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When Tragedy Strikes

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Sooner or later, tragedy comes to us all.  The Apostle Paul instructed a young Timothy that all who desire to live godly will suffer persecution.  At the end of His Sermon on the Mount Jesus told of two groups of people (those who build their houses on solid ground and those who build on the sand) and warned that the storms of life will pound all our houses.  It is crucial in this life to build our foundation on Him.  We also face our ultimate enemy, Satan, whose desire is to kill, steal and destroy us.  He roams about like a lion seeking whom he can devour.

Christians should be aware of these dynamics.  But the mocker of God becomes embittered against Him and the child of God can become more perplexed when tragedy strikes a person or family that loves, worships and serves God with all their heart.  Is it possible for a godly person’s wealth, loved ones and even their own health to be destroyed within the will of a loving Heavenly Father?  Yes, it was exactly that scenario with Job.  He was a man of complete integrity, who feared God and turned away from evil (1:1).  His ten children were killed by wicked invaders (chpt. 1).  Then he completely lost how own personal health (chpt. 2).  To top off the devastation he was enduring, three of his closest friends and his wife mocked and questioned him.

Job was like many Christians after a great tragedy or loss.  “He fell to the ground and worshiped, saying: Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life.  The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord (1:20-21).”  While his friends insisted through misguided theology and arguments that all pain is the result of sin that angers God, Job defended God’s goodness and that his life had been lived to please God.  Job showed great humility, wisdom and faithfulness to God. . . but...

Over time grief, despair, anger and questions about our loss torment our souls.  Ongoing pain began to build a demanding spirit in Job.   “I am disgusted with my life.  I will give vent to my complaint and speak in the bitterness of my soul.  I will say to God, ‘Do not declare me guilty! Let me know why you prosecute me.  Is it good for you to oppress, to reject the work of your hands and favor the plans of the wicked (Job 10:1-3)?’”

Full-blown anger can lead us to both worship and test God.  Look at Job’s surrender to and his defiance toward God.  “Even if He kills me, I will hope in Him.  I will still defend my ways before Him.  Yes, this will result in my deliverance, for no godless person can appear before Him.  Pay close attention to my works: let my declaration ring in Your ears.  Now then, I have prepared my case, I know that I am right (Job 13:15-18).”

Finally, ongoing pain makes us feel as though we deserve to be heard.  It produces an arrogance in the created toward our Creator.  “If only I knew how to find Him, so that I could go to His throne.  I would plead my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments.  I would learn how He would answer me; and understand what He would say to me.  Then an upright man could reason with Him, and I would escape from my Judge forever (Job 23:3-7).”

Wow!  Job goes from total faith and surrender to God to wanting to actually believing he can defend his ways, saying that if he could find God he would present his case, anticipate God’s response, argue with Him and be found just.  Can you hear those heated words flowing out of Job as he shook his fist while wet tears ran down his face, his whole body shaking in indignation?

Job indeed was indeed granted his demand: a hearing before the throne of God.  In fact two hearings.  God begins the first one with these words.  “Who is this who obscures My counsel with ignorant words?  Get ready to answer me like a man; when I question you, you will inform Me.  Where were you . . .?  Have you ever . . . ?  Have you traveled . . .?  Where is the . . . ?  Who put wisdom  . . .? 

After God’s series of questions from His throne Job replied, “I know that You can do anything and no plan of Yours can be thwarted.  You asked, ‘Who is this who conceals my counsel with ignorance?’  Sure I spoke about things I did not understand, things too wondrous for me to know. . . Therefore, I reject my words and am sorry for them; I am dust and ashes.’ (Job 42:2-6).”

What Job didn’t and couldn’t see was that God was using Job’s pain and sorrow to show Lucifer (one of, if not the most brilliant, most beautiful and powerful archangels God ever created) that a lowly and yet godly man often chooses to humble himself and ultimately worship God though he loses everything.  Lucifer had known the most blessed heavenly role, position and gifts God had ever given and had rebelled against God, refusing to humble himself and worship God.  In the end God used Job’s earthly loss and sorrow to teach all of heaven and earth God’s great power and glory.

