What the Old Testament says about Disability (Part 4 of 4)

Blog #4 Is being in the presence of the King enough for me?

The account of Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel chapter 9 ends with, “And Mephibosheth lived in
Jerusalem, because he was always at the king’s table; he was lame in both feet.” The first time I
read this verse I cringed a little bit. I would have rather it read, “And Mephibosheth lived in
Jerusalem, because he was always at the king’s table.” Period. End of the story. But that is not
the way that it ends.

Mephibosheth is once again characterized by the fact that he is disabled.
Was the author of 2 Samuel just not disability friendly? Or was there a purpose behind
Mephibosheth’s constant characterization as a disabled man? We will dig into that in just a
moment, but before we do let’s consider what it means to “always be at the king’s table.”
To “always be at the king’s table” means that Mephibosheth found a place of belonging. What
Mephibosheth was experiencing was more than just inclusion.

Sometimes when I read Scripture, I like to read between the lines. I like to imagine what was
happening that wasn’t recorded. In this story, I envision the first time that Mephibosheth
entered the dining room and approached the King’s table. I can almost hear the clicking of
Mephibosheth’s crutches reverberating through the dining hall as they hit the marble floor.
After the clicking of the crutches, I can imagine the sound of his feet dragging behind him. The
dining hall falls silent as all eyes focus on Mephibosheth nervously approaching the king’s table. Click, drag, click, drag. Maybe there was even some whispering going on around the table as he approached. People were probably nervous about what it was going to be like. People like Mephibosheth weren’t typically allowed at the king’s table. Maybe there were people in the room who had a problem with Mephibosheth’s presence. Then, in this awkward moment, I like to think that King David stands up and runs to embrace him—in a similar fashion to the Prodigal Son. After a long embrace, I imagine that King David gives Mephibosheth the place of honor at the table. What a beautiful picture! Remember that King David’s actions often spoke louder than his words when it came to his interaction with Mephibosheth.

Finding a place of belonging around the king’s table meant that Mephibosheth’s life had
changed dramatically. He had gone from a life of hiding and shame to a life of being chosen and sought after. He had been taught to believe that he was a worthless burden, but now the king had declared that he was valuable and worthy. Having a permanent seat at the king’s table meant that others would regard him as a son of the king. He would be sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with the princes of the kingdom. It was a place of power and prestige.

So, if Mephibosheth was accepted by the king and viewed as worthy, why the additional
mention of his disability in verse 13? I believe it is because Mephibosheth’s story does not end
in a miraculous healing. Throughout scripture we see God intervene by performing miracles.
There are many accounts of people affected by disability receive healing. We know that God
was able to do this for Mephibosheth, but He choose not to.

There are times when we pray for miraculous healing and God says, “No.” It may be healing
from disability, illness, disease, divorce, job loss, or any other form of suffering. Sometimes we
don’t get the answer we want from God, and other times it feels like we don’t get an answer at
all.

Here is what I believe God wants us to understand from this story: being in the presence of The
King is enough. The King is concerned with our hearts, not with our disabilities. God says in 2
Corinthians 12:9 that His grace is sufficient for us. But is it really? It was for Mephibosheth.
Always being at the king’s table was enough. Finding a place of belonging was enough. The
grace Mephibosheth received from the king was far more important than any physical healing
he could have received.

What the Old Testament has to say about Disability (Part 3 of 4)

Blog #3 Don’t believe the lie

We’ve been following the account of King David and Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9. When King
David summons Mephibosheth, he is found living in a place called Lo-Debar. Lo-Debar was not a nice place. It was isolated, dry, and desolate. Not your ideal vacation destination. If you were
born in Lo-Debar, you likely couldn’t wait till the day you could leave. It was, however, the
perfect place for someone like Mephibosheth to live a life of hiding.

Mephibosheth probably lived most of his life in Lo-Debar—hiding in fear that one day, King
David would hunt him down and kill him. When he opened the door and saw the King’s servant
standing there, he knew that he had been found. He probably wanted to flee, but was unable to
because of his disability.

