Today we are beginning a new series on the subject of strength.
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Why do bad things happen to good people? If you haven’t asked that question before yourself, you have very likely heard it asked by someone else. We have all known people who have gone through incomprehensible tragedy, and we have wondered why. Some will even ask what the person did to incur God’s wrath? What sin in their life is unconfessed? Why is God trying to get their attention? If you are one of the friends who has tried to help a loved one by gently trying to discover which sins are the root cause of their misfortune, please stop. Jesus very clearly told His disciples that a man’s affliction was not a result of his sin or his parents’ sin. (John 9:1-3) That is so much more true since Christ paid the price for all of our sins on the cross. (John 3:17)
So, punishment for sin is not the answer, but hardships do still serve a purpose. First of all, this life is temporary. If life were easy, we would either be content to stay here for the rest of time, or we would have no incentive to focus on what matters for eternity. God wants us to realize that the important things are not the temporal, worldly things that we spend so much time and energy on. Sometimes it takes a tragedy to help us see what matters. Suffering also leads us to depend on God instead of our own strength and resources. We are humbled when we realize that we can’t manage everything on our own. When we are humble we can be pleasing and useful to God. (Psalm 51:17) God can work through us, and we can bring glory to Him.
An additional purpose for our suffering is outlined by the Apostle Paul in II Corinthians 1:3-4. Our trials give us the experiences we need in order to know how to comfort others who will go through similar struggles. Biblical comfort is not sympathy, but strength, not a way out of the problem, but a way through it. Our trials help us to understand what others are going through. I know of many people who have gone through unimaginable tragedy, but because of it have started organizations to help others who find themselves in similar situations. Many have testified that they have found their life purpose through the tragedy they endured.
Paul understood suffering, both external and internal. (II Corinthians 4:8, Romans 8:35, Philippians 1:17, II Corinthians 7:5) He faced many hardships, (II Corinthians 11:23-27), more than most of his listeners (or readers) ever would. But he did not view these circumstances as being outside of his faith in Christ. He did not wonder if his faith wasn’t strong enough. He had had a personal encounter with Christ, and he knew that these sufferings were a part of his mission, his purpose. (Acts 26:14-18) He also knew that no matter what hardships or afflictions he had to face, God would provide more than enough grace, and comfort (strength) to get through them. (II Corinthians 1:5, II Corinthians 12:9) And God would use them for His good purposes. (Romans 8:28)
God loves for His people to celebrate. Now, I know there are people who think that God is a big ogre in the sky getting ready to push the “Smite” button the minute we do something we shouldn’t, but that is simply not the case. Don’t get me wrong; God hates sin, but He loves us. He wants us to be filled with joy, and to celebrate together. In Deuteronomy 14:22-29, the people were commanded to take a tenth of their produce each year and use it to have a big party, to share it and be blessed by God in all the work that they did.
In Nehemiah 8:1-10 the people of Israel had recently returned to their own land after seventy years of exile in Babylon. They had rebuilt the temple, and just days before the one described here they had finished rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. On this day they gathered to celebrate the Feast of Trumpets, a day of sabbath rest and holy assembly. In those days, the people didn’t have their own copies of the Word of God at home; they only had access to it at the temple. So on this day of holy assembly, the people asked Ezra to bring out the law of Moses, their Bible, to read to them. The people who were gathered there had come from all the cities of Israel, and they included men, women and children who were old enough to understand. They stood for possibly six hours listening to the priests read and explain the words of God to them, and they were eager to hear it. If you’ve gone to church on a Sunday morning, you’ve probably noticed people sitting in padded seats becoming restless if the service goes one minute longer than expected. That was not the attitude of the Israelites on this occasion. They had been living under the rule of the Babylonians in a foreign land for seventy years, and now they were back home. They wanted to know the law that God had handed down to Moses and their ancestors.
The reading of the Word of God at this assembly was the beginning of a spiritual revival for the Israelites. They took the message that they were hearing so seriously that they began to weep. (Nehemiah 8:9) But Nehemiah reminded them that this was the Feast of Trumpets, a day for celebration. He told them to go and eat choice food, drink sweet drinks and to share with anyone who had nothing. No one was to be left out of this celebration. No one was to grieve. This was a day to focus on God, and to be filled with joy.
