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Friday, August 8, 2008

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Anchor at Plymouth Harbor
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"Why, Why, Why?"

"Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long?"  (Lamentations 5:20).

This morning I was listening to our local news on the radio and heard a report concerning a highway fatality in our area near Gettysburg.  It was a young family from Oklahoma traveling through Pennsylvania, presumably on vacation. The 37 year old mother was killed and two of her daughters were injured. The news report said it appears she was trying to avoid a deer, something I've done many times.  I suppose this accident especially caught my attention since Brooksyne, along with several of my relatives, is from Oklahoma. I considered the very hard time this family is going through and surely the heavenward question of "why?" many are asking.

We watched an interview last night with Steven Curtis Chapman's family concerning the death of their daughter this last May.  They very openly shared about their struggles regarding Maria's sudden tragic death and gave a powerful testimony of their enduring faith.  Their son, Will, was driving when Maria was accidentally struck by the car. His older brother Caleb, looking on from inside the house, was at the scene practically immediately.  He shared how he looked up to heaven in those unimaginable moments and cried out, "Why, why, why?"

We receive a lot of feedback in this ministry which at times reflects earnest questions and the sharing of deep hurts and probing questions, much like Caleb expressed.  I often share the concept of our faith in Christ being like an anchor of hope, which is especially a blessing during times of profound trial.

The "why" questions are especially pertinent when it is our very own experience in trial.  The most gifted minds of Bible students have grappled with it for centuries.  One of the hardest parts of pastoral work is dealing with the "why" questions in the lives of those we serve.  Actually it's one of the hardest parts of life isn't it?  I've had several big ones, myself, and so have many of you.  Now, in our chaplain work, Brooksyne and I regularly lend support to those in the workplace who are in the midst of a heavy trial essentially asking, "Why is God allowing this to happen to me???"

One, very, very incomplete "seeing through a glass dimly" answer is this: I am convinced that we will have such a radically transformed perspective on the other side that issues which deeply trouble us on this side will be viewed entirely differently. 

The verse I have chosen as our daily text was written by one of the leading figures of the Bible.  Jeremiah was a man of great faith, commissioned by God from his very conception to be a "prophet to the nations" (see Jeremiah 1:5).  When he questions God, "Why do You always forget us?  Why do You forsake us so long?" he merely speaks from his heart as he seems to waver between trusting and questioning.  Interestingly, in the previous verse he makes a great statement of faith, acknowledging, "You, O LORD, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation" (Lamentations 5:19). In certain circumstances I've found myself wavering, particularly in the very heat of a trial, but I, like Jeremiah, also acknowledge the sovereignty of God at the same time.

Philip Keller has said, "It takes some of us a lifetime to learn that Christ, our Good Shepherd, knows exactly what He is doing with us."  Well, I for one am still in the school of learning. I'm trusting, but frankly I still explore the "why" questions, both pastorally and personally, from time to time.  After I have wrestled with the questions surrounding the ordeal God brings me back around to the extremely important conclusion that He is sovereign.  Layton Talbert says it so succinctly in his book, "Not by Chance" that "all things are sustained, directed and controlled by God." 

When we embrace God's sovereignty we ask for more of His sustaining grace which leads to inner peace in the midst of difficult circumstances.  Our heart's question of "why?" turns into a surrendered seeking of the question "what?"  What is it, Lord, that You are trying to teach me in my journey of pain?  How can I use it for Your glory and for my spiritual growth!

"Jesus, Jesus, How I trust Him. 
How I've proved Him o'er and o'er. 
Jesus, Jesus, Precious Jesus,
O, for grace to trust Him more!"

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Daily prayer: Father, Your grace and tender mercies are present in the midst of perplexing situations that develop in our lives and the lives of those whom we love.  Your sovereign power working within us takes the bad things that Satan hurls at us and turns them into testimonies of praise and thanksgiving when we seek to glorify You in the midst of suffering.  Only a God like You can help us not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good.  As we share in Your sufferings, we also share in Your glory.  Be glorifed in our lives; in the good, in the bad, and in the mysterious circumstances of our lives.  Amen.