While scripture doesn’t give the details of his journey to meet King David, it is easy to wonder if Mephibosheth was filled with fear on this long ride back to Jerusalem. If he wasn’t filled with
fear maybe he was filled with hatred. Perhaps he grew up resenting David for the fact that his
grandfather King Saul and his father Jonathan were dead. What if he blamed David for the fact
that he became disabled and had to live a life of hiding and shame?

Mephibosheth’s story takes an unlikely twist when he enters the palace. “When Mephibosheth
son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David he bowed down to pay him honor” (2 Samuel
9:6). As he bowed before David he might have wondered if this was the end of his life.
Then everything changed. “‘Don’t be afraid,’ David said to [Mephibosheth], ‘for I will surely
show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that
belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.’” (2 Samuel 9:7)
Wow! This is a life changing moment for Mephibosheth—but he is unable to hear it. He is
unable to believe it or embrace it. Why? I believe it’s because he believed what others said
about him and allowed that to become his identity.

In response to King David, Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that
you should notice a dead dog like me?” (2 Samuel 9:8)

A dead dog. Really? He thinks of himself as a dead dog. In that culture, this was essentially the
most worthless thing you could believe about yourself. He believed this because in his society,
people affected by disability were considered a burden. They were considered worthless. In
addition to that, he should have been killed when the kingship changed.

His false belief about himself stopped him from being able to hear the good news from the
king. How often does this happen to us? We become consumed by what others think and say
about us. When we start believing these false truths about ourselves, it prevents us from being
able to see ourselves as God sees us.

Ask yourself this… Do you believe that God loves you and desires to show you kindness? Have
you surrounded yourself with the truths that God speaks about you in Scripture, or have you
become burdened by false truths that others have fed you?

King David not only spoke truth to Mephibosheth, but he took it a step further by restoring to
Mephibosheth all the land that once belonged to his grandfather, King Saul. He also gave
Mephibosheth a seat of honor at the king’s table. God wants to restore you too. It starts with
believing about yourself what God already sees in you.

What the Old Testament says about Disability (Part 2 of 4)

Blog #2 Don’t just ignore the attitude

After the short mention of five-year- old Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 4:4, we don’t hear anything
about him for the next five chapters. Those five chapters cover many years of biblical history,
and when we reach 2 Samuel chapter 9, Mephibosheth is a grown man with a son of his own.
David had been settled into his role as King of Israel for several years.

In 2 Samuel 9, King David has a moment of awakening. He suddenly remembers a promise that
he made to old friend years ago. His friend’s name was Jonathan—the same Jonathan who was
the son of King Saul and would become the father of Mirab Baal (Mephibosheth). Jonathan and
David were good friends long before David became king.

To understand the context of this promise, let’s look at 1 Samuel 20:14-15 where we see a
conversation between Jonathan and David. Jonathan said, “But show me unfailing kindness like
the Lord’s kindness as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, and do not ever cut off your
kindness from my family...” Jonathan knew that David had been anointed as the next king of
Israel. This meant that Jonathan would not assume the throne after his father’s death. He also
knew that when a kingship changed bloodlines it was customary for the new king to kill
everyone in the previous royal family to eradicate any disloyalty. Jonathan wanted to ensure
that his friend David would not do this to him and his family.

In 2 Samuel 9:1, we see the moment where David remembers his promise to his deceased
friend, Jonathan. David says, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show
kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

After searching the kingdom, they found a former servant of the house of Saul named Ziba. King David had Ziba brought before him and asked him if anyone from Jonathan’s household
remained.

Ziba’s response to King David is very telling of the attitude that existed in his day toward people with disabilities. Ziba answers the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is lame in both feet.” (2 Samuel 9:4)

Don’t overlook the fact that Ziba didn’t even mention Mephibosheth by name. He was just a
son of Jonathan. The only characteristic that Ziba mentions is the fact that Mephibosheth was
disabled. For Ziba, Mephibosheth was his disability. This is a dangerous perspective because
Ziba had dehumanized Mephibosheth. Ziba and much of his society viewed people with
disabilities as a burden, a wasted life. We must remember there was no ADA during the reign of King David. There were not wheelchair ramps and elevators. Disability rights did not exist.
People-First language was not practiced.

King David doesn’t even acknowledge the callousness of Ziba. Instead, he decided to challenge
this judgmental attitude through his actions. He did more than just ignore Ziba’s attitude, he led by example.

