Our world is a mess. It’s not hard to figure that out. But God is at work putting the lonely in families, healing hurts, restoring relationships, rebuilding lives and communities. Much of this work happens below the radar, out of plain sight, quietly. God is mostly invisible most of the time. But that doesn’t mean He isn’t at work. The Bible and our life experience with God reveal a God who loves to fix things that are broken.
We read in this in Acts 10:38: “And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” (NLT) If you think about the miracles of Jesus, from turning water into wine to raising widow’s only child from the dead, they were all about making life better. Wherever God goes, He makes things better for those who are willing to welcome Him in. God fixes things.
Not only does God fix things, but we get to help. We get to give food to the hungry. We get to give medicine to the sick. We get to comfort the grieving. We get to be part of God’s beautiful work of restoring, rebuilding, redeeming.
The Bible describes us His children as the body of Christ. Our hands are the hands of Jesus touching our world with healing and kindness. Our words are (or can be) the words of Jesus, soothing hurts, bringing life to those around us. Whether it’s saying a kind word to someone on the phone or flying around the world to rebuild a community devastated by an earthquake, we get to help. In everything we do, we are bringing the presence of Jesus into our world.
Wherever you are, look around. God’s eye is always on the most vulnerable person in the room.
When I read the Bible, I discover a God who is all about guarding the fragile, providing for the needy, advocating for the marginalized, elevating the forgotten. Embedded in the instructions God gives are provisions designed to protect the powerless.
Nazism was an example of the opposite sentiment. Only the strong have value. Mow over the weak. Blot out the undesirable.
All of us have been or will be vulnerable at some stage of our lives. I for one am glad that God notices, God cares, and God wants to come to our defense when we are.
Four things you need to know about God:
#1 God likes you
#2 God hurts when you hurt
#3 God is protective—he’s angry with the things that hurt us, and His eye on on the most vulnerable
#4 …next post
Answer from last time: Lazarus (The other two are unnamed.)
New question: What do Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, Peter and Paul all have in common? (This cannot be said about any other group of Biblical characters.)
The wrath of God is misunderstood, maligned, and used to justify all kinds of attitudes and behaviors that are, well—wrong.
So let’s start with a blank slate.
If you had a child who was being terrorized by a neighborhood bully, would you be upset? I would be. If your child was tricked into doing something that put him in danger, would that bother you? It would bother me. If your little child was molested by someone, would you be angry? I would be.
Emotionally healthy parents are protective of their children. And they should be.
God sees every element of our lives in sharp focus and perfect clarity. He knows what things are trying to hurt us, what things are trying to destroy us. And He hates those things.
So, yes. God is angry. But His anger is not directed at us, nor will it ever be directed at us—unless we want it to be.
If you’re scratching your head, let me suggest you reread Romans 1—the classic passage on the wrath of God. Notice where God’s anger is directed—not at people, but at the unrighteousness and injustice that ruins our lives.
By the way, I’m happy—please don’t quote me out of context on this—that God is angry. There’s a lot of crap that goes on in this world, and I’m glad God cares enough to be angry about it. Little children are abused, neglected and worse. Innocent people are kidnapped, tortured, denied their rights. People are victimized by racism and injustices of every kind. I hope and believe that Someone cares enough to be angry, and will put a stop to it.
God is good, and in my view His anger is an essential element of that goodness.
I want to explore another aspect of this next time, then we’ll wrap up with the four things we need to know about God.
Answer from last time: Cain, Abel, Seth
New question: Jesus raised at least three people from the dead in the New Testament. What is the name of one of them?
Our suffering makes no sense until we take into account the suffering of God.
In John 11, we read the story of Jesus visiting his friends Mary and Martha at a time of great sadness. Their brother Lazarus died of an illness, and Jesus failed to return on time to save him. Jesus arrives, visits the tomb, feels their grief, and weeps.
Why? Jesus knew full well He would be raising Lazarus from the dead in just a few minutes. Yet He weeps.
Let me suggest to you that God is not aloof. He is not distant, uncaring. He feels your pain. You cannot experience emotional or physical pain without God hurting along with you.
So let me ask you a question: How have you experienced God’s empathy in your life?
