Tag: Christlike

A Travesty of Evil: Pride

Note: This piece was written by Emmanuel and myself as the first part in a series on evil. What follows is a combination of our thoughts to provide you on the concept of Biblical evil, as it connects to present day. This will be the first of a three part series I will be working on over the next few months.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. –Psalm 23:4 (NKJV)

For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. –John 3:20 (NKJV)

I’m going to start this a bit differently than usual…

Lord, during these troubled times, help us remember you will deliver us from evil. Help us to remember that, despite being undeserving of your grace, we still receive it. Help us remember that we are to stand firm in faith, to let the world see we are part of your army. Lord, we see such horror around us. We see crime. We see murder. We see men and women berate and demean others for their skin color, their sexual identities, their weight, their social class… for whatever they choose to justify their own hatefulness. We ask you, Father… we ask you to fill our hearts with love. We sorely need it. Help us remember why you sent your Son and why it is important to show Christ to the world. Give us courage Lord. Because we will not let evil stand. We will not surrender to the wicked. We will not turn a blind eye to wrongdoing. In your glorious name, we pray. Amen.

Lately, when we turn our televisions to the latest news report or hop on social media, we are blasted with the latest atrocity. People cry out only for their voices to drown in a vast digital sea of apathy. Merriam-Webster defines evil as being morally reprehensible and arising from actual or imputed bad character or conduct. We are living in evil times, brothers and sisters. But, haven’t we done so since Adam and Eve first sinned? Haven’t we since Cain slew Abel?

Before we delve deeper into our study of Biblical evil and how it takes root in our modern world, we should remember the following:

“And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” – John 1:5 (NKJV)

“The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.” – Psalm 121:7-8 (NKJV)

Within these two verses, we see that lines are drawn and forces are given names. As society has progressed, we grow quick to label areas of life gray and not easily defined. These days, even the word evil stirs the cynic in us; only in fiction or when we see truly atrocious behavior by our fellow man, do we wipe the dust off this old concept and grudgingly put it to use. The world, as we would have it, is very gray. But, as the verses above note, light and darkness cannot and do not mix.

Why, then, is there so much evil in the world? Where did it come from? Why is it still here? What do we even do about it?

When we talk about Original Sin, we often point to Adam and Eve, where the couple ate from the tree God explicitly told them not to take from. That is man’s original sin. But what was the original evil? People laugh at the concept of a devil and make light of the name of Lucifer. The spirit world is never taken to be a real place, just a fascinating setting for countless fictions we tell.

Some people believe in it, and some do not. But this does not change the facts: it is real, and things that happen there cause ripples that touch, bless, and destroy human lives.

Ephesians 6:12 (NKJV) tells states, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  It was in this realm of being, that the first act of evil, not yet witnessed by man, occurred. His name is Lucifer, the Morning Star. If Jesus is the “author and finisher of our faith,” then Satan is the author of evil. Isaiah 14: 13-14 record his first offense, and the ‘you’ addressed here is Satan:

For you have said in your heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High’ (Isaiah 14:13-14 NKJV).

The first sin, before Adam and Eve tasted that fatal fruit, was the sin of pride, of trying to do away with the Creator in favor of creation. Or, perhaps it was the act of choosing self over God. That singular event spawned evil, whatever rises against God and what He stands for. And, my friends, it has been growing ever since then. We, sadly, are born into it. All the more reason to jump for joy at the saving grace of Jesus Christ! It was one, Satan, who brought evil into the world of man, but it is One, Christ, who will redeem any who believe on Him. One thing is certain; no matter how evil the times may be, Jesus Christ is still Lord. Cling to that; please do not forget it.

And let’s go back to that word from earlier: pride. As we illustrate how evil got deeper into our society, through Biblical passages, keep that word in your mind. Just how in the world did Adam and Eve, unaware of the very concept of evil, who walked with God like you walk with your own father by your side, fall prey to disobeying their Creator? After all, He was right there. As close as your breath. Humans long just to feel God’s presence, let alone be able to see Him as clear as sunlight. If we lived in a state of perfection, able to feel, touch, and hear God with all our senses, we would think “I’d never disobey Him.”

But…it happened. Why?

Let’s look at Genesis 3:1-6 (NKJV): Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’? And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.” Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.”

