’

Christmas; Nicety or Necessity?

December 18th, 2012

I think it’s fair to say people of all ages who’ve lived through 2012 will remember it as a good year, full of uplifting and memorable events like Bradley Wiggins’ Tour de France win, the Diamond Jubilee, the Olympic and Paralympic Games and Felix Baumgartner’s space leap. It’s been year that has displayed the best of human achievement and endeavour.

So sad then that 2012 has proved to have a sting in its tail.

Another school shooting, in Newtown Connecticut, where 26 people, mainly children, were needlessly and brutally murdered. This event, just as all its predecessors from Dunblane to Columbine, sent shockwaves across the world, and left us asking once again; how can this kind of thing happen?

The Newtown massacre was all the crueller as it happened so close to the festive season, when people are busy making preparations, buying presents and looking forward to spending time with their families. But Christmas is a time of hope, peace and goodwill to all men isn’t it? Surely Christmas can offer us some hope, some respite from such evil… can’t it?

I would say with confidence that it can. But not the Christmas offered by our culture. That Christmas has become a nicety. My 3 year old illustrated this when I asked her recently what she was looking forward to most about Christmas. She replied ‘Father Christmas giving me lots of presents’. Alongside momentarily making me feel like a parenting failure, she had unwittingly summed up what Christmas has become – the shallow anticipation of material gain, along with warm and cosy feelings and the hope of having a ‘nice’ time. The problem is, niceties cannot answer big questions.

The true Christmas story speaks God’s love, proximity and identification with humanity right into the heart of Newtown, Connecticut. You see, from the moment Jesus was born, he was being hunted by King Herod; a despot who was nervous about a prophesied Messiah being born on his patch. This meant Jesus, having come into the world in the most chaotic and wretched way imaginable, was now a refugee, his parents having to flee to Egypt until Herod’s death. But there was significant collateral damage: ‘Herod…gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under’ (Matthew 2.16).

The slaughter of the innocents is a part of the Christmas story that is sometimes forgotten, often glossed over. How many nativity scenes include Herod’s soldiers alongside the shepherds and wise men? How many times does ‘The Coventry Carol’ feature in a Christmas service?

Yet it’s integral to the Christmas story, which displays that Jesus’ life was one of identification with human suffering  (‘He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain’ Isaiah 53.3). It’s also important because events like Newtown remind us that the spirit of Herod is still active in the world. Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, perhaps unknowingly, highlighted this when he stated “Evil visited this community today”. How true. And such evil. But this isn’t the evil of one ‘loner’ who we can distance from the rest of humanity and therefore cling to our supposed inherent goodness. This is the evil of the same ‘spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient’ (Ephesians 2.2) and who holds the world under his control (1 John 5.19).

Nice Christmassy message? Not very cosy and warm and ‘nice’ but then neither is the gospel a nice message, neither is God ‘nice’ in the Santa Claus sense. He is good, and the gospel is good news to a humanity that has rejected its creator, gone its own way and therefore suffers the dual consequence of being morally adrift and open to God’s judgment without a plea. The only way to overcome the awful darkness that we see displayed through our own lives and through atrocities is to believe the message; that darkness is overcome through the death and resurrection of Bethlehem’s baby. For ‘the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work’ (1 John 3.8), and; ‘Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Timothy 1.15).

We need saving, we need rescuing from evil. And that’s exactly what Jesus does. He is both the Saviour and the Rescuer of the world. That is why Christmas is a matter of necessity for us. We need it. So let’s tell it boldly, and celebrate the real hope that came into the world through that baby in the manger.

Categories: Central Point Tags: , , ,

Out of the Rubble

September 30th, 2011

In ancient times, any city whose walls were lying in ruins was in deep trouble. When a city’s walls were down, almost every night thieves and bandits from outside the city would come in and terrorize people. The city would be vulnerable to every conceivable kind of attack.

So when news reaches Nehemiah that the walls of Jerusalem are reduced to rubble, he’s devastated. He can visualise what’s going on and he’s haunted by the picture. As he goes about his everyday life, it’s overshadowed by the image of that rubble pile.

This is a picture that some of you can identify with. Maybe you’re in the middle of situations right now that seem overwhelming to you. It might be health related, or job related, or marriage and family related. When the pressures start piling up, perhaps you feel like you’re sitting in the same spot Nehemiah was at the bottom of the rubble pile – you’re just overwhelmed by it all.

But if you’ve been there, or if you’re there now, you know that at some point you have to make a decision. You’re either going to allow the size of the rubble pile to crush and defeat you; or you’re going to allow it to deepen your resolve to overcome whatever obstacle you’re facing. But you have to make a choice. It’s going to be pretty much one path or the other.