In these last few posts, we’ve been exploring the good news of the gospel—what it is and how to share it. I suggest we start with the question people are asking, and the big question right now is: Is God good? I believe He is, and this is the second of four things you need to know about God to begin to understand His goodness. After we talk about that, I want to come back to the three things God wants to do for you. Then we’ll look at how it all fits together.
Answer from last time: Elihu
New question: Three of Adam and Eve’s sons are named in the Bible. What are their names?
We live in a world where most people are clueless about God. I say “most people” because I mean it. Even Christians.
For years I claimed to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But in many ways I didn’t. I had a formal relationship with Him. I needed to pray a certain way and follow certain rituals to make Him happy. I needed to perform.
And then I learned something that I never imagined before: God likes me. I already knew that God loved me. That was part of His job description. He was stuck loving me whether He wanted to or not. God’s castor oil—loving Dwight Clough. But God likes me?! Wow! He likes hanging out with me? I don’t need to do anything; He just likes being with me?
I gotta say that changed my life. My favorite thing to do? Hang out with God. I don’t know how to pray. Compared to some people (you maybe), I’m not any good at praying. But I don’t need to be good at praying to hang out with God. All I need to do is open the door and invite Him in.
Is God good? The God I hang out with sure is. He’s the One I want to share with my world. More in a couple days.
Question: What’s it like for you when you hang out with God?
Answer from last time: Xerxes (or Ahasuerus)
New question: After Job’s three friends finished talking, one more man spoke to Job. What was his name?
I’m continuing with the thought: Why I DON’T start the gospel with, “You are a sinner.”
Please read this entire post. If you just read part of it, you’ll get the wrong idea about what I’m saying.
Our guilt before God is going to mean NOTHING to anyone until they get over what they see as God’s guilt before us.
Here’s what I’m talking about. That secret (or not so secret) thought that says: Yeah, I might be a sinner. But if I am, God is a much bigger sinner. After all, how could He allow… [fill in the blank]?
Spend time with hurting people, and you’ll eventually discover that the Richter Scale of evil goes far beyond anything the darkest horror film can portray. Maybe you’ve seen it. Maybe you’ve lived it. If you’re paying attention, you’ve been shaken to the core, just as I have.
Why, God? How can You allow it?
I get it when people abandon God. I DON’T agree, but I get it. They don’t know the God I know.
Hear what I’m saying: I believe with all my heart that God is good. But many people do not. Even Christians, if pushed hard enough by life, many times will have doubts.
Is God good? That is the central question this generation is asking. I believe we need to start the gospel there, answering that question.
I plan to say more in upcoming posts, but first let me ask you a question: How has God treated you in your place of deepest hurt and pain?
One more thought: An infant only knows to cry. Mom knows how to comfort.
Answer from last time: Nehemiah
New question: Which king did the niece of Mordecai marry?
You are a sinner. You need Jesus because He paid for your sins.
That’s the standard gospel message, and for years I pushed some version of that. But not so much any more.
What happened? Have I become a heretic?
I don’t think so. I still believe in Jesus. I still believe in sin. But I’ve come to see the gospel as something much more complete that what I previously peddled. Leading with “you are a sinner” robs people of most of the beauty of the gospel.
The New Testament Greek word for gospel is euangellion which means, “good message” or “good news.” I’m not sure that leading with “you are a sinner” really qualifies as “good news.” In addition, I don’t think it’s a good way to summarize the message of the Bible or the collective experience of God’s people.
I’m going to say more about this in upcoming posts, but let me pose a question to you. What do you like most about Jesus? How would you express that to the people you care about?
Answer from last time: Jonah
New question: Sanballat opposed which Israeli leader?
Fast forward 500 years. Imagine yourself…surrounded by the best of friends, walking around with the wide-eyed wonder of a four-year-old and the wisdom of a sage. You are fully present, engaged with life—having fun, in charge, getting it right every time, and deeply at peace.
This is the you that wins.
Guess what? If you’ve said yes to Jesus, this you already exists. In fact, anything that isn’t that—isn’t you. This is the true you, the you that was created to live forever.