Sound familiar? Satan wanted to be on top, to outdo the Creator. Remember that word pride? Don’t get us wrong – pride is not bad in and of itself. But sadly, we often forget – or simply do not know – that even our accomplishments are the result of God allowing us to flourish or blessing us.

When a child bullies a former friend on the playground, thinking she is better than her. When coworkers laugh behind our backs for being fat and clumsy. When a man lynches another because he esteems him lower than himself. When a husband cheats on his wife or a wife on her husband, forgetting that a marriage is a sacred bond. When genocide is started to remove a supposed threat to a tyrant. If you look deep enough, squint hard enough, you will see the common denominator: the fall of man was (and is) the pride of man. Where are we? Are we standing upon a threshold of acceptance, where we turn a blind eye to evil because it is either too big or too small? There is a spectrum, though stemming from the original source, that seems to diminish evil. Thus, our response differs. Our acceptance differs. Far too often, pride is easier to ignore than it is to address openly. That in itself may be the power of current evil. We cannot address past sins in the way we can address those taking place in the here and now. Our rugs, under which we sweep many things, grow too high. Where is God in this? He is not the savior of brooms. He is a Living God, one who calls us to His higher standard. Can repentance without change truly be called repentance? Can we see eternity at His feet when we clutch to our pride? The point has been and will always ever be Jesus Christ. When armed with God, the Son, and Holy Spirit, how can we not combat the evils around us? And what power surpasses Him? None.  

The Apathy of Indifference

Would you believe me if I told you there was something horribly wrong with this world? A cancer, so malignant, that it’s caused many Christ-followers to lose sight of Him and to think God has abandoned the world? We are a nation of apathy. We are a nation of sin. We are a nation where good men and women wonder where their next meals will come from. We are a nation where parents fearfully wait for a phone call telling them their child has been slain. We are a nation where people are still fighting the race war in a post-Civil Rights era. We are a nation where men and women who are paid to protect and serve, mete out their own cowboy justice. Note, this is not all or even most, but it exists. Finally, we are a nation where hatred prevails and people only want to get involved when individual choice has been removed.

I had a friend tell me recently that those within the New Age movement and those who do not adhere to Christianity are performing the wonders, Christ-followers should be. They prophesize and perform miracles. They pursue the self above all things. My friend saw Christianity as weaker, as not having the strength these other religions have anymore. I understand my friend’s fears. But, let me be clear. God is not playing for spectacles. He is not the next sensational thing. He’s been playing the long game since the dawn of creation.

Let’s look at some scripture for a moment.

1 Chronicles 29:11 (ESV) says, “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.”

Galatians 3:28 (ESV) says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

1 Peter 2:15 (ESV) also tells us, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.”

Basically, our Father has got this and we need to have faith in Him. God does not promise comfort. He does promise to shelter us when we have faith. And, we are commanded to love others. What I’ve seen lately is a lack of love. A lack of human compassion. I have seen men and women belittle others for using precautions. I have witnessed men and women spew filth because someone looked different than they do. Is this of God? Are we really of God when we let our fellow human beings perish beneath the boot of oppression? Ecclesiastes 9:3 (ESV) reveals “This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.”

We have a sin problem. We cannot just sit by and permit God’s enemies to take over. By following Jesus, we are called to a radical change. And if we are all equal in God’s eyes, if we all are flawed and must go through the Son to get to the Father, then there is no justification for the evil we see. So, I am urging you, my friends, let’s stand up for what’s right. Let’s not turn a blind eye until evil is poking us squarely in the chest. Let’s help turn things around so His kingdom overshadows the fear so prevalent in these troubled times.

I’m here for you. Let’s start a radical shift in mentality and imbibe our hearts with the holy spirit. Let’s devote our hearts and lives to God. Francis of Assisi once said, “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Let’s start with faith. Let’s start with love. If we put our trust in Him and embrace Jesus’s presence in our hearts, we will see change. We will see hungry men fed. We will see a powerful shift in our public perceptions. We will see ourselves as the tribe of God and soldiers in the war against evil. It’s time to act. It’s time to arm ourselves with the Holy Spirit and shed our apathy. It’s time to take up the sword of Christ and smite our animosity. Live in love. Dwell in the Father. Amen.