King David basically said to Ziba, “I don’t care where he is, go get him!” King David, motivated
by keeping a promise to a friend, would change the attitude of many towards people affected
by disability. He reached out to Mephibosheth to show him kindness and to offer him a place of
belonging.

May King David’s example remind us that we must move beyond simply advocating for people
affected by disabilities through mediums like social media. We must act. We must be
determined to not only speak kind words but also to show kindness. May your actions speak
louder than your words today. May your example change the attitudes of others.

What the Old Testament says about Disability (Part 1 of 4)

Blog #1 When a moment changes everything

There are moments in life that are burned into our memories. They may be great moments like
a wedding day, graduation, or the birth of a child. Or they may be moments you wish you could
delete from your mind—the death of a loved one, job loss, or divorce.

Several years ago, on a cool summer evening my daughter had a traumatic moment that she,
nor her family, will ever forget. We all rode our bikes to a nearby park where we decided to
spend time playing on the playground. An evening of perfect joy came to an abrupt halt when
Zoe’s hands slipped off the monkey bars. She had almost made it to the end when her grip gave way. As she fell, she threw her arms out to brake her fall. When she hit the ground, the impact was too great for her little bones to withstand. She bones in her arm completely snapped, just above the wrist. The was no question as to whether the bones were broken—it was gruesome.

In the book of 2 nd Samuel we find a character that would become known as Mephibosheth. He too had a moment when everything changed for him. Mephibosheth and my daughter were
almost identical in age when these traumatic events happened to them. And like my daughter,
he fell and broke a few bones. Unfortunately for Mephibosheth, he didn’t have the advantage
of modern medicine to help him. The result of his accident left him permanently disabled.
Let’s back up for a moment to get an understanding of who this young boy is. I mentioned his
name would become known as Mephibosheth. This, however, was not his given name. His
father was named Jonathan. And his grandfather was King Saul, the first King of Israel. I can
imagine how proud Saul must have been when Jonathan named his son Mirab Baal. Mirab Baal
was a strong name that meant “opponent of Baal.” Baal was the most worshiped false God of
their time. By naming his son Mirab Baal, Jonathan was declaring that his son was destined to
be an example of steadfast faith in the one true God.

His story begins in 2 Samuel 4:4, “…He [Mirab Baal] was five years old when the news about
Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel.”

This news was the beginning of a very bad day for little Mirab Baal—a day that would change
everything for him. The news stated that his grandfather, King Saul, and his father, Jonathan,
were both killed in battle.

Widespread panic began to spread through the palace. Everyone feared that David would be
coming to kill them all. It was widely known that David had been anointed to become the next
king of Israel. And typically, when the blood lines of a kingship changed the new king would kill
everyone in previous king’s bloodline along with their servants.

2nd Samuel 4:4 continues, “His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became disabled. His name was Mephibosheth.”

Little five-year- old Mirab Baal stood in a state of confusion as everyone around him begins to
panic. A nurse that worked with his family noticed him standing there and, meaning well, grabbed him to run off. In the mad dash for safety, little Mirab Baal slips from her hands and
falls awkwardly breaking both legs. His fall left him with a permanent physical disability. If this wasn’t enough, his name was changed to Mephibosheth which means “son of shame.” In a moment, everything changed for this little five-year- old boy. He was left both an orphan and disabled.

You are not alone if a moment changed everything for you. Maybe it was a moment when an
accident left you or a loved one disabled. Or maybe it was the moment when your child was
born and the doctor told you they had a disability. The feelings of despair and shame that
you’ve had to navigate were also experienced by Mephibosheth. We’ll explore more of this in
the next post of this series.

Transitions: What Will Ministry Look Like Without You? (Part 3 of 3)

The true mark of a healthy transition is how you leave your ministry. You should be able to look back and see that ministry is continuing as normal despite your absence. Everything you leave behind should be able to stand on its own two legs. What do I mean by that? I simply mean that in your time of ministry you should have built up leaders and empowered them to do the work of the ministry without you.

