If you are part of the family of God, they are connected to you and you are connected to them. God created us for community because he lives in community. God himself gives us the perfect example of living in community: the trinity. When you and I are connecting with one another to live for the glory of God, we are being Christ-like.
Jesus says that the main way people will believe that Christians have found the love of God is by seeing the quality of their life together in community. Being connected to other Christians is an important way of sharing the gospel! There are a couple reasons why, when Christians live in community with one another, it pleases Him.
First, community shapes the development of our character. Our character is mainly shaped by our primary social community. Jesus spent time eating, walking, talking and laughing with his disciples. Jesus example alone suggests that we best learn and apply what we are learning in the context of Christian community like a small group and among friends.
Most of the ethical principles in the bible are not simply codes of behavior, they are descriptions of a new community that bears the spiritual fruit of love and holiness. It’s harder to live godly in isolation than it is to live godly lives with other like-minded people. This is positive peer pressure, or accountability.
Second, community is essential to spiritual growth. The early church passionately followed Jesus' teachings. Acts 2:42-46 gives us a really clear picture of the Christian community the early church experienced.
“42They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47
A person’s life primarily revolves around three things: Their home, their career, and a third place. For many people, that third place is a bar, sports events, the shopping mall, a friend’s garage, or church. We want Freshwater to be the third place. Why? Because we want to be like the early church in Jerusalem who raised the spiritual climate of their community.
What would happen if Freshwater reached 10% of our community for Christ, just 10%? How much would the spiritual climate of our community change? It would change in dramatic ways.
Christian community is perhaps the main way believers bear witness to the world. Jesus tells us that the best witness you can give is to love other believers. That’s what Jesus said in John 13:34-35: “…Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
In conclusion, the author of Hebrews writes: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some as in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25 I challenge you to seek out and even create more Christian community in your life. Here are a few ideas as to how to do that.
1. Meet for lunch with another believer
2. Start a weekly bible study at work
3. Ask someone to pray for you
4. Ask if you can pray for someone
5. Find a mentor
6. Join a small group
7. Start a small group
8. Start a mom’s group. Meet at the same time and place every week to let the kids play and you can talk about life together.
9. Go out to dinner with another person or a couple.
Here is one that is not on the list: Serve together. Gallup survey: 74% indicated “volunteering and serving together” helped them develop friendships.
I see Freshwater as a safe place for us to connect as believers and live out our faith. I want Freshwater to be a place of love, grace, and hope; a light in this community. Let’s live out our faith together because in God’s eyes this is what pleases Him and brings joy and peace to us.
Recently our country has been gripped with fear due to the evil act of one individual bent on destroying life. With a total of 58 dead and hundreds injured in Las Vegas, people are scared. Sure it happened in Las Vegas this time but next time it could happen in our community right? Whenever evil reigns, fear is close behind. Fear paralyzes progress, makes us retreat into ourselves, and it stops us from letting the light of Christ shine in our lives. Evil affects our daily lives removing our sense of security. Instead of planning for the future, we hide from it.
God does not want believers to fear evil, He wants us to live by faith. The Bible is full of examples of people who fought against evil with impossible odds… and they won! One great example is King Hezekiah. King Hezekiah faithfully rebuilt Jerusalem, the spiritual and political center for the Jewish nation. When the King of Assyria decided to invade them, the people were gripped with fear. The Assyrians represented evil itself. They had a large army, war technology, ample resources, and the willingness to kill anyone in their path. They had no regard for human life, especially Jewish life, and did not fear the God of Israel. If I were in Jerusalem at the time, I would have been gripped with fear. Everyone feared for their lives until King Hezekiah spoke to the people. Second Chronicles 32:7-8 records what he said:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people gained confidence from what Hezekiah the king of Judah said.” 2 Chronicles 32:7-8
Even though the odds appeared to be against Hezekiah, he knew that God would give them victory over the evil Assyrian empire. Here are three reasons why you should not fear evil.
1. God is victorious. The ultimate source of evil is sin and sin is Satan’s playground. Satan uses people, circumstances, and events to steal, kill, and destroy God’s creation and God’s plans. But we know who wins. I have read the end of the book.
“6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.” Revelation 21:6
God wants you to join His team, through faith, but he loves you enough to give you the free will to reject him. If you want to be on the winning team believe in Jesus and what he did for you on the cross.