Our Stumbling Block

Life presents each of us with a series of events, ranging from the mundane to the extraordinary, that defines who we are. We move from one day to the next, drawing on hindsight for clarity. Humans are incapable of absolute purity, absolute sinlessness, while we traverse this earth. So we get distracted. So we turn aside from the call Jesus has on our lives. The devil’s in the details, right? We are- we should be- better than this.
We are stumbling. As Christians, we know it is likely we will stumble off and on for the rest of our mortal lives. That’s why there is a need for repentance. It is not to provide an excuse- a spiritual loophole if you will. No, it is so we can honestly beseech the Father, our Lord and God, for His mercy and grace. It is our acknowledgement of wrongdoing and the desire to change. Now this is important to keep in mind as we talk about some ugly things.
But first-
Lately, the world has been plagued with a health pandemic that has affected millions, whether through death, economic hardship, social isolation, etc. People have reacted to this in numerous ways, not all of which are good. Regardless of whether you see it as a hoax or as legitimate. Regardless of where your concern for the health and well-being of others lies. Regardless of these, and ugliness has reared its thorny head. Galatians 5:13 tells us “For you were called to freedom brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Likewise, Proverbs 24:16 says, “For though a righteous man falls seven times, he will rise again, but the wicked stumble into calamity.” A much bigger crisis rears its head. It is the absence of human decency and compassion in many forums.
Let’s talk about social media. How often do you read the comments to an article, only to see hateful, angry rhetoric? How often do we see people belittle others because they do not see things exactly how someone else does? I’ll be honest. I have been a member of Christian groups, writing groups, art groups, gaming groups… you expect to see people who only want to stir the pot, just to get any sort of response. We call them trolls in this digital age. But do you know where I saw the most appalling dialogues? Christian groups. From self-professing Christians. I will not discount the good, but there is too much hateful dialogue and rhetoric present for anyone claiming to serve God.
I will not share what I have seen, as it is something you can see for yourself, but there are three things I want to communicate.

  1. No one has the authority to judge the depth of one’s faith. We are commanded to help guide people to Jesus, to make disciples in His name, but we can never know the full depths of someone’s relationship with God.
  2. Hateful rhetoric is not Christlike. Even if you are right, no amount of demeaning talk will make it good. Harshness is one thing. Jesus was harsh. Hatefulness is another. Do all things in love.
  3. We do not know God’s mind. He’s God. We aren’t built to fathom all the threads He holds to bring a given moment to fruition. We can guess. We can take His words that were laid out in the Bible, but we do not and cannot know all.
    James 1:26 tells “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”
    Psalm 34:13 says, “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.”

Proverbs 10:19 also says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”
1 Corinthians 2:15-16 says, “The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
It is not wrong to hold people accountable. Through Christ, we are given more understanding into the mind of God. But we are held to a higher standard. We can disagree. We can discuss more Scripture-centered processes. We can question. We can even be angry. But we are not God and we cannot know every detail of someone. We cannot know just how much harm our ugly words do; whether they repel those who are not of the faith or they drive away those who are. Oh, I know these times are hard. We all deal with it in some way or another.
But if you think God’s body will not suffer because you belittled someone you disagreed with, if you got on your high horse and decided to mete out God’s judgement, well… maybe it’s time to open the Bible and get down on your knees. We are commanded to live lives focused on building God’s church. Not tearing it down. Throughout Scripture we are called to do things with love. Love can be harsh. Love can seem unkind. But love is not wicked. At least God’s love is not. So maybe, as we progress towards an uncertain future, we’ll draw on Him to better engage with others.

Hope in God’s Domain

It’s important to remember one thing. This is God’s domain. If this is God’s domain, then we know He is in control. Perhaps that is something we all should keep in mind. But we keep forgetting in these trying times. I get it. Times are scary. Some of us are isolated. Some are forced into interaction with others, risking onset of COVID-19. I am sorry for whatever you’re going through, but remember, this is God’s domain.

In Isaiah 41:10 we’re told, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Psalm 46:1 also says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” How about this from Philippians? “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Far too often, we try to put ourselves on tier with God. Hey, I’m guilty of trying to exercise my own sense of control when the world- when life- throws another curveball. We cannot wrest control from our Father’s hands. No matter how strong we think we are, He is stronger. No matter how capable we are, He is so much more capable. Trust me when I tell you I know how hard it is to accept there is anything out of my control. But I am not God and when I submit to His grace, then I cannot truly claim helplessness. Do not be anxious. Do not hold to the might be’s and what ifs.