As Job stated, life is short and full of troubles.  But God and His desire to offer us relationship and redemption through the Lord Jesus Christ surpasses all that we will experience in this cursed and fallen world.  Earth will eventually be consumed by fire and recreated.  Christians will one day judge angels, rule the new earth and be co-heirs with Christ.  Our pain, sorrows and losses in this life all serve a higher purpose that we will one day understand.  We are permitted by a loving Heavenly Father to ask our questions.  However, in the end, we must remember that the sufferings of this present day are not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to come in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Life is hard.  Our losses are great.  Our experiences with pain, sorrow, loss and helplessness accumulate through the years.  But our salvation in Christ Jesus has secured our future.  God’s perfect wisdom, sovereignty and mercy can and do sustain us as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  And one day will come the final act of salvation.  “So also Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him (Hebrews 9:28).”  Theologians call this the Christian’s “glorification,” an act of salvation which is in the future.  It is the ultimate salvation from sin, its effects and its curse.

So when tragedy strikes, worship God, focusing continually on thanksgiving for His perfect love that offers us salvation from sin’s ultimate penalty.  Through the process of grief with its intense regrets, hurt, denial and anger allow God to continue His work of salvation.  Great pain often nourishes sanctification and the opportunity to overcome the power of sin that embitters and believes man has the right and position to find, approach and question God about what we deserve and receive from Him.  Finally, embrace the peace of knowing His plan is to ultimately save us from the very presence and consequences of sin and its devastating blows upon our lives.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us as we walk through the joys and pains that a perfect Father has ordained for us in this life!

Craig Lile
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Why Should I Regularly Attend Church?

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If you want to anger a teacher or educator ask them why anyone should have to go to school when, for the rest of your life you are not going to use most of the stuff you learn.  If you want to anger a coach ask him why you have countless rigorous practices that make the sport seem more like work than recreation.  And if want to anger a pastor ask him why attendance every week at church is so important when you already think about God, read your Bible and pray at home.  Schools shape our mind, study habits, drive, broad-mindedness and worldviews.  Athletic practices shape our bodies, techniques, reactions, details and teamwork necessary to win.  And church has a far broader impact in shaping relationships, attitudes, knowledge, wisdom, impact, purpose and meaning in life than we sometimes recognize.

Our world is getting busier and busier.  Travel is easier than ever and we feel expected to attend weekend out-of-town get-togethers.  Between school, sports and camps our kids sometimes set the priorities for the entire family’s calendar.  And America has a passion for work, working longer and harder than most if not all industrialized nations.  So with all these things pulling on Christ-followers what’s so wrong with missing church once or twice a month?  Well . . . the same thing, I suppose, with missing only one practice or school day per week.  Our society used to reserve Sundays for church attendance but Christian parents have been willing to relegate Sunday worship to a lower priority than it used to be in order to participate in secular opportunities.  Culture has taken note and been swift to claim that day as well as the other six for secular rather than sacred use.

Coaches know what missing practice does for the athlete.  Educators know the negative impact on those who don’t attend school.  And pastors certainly see and work with dark repercussions of Christians who have become naïve to how critical church attendance and involvement is.  So let’s step back and look at the bigger picture of how important it is for God’s plan to remain a priority for those who embrace Christ and want to follow His plans and purpose for His bride, the church.

First and most importantly, church prioritizes the truths of Christ, salvation and His eternal kingdom.  It is easy to comprehend that Christ left eternity and came to earth only for a brief time to secure God’s plan for mankind.  Jesus was on earth for a few short years before returning to heaven.  However, we forget that if we live 10, 50 or even 100 years, it is still no different in relation to eternity than Jesus’ short time on earth.  Though we didn’t come from heaven to earth, humanity was still created for heaven and eternity.  Earth and this life are temporary and our focus on decisions for Christ and service to His kingdom will determine our rewards and positioning for all eternity.  We are tempted to plan and live life down here as though it includes our beginning and our end.  It doesn’t!  Our work, accomplishments and treasures here will all be laid before the Judgment Seat of Christ.  What we have done on earth is simply an interlude, like that of Jesus, before we receive that which remains for eternity.  Just as priests, prophets and the temple were visuals that constantly reminded saints in the Old Testament of greater heavenly things, so too is church, the equipping of the saints, the Lord’s Supper, worship and service through the church.