Answer from last time: Eli thought Hannah was drunk
New question: They threw me overboard, and then the sea grew calm. Who am I?
Let me ask you a question: Which is easier to put together? A 100-piece jigsaw puzzle or a 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle? And which, when finished, would give you a greater sense of satisfaction?
You and I are like a jigsaw puzzle in this sense: All of us are broken into pieces that need to be put back together. That’s a reality of living in a fallen world. My friend Steve Freitag puts it this way: “Some of us are cracked. Some of us are broken. Some of us are shattered. And some of us are pulverized.”
Here’s the gospel good news: Jesus puts back together the shattered pieces of our lives.
Yes, some of us are more like that 10,000 piece puzzle. We’ve endured a lot of hurt; it will take time and care to put those pieces back together.
And that’s okay. Wherever you are on that continuum, just don’t pretend you’re put together when you’re really leaving the pieces in the box. Hand those pieces—one-by-one—to Jesus, and watch what He does with your life.
Answer from last time: Ruth was David’s was his great-grandmother.
New question: What did Eli mistakenly believe about Hannah when he first saw her?
Sorry folks, I know this one is long, but I think worth the read.
Maturity is, in part, the ability to know when the story isn’t finished.
In the Bible book of 2 Kings, we read the story of a woman from the village of Shunem. This was a woman with a secret dream. Deep in her heart, she longed to have a child, but as the years went by her dream slowly died. She and her husband had money, and the things money could buy in those days. But she didn’t have what she wanted most: a family.
She spoke to no one about this secret dream. She buried it deep inside. Time passed. The dream died, and she did her best to move on with life. She grew cautious, not daring to dream any more.
Then the prophet Elisha came through the village. Being hospitable, she and her husband invited him in for a meal. A friendship started. They felt so much at home with one another that this old couple even built guest quarters onto their home so Elisha would have a place to stay.
Elisha talked to them. “You’ve done all these nice things for me, what can I do for you?”
The woman said, “I don’t need anything. I have everything money can buy.”
But Elisha had an assistant, and that assistant saw through her answer. “She wants a child,” he whispered to Elisha.
Aha! Elisha saw an opportunity for God. “A year from now,” he said, “you will hold a son in your arms.”
“No,” she said. “No.”
I pause here. Why would she say no?
Why would any of us say no?
Could it be that we’ve had our hopes raised and then dashed one time too many? Could it be that we’ve seen our dreams die, and the process of bringing them back to life is just too painful? Could it be that we’ve settled for second best because that’s all we know.
She said, “No.”
But God said, “Yes.” And a year later, her home was filled with the joy that a new child brings.
Yet the story doesn’t end here.
The little boy started growing up. One day he followed his daddy out into the fields of the family farm, excited to help out with the harvest. But something happened. Something wasn’t right. The boy buckled over in pain.
I don’t know what it was. An aneurism perhaps, or a stroke, or encephalitis. I don’t know. His dad didn’t know either, but he knew he needed care, so he asked a farm worker to carry him home to his mom.
There at home, in mom’s arms, the little boy died.
I pause again, and I ask you: What kind of God do we serve?
I ask you now, because sooner or later life will put this question to you. You will lose something that you deeply care about, and the God you thought you knew and loved will seem terribly far away, aloof, uncaring, arbitrary, capricious.
It’s at that time we must make a choice. Are we going to pick up the broken pieces of our shattered dreams and carry them back to God? Or will we turn away from Him, perhaps forever?
The woman from Shunem chose to take her shattered life back to God. Understand this: She took it all. Her grief, her pain, her anger, her deep loss.
She laid her dead son down on the prophet’s bed in the guest quarters, and set off to find Elisha.
“Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t raise my hopes’?” she said as she poured out her grief to the man of God.
Now here is part of the secret of maturity. Maturity is, in part, the ability to know when the story isn’t finished.
God wasn’t finished. Read 2 Kings 4. The woman’s son was raised to life.
I don’t know what you’ve lost. And I don’t know how God will restore to you what is missing from your life. But I do know this: Your most fragile and precious dreams are eternally safe with God.
Will we take the plunge? Will we dance with Him? Will we open up our hearts so wide that maybe we will lose part of ourselves to God?