SEEKING ANSWERS IN THE FACE OF EVIL

The nation is in shock once again at another senseless and cowardly act of violence, this time occurring very early Sunday morning in Orlando, Florida. The horrific evil actions of a madman resulted in the worst mass shooting in USA history. Such acts of maliciousness, and obviously planned out evil leave us in shock and shaking our heads. As well it leaquestions-and-answersves us with questions that cannot be easily answered. What in the name of all that is loving and that is morally responsible would cause someone to commit such a horrific act to fellow human-beings?

While it is true we are reminded once again that evil does exist in the world, a deeper question needs to be asked. What is to be our response when such atrocious acts shake like an earthquake the very foundation of our Christian faith? What is the Christian answer in the face of evil?

I certainly don’t claim to have many answers in the face of such heartbreak, and if anything I have a lot of questions myself. I always do when unspeakable evil takes place. However I would like to offer some reflections from a biblical perspective. In the midst of such awful tragedy the question of “Why” can never be answered and will drive us to spiritual desperation trying to find an answer.. However, when our minds want to ponder “Why” we must turn our attention to the “WHERE” in the midst of our “Whys.” Where are we to turn, not necessarily for answers, but for strength and comfort in the darkness of our unanswerable questions? The answer to that question is found in a divine WHO.

Man was created with the capacity to have a relationship with his Creator, yet when that relationship is neglected man, as well, has the capacity to commit horrific evil. Our capacity to walk with God or walk away from God, can result in men making choices that at times seem to be those of angels and at other times choices that resemble those of devils. The result of our choices can have both individual and societal repercussions for good or evil. Sadly, too often our sinful, selfish, and godless choices and behavior are like harsh winter winds that have no respect for who its cold winds blow upon. What are we to do, where are we to go when the cold winds of evil viciously blow upon our brow?

The foundation of the Christian faith rests upon Jesus Christ in whom God has acted in history when He clothed Himself in our humanity. That a holy God has acted continued in Christ’s cross, His resurrection and His sending us “another Comforter” – the Holy Spirit – to abide with us forever. As man our God has wept through human eyes, as God He a seeks to lift us out of our sin and suffering, rather that suffering  be the result of  our own bad choices or as the result of the evil and violent behavior of others. As Christ wept with Mary and Maratha at the death of their brother, Lazarus, so He weeps with us over the consequences that sin, whether it be ours or someone elses, can bring into our lives.

We must not forget that Jesus Christ bore in his physical body, as he hung on the cross, the very worst evil that mankind could inflict. Yet in the midst of the darkness of the worst of evil which Christ experienced He was victorious, and in His victory He provided for us Light in the midst of our darkness, comfort in the midst of our pain, and hope in the midst of what appears hopelessness and senselessness. He has promised that even in tragedy, He can make all things new.

We must not forget that because of God’s suffering with Christ on the cross, as He tasted the evil and sin of all mankind, and His triumph over it all, we gain the assurance that God can and will be with us in our suffering and pain. God, who in Christ on the cross was the greatest Sufferer of all, is the assurance we will ultimately obtain victory even though tears may temporarily fill our eyes.

P.T. Forsyth has written, “God is able to empathize with all human suffering because He has, in the event of the Cross, experienced the height of suffering…God spared not His own Son from suffering, and in the midst of suffering rose above it; then even in the most dreadful things that man can produce He bids us to follow Him in our sufferings so that His victory might be actualized in us.”

In the midst of our heart-felt sobs and tears, if we listen closely we can hear the comforting voice our Savior saying, “I understand, for I, too, have suffered and am touched with the suffering and pain that touches you.” Our Christ is not indifferent, He is the Chief sufferer and giver, He is one who has paid the greatest price to secure for us atonement and the comfort that God is with us in our suffering. Forsyth says, “On the cross of God’s incomparable suffering is that it provides us with a concrete model of faith to emulate in our times of suffering: that of the crucified Christ.”

We may never logically understand the suffering that touches us and those we love, but we with the conviction of faith understand that what Christ did on the cross He did for us all. On the cross he took our sin, our heartache, our brokenness, our grief, and our questions; and with a holy love that can’t be intellectually grasped but can be experienced, He entered into a realm of suffering that is beyond our comprehension that we might know His abiding presence in every circumstance and situation of our lives.

The message that Christ’s death and resurrection proclaims ever echoes in air — that Christ, by His resurrection, is able to be present in our every situation – both good and bad. Found in the One who overcame death He seeks to help us be overcomers in the “death situations” in our lives.

That Christ lives means we are not alone in our suffering, He is with us. While the world can be cruel, evil, bringing us sorrow, and leave us with many unanswered questions, we must remember that in Christ we find comfort, hope and His presence that enables us to continue on in faith as we wait for that Day when He makes all things new and dries every tear from our eyes.