Many of us have plausible excuses for holding to news reports and social media posts. We need to know what’s going on in the world around us. We are social creatures who feel a compulsion to stay plugged in. I ask you this. Is it drawing us closer to God? Does berating others in the comments section that’s present pretty much everywhere showcase God in our life? God allows the negativity, but He does not condone the sin.

I think during these times we really need to focus on God’s word. We need to think on what is good and true. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). Is God good? Nahum 1:7 says so. Mark 10:18, 1 Peter 2:3, Psalm 86:5- I could go on, but you see, He is so very good! And true. And noble. All these things. Certainly God and His Word is praiseworthy? In Revelation 4:11, we hear, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” He certainly is praiseworthy!

When we start to grow restless and decide to venture out into the world, God is still deserving of our devotion. He doesn’t lose sovereignty simply because we are sick or going a bit stir crazy. We do not give God His sovereignty. It is and always has been His. He hasn’t lost control just because we can’t stand the way things are anymore. And you know what? When events settle down to where they seem less turbulent, He will still maintain just as much control as He does right now. Complete control.

That is what is good and right. He is our constant. He is our North Star. But it’s up to each of us to wade through life’s murky waters and clutch to Him. We’re in His domain, remember?

When We Do More Harm

Trigger warning: This is directed to people who fall under the “Christian” label.

  • “Do you know Jesus in your life?”
  • “Have you accepted Jesus into your heart?”
  • “Who is Jesus to you?”

At some point in our lives, we are asked a variation of those questions. Often, they are meant to initiate conversations between nonbelievers and Christ-followers. Sometimes, they are conversations between fellow Christ-followers. These dialogues can prove quite fruitful and to be sure, the conversation must start somewhere. We’ll touch on the positive interactions another time. For now, let’s talk about when Christians do more harm than good, though they mean well. It is a hard pill to swallow, but often, peoples’ issues with Christianity is not Jesus, but the people professing faith in Him.

But first, who does Jesus say He is?

  • Luke 22:70 – Then they all said, “Are You then the Son of God?” So He said to them, “You rightly say that I am.”
  • John 14:6 – I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”
  • John 11:25 – Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

Jesus didn’t- and still doesn’t- need help to tell who He is. We know he came to our mortal earth to not only take the burden of our sin by dying on the cross, but to defeat the grave three wonderful days later. Jesus is the blameless Son of the Most High God, part of the Holy Trinity- Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Jesus knows who He is. 

But do we? Moreover, are we confident in our knowledge of who He is? That is the personal question each person must answer for themselves. Let’s make certain assumptions about mindsets to provide a general baseline to proceed upon. To us- us being the average Christian- acceptance of the following is necessary.

  • Jesus is the Son of God.
  • Jesus is God.
  • Jesus came to die for us, to take on the mantle of sin, as payment for our sins.
  • Jesus is the only way to the Father.
  • Jesus rose from the grave, thereby defeating it.
  • Jesus is blameless.

Now that we have this baseline, let’s talk about a few items where many of us indicate room for improvement.

Item 1: No one’s relationship with God is more exalted than another’s.

Pride is sinful. Proverbs 11:2 says, “When pride comes, then comes shame; But with the humble is wisdom.” Proverbs 16:18 also says, “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.” James 4:16 states, “But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” We Christ-followers don’t always get it right. But we all fall short of the Glory of God. All of us. If we were perfect, there would have been no need for Jesus to come down to us, endure the crucifixion, and then return from the grave. So, we all have testimonies and none of them are the same. In fiction, it’s said that there are around 7 storylines or themes that exist, and that all stories are variations of one of at least one of the 7. How many human beings are on this planet? A lot. Each of us has a story. That story transforms into testimony when we take up the battle garb that is Christ. In that each is unique, it is also the same. It is a convergence on the single doorway: Jesus.

Even after we choose to follow Him, we’re still plagued by this sinful world. We still stumble. We still doubt from time to time. We’re imperfect creatures. But within the Christian community, there are some who exalt their stories, who make their walk with God seem much more profound than those around them. They call the doubts and another person’s walk with Him immature or foolish. Have you heard or experienced something like this? Let’s look at an example.