Please note: Today we are heading out to the Midwest for a family reunion near Lincoln Nebraska and visiting friends all along the way. We hope to keep these daily encouragements up but realistically expect we will miss several days over the next couple of weeks. Here is a our trip route for those of you who enjoy maps like me. We will update this as needed and share if we come across something interesting!

That mystery photo yesterday was looking up into an empty silo!

Brooksyne's Note:  Several weeks ago a friend sent us a book "Not by Chance."  Layton Talbert compiled this book after he presented his lessons on God's Providence to his Sunday School class.  In addition to being a text book based on a lot of Scripture,  it tells of people who have gone through tremendous trial and how they respond to their difficulties.  I am presently reading this book, but was so touched by the first couple chapters that I prepared a Sunday School lesson using "Not by Chance" as a base for our study of God's Word on the subject of providence. It was very well received by the class of students.  

Not By Chance: Learning to Trust a Sovereign GodNot By Chance: Learning to Trust a Sovereign God
By Layton Talbert / Journeyforth
The providence of God is the bedrock belief that enables us to confidently encounter life's tragedies, triumphs, and perplexities. Have you ever been tempted to think that a loving, all-wise, and all-powerful God is not the one in control of your circumstances? Dr. Layton Talbert takes you on a journey through the Scriptures to trace the unmistakable outline of God's shadow on human events. Survey God's providence in the pages of the Bible, consider examples of His rule over history, and translate the practical reality of His providence into the here and now of your life. 322 pages, softcover from Journeyforth.  
Ordering information

Stephen's Note:  Since my college days I have benefitted from the teaching ministry of R.C. Sproul. Here's a book he wrote on this topic that I found very helpful.
The Invisible Hand: Do All Things Really Work for Good?The Invisible Hand: Do All Things Really Work for Good?  By R.C. Sproul / P & R Publishing - In a world steeped in anguish and evil, how can God be in control? Do all things really work for good? With head-on honesty and biblical insight, Sproul examines the difficult doctrine of divine providence. Discover how your Lord lovingly guides the events of your life without creating human wickedness or destroying human freedom. 224 pages, softcover from P & R. Ordering information
Here's a book especially recommended by Brooksyne by one of our favorite authors.  We went through a troubled times in our pastoral ministry in the mid-nineties and this book offered great encouragement and understanding of how God works good even in the midst of those who intend harm.  It's one book that has remained in our library for reference when we forget about the mysterious workings of God in our lives and need to be reminded.
JosephJoseph  By Charles Swindoll / Thomas Nelson - Every day it seems another so-called "hero" falls from grace, but in his Great Lives from God's Word series, Chuck Swindoll introduces you to heroes who stand the test of time. In his third volume, Joseph, Swindoll challenges Christians to aspire to the virtues of obedience, mercy, and courage---all of which characterized the life of this richly blessed child of God.  Ordering information

Her are two books I read many years ago that had a great impact on my understanding and outlook in regard to today's issue:

By Philip Yancey / Zondervan
"If there is a loving God, then why ... ?" No matter how the question is completed, at its root lies the issue of pain. Does God order suffering? Or did he simply wind up the world's mainspring and now is watching from a distance?  In this Gold Medallion Award-winning book, now revised and updated, Where is God When It Hurts reveals a God who is neither capricious nor unconcerned. Using examples from the Bible and from his own experiences, Yancey looks at pain---physical, emotional, and spiritual---and helps us understand why we suffer. Includes discussion guide.  Ordering information

Dr. Paul Brand's work with leprosy patients in India and the U.S. has convinced him that pain truly is one of God's greatest gifts to us. The Gift of Pain sheds light on the value of pain that becomes clearest in its absence. In this inspirational story of his fifty-year career as a healer, Dr. Brand shares his work in a colony of leper patients: a world where people literally feel no pain and reap horrifying consequences.  Ordering information

Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources

(Click on the link to play)

"Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus"  Video

"God Is In Control"

Info about multi-media files used on daily encouragement.

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Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: New International Version. © 1984 by International Bible Society; NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission; and the King James Version.

Personal Mission Statement: "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and I make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and to prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."

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