Another important big picture we need to see is the importance of the relationships we develop.  Our children have a far greater potential to embrace and live in righteousness, true joy and the worship of God through relationships within the church than on their secular teams, bands, and clubs or in school.  Sports relationships are good, but woe can come to parents who allow their kids to lose interest and disconnect from church relationships and choose teammates who hold different values, goals, standards of good and evil, and usually a secular rather than biblical view of the world.  I have sadly watched  parents shock as they watch their teens crash morally and spiritually.  But the process actually happened slowly as serving Christ and “the work of the saints” competed with the worldly allurements and enticements of secular activities.  All three of my kids grew up heavily involved in sports.  And all three were drawn to the glamour, acceptance and popularity that sometimes appeared to outweigh the simplicity, servitude and feelings of being “outsiders” that prioritized their Christianity.  Robin and I made a point of consistently sharing the eternal benefits of building our conversations, priorities and values around Christ, spiritual relationships and living to please our Master above all others.  I have no regrets in this.  I met my predominant spiritual mentor through my church.  I met my lifelong best friend in my church.  I met my incredible wife of 30 years in my church.  Both of my daughters and their husbands are active within church, share life with other God-seeking couples within their church and have experienced great benefits and fruit from a church community.  My son is reaping the great benefits of those relationships as well.  None of my kids were ever allowed to put secular pursuits before the things of Christ and His church, and none have abandoned those spiritual values. Church has been an instrumental part in our family as have child dedications, baptisms, marriages, decisions, and relationships, giving us the tools to deal with life in a very dark and complex world.   

Another value of attending church every week is the opportunity to learn Christ’s truths and wisdom.  In the world where up is down and down is up, evil is good and good is evil, right is wrong and wrong is right, a Bible-centered church teaches clear truth in a world in need of light.  In a world where truth is often based upon each person’s own individual value system, it is beautiful when a Bible-centered church instills what God Himself has declared before man’s creation to be righteous or unrighteous.  With so much strife and opinion on issues such as homosexuality, abortion, immigration, religion and the protests of so many claiming their rights, it is so important for Christians to know God’s stand on issues.  He is our Creator and Judge and the scriptures teach we will all be held accountable some day for every word, deed and action.  On FaceBook, in government and in culture people fight, argue and attempt to justify their opinions on important issues of life.  But a church that teaches God’s Word declares the ultimate truth that will last throughout eternity.

Another value of church is the equipping of saints for service.  Part of God’s plan is the giving of spiritual gifts to every believer.  Every Christian has a supernatural gift(s) from God that, if developed and used, make a tremendous impact upon them, other people and the church as a whole.  In church we have the opportunity to learn from, grow beside and live out all of God’s characteristics and ministries we see lived out and taught by others.  No other place on earth has this dynamic.  The teacher teaches supernatural truths from God’s Word, equipping others to teach what they have been taught.  A person with the gift of mercy reveals the heart and actions of God the merciful, which are not natural in a world that shows little mercy.  When I began getting serious about my involvement in church at the age of 17 I didn’t understand my strengths, potential or place in this world.  But through church I was mentored, taught, counseled and then given opportunities to serve, grow and develop in leadership and impact.  My gift of teaching was developed and cultivated, eventually expanding into the role of Minister of Youth.  Then through a process God used my gifts in larger capacities as a Pastor/Shepherd.  The opportunity through church to learn and employ my gifts hopefully blesses the church, but it certainly is a source of joy, fulfillment and encouragement to me personally.  We all want to make an impact on our world.  None of us may ever have a street, school or building named after us.  But every Christian has the opportunity, through their church, to develop and make impact upon others, leaving a spiritual and eternal legacy.

I could go on, but finally, the church is our refuge and strength in a sin-stained and dying world.  We Christians sometimes have our fusses.  We are imperfect.  Where people are there will be shortcomings.  But the church soars above that which we are tempted to look to for security: education, the economy, government, etc.  Those areas are under great dispute today.  Many are fighting for more power and control.  But the church serves a higher purpose than self.  We are focused on the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.  None but the church will be there when we need counseling, when we need help, when we need comfort, or during the death of a loved one.  But the church rises during those occasions.  Though imperfect, we serve a perfect founder, purpose and pursuit  . . . Christ’s kingdom, power and glory!  I love God’s design of the church!  It is good and perfect.  I love my church!  Through all the highs and lows, mountaintops and dark valleys, it has been used by the Lord to keep me in Him, point me to Him and bring pleasure to Him!  Enjoy all the opportunities the world offers us.  But I love and have chosen Christ and His church above all else!  I hope you do too!

Craig Lile
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