A young woman, single mother, survivor of spousal and familial abuse, has seen her life turn around in the last year. She grew up in church, but fell away for about 5 years. A year ago, she felt God speaking in her life again. She started going to church, has gotten involved, and interacts with people about her faith with increasing frequency. One night, she has a conversation with a longtime, Conservative, female churchgoer. The older woman asks her, “Who is Jesus to you?” The younger woman answers, using her past suffering and her recommitment to reinforce that Jesus is her salvation. She does not delve as deeply into scripture, does not have verse and passage to reinforce what she’s saying. The other does not like this answer. The longtime churchgoer, thinking she is meaning well, over-saturates the conversation with items to make the younger woman’s story seem childish, not as profound as the long-time churchgoer’s because she has more questions.

Sometimes, we forget that God wants all of us in His corner. We do more damage and honor Him less by making our walk seem more righteous than someone else’s. Look, we all misinterpret the Word sometimes. And we’re all at different points on our walk. We can never learn enough from God. There will always be more He can teach us. But, some of the specifics of what each of us needs to learn aren’t the same as the next person.

Item 2: Humans are not perfect. No Christian is perfect.

Think on your experiences with church. How many of us have seen those perfect people, who always seem to serve God the best way, who never seem to struggle with their faith, who always are on their p’s and q’s? Their perfection is an illusion. And if we’re focusing on this, then our focus is on the wrong things. God is the focal point. Not the people in his congregation. Sure, we want examples of how to live a holy life.  That’s natural. But, we’re disregarding a rather important fact. If we acknowledge that no one is perfect- Jesus has been identified as the only perfect being- then, by extension, no Christian can be perfect.

Side note: In Christ, we are made perfect. I am referring to the impossibility of worldly perfection.

We can make our faith look good. Sure, we’ve seen too many television shows about makeovers to not believe this. Following God is not about making any part of ourselves look good. It’s about revering and adhering to our Lord. When we fixate on the aesthetics of our faith, we risk replacing the importance of truly humbling ourselves to Him. We also do damage to the Church because we’re magnifying our hypocrisy. What if I told you that every single one of us is a hypocrite? We want to be as like Jesus as we possibly can; yet, we constantly fall short. If we didn’t fall short, we wouldn’t need Him. We get it wrong. We say the wrong thing. We make ourselves ugly, in appearance and soul, at times.  I could go on about how this does damage to our task of seeking disciples for Jesus, but what about to those who are already part of the flock?

There are two sides to the problem. Let’s start with those who are fixating on those who seem like they’re perfect Christians. Everyone’s circumstances are different. Everyone’s backgrounds are unique to them. Sure, there are a myriad of similarities, but there are also just as many differences. That’s good. God uses all of us. He uses our unique skillsets to serve His purpose. When we fixate on those who seem to do it better, we are shifting focus from serving God and worshipping Him, to creating a sort of idol in our fellow Christian. We do not know what goes on in their head. We do not know if they are truly following Him or wearing a mask. The second side of the problem is the people who attempt the illusion of perfection. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling anyone to not attempt to be the best version of themselves as possible. I’m merely pointing out that the illusion of perfection is not sustainable. Thousands of years later, Jesus’s perfection is still sustainable. Know why? Because it is not an illusion of perfection. It is absolute perfection. When we are more focused on how we present ourselves, we lose sight of Him. It undermines our walk with God. It undermines our ability to guide others to the flock, because we become less human and more hypocritical monsters.

So, how do we fix this? I could share verse after verse with you. Instead, just look back at who Jesus said He is. Because when it comes down to it, when we put too much of ourselves in it, to the point where others leave the Church or don’t come to Jesus, as byproducts of our own actions, we’re doing more harm to His Church.

Let’s change that. Let’s encourage each other’s walk, offering guidance where it is truly needed, and put a lot less of who we want God to be and lot more of who He tells us He is.

On Ruth: Suffering

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lover for ever” (Psalm 23:1-6).

Our Father in heaven never promised an easy life. Time and time again, his flock are reminded that to seek Christ, to go through the Son to get to the Father, is a demanding, often overwhelming path. Quite honestly, it is meant to forge Christian men and women into that which can best serve God’s glory. And you know what? That’s not even close to being an easy Crucible to run through.

Snapshot: Single parent juggles multiple part or full time jobs to make ends meet, put food in their children’s bellies, and weigh out which bill can be paid late.