Al and Rita Chretien left their home in British Columbia on March 19, 2011 to drive to a trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada. It was not until March 30, 2011 when they hadn’t arrived home as expected that their family realized they were missing. Family, friends and police have all joined in the search, but no one knows where they are. Perhaps Al and Rita don’t even know where they are. But God knows. He has promised never to leave us nor forsake us. (Deuteronomy 31:6, Joshua 1:5)
I can only imagine the anguish that this family is going through. They have a grueling and emotionally draining task ahead of them as they search for their parents. Joshua also faced daunting challenges. In Joshua 1:9, he had just become the leader of the Israelites. It was his task to take them across the Jordan River and into the land that God had promised them. Like the Chretien family, Joshua did not choose this role; he was chosen by God to complete it. God had been preparing Him for it, and God would enable him to do it. Joshua’s requirement was to obey the laws of Moses, to meditate on the word of God, and to be strong and courageous. Three times in Joshua 1:6-9, Joshua is told to be strong and brave, but it is not in his own strength that Joshua was to do this. By obeying the law of Moses, therefore being right with God, and by meditating on God’s word, therefore remembering His commands and promises, Joshua would draw his strength from God. Success would not depend on Joshua’s abilities, but on his obedience. God would keep His promise to Joshua and the Israelites, but they had to do their part too.
The fulfillment of God’s promise to the Israelites took a lot longer than they would have liked. In today’s society, we have become accustomed to instantaneous results, and we become frustrated when things happen slowly. God sees things from a different perspective, and His timing is often much slower than we would prefer. He has never promised to give us immediate results, and if we had them, we would surely risk believing that we had succeeded in our own strength and be vulnerable to pride. When the challenges we face are harder than we can imagine, such that we need to be repeatedly reminded to be strong and brave in order to face them, we will know that any positive results we achieve are because of God’s goodness. May all the glory go to Him.
Al and Rita Chretien are parents, grandparents, business owners and much loved members of their community. They were last seen on March 19, 2011 in Baker City, Oregon on their way to Las Vegas. They were driving a brown 2000 Chevrolet Astro mini van with British Columbia plate number 212 CAV. If you have any information about this couple, please contact your local police department and cite Penticton RCMP case file 2011-3395. And please keep this family in your prayers.
More information can be obtained from the family’s Facebook page:
Missing – Al and Rita Chretien
On September 29, 2012, Albert Chretien's body was found by elk hunters, 11 kilometres from where the van had been stranded. He had been going in the right direction to find help, but the terrain was steep and wooded, and the snow was up to ten feet deep at the time. His body was found intact with identification still in his pocket.
There are so many scary things happening in our world lately: earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes erupting, civil wars, governments being overthrown…. It is not surprising that people would be afraid, but the encouragement of II Timothy 1:7 came to my mind. I think we need to understand what is meant by fear in this verse. There is certainly a place for being cautious when we are facing dangerous situations, but we also need to be brave and trust in God’s power. Words like “Fear not” and “Be strong and courageous” are used often throughout the Bible. (Matthew 14:27, Luke 1:30, John 6:20, Jeremiah 1:8, Deuteronomy 31:23, I Corinthians 16:13)
When Paul wrote to Timothy, it was not in the context of natural disasters or political upheaval; he was exhorting him and encouraging him not to be timid or cowardly when facing people who would disagree with his ministry. In II Timothy 1:5 Paul expresses his confidence in Timothy’s faith, then in II Timothy 1:6 reminds him to make use of the gifts that God has given him. Paul knew that the spirit of fear did not come from God. This wasn’t just a theory for Paul; he had been through enough trials (II Corinthians 11:24-33) that it would have been perfectly understandable for him to be afraid. Instead he relied on the power of God.
You, too, have access to God’s power. That doesn’t mean that you won’t face hardships; it means that you have a source of strength and courage to get through them. If God has called us to do something, He will give us everything we need to do it. (Philippians 4:13). He desires for us to rely on Him. (Psalm 27:14) As Paul told Timothy, there is no need to be afraid.