Ephesians 4:12 gives us a wonderful definition for ministry – “to equip [God’s] people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”

Nowhere in this verse does it say that everything should depend on the ministry leader. In fact, it says the opposite. It says that the ministry leader should empower others to engage in the ministry. A healthy ministry leader is ultimately a leader of leaders. If a ministry leader has done his or her job properly, no aspect of ministry should suffer when that ministry leader departs because they have invested in other leaders.

Is this easy? No way. Unfortunately, many ministry leaders are lone rangers. They feel as though everything depends on them, and they operate as if they are superman or wonder woman. When a leader operates in isolation they are not taking time to prepare God’s people for works of service. There are many reasons why ministry leaders might fall into this temptation.

If you don’t want to be a lone ranger in ministry and you are going to take Ephesians 4:12 seriously, there are two things that must be paramount in your leadership.

First, you must carry yourself with humility. A humble leader is good at keeping things in proper perspective. In humility, you view yourself as someone that God is using to accomplish a specific task. You see yourself as replaceable. You see the importance of others. You know that your task is to live out what John the Baptist proclaimed in John 3:30, “He must become greater; I must become less.” The true source of all ministry success must be recognized. Any credit you receive should first be redirected to God and second to those that support you. Whenever you choose to take the credit for yourself, your humility and your leadership are compromised.

Second, you must be selfless. Humility and selflessness are intimately connected. But, consider this—humility is about you, selflessness is about others. If you are going to lead selflessly, you should not only keep things in proper perspective but you will also need to fight for others. As a leader, you will quickly learn that ministry is not about you, but rather about others being empowered to do works of service so that the body of Christ can be built up.

So, when the day of your transition comes and the Lord calls you away from a ministry that you have poured your heart into, what will your ministry look like without you? This is a question that you should ask yourself regularly, even when leaving the ministry isn’t even on your radar. You could even post that question somewhere in your office to keep you centered. If your ministry suffers without you, chances are you didn’t lead well. If your ministry is healthy and doesn’t miss a beat, chances are you lead well with humility, selflessness, and a commitment to Ephesians 4:12.

The investment in others is always worth the time. One day God will call you elsewhere or take you home, and if you haven’t made the investment in others your ministry will suffer.

Have you walked through a ministry transition? What did you learn from that season?

 

Transitions: How Do I Tell Everyone? (Part 2 of 3)

Once you have determined that God is calling you to a new Kingdom assignment, the next part of your process should be building a communication plan.

Leaving one Kingdom assignment for another can be emotional, especially as you communicate your transition to those that you have worked with closely and care for deeply. Putting intentional thought into how you communicate can help your transition go more smoothly. Here are five quick tips on communicating your transition:

Bathe it in prayer: If you have not bathed your conversations in prayer and carefully planned them out, they can quickly wear you down. It can be helpful to write out everything you want to communicate before you attempt to speak it. When emotions begin to play a role, it’s easy to forget key points that you wanted to share. Pray that the Holy Spirit would guide your words and prepare the hearts of those you will be speaking to. Pray that He will help you say everything you need to say without saying too much.

Stay positive: As you prepare to communicate your transition, keep both your words and your tone positive. Goodbyes can make emotions swirl, and it is easy for people to focus on the negative. People might be thinking that the ministry won’t be the same without you. They may worry that things will fall apart. And most of all, they will miss you. Encourage people to see that different isn’t bad, it’s just different. Different can actually be good—a new leader with a fresh set of eyes can see things that you probably missed. Transition can also provide opportunities for others to step up. Highlighting these positives can encourage those under your leadership as they face uncertainty.

Communicate with grace: You can communicate with grace by building up those you are talking with. Help them understand the role they’ve played in your life and how they’ve impacted you. Help them see their potential. Help them understand that the ministry does not belong to you, but rather to God. God is bigger than all our ministries and without His grace no ministry would ever succeed.

Communicate inside-out: Inside-out communication always starts with those that are the closest to you; your loved ones and family. Next you move to those in authority over you—mentors and ministry leaders, your boss or board of elders. Beyond this, you will need to talk with the people within your congregation or community that you are closest with. You might determine who fits into this category by asking yourself the following question: “Who would I be disappointed to not be able to share this information with personally if word got out before I wanted it to?” The final group that gets to hear your news is the congregation at large. Depending on your level of influence with the congregation there are many ways to share your news; from the pulpit, in the bulletin, in an eNews publication, or however else the leadership of your church determines is best.