Snapshot: Man loses his wife, children, and house in an accidental fire. Insurance says. “Sorry, but there just isn’t enough coverage.” He’ll have to find a bed to lay his head as he struggles to understand why he didn’t perish with everyone else.

Snapshot: Young man sits in an otherwise empty cell because he lost control for just a moment. Now, he’s potentially facing a lifetime behind bars or, at the very least, one full of guilt because of a mistake he can’t take back.

Every single person, whether or not they believe in Jesus Christ, finds themselves walking a fine line between joy and suffering. As we are told in 2 Corinthians 1:5, “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.” I get it. Life can- and often does- suck. We’ve all heard the phrase “God never gives us more than we can bear.” If we are being honest, most of us don’t agree. Hey, we’re human. Life is tough. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 4:16). Life is hard, but God is bigger than any burden. So it isn’t that he gives more than we can handle because He is much bigger than ALL our troubles.

A lot of times we, as Christians, look towards scripture for examples of suffering and God’s grace. There is Jesus, of course, and Peter, Joseph, David… pretty much everyone of note in the Bible is riddled with times of suffering. Reflect on this: Pointless suffering does not exist; rather, there is only suffering that should- if we allow it- draw us closer to God. Let’s take at Ruth for now.

A little context: the story of Ruth takes place during a volatile time for God’s children, the age of the Judges. Here are three important people to remember as we discuss the Story of Ruth.

  1. Naomi – the Israelite, Ruth’s mother-in-law, widowed, lost her children
  2. Ruth – Moabitess, Naomi’s daughter-in-law, dutiful. Faithful, pagan
  3. Boaz – family redeemer, good man, Israelite

Though not as important, we should also note the other daughter-in-law, Orpah.

At this time, there was a great famine in the land. Now, “when Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had came to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there” (Ruth 1:6).

Point 1: God is master over our calamity.

Naomi wanted Ruth and Orpah to return to their families, so she would not be responsible for them anymore. Orpah, the second daughter-in-law initially came with them until Naomi commanded the women to turn back. We will get into Ruth’s response a little later, but for now, it’s important to note that Orpah obeyed.

Think of it this way. Moab can represent the world, which is complete with the things we know and are familiar with, regardless of if they are good or bad for us. At the time, Moab was afflicted by famine. And yet, there are familiarities to latch onto: families, the land Orpah had grown up in, even the known hardships. Naomi commanded the younger women to “Turn back my daughters; why will you go with me?…” (Ruth 1:11). It is important to note what Naomi said later in the passage when they tried to follow her. It is also important to note that Orpah did not initially want to leave. Naomi said, “No my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me!” (Ruth 1:!3). Even though she was determined to go home, she felt the Lord wasn’t on her side. This is a common thought Christians have when life isn’t going our way.

It’s easy to retreat back towards what we know, especially when we think God is against us. Remember the snapshots? Each scenario displays circumstances where the person could, as Naomi did, believe the Lord had set His might against them. A commonplace thing among humans is the propensity to wallow in the hurt. Oh sure, most people are absolutely justified in their hurt, but God commands us to turn it over to Him. 1 Peter 5:7 commands us to go about “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” Likewise, Psalm 55:22 states, “Turn your burdens over to the Lord, and he will take care of you…”

We must remember God holds dominion over all things. That includes the times when it feels life has stacked all the cards against us. Understand, because we are given free will, we can make the decision to separate ourselves from God. He lets us destroy ourselves (this does not mean He does not love us). Sometimes, the fall seems hopeless. Sometimes, where we fall is into a pit whose only escape is into a position we might not like or want.

Point 2: God pushes us forward on His terms.

Let’s go back to our snapshots really quick. The first is a woman struggling to survive in a life where she must choose between necessities. The second is a man who must start over after the most devastating events one can imagine, all with the compelling desire to surrender. The third… well, I think that’s pretty obvious. But going biblical, imagine the first as Naomi, the second as Job, and the third as Peter (remember when he cut the soldier’s ear off). God had purpose for their struggles. God did not abandon them to their hurts.