2. God is stronger than the enemy. God is more powerful than anyone or anything. We will still feel the effects of evil in our lives because we live in a fallen world full of sinful people, but God is stronger than the enemy and even when the enemy tries to destroy us, God promises to deliver us. We may not always see the bigger picture on the front end, but we must trust God’s promise in Romans 8:28 that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”
3. God holds the future. We are on God’s timetable and the entire world runs on it. God is leading the world to his desired conclusion at the appropriate time. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that God holds the future. He holds your tomorrow in His hand. So hold his hand and walk with him.
The bible does tell believers to pray against evil. Jesus taught his disciples to pray saying: “and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one’” Matthew 6:13. It tells us to overcome evil with good like Paul admonishes us to do. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” Romans 12:21.
Don’t let fear ruin your future. Let Jesus take control once again and follow him into the wonderful and awesome future that he has in store for you. In a world of evil trust God to remove the evil that causes fear. You don’t have to fear going to the mall or to the airport because God is victorious. You still need to be wise and smart, but you don’t have to live in fear. Trust God to be with you and protect you in every circumstance and situation. When you do, you will have peace in your heart.
If you live long enough you will experience evil and suffering. Loved ones will die, people will intentionally hurt you. You may be afflicted with a disease, disability, or tragedy. Even if you are not directly afflicted, chances are you know someone who is or has been. With a slew of tragedies around us ranging from hurricanes, war, human suffering, and the recent tragedy in Las Vegas, we are compelled to examine the problem of evil in the world around us from a theistic perspective. Experiencing evil is the greatest barrier to believing in a perfect holy and loving God that is directly involved in His creation. Many people never really explore their own understanding of evil.
Atheist’s don’t believe in any form of supernatural evil. If there is no God and no criterion of goodness outside the universe itself; if everything that happens is simply the wastage of evolution and the perfect bumping of atomic and subatomic particles, what rational person should feel any evil at all? Yet even atheists and agnostics seem to be able to recognize evil when it happens. The renowned atheist, Richard Dawkins, seems to agree that evil exists at least in the actions of people. When a gunman fires at a crowd for no apparent reason the media doesn’t call it an unfortunate event, they call it evil.
Theodicy is the study of evil and it presents multifaceted problems. I am going to focus on two perspectives. One is philosophical and one is existential, better known as experiential. Both perspectives seem to be completely different galaxies but they do touch and where they touch is where we live.
The first perspective dealing with the problem of evil is philosophical in nature. It’s an intellectual conundrum. If God is omnipotent (all powerful) and if God is all love, then why does evil exist? How can a perfect and loving God permit evil and suffering? If He is willing but not able to stop the suffering, then is he truly all powerful? If He can’t stop it then is evil is more powerful than God? If God is able to stop evil but unwilling, is he loving? And what about natural disasters? Are they evil? Natural disasters need to be interpreted in context. Mountains were formed from natural disasters as were our lakes and nobody looks at them as the result of evil. The tsunami that killed over 100,000 Japanese several years ago also provided incredible surfing waves in Hawaii. The earthquake that devastated Haiti and killed over 200,000 woke the world to the plight of the poor resulting in some positive infrastructure changes and health improvements. Natural disasters that destroy life can easily be interpreted as evil, especially if your sibling was killed, if your baby was washed out to sea, or your house was destroyed.
The second perspective dealing with evil is existential. The existential problem of evil deals with the impact of evil on a personal and emotional level. The existential problem of evil asks “If God is all loving and all powerful then why is there so much suffering?”
While in Haiti a girl named Katina took a liking to me. She will never graduate from high school because she has some mental challenges. These challenges are not the result of some birth defect, they are the result of a cruel mother. As part of a voodoo ritual her mother held her in freezing cold water until she went into shock. She left her in the freezing water in a state of shock until she had no signs of life. Her brain was deprived of oxygen for too long resulting in permanent damage. When I held her, I saw a child of God whose future was stolen by evil. Where was God when Katina’s future was being destroyed?
My grandfather was a good man. He worked for the power company and I remember the big orange truck that would occasionally sit in his driveway. If we were lucky he would set us in the bucket and take us to the top of the world. Then grandpa started losing his memory. At first it was just a little, then a little more. After several trips to the doctor they determined that he had brain cancer. Surgery removed an orange sized tumor from his brain but the doctors didn’t get it all. Months of chemo made him sick as hell and it didn’t do much good. The cancer came back and he died a year later. Where was God?