Move quick: As much as you want to do everything in your timing, word will travel fast. Because of current technology and social media, you should proceed with caution. Be wise in who you communicate with before you are ready for your transition to be made public. More damage could be done if others begin to share your news before you are ready to share it. Once you have communicated your transition to those in your inner circle, you should try to schedule as many meetings as possible in as short of a window as possible. You will probably need to set up a meeting with staff and a meeting with volunteers. You will not likely have 100% attendance at these meetings, so it is wise to have a written communication piece ready to send. The moment your group meeting concludes you should be ready to click “send” on your mass written communication.

As you work through the communication phase of your transition, take time to prepare your heart. This will likely be the most emotionally draining part of the entire process—more draining than packing up your house and loading it onto a moving truck. So, take time to approach the communication of your transition with intentional prayer and strategy.

Transitions: What is God's will? (Part 1 of 3)

 

After serving in full-time ministry at the same church for 15 years, I have felt an urging from God that He has a new Kingdom assignment for me. During my time at First Christian Church in Canton, Ohio, I have served in roles ranging from Children’s Pastor, to Middle School Pastor, to Family Pastor, to Disability Ministry Pastor. I have watched a lot of friends come and go throughout my tenure in these roles. I heard many of my friends talk about being “called by God” to a new assignment. I began to wonder if that would ever be me. And if so, how would I hear from God? Does God really speak like He did to Jonah? To be honest, I was always a bit skeptical when my friends talked about being “called.”

Being able to discern God’s will in your life is a critical component of having a healthy ministry transition.

As I searched scripture, trying to uncover this mystery of God’s will for our lives, two passages stood out to me:

  • Ecclesiastes 12:13 (NIV) – “…here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.”
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV) – “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Notice that no verses from the book of Jonah made the top of my list. There is a reason for that. While I do not discount the fact that God sometimes speaks very specifically about what He wants us to do, I believe that this is the exception and not the rule. Does God speak? Absolutely! What does God primarily speak about? He primarily speaks about us being in awe of Him, being obedient, being joyful, praying continually, and giving thanks in all circumstances. If you think God may be calling you to a new assignment, do a self-assessment on these things. Discerning God’s will is much easier when you are pursuing Him wholeheartedly.

Once you do a self-assessment, take time to ask yourself the following questions (in order).

  1. How will this move affect my relationship with God? Everything we do, or don’t do, has the ability to either draw us closer to God or drive us away from Him. God would not want you to take a new assignment if the circumstances would put a strain on your relationship with Him.
  2. How will this move affect my relationship with my family? Just like God would not want you to make a move that would adversely impact your relationship with Him, neither would He want you to do anything that would negatively impact your family. No ministry leader can have maximum ministry impact if his or her family is not fully supportive. Family life always bleeds into work life.
  3. How will this move affect my ability to make Kingdom impact? Please note that this question comes after the other two. If the first two questions cannot be answered in a positive way then it might not be worth asking the third. If you are living in obedience to God you can have positive Kingdom impact wherever you are. Ask yourself if this new opportunity would open the door for you to share the Gospel with more people. You might also consider whether you have reached everyone that God would want you to reach in your current assignment. Finding release is as important as seeing opportunity.
  4. How has God prepared me for this new opportunity? God will not call you to a new assignment if He has not prepared you for it. Looking into the future almost always requires looking into the past. It’s only in retrospect that we can see how God has actively prepared us for new things.

If all these questions can be answered positively then God may be up to something. This list of questions is certainly not exhaustive, and I would encourage you to invite trusted individuals into the process.

Does God speak? Absolutely. More often than not He speaks to us through the Bible and through trusted people who know us well.

As you seek the will of God, be careful not to allow discomfort or difficult times in your current assignment to be the primary motivator for finding a new assignment. Don’t allow troubled times to drive you away from a work that God wants you to endure and complete.

Determining God’s will is paramount in seasons of transition. As you assess your heart and challenge yourself with these questions, I pray that His will for your path becomes clear.