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

WHAT I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS

It‘s getting close to that time again. It’s been six months since my last one. It’s not something I look forward to, but I have to do it. It’s time for another check-upAllWantForXmas, scheduled for Tuesday, December 15. It has been two years since I completed radiation treatments for prostate cancer. I had been going every three months for a check-up and blood work, but on my last appointment in June the doctor moved me to every six months. I am most grateful that the previous visits to the doctor my blood work has come back good and I seem be doing very well.

My appointment is only ten days before Christmas, so I bet you can’t guess what gift I want for Christmas! You may ask, “If your previous check-ups have produced good reports and you are feeling well, what is the worry?”

I would be less than honest if I didn’t confess that every time a doctor visit pops up on the calendar I am revisited by those same emotions that welled up inside of me on June 14, 2013. That was the day I hesitantly answered the phone and heard the doctor say, “Rev. Merritt I wish I had better news, but…..” There aren’t words to describe the disbelief, numbness, detachment, and anxiousness that you experience at the moment you hear those life changing words, “You have cancer.”

The paradox of emotions that engulf you as your new journey begins is like riding on a roll-a-coaster. While there is anxiousness, there is a sense of His calming peace. While there is uncertainty, there is a sense of His assurance. While there is detachment, there is a sense of His abiding presence. While there is human weakness, there is a sense of His divine strength. While there is a lack of human sufficiency, His grace is sufficient.
How can one experience such a paradox of emotions all at the same time? I don’t know how, but I am here to tell you that I did and that I do again each time another doctor’s appointment draws near. In my humanness I ponder how the check-up will turn out, in my spirit I know that He is with me and will never leave me or forsake me no matter the result. I have learned that prayer is not me trying to change the mind of God, but me discovering the mind of God for my life and realizing He is at the helm of the ship of my life’s voyage.

I trusted Christ as my Savior many, many years ago and while I have failed and made a mess on more occasions than I would like to admit, there is one truth that has remained constant: He has never failed me and He has never been unfaithful to me. My life is in His secure and strong hands, and after the journey I embarked upon two-and-a-half years ago I am more keenly aware of that today than ever before. I am here to tell you, “He is faithful.”

I now see each day as a precious, precious gift. Each sunrise, each moment, is to be treasured. I love life and nothing gives me greater joy than to be used by Him to invest in the lives of others. My desire is to hang around and do that as long as possible, yet each of us are only one heartbeat away, only one step away, from eternity. I know that someday, unless the Lord returns, I, as well as you, will find the flower of life wilting before the rays of a setting sun. But here is the difference: if you know Christ as your Savior you can say with David, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for THOU art with me” (Ps. 23:4). The long shadow of our last enemy ever lingers near the paths we walk, but we have the assurance of Christ who proclaimed, “I am the Light of the world. He that walks with Me walks not in darkness” (John 8:12). His Light shines brightly in our darkest night and guides us in all of life and, as well, as we travel beyond the veil of time. O, what a Savior.

While I will anxiously await the report from my blood work following my doctor visit, I will trust and not be afraid, for because of His shed blood on my behalf on Calvary’s Hill I have already received the greatest healing of all, the greatest gift of all – spiritual healing from my trespasses and sins. I may answer the phone with a paradoxical calm yet trembling hand, listening intently as the doctor tells me the results; but the Rock I confidently stand upon will never tremble.

Bet you can’t guess what I want for Christmas!

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

WHEN A CRUMB IS ENOUGH

We find recorded from the amazing life of Jesus a story that has always intrigued me and always results in me meditating upon the depths of its meaning. The passage reads, “Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.’ But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, ‘Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.’ But He answered and said, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!’ And He answered and said, ‘It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ But she said, ‘Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus said to her, ‘O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed at once” (Matthew 15:21-28).  crumbs

In this incident Jesus travels outside the borders of Israel into Gentile territory. The woman Jesus encountered was a Canaanite woman who was seeking healing and deliverance for her daughter. A Gentile, she was a descendant of those who had made war with Joshua and the Children of Israel when they first sought to settle in the land that was given to them by the Lord. You can imagine the disgust of the disciples as they traveled into this “foreign” territory and their even greater disgust when this woman began crying out to Jesus to get His attention. They no doubt whispered among themselves, “How embarrassing. I can’t believe this Gentile dog (“dogs” is what the Jews called the Gentiles on account of their idolatry) is trying to persuade Jesus to stop for her.”

The woman‘s desperate and persistent cries for help are rejected by Christ twice. She was not rejected because of her disrespect of Jesus, for she called Him “Lord” and the “Son of David.” She recognized His divinity and His royalty. Even so, at first He didn’t say a word in response. Have you ever felt like this dear woman? You cry to the Lord and it seems if your petitions fall on deaf ears. The fact that Jesus at first did not answer her did not mean He did not hear, and so it is with us. He is always listening but He delays His response for the purpose of working in us a greater faith and blessing.

