Why Does God Allow Natural Disasters?

This is the age old question, and one that is especially on my mind at the moment after seeing the horrors in Haiti as a result of the recent earthquake.  

Here is a considered article written by philosopher David Bain that I found at the BBC website about the whole subject of why God allows suffering – it doesn’t give any answers but is does give food for thought!

Read it and see what you think – and don’t forget to have a look at the comments at the end, they are as interesting and enlightening as the article.

What to Worship: Your Choice

Here is a really nice post I found and thought I would share it with you – so you could enjoy it as well 🙂

I like the take on values, and especially the need to transfer good values to our kids, but it was the quote from David Foster Wallace towards the beginning that I wanted to highlight:

“This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted:  You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.  You get to decide what to worship… Because here’s something else that’s true.  In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism.  There is no such thing as not worshipping.  Everybody worships.  The only choice we get is what to worship.  And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or The Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.  If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough.  Never feel you have enough.  It’s the truth.”

You get to decide what to worship – literally, what to value as having worth in your life.  Everybody worships something or someone.

The best thing we can do for our children is give them a good and balanced education – give them the tools to make their own decision based on knowledge and understanding.  Part of this is to provide them with a rational value system.  We all want our kids to feel safe and loved, to be happy and healthy, kind and caring, but they will only be that way if they see those same values lived out in our lives.  Ultimately, we will only transfer values to our children that we hold ourselves.  How safe and loved do we feel, how happy and healthy, kind and caring are we?  What do we value, what do we give worth, what do we worship?  The values that our children see and experience working out in our lives are more likely to be the ones that will flourish in theirs.

Obviously, as a deliberate disciple of Jesus, I have my own take on that, mainly that only as we find ultimate worth in God do we truly start to put everything else into perspective – that the beauty, grace and forgiveness that we find in God makes all else seem taudry and fake.  That in the end, the only real place to feel safe and loved, happy and healthy is in Jesus, and as we feel and experience his love and forgiveness then we slowly become kind and caring towards others – changing our values and reprioritising the things that are important in our lives.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also.”  ESV (bold added by me)

Your heart will be where your treasure is, or in other words, your values, and your children’s values, will be influenced by what or who you worship – simple as that!

The problem with pain

I found out some very tragic news this morning.  My hairdresser’s nine month old daughter has been diagnosed with a inoperable brain tumour and only has a few days or weeks to live.  I was gutted.  What could I say?  What comfort could I give?

The simple answer? None!

The only thing I could do was cry.  My heart went out to her and her husband. All I could do was cry for her and with her.

I could have given loads of platitudes, saying how God was for her, that He loved her daughter, and that it was all because of sin that she was dying.  That is wasn’t God’s fault.

Yet comments like that just didn’t seem right under the circumstances. They seemed so hollow, so cold, so inappropriate. How could I make them when her heart was breaking. How were they going to help. She was in pain. She was angry. She just couldn’t understand how she deserved such bad luck.

So I didn’t say anything.  I just cried.

How do we make a difference in situations like this one?  How do we show Jesus to someone who is experiencing such pain?

We come along side them, we comfort them, we cry with them and we pray for them.  That’s it.

The thing is, it can happen to us as much as it can happen to them, to believers and non-believers alike.  The sun shines on the righteous and the wicked. I got suntanned before I got saved.  This is the absolute truth, I’ve got the photographs to prove it!

Jesus never promised us an easy life free of problems and pain.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Ask the persecuted church around the world whether being a Christian is easy.

The difference is how we deal with the pain and suffering.

We understand about God’s love for His creation.  How selfishness and pride corrupted what was good.  We know about God’s rescue plan, our salvation, offered for free by His grace through our faith in Jesus. The problem that separated us is sorted. Jesus died on the cross for us!  He went through the pain so that we could be free for ever.

As a people of faith, valued and loved by God, we have hope! A hope that brings joy in all situations, even in pain and heart break. Not the cheap thrill of masochism, but the deep seated contentment that comes from knowing that our suffering is short lived when viewed from an eternal perspective.

It’s hard enough to cope with the death of a child, no matter who you are, but having to cope with it without hope? How do people do it? Nobody expects to outlive their children.

Knowing Jesus makes the difference.  His love somehow gets you through the pain. Hope neutralises the anger, and faith melts away the bitterness.

Our first son died as a baby.  Tragic.  I know how I felt, the pain is still there 17 years later, but knowing Jesus made the difference to me and my family.  I don’t think I would have coped without my faith in Him, without the hope that comes because of Him.

My heart is hurting this evening. I hurt because someone I know hurts. I cry because my friend is crying.

What more can I do?

A rethink about doing church

Recently I made a decision to back out of all of my commitments outside of family and work. I needed some space to rest, think and recharge my batteries, because I was spiritually and physically tired.  My motivation was on a low ebb, which is not like me at all. I am usually Mr Vibrant, full of energy and enthusiasm, wanting to get on with things, not wanting to wait for people to catch up, but pressing on for the goal dragging everyone else with me. I wasn’t depressed or anywhere near a breakdown, I just needed some time out, time to evaluate where I was at, and some space to look to the future.