Mentoring Young Adults With Disabilities

Apocalyptic-type movies are not my favorite because they all have the same basic plot, and they create an overinflated sense of impending doom. However, I do think there is something we can learn from them. In 1998, Morgan Freeman played the role of the President in a movie titled Deep Impact. This storyline showed a seven-mile-wide, killer comet on a crash course with Earth. The Americans and Russians worked together to build a spacecraft that could be sent into space with nuclear missiles to destroy the comet before it collided with Earth.

This storyline may sound far-fetched, but it was based on a scientific theory. Scientists believed they could save the Earth by either destroying a comet with explosive missiles before it reached our atmosphere or changing its trajectory by making impact with it.

While Deep Impact was being filmed, NASA was actually planning a mission with the same name. The mission entailed crashing a small spacecraft into a comet to collect data from the impact. After crashing the spacecraft into the comet, they found that there was a slight change in the comet’s speed and trajectory.

You are probably wondering how this information relates to mentoring? You didn’t read this blog for a science lesson on kinetic energy. But, there are more similarities than you may think.

First, mentoring is an intentional act. It is not something that happens by accident.

Second, mentoring is time consuming. The Deep Impact mission planning began in 1998, but it didn’t make impact with the comet until 2005.

Third, when you mentor you can change someone’s life trajectory. Mentoring, like the Deep Impact mission, comes with results.

Okay, so what else does mentoring look like? Let me start with what it is not. Mentoring is not a one-way street. You may think you are there to help and guide your mentee, but you will soon realize that you have much to learn as well. Mentoring is also not about me making you into me. It is about me helping you become who God created you to be.

Mentoring is not complex. Mentoring is simply intentional relationship. We make time for each other in relationship. It isn’t just random unfocused time. Mentoring is specific. It’s about helping someone take the next step, whatever that step might be.

In mentoring you may see grand results or you may only see smaller results. If you ever question whether the small results are worth it, don’t! Remember that, like the rocket crashing into the comet, even small results now can have tremendous impact later! Mentoring is worth the investment no matter the size of the change. God will determine the results.

When you choose to mentor a young adult with a disability you are taking a chance on someone. God loves that person dearly and has specific plans for his or her life. By mentoring, you could forever change someone’s life trajectory. By mentoring, you could empower someone to become who God has created them to be. You could release them to do ministry and not just be an object of ministry.

Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People? (Part 4 0f 4)

Suffering Produces Hope

Today we will look at the big question: why does God allow and/or create suffering? In previous posts, I quoted Joni Eareckson Tada saying, “God allows what He hates to accomplish what He loves.” I’ve also heard it said this way… God is more concerned about your holiness than your happiness. I’d like to address four ways these statements help us answer the question of “why?”

First, God desires us to depend on him alone. The world tells us that we should be self-sufficient; we don’t need anyone ; if we are strong we can make it on our own; everything that we need we can find within. These statements are false. Each of them come from a faulty worldview.

The truth is, we cannot make it on our own. We were not designed to be self-sufficient, nor can we magically find the answers within us. When we rely solely upon ourselves we always come up short.

2 Corinthians 1:9 tells us, “Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”

Suffering can feel like a “death sentence.” But sometimes, suffering is the only thing that can change our faulty worldview of self-reliance, and help us see that only a God who raises the dead can deliver us.

God is worthy of our dependence because only He can sustain us. When our eyes are opened to the fact that only God can give us what we need, the burden of self-reliance is lifted.

Psalm 68:19 reads, “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.” We can depend on God because He cares for us, and takes upon Himself all our burdens.

Secondly, God wants us to recognize that He is enough. Grace has been defined as the free and unmerited favor of God. There is much we could say about grace, but we will focus on how it relates to our suffering. Suffering can make us feel weak and defeated. Weakness and defeat create an intimate understanding that we cannot accomplish that which we desire on our own. We must rely on others. It is in this void that God’s grace can be realized in a fresh and meaningful way. Without suffering, the full extent of God’s grace isn’t always realized.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9 Paul writes, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

Suffering causes us to see that we are weak and needy. It is God and God alone who can deliver us in our weakness.