When Jesus does respond to this woman His response seems to be one of rebuke. He tells her He is come to minister to the lost house of Israel. Her being a Gentile, that didn’t include her. That did not discourage her, though, as she fell at his feet and worshipped Him and repeated her utter dependence upon Him for help. Worshiping Christ, she humbles herself before Him, for it is the contrite and humble heart that the Lord does not and will not ever turn away. Like this Canaanite woman, we must humble ourselves before our Lord; for He resists the proud (James 4:6), but He loves the surrendered heart. Ah, we must follow the worshipful example of this woman. Desperation will drive us to the feet of Jesus where we alone can find help for our needs.
In response to this woman’s humble submission before Christ, she hears Him say to her, “Shall I take food from the children’s table and cast it to the dogs?” While on the surface Jesus seems to be dealing rather harsh with her, He is trying to draw out, like precious gold, the genuineness of this woman’s faith. Her desperate need and surrendered heart looked with eyes of faith beyond what seemed like a stern remark. She humbly replied, “Even the dogs are allowed to eat the crumbs that fall under their master’s table.Just give me the crumbs that fall on the floor from your table and that will be enough to meet my needs.”

One ancient divine, commenting on the woman’s faith response to Jesus, writes, “Nourish me then as Thy dog. I cannot leave my master’s table. You cannot drive me from Thee either by rough words or by blows. I will not leave Thee, until my need is met. Give me therefore, 0 most merciful Lord, only a crumb, give me this and it will suffice. Let this one crumb fall among us Gentiles, and I will gather it up.”

The crumbs from His table were enough for her, more than the finest dishes from any other table. Even the crumbs of His grace and mercy are superior to the richest feasts found elsewhere on earth. Even though a Gentile she believed in Christ; she believed the Messiah was able to meet her need. She trusted in His Almighty power and love. She knew that He would set her daughter free and she only needed a crumb from His infinite grace for it to be so. Jesus commends her for her faith and granted her request.
While Jesus appeared to be rather harsh, by faith this woman could see the true heart and love of the Savior and His love for her. As the powerful and poetic Charles Spurgeon once said, “We may not always be able to trace the hand of God, but you can always trust the heart of God.” This woman trusted the heart of Christ even when it seemed He was indifferent. We must do the same. Jesus knew how desperate this woman was and He is always waiting to be gracious to all who sincerely come before Him with surrendered heart, who appeal to his merciful and loving heart.

To embrace Christ even when we don’t understand all His dealings with us is to eventually be filled with His graces that are found even in His smallest crumbs. Whatever our need His tiniest crumb is filled with enough mercy and grace to meet our biggest challenge and need. God’s grace is immeasurable. Since God’s grace is limitless, any crumbs falling from His table of grace contains His infinite provisions.

No matter how stern and indifferent life or heaven may sometime seem to our cries, let us remember His heart is full of boundless grace, mercy and love and waits for us to come before Him with a surrendered heart. As we do, we will discover even the crumbs that fall from His table is sufficient provision for our every need. A crumb from the Master’s table is enough.

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

NOW THE REST OF THE STORY

The other day I was rereading the story of Joseph and one phrase kept jumping out at me. “And the Lord was with Joseph,” thus reads Genesis 39:23. We know the story of Joseph well. Lied about by his brothers, beaten up, thrown in a well, sold into slavery, thrown into prison on a false testimony, betrayed by those he befriended, he was left behind bars to be forgotten. Seems he had one trial after another, one bad event upon another bad event. But after each contrary circumstance the Word reads, “And the Lord was with Joseph.”RestofStory

Do we not often feel like Joseph? Circumstances and situations come into our lives, some of our on making, but often events transpire that are not of our making and that have no logical explanation. As a matter of fact, like Joseph, we are trying to live for the Lord yet the winds of adversity seem to continue to buffet us.

What did Joseph do? He trusted the Lord anyway. He kept on keeping on. He never gave up. Discouraged at times? He no doubt was. Did he have questions to which there were no answers? Of course he did. But he trusted anyway.

Trusting the Lord when all looked bleak…well, as Paul Harvey always said, “Now the rest of the story.” Joseph trusted when it would have been easier to have given up. The result of his faith was, “Whatever he did, the Lord made him to prosper” (Genesis 39:23). His faithfulness was eventually rewarded by blessings. He went from the pit, to prison, to the palace. It looked as if life was against him, but in the end the Lord turned it all around for Joseph’s good (Genesis 50:20).

The same is true with us. Do events seem contrary to you? Keep trusting. Faithfulness will eventually be rewarded by blessings. No matter what we go through, like Joseph, the Lord is with us, He will not forsake us. He can take what seems like a curse and transform it into a blessing (Nehemiah 13:2). He has promised to work all things, both good and bad, for the good to those who love and trust Him (Romans 8:28). What a wonderful promise to hold on to when the ship of life is being tossed about by waves of uncertainty. As R.A. Torrey once said, “Romans 8:28 is a soft pillow for a weary head.”

As the song says, “Be not dismayed whatever be‘tide, God will take care of you.” He is with us, and as we continue to trust even when the waves of life seek to knock us down, like Joseph, the Lord will cause us to prosper “with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).

Let us keep our face toward the Son and His light will guide us through the darkness by His Sonshine.

Blessings,

Dr. Dan