Lidlington Church - Welcome

Jeff Bulled 7 December 2014

 

Why Does God Let us Suffer Follow Up

Suffering and Advent?


John 16:33

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." NIV

Two weeks ago Tim was visibly moved when he prayed about Ebola sufferers. We wondered why God is letting this happen.

On 17th August, just three days before his stroke, Barry preached to us on "Why Does God Let Us Suffer".

We may be tempted to separate unfortunate or frightening things we encounter from God’s plan for us. We may think our troubles are not part of God’s vision, and that if we can only extricate ourselves from them we will, then, be happy. We might think of these things that happen to us personally as bad luck, somehow separate from our “real lives” that God has planned for us.

To distance ourselves from the pain, we look for change for "the better". There is a self-inflicted stress in this; searching for an imagined goal which turns out to be empty. It is like chasing a mirage it is an illusion.  No one is forever happy.

Everyone experiences sorrow.  Our hearts will not rest until they rest in God. We will not be fully and completely happy until we are face to face with God. Yet, although unhappiness and suffering come to us all, we are afraid of that reality.

When something unpleasant happens, we may feel abandoned by God. 

When what we see as something terrible like the Ebola outbreak happens, we find it difficult to imagine how something good could come of it. We limit our impression of unpleasant circumstances based only on our immediate, and limited perspective; our belief of reality.  God surely wants us to look beyond the surface to sense with our souls.

If we truly have faith it should not be so difficult to trust God.

I do not need to tell you about Jesus’ suffering on the cross, but what about the Christmas story. We concentrate on all the positive aspects of Christmas, but the Advent, the coming of Christ, was not without suffering.

Matthew 2:16-18

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years and under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.

How much of this was and is God’s work and how much is ours?

Most of you know I was in Texas when the first Ebola case arrived In the USA  there was almost no news about Ebola, until the first American case then it was all over the news. Before that it was a footnote at best!

There has been no vaccine developed since the disease was identified in 1976, now the west is threatened remarkably vaccines are now being tested!

Paltry aid to Africa has been promised by some of the world’s richest countries, and by those that benefit most like China (Africa’s biggest trading partner) who have given $9m, (vs UK $360m, and USA $1bn); Scandinavia and Switzerland do not even figure in the UN Numbers.

What has all this got to do with Advent?

It is two weeks to Christmas

“Advent” comes from a Latin word, adventus, which means, “to come to” or “to arrive.” What is coming, or arriving? Jesus Christ is coming!

How do we prepare?

How do most people prepare for the coming of Christmas?

When we write cards, go shopping decorate our homes and our church, go to a party, come for the children’s Christmas fundraising, go Christmas carolling, or attend the candlelight service on Christmas Eve. Do those things enable us to find God I wonder?

Why would we not find God in our Christmas preparation?

Well, we might not be looking

Maybe we are doing all of this as a kind of chore, or duty, or even an annual ritual that has become, over the years, almost empty of any meaning.

Perhaps in place of these activities (or on top of them), we should concentrate more on preparing our hearts.

The reason that the sermons John the Baptist, Isaiah and Jesus preached all those years ago are still very relevant to us in December 2014 is that they tell us how to prepare our hearts to find God.

(Mark 1:4)  John the Baptist preached:  “Repent! Turn away from your sins and be baptized, and God will forgive you!”

He taught that if we will fall down on our knees before God and ask forgiveness showing God our good intentions, God will forgive us.

Jesus preached, “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent, and believe in the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15)

Jesus announced the good news that the Kingdom of God had been brought near. How? In Christ himself, God’s Kingdom was brought near.

Jesus’ and John the Baptist’s messages are timeless and as relevant for us today as to those who heard the messages face to face. The instruction to us is to “repent” in preparation for the coming of the Lord.

Both John the Baptist and Jesus taught that if we want to find God, the first thing we must do is to turn away from our sins. And that would include turning away from the Christmas activities that have turned into duties, chores, and empty traditions. If our lives and our rituals have become meaningless, then what we need to do first is turn away from our sins!

Didn’t we turn away from sin as Christians? And the answer is yes, that is part of what it means to be part of the church. It means that we vow to turn away from our sins and live a life that is characterized by living as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Even with the best of intentions, many people drift back into those old, familiar, sinful patterns. In the US Baptist Church they call that backslidin’ and may insist that a rebaptism is needed as a sign of the person’s intent to get back on the right track (We’ll let the Methodists and Anglicans think about that).

During the season of Advent let’s take stock of our lives, and turn away from those sins that are getting in the way of our ability to love God, neighbour, and self, including those sins during our Christmas preparations.

Jesus; calls us to believe the good news. But what good news is there to be found in our preparation? If we aren’t finding God in what we are doing, then perhaps we need to reassess our preparation.

Many people worry about how they can’t afford all the things they feel like they need to buy for people, yet the one thing they simply can’t afford to leave off the to-do list is to prepare their hearts for Christmas. How can we help our members prepare their hearts to receive Christ?

Let’s look for God every day in everything we do.

We all do it differently but let’s each take some time out of each day before Christmas to be alone with God, to pray about our sins and ask for the strength to turn away from the habits that keep us from being in harmony with ourselves, with others, and with God.

Everyone suffers. We all know people that have suffered terribly but stay positive, even radiant in their suffering. We all also know people that always seem to see the worst in everything.

If we don’t turn away from our sins, and if we fail to hear the good news in Christ’s birth we will find ourselves unable see past the gloom and darkness of despair.

As Christmas approaches, the light of God does indeed still shine in the darkness, and the darkness has not put out that light; but if people we are going to be able to see by that light, we need be intentional about focussing on God whatever we are doing this Christmas.

 

 

 


 

 

 

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