Thirdly, God is interested in our character development. God loves us despite our sins, which is hard to fathom. But check this out… God loves us too much to leave us the way He found us. Call it character development, spiritual development, or discipleship – however you label it, God is concerned about shaping you. You are not a finished product. Suffering can help you develop into who God wants you to be.

Romans 5:3-4 provides insight into the character development that suffering can produce, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Did you notice that Paul said “we also glory in our sufferings?” Ouch. Suffering doesn’t feel glorious to me. But clearly there is something glorious about it; if we embrace it rather than loathe it, God can use it to shape us into who He wants us to be.

God wants us to become more like his Son, Jesus. Because this is not an easy process He is gentle with us.

Isaiah 40:10-11 says, “See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”

God’s gentleness is truly a gift as he shapes us to be more like His Son.

Fourthly, suffering can produce an intimate connection with Jesus. None of us desire suffering. What we desire is to live a happy, comfortable life. This desire is built into us and is often what drives us. However, comfort and success were of little concern to Jesus.

Philippians 2:8 “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

No, we don’t desire suffering, but when we encounter it we can gain great perspective from it. Through our suffering, we meet Jesus in a unique way, we gain new appreciation for God’s grace, and we are shaped into the image of God’s Son.

Why does God allow, and even create, suffering? More than anything else in this life, suffering brings us closer to God.

First posted on: http://irresistiblechurch.org/bad-things-happen-good-people-part-4-4/#

Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People? (Part 3 of 4)

Does Suffering Equal Discipline?

What does suffering look like for my nine-year-old son? He would probably equate suffering with losing his electronics privileges. When I say electronics, I mean his gadgets… his Chromebook, his Nintendo DS, the Wii, the iPad, the TV, you name it.  There have been times when he has not listened and has lost the usage of his electronics for a day. He can suffer through 24 hours without much trouble. However, there have been other times when he has done things that require tougher consequences, like lying. Lying carries a much heavier punishment than not listening. When caught in a lie he loses his electronics for a week.

I often wonder what my son thinks of us as his parents. Does he think that we are cruel? I mean, how in the world could he possibly survive a week without electronics? I think he knows that we want the best for him as we try to help him learn the importance of obedience. At least I hope he does.

Knowing that God both allows and creates suffering can give us a wrong picture of God if our theology isn’t sound. We could be tempted to question God’s character. We could fall into the trap of believing that God is cruel, cold, and distant.

Here is the deal. God isn’t cold and distant. God is certainly not cruel. There is a method behind what we may feel at times is madness. Let’s dig into some scriptures to see exactly who God is rather than basing our theology on feelings or fears.

Lamentations 3:32-33 says, “Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.”

As a parent, I can relate to this passage. When I need to teach my children a life lesson it sometimes comes with a level of discomfort. My children and I both grieve when this kind of discipline must be enacted, but it is always done out of love. Compassion always follows discipline.

I want to be careful not to unilaterally equate affliction and discipline across the board. In my previous blog series, I have talked about the theology of suffering, noting that God can have several purposes for what He wills. John 9 is a perfect example of this.

Psalm 23:4 offers reassurance, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

God never leaves us! Even in our darkest hours when we feel abandoned, God is there. The “rod” and “staff” in this verse are pictures of correction and guidance. God is actively teaching, protecting, and moving us to a better place. This does not portray a cold and distant God.

Genesis 50:20 is a powerful verse that concludes the story of Joseph. Joseph suffered much in his lifetime. He was hated by his brothers, beaten by them, and sold by them into slavery. He got thrown into prison because a less than virtuous woman lied about him. He had more than enough reason to believe that God was cruel, cold, and distant. But he didn’t. He lived by sound theology. He did not allow the circumstances of his life to color his view of God’s character.

In this verse, Joseph speaks humbly with his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

Joseph saw clearly what Joni Eareckson Tada eloquently says, “God allows what He hates to accomplish what He loves.”

The suffering that we experience in this lifetime is often not random. There truly is a method behind the madness of what we endure in this world. It does not come from the hand of a cruel, cold, and distant God. It comes from a God that is compassionate, that journeys with us, and has a purpose for us.

First posted on: http://irresistiblechurch.org/bad-things-happen-good-people-part-3-4/#