Where is God when I am suffering? (Steph)

People often ask how God can be loving when there is so much pain in the world. From breakups and betrayal to pain and death, suffering is always a part of life. How do we reconcile this with a God who loves us and promises to care for us? Although God does not take away all of our pain and problems, I know one thing – we can be sure of His presence.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deut. 31:6 

Did you catch that great news? “He will never leave you nor forsake you.” 

Never: at no time in the past or future; on no occasion; not ever.

A simple word but in this context – so powerful!

I saw God’s presence in the midst of extreme pain when I lost my first child to a miscarriage. It has been 9 months and 6 days since I found out my baby’s heart had stopped beating. It still brings tears to my eyes to remember the loss. In a matter of moments my world was flipped upside down as I realized I would never get to hold her, hear her voice, or see her run to me and hug me. I had no say in the matter and I knew God could have done something about this but chose not to. I had to trust that His plans were somehow good (Jer. 29:11).

The weeks and months following were full of grief. Where was my loving God in the midst of pain and heartache? 

God was there when He allowed Zach’s work schedule to work out so that I was not alone when I heard the news. God was there that night when my best friend brought me flowers and a giant chocolate bar. God was there as I received more cards, texts, e-mails, and gifts from family and friends than I had at any other time in my life.  God was there as other women shared their stories of miscarriage with me. God was there when my former roommate bought me redbox movie codes so I could take a break from crying and have some laughter in my life. God was there when He lead me to a book (at just the right time) that reminded me I would see my child in heaven someday. God was holding me on Dec. 26 (my original due date) as I woke up and cried. Again and again He poured out His love through the people He had placed in my life.

I can’t count the number of people who prayed for us. Zach and I were surrounded by encouragement and support and I knew it was from God. The God who promises to never leave us. The God who knows what it is like to lose a child. The God who gave His son for me so that I could have the hope of eternity. The God who walked the earth as Jesus and knows what it is to suffer loss. Thanks to the truth of the Gospel I will see my baby in heaven someday. I don’t know why we had to experience such loss but I know it drew us closer to Jesus, the ultimate Comforter. 

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” 2 Cor. 1:3-5

Whatever you are suffering through right now, know that God will never leave you and His plans for you are good. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, financial situation, the unknown future, or a broken relationship, allow Him to be your comfort today and always. You are loved.

Identity & Service (Heather)

Reflections on John 13:1-17
It’s amazing how we can read a passage of Scripture several times and still see things we have never seen before. The Word really is living and active {Hebrews 4:12}.
After being astounded at the love Jesus expressed in verse one, the second thing that stuck out to me was in verses three and four:
“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper.”
Jesus then washed the disciples’ feet. Jesus didn’t just see the suffering ahead, He saw the truth of His standing with God the Father and that He would be with the Father soon. The suffering was coming—that’s true, but there was another truth that wasn’t negated by suffering—Jesus was going back to the Father. Sometimes when I see suffering in my own life, it can cloud out everything else.
I think one of the reasons Jesus could approach suffering this way was because He was confident in His true identity. Jesus’ identity allowed Him to serve—even those who didn’t deserve it. He knew all things had been given into His hands. He knew who He was and why He was here on earth. And even though this group of his closest friends would hurt His heart by abandoning Him, He served them. He didn’t need to punish them. He came to take the punishment they deserved for them.

On the other hand, what are some things that you put your identity in that have hindered you from being able to serve others?

Love for God & Knowledge about God (Laura)

With the beginning of the Lenten season, I decided to read through the Gospel of John. Thanks to the library of books I have inherited through my husband, I have a copy of The NIV Application Commentary, by Gary M. Burge. I highly recommend it, but with a little caution. While I really enjoy it, there can be a temptation to immediately read what Burge says about Scripture rather than give time for the Holy Spirit to reveal more to you personally. I combat this temptation by reading a passage of Scripture, spending time journaling observations and reflections, and then reading the commentary. Burge’s book gives historical background for the passage, bridges the context for Scripture during that time until now, and provides commentary on the contemporary significance of the passage.
I started right at the beginning of John and read chapter 1. It is the story of John the Baptist and the beginning of Jesus’ disciples following Him. (Now would be a good time to take a minute or two and read John 1 in your Bible). What stood out to me the most was how each person experienced Jesus on their own.  Each person is invited to “come and see” Jesus and through their experience, know Him. What often helps me to stand firm in my faith is the confidence I have in my own experience of Christ, making it easy for me to relate to this part of Scripture. I believe others must also experience Christ themselves to know Him. As Burge said, people “must have a personal experience that completely reorients who they are” (p 81).  However, this was only half of Burge’s observation and I am so grateful for the challenge in the other half. 
The point I missed is the knowledge the disciples had in addition to their experience. Burge makes a list of all the names associated with Jesus in the first chapter:

– Messiah (v 20,41)
– the Prophet (v 21)
– Jesus (v 29)
– Lamb of God (v 29, 36)
– one who baptizes with the Spirit (v 33)
– chosen [Son] of God (v 34)
– rabbi/teacher (v 38, 49)
– Christ/anointed one (v 41)
– son of Joseph (v 45)
– Nazarene (v 45)
– Son of God (v 49)
– King of Israel (v 49)
– Son of Man (v 51) 

Isn’t that crazy? It puts me in awe of how Jesus filled each of those roles so perfectly and how He relates to us in so many different ways. What challenges me is how the disciples had scholastic insight into Jesus. When asked “Who is Jesus?” they had their experience to help answer as well as knowledge. I am called to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind(Luke 10:27). But how well do I really love the Lord with my mind? When people ask what my belief as a Christian is on dating, drinking, sex, or other things, do I know how to respond with the truth that Scripture teaches? Is there substance behind my love of God? My experiences can certainly play a role in my response, but the truth must be grounded in God’s Word.
“John the Baptist is not only experiencing personal self-effacement and an overwhelming desire to glorify Jesus, he can also give a correct theological explanation of who Jesus is. There is a theological substratum beneath his commitment. The same is true of the four men who follow in the story” (Burge p 85)

So the challenge I am facing is this: Is loving God a “spiritual mantra”(as Burge refers to it) or do I have and continue to seek more of the depth in understanding and knowing who I love?