God cannot control our circumstances if He isn’t the supreme God. It’s kind of counterintuitive, but He’ll let us arrive at this conclusion if we want. But, we can also accept He is a benevolent father, guiding us through our troubles. We’re human and don’t always want our circumstances. Sure, they aren’t always ideal; we can choose, then, to handle them gracelessly- as Naomi did- or with class, as Ruth did, which we see in her entreaty at the end of the section. Ruth said, “Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, And there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17). She had every reason to turn back, as her fellow daughter-in-law did, to the world she knew. So many of us are like Orpah; we consciously accept trouble when it comes from waters we’re familiar with, instead of risking greater reward and maintaining faith. Ruth made the harder choice. She followed Naomi, despite the older woman’s desire for her to leave, to a future of unknowns, where there were not obvious outcomes. She did it and next time, we’ll look into what happened when the two women reached Judah.

For now, let me ask you this. Does your fear of present circumstances outweigh the trust you have in God’s plan for your life? Does your suffering foster a need for Him? Or, do you share Naomi’s sentiment that the Lord has gone out against you? Do you mirror Orpah’s actions and retreat to the world you knew? Leave it at the cross friends. Leave your cares to the Father. Life is hard, but God is so much bigger than anything you carry.

The Word and Glory

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and the darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness, he called Night. And the evening and the morning was the first day” (Genesis 1:1-5).

There is a beginning. We are provided the story in Genesis, starting with the very first verse. There is a beginning to the world, when God spoke His creations into existence. He spoke the light into existence. He spoke plant and animal life into existence. God spoke and, suddenly, humans existed. Genesis 1:27 tells us “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created he Him, male and female created he them.” Fast-forward a few thousand years to the point mankind, whom the Lord formed in His image, needed Jesus to die on the cross as payment for the terrible price of our sins. We sinful creatures that we are, murdered His son to become the greatest gift we have never- and will never- deserved. And yet, he did it willingly.

Two thousand years have passed since the death and resurrection. The Christian faith has flourished, but has it kept the Lord and His son at the forefront of our hearts and minds? As much as I’d love to say yes, I’m not so sure the modern church has. To the average nonbeliever, the larger issue seems to be that many Christians exude hypocrisy as if it were an expensive cologne. Churches preach a sanitized faith and have transformed into a comfortable social organization where people can come to get their feel-goods and hallelujahs before returning to their regular weekly programming. But didn’t Jesus die for us? And didn’t He command us to get off our butts and make disciples of all nations?

Point 1: God’s word is power.

See, John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Have we stopped listening so completely that we think it’s okay to dilute what we, as members of His flock, are called to do? Hebrews 4:12 states, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Where is the passive God who thinks His word a whimsical thing to ignore? The Lord is all-powerful. So when we are commanded to obey, why do we modify Him to suit our needs?

Because human nature is inherently sinful, natural inclination is to use our God-given gifts for our own purposes. A writer, without God at His rightful place, will often seek the elevation of his own personal status. Same for the musician. Same for the politician. Same for everyone and everything. God didn’t say we can’t- or won’t- do great things. Psalm 37:3 says, “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.” Matthew 6:1 cautions “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”

Point 2: Our glory is not God’s glory.

It’s easy to focus on what we contribute to the situation. We want to believe what we are good at is seen and given value by those in the world. The nonbeliever has heard Satan’s offer on the mount and foolishly taken what was offered. We build ourselves up, seeking higher station in life. Personal glory is not God’s glory. Nor is it lasting glory.

Our Lord allows for free will. We can choose to use our gifts and abilities to progress our own place. To be sure, God wants us to take care of our obligations. But we are commanded to “Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase” (Proverbs 3:9). “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13). So, using our God-given free will. Who do we serve? It began with the Word, which came from and is God. Does it not make sense that it ends with Him too? Our gifts- who we are when everything falls into place- are meant to exalt his glory. We pale in the face of His majesty.

Point 3: God’s word commands obedience.

Obedience is commanded of us. There is no justifiable excuse for not serving God’s kingdom. We can do great works- we should do them!- as long as we do them in His name. Not only that, but for His name. Human beings fall horribly short of deserving God’s grace. We do. And yet, has He not offered it anyway? Has the Father not granted us forgiveness as long as we come to Him through His son Jesus Christ? How could our own choices matter in the face of that kind of love? Serving ourselves only serves to separate us from the gift that is the suffering we endure because we follow Jesus.

If God deigned to place His perfect son on a cross, how can we justify anything less than absolute faith? How can we condone anything short of total submission? How can we believe He requires less than all we have to give? How can we believe He won’t hold us accountable for seeking our own fame? We can’t. I’ll say again. We cannot.