Intellectual answers do little to soothe matters of the heart. Intellectual answers don’t comfort the dying. They don’t soothe the hurting. What we really want to know is: Why do bad things happen to good people? Why did God let Katina’s mother hurt her so much? Why did God let my grandfather and subsequently all of my family suffer? This is the existential problem of evil present in human suffering. If God is willing to fight off evil but doesn’t, maybe he is not all powerful. If he is able to stop evil but unwilling to do it then he is not loving. How can we resolve these questions?
The problem of evil is very complex. For centuries Christians and philosophers have debated the problem of evil and in my opinion, there is no single theology to it that seems to completely resolve the problem of evil on a philosophical or existential level. These are my conclusions concerning the problem of evil.
1. Evil is a mystery and very real. Although I cannot package evil in a neat theological box, I know that evil is very real. I have seen evil and the results of it in people like Katina. I have experienced it in the anger of others. I have suffered loss and pain and even though I believe evil is a mystery, it is still very real.
2. Evil exists in people from sin and Satan. I understand the “Genesis” or origins of evil to be after creation based on an understanding of Genesis 2:9. “And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Genesis 2:9
God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground so he knew that evil was present. Did he create evil? It seems evil had to be a possibility in order for free will to exist. Therefore, God perceived the existence of evil without actually creating it because he perceived what would happen if Adam and Eve did not live perfect lives.
“But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." Genesis 2:17
"For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:5
At some point after creation God opened up the free will concept to angels and Satan chose to honor himself above God, thereby sinning and being cast out of heaven onto earth where free will existed. Isaiah 14:11-14 tells us this. Many Christians are satisfied with the basic belief that suffering is the result of sin, that the necessity of free will opens the door to the existence of evil. They take comfort in knowing that God himself will judge people for their actions.
3. Evil may be present, but is not always present, in natural disasters. Every natural disaster must be interpreted. A forest fire triggered by a lightning strike always brings new growth and new life. It provides new cover and food for the animals. But if your house is in the path of the fire, you will probably interpret the fire as evil. But it’s hard to categorize everything as all good or all bad. All I know is that when lightning struck close to my house, it fried most of my electronics and cost me a fortune. This same event triggered joy in my neighbor who farms. He was thrilled with all the nitrogen the lightening put in the ground. The bible says: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” Romans 8:28. God can use that which was intended for evil for his glory. Often times how he does this is also a mystery.
4. God is all powerful and all loving and evil exists. Sometimes God stops evil before it starts and other times he lets evil run rampant. I have no idea why, what I do know is that I am not in charge. I must trust God at His Word and pray that He uses evil for His glory even when I don’t understand it.
I let my girls drive the golf cart all over our yard. It’s an old piece of junk but really fun to drive around. A couple of years ago I told them that I was hopeful they would drive it responsibly. I knew there was a possibility they might drive recklessly but because I wanted to give them the freedom to cruise around I set them loose. On the third day of their new found freedom they drove around the garage, down our hill, and right through my brand new garage door. I knew it might happen because I gave them the freedom to drive it. I could have never let them drive it, I could have set the governor on it, I could have added a forth wheel, but I didn’t. They didn’t plan on driving through my garage door, it just happened because they went too fast down the hill. My garage door gave its life for their freedom.
I paid a debt I did not owe for my children’s actions. In essence, that’s what Jesus did. He experienced evil from Satan himself and demonic activity manifested in people who wanted to hurt him. He suffered immensely, died a terrible, painful death in front of a massive crowd, and yet he is risen again. God could have stopped it, he could have changed circumstances and situations, but he didn’t. From Jesus' example, it is clear to me that suffering is not absent in the cross, Jesus can and does feel our pain. He suffers with us in the tragedy and cries with us when we mourn. God has chosen to give us freedom and with freedom comes the reality of evil and suffering. When people do evil things it breaks the heart of God and in those times of suffering God graciously comforts us.
If you are suffering or experiencing evil, it’s OK to cry out to God with your needs asking Him to bring resolve. It’s OK to confess your hurt and pain. It’s OK to admit you don’t understand why bad things are happening. In the middle of your pain, I encourage you to trust God with both the situation and your feelings. We don’t know why evil exists, but we know that it does and we need God to comfort us. Jesus experienced evil and suffering and because we are human, we will too. The very reality of evil points me to the glorious hope of eternity where there is no pain and suffering because we will be in the presence of the Almighty God.