So I resigned as an Elder at my home church, and slowly but surely reduced my work load to give myself more time and space.  Firstly, more time to spend with my family, but also more time to spend with God. It’s amazing how easy we neglect the important things in life when we get busy!

Now I am a lot more refreshed and my batteries are recharged. I am ready to get going again. I am starting to feel inspired again.

This could be a good thing or a bad thing. For me, it’s great because I feel that I have purpose and direction again, new vision and motivation to spur me on to greater things, but my friends and family will have to come to terms with me going on and on about the things that God is putting on my heart. The thing is, I always get excited, and that excitement just has to come out, usually with me bothering people until they’re willing to listen.

So, what am I inspired about? What am I now bothering people about?

Mainly about missional, incarnational church, and about whether the way we do church reduces or removes the impact of the Gospel in our postmodern, post-Christendom world?

I have been reading a lot about church and mission, and there seems to be a common theme throughout, that in order to be truly ‘missional’ the church needs to find the right balance between being ‘attractional’ and being ‘incarnational’.  The discussion in the blogosphere seems to be about whether the church should be one or the other, attractional or incarnational, but I can’t help but think that she should be both!  Mainly because an incarnational church, where disciples are living, serving and ministering in real life community (or communitas to use Alan Hirsch’s phraseology) will be attractive.  People are drawn when hearts are sold out for Jesus, when His disciples kneel with bowl and towel in hand to serve those in need, befriend the outcast and share the lives of the lost and the lonely.

This is powerful and this is attractive because it changes lives for the good, not only those who are being served but also those who are doing the serving.  I think this is what Jesus would have called ‘attractional’ church, attractive to others because He is in the middle of it. He never had a problem pulling a crowd.  He is attractive.  He is the reason that people pay the price of discipleship and become part of His bride, His body, the church.

If the way we do church is stopping us from taking Jesus to those who need Him, then no wonder our churches are not attractive. If we spend so much time focussing on our church programmes that we don’t have time to tend the sick, feed the hungry, release captives and be good news to the poor then we need to change, and change quickly.

Somebody once said to me that the phrase “we have always done it this way” is the final call of a dying church.  This is so true.  Some parts of church life are timeless and ageless, but some parts need to change to make sure our worship is appropriate and vibrant for every age, culture and tribe. In fact, we can change more than we think since most of what we do seems to be based on tradition anyway. I found Frank Viola and George Barna’s book ‘Pagan Christianity’ a real revelation.  The fact that very little of what we do in ‘traditional’ church life is based on the Bible or the practices of the early church is actually quite frightening.  However, it does mean that little of what we do is set in stone.  Most of it can change.

Within this context, the whole idea of organic church, liquid church, simple church, what ever you want to call it, makes a lot of sense.  I love the subtitle of the Neil Cole’s book ‘Organic Church’, which is ‘Growing faith where life happens’.  This is what it is all about for me.  This one small phrase sums it up perfectly.  This is what Jesus did and this is what Jesus wants us to do.  This is what being church is all about.  Being where life happens and growing faith in others.  Not just on Sunday mornings, but 24/ 7 and 365 days per year, anywhere and everywhere.

That is the main problem.  So few of us in the church are willing to step outside of our own cosseted and comfortable environment. Are we willing to go where ‘real’ life happens?

I am constantly amazed how many Christian people don’t know anyone outside of their church social circle.  Their friends are Christians, they only go to church events and meetings, and don’t really associate with their neighbours and work colleagues, never mind about less fortunate people within their wider community.  This in of itself is not wrong, it just means that they never come in contact with people who don’t know about Jesus.  In the old days, everyone was taught about Jesus, everyone knew about the Cross, but times have changed.  Our society doesn’t perceive a need for Jesus and yet is slowly degenerating and falling apart without Him.

What makes it worse is that we spend so much of our time and energy trying to keep our church programmes running that we don’t have any left to go where life is happening.  We put all of our effort into putting on a decent show on Sunday morning but then wonder why nobody shows up to see it.  We run evangelistic events that make little difference because they don’t scratch where it itches, because they don’t grow faith where life happens.  We expect the “unsaved” to come to us so we can tell them about Jesus – but they just don’t want to any more.  Its as simple as that.  So we wait, absolutely convinced that some will come eventually.

Maybe a few do come, but not enough to stop the rot.  Not enough to stop our churches from dying.

The longer we wait, the smaller our churches become as we grow old and die together.  Nice, friendly people who have no impact outside of the walls of the church buildings in which we sit in every Sunday!  All the while our communities drown, desperate for our help and care.  A world that is lost and in pain.  A world in need of a Saviour.

We can’t wait for them to come to us any more.  We must go to them.  How can we stand by and watch the pain and suffering.  We, the church, must step out of our comfort zone and start to make a difference, by becoming incarnate, and being attractive by growing faith where life happens.  If a more organic approach to being church allows us to be mission focussed, and gets us out of our buildings and into our communities with more time to serve, then what are we waiting for?  Lets get on with it!