The one choice is to lie down in the rubble pile and give up. The other choice is to rise up in faith and figure out how you and God are going to deal with the problem and eventually overcome it. For those of you who are sitting in rubble piles right now, this is your choice to make… And only you can make it. And all heaven is cheering you on to make the choice for faith. The choice for discouragement and defeat leads to hopelessness and despair. The choice for faith, no matter how hard it is to make, will eventually lead to life. But you’ve got to make that choice.

Nehemiah sat right where some of you are sitting, and his response is hugely instructive. It’s this response that we’ll be looking at this Sunday in the second part of our series exploring the story of Nehemiah. Prepare to be inspired!

Categories: Preaching Series Tags: ,

Finding Joy… in Suffering

February 18th, 2011

Some people criticise Christianity because of its emphasis on suffering. Karl Marx is one noteworthy historical example. He said that, “Religion is the opiate of the masses”. In other words, when we suffer, we seek God in the same way that someone who is hurting physically might go to their doctor for a prescribed medication to alleviate their pain. Marx said that to mock Christianity. But as Christians, we would say, “No, the fact is that people really are continually suffering in various ways. And they truly do need some form of comfort and relief. At such times, God isn’t to be mocked; God’s to be pursued!”

The Bible takes our suffering very seriously. In fact, roughly one third of the Psalms (which are songs and Psalms sung by God’s people in praise and gratitude to him), include Psalms of lament, where God’s people are groaning, and struggling, and wrestling in the midst of suffering. Every prophet in the Bible, with the exception of Haggai, has at least one lament in their book. Additionally, Jesus himself lamented over Jerusalem and wept over the death of a close friend. And human suffering is so real, and so raw, that there are, occasionally, those in Scripture who, despite their great love for God, question why they were even born. Perhaps you can identify with this. If so, then Job and Jeremiah would echo your sentiment. Those two men in the Bible asked the question of God, “Why was I born? Why did I leave my mother’s womb to see nothing but sorrow, and shame, and strife, and suffering, all the days of my life?”

Suffering impacts all of our lives. To be human and alive is, by definition, to suffer. So, the question is not, “Will I suffer?” The question is, “Will I suffer in a way that is purposeful or purposeless?” Each of us is faced with a choice. Will we suffer in such a way that God might do something in us or through us; or will we suffer in a way that is purposeless – that nothing good would be accomplished in us or through us? This Sunday we’re going to learn from the Apostle Paul (who certainly experienced more than his fair share of suffering) how to suffer well.

Categories: Preaching Series Tags: ,

Perspectives on Pain and Suffering

November 26th, 2010

When we experience pain, the natural response is to ask, “Why?” In times of suffering, we find ourselves desperately seeking for purpose. We want to find some kind of meaning. We need to know that what’s happening is for a reason. But, all too often, when we look around at our present circumstances and look back to examine the past, we can’t see how anything good can come out of the pain. This is because the purpose behind our pain and suffering is found by looking elsewhere.

Just after the climax of the trilogy The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee discovers that his friend Gandalf was not dead (as he’d supposed) but alive. He cries, “I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself! Is everything sad going to come untrue?” (J.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King). Christians believe the answer to that question is an unequivocal – “YES!” Everything sad is going to come untrue; there is hope even in the midst of suffering.

This Sunday at Churchcentral we’re going to face up to the whole question of why there is so much pain and suffering in the world. And we’re going to find a perspective that provides deep consolation and strength to face the brutal realities of life on earth.

Categories: Preaching Series Tags:

Distorted

November 5th, 2010

The most dangerous lies are the ones we never notice. Common but deadly deceptions impact us every day. They can distort our thinking in ways we’d never expect and leave us with a life we never imagined. Our ability to recognise them can spell the difference between happiness and the loss of all we hold dear.

In the new five week series, starting on the 14th November, I’m going to expose five common ways God’s truth gets distorted. Each one has the potential to destroy our relationships, cloud our decisions, and twist our perception of him. Each week we’ll tackle a hot issue – things like sex, suffering, authority and sin – and look at how they often get distorted in our lives and culture. And, more importantly, we’ll see how we can recognise and overcome these distortions.

To launch the series I’m going to highlight the root cause of the deception in the world. The Bible says that there is more to this world than we can see. Beyond all that we are able to measure and understand is a spiritual world. It’s a world that we can neither see nor touch, yet we feel its impact every day. It impacts us relationally. It impacts our thinking. It impacts our worldviews. It impacts our attitudes toward morality and purity, our finances, our marriages, how we date, how we do business, how we interact. It’s an invisible world and it’s all around us and impacts everything we do.

The truth is, there are evil forces at play who are very happy for us to ignore their existence. If we are to overcome the distorted view of life which they propagate, we desperately need to wake up to the reality of the unseen spiritual world.

Categories: Preaching Series Tags: , , ,