Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering (Part 1)

walking-with-god-through-pain-suffering-social-mediaStarting with this post I will be sharing a four part series on walking with God through pain & suffering. Two things prompted this series of posts. First, Tim Keller’s book Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. I read that book recently during a season when my wife and I were walking through a very painful time in our life and marriage. Second, at the time of writing this series of posts I am teaching a series by the same title to our middle and high school students. I’m taking those sermons and condensing them into a series of posts. I hope you find them encouraging and challenging as you walk with God through the pain and suffering this life throws at you.

In this first post I want to share three truths Christianity gives us in regards to pain and suffering. All religions say something about pain and suffering. However, Christianity gives the best answer and the most hope in times of pain and suffering.

Christianity holds to the reality of pain and suffering. Christianity doesn’t ignore, explain away, or excuse pain and suffering. In fact, Christianity holds to the reality of pain and suffering as something we all experience in this fallen world. Job 14:1 says, “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble.” Even Jesus said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows” (John 16:33 NLT). Throughout the Bible we encounter men and women who went through tremendous pain and suffering. The Bible doesn’t skip over it or glamorize it. Instead it shows us the reality of it. It’s important to note as well that most of the people who experienced pain and suffering in the Bible were people who loved and followed God. This reminds us that Christians don’t get a pass on experiencing pain and suffering. Many times being a Christian means we experience more pain and suffering. Pain and suffering is real and no one escapes it.

God is sovereign over pain and suffering. This is where it gets tricky. Christianity holds to the reality of pain and suffering but it also gives us a God who is above it and more powerful than it. One of the clearest examples of this is found in the book of Job. In Job 1:6-12 we see Satan coming to God in order to get permission to put pain and suffering into Job’s life. R.C. Sproul sums it up like this: “Satan can do only what the sovereign God allows him to do.” This exchange in the book of Job is very important because it shows us that pain and suffering cannot enter into our lives without first going through the hands of our Lord.

God has a purpose behind pain and suffering. That last point can be hard to swallow. But the truth is in God’s sovereignty He has a purpose behind the pain and suffering He allows. He doesn’t just allow it into our lives for no reason. Verses like Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28 don’t let us off the hook and give us a pass from pain and suffering, but they both remind us that God has a plan and purpose behind it. These two verses also remind us that sometimes to experience God’s divine purposes we have to go through the fires of pain and suffering.

Below is the sermon where I preached the content above. In the next post I will share some of the reasons God allows pain and suffering into our lives. I hope you come back to check that post out as we continue this series about walking with God through pain and suffering.

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Books I’ve Read Recently

WeCannotBeSlient-webWe Cannot Be Silent by Albert Mohler. When it comes to being informed and educated about what’s happening in modern culture from a Christian perspective, Mohler is a guy we should listen to (check out his podcast called “The Briefing.”) In this book, Mohler speaks to the sexuality issue we have in our country today. He shares about how the sexual revolution has unfolded over the years and how we, as Christians, should respond. Mohler does an excellent job at tracing the history of the sexual revolution all the way up until current day. In the process he address everything from the homosexuality movement, same-sex marriage, the transgender revolution, and the breakdown of marriage. He caps this discussion off with chapters on Biblical sex, religious liberty, what the church should do, and the hard questions we must face and answer. Throughout this book Mohler is extremely researched, Biblical, and challenging. My favorite part of this book was the chapter on how the sexual revolution didn’t begin with same-sex marriage (chapter 2). In this chapter, Mohler points out, “Opposition to the Christian understanding of sex and marriage did not begin with the arrival of same-sex marriage. Long before those in same-sex relationships had any realistic hope for legal recognition of their unions, heterosexuals in the modern age seemed to be accomplishing the weakening and structural compromise of marriage all on their own” (page 17). Throughout this chapter he argues, “The eclipse of marriage in the last century must take into account four massive developments: birth control and contraception, divorce, advanced reproductive technologies, and cohabitation” (page 17).

41eMBHV46BL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Soul Detox by Craig Groeschel. This is an older book  by Groeschel that has been on my shelve for a good while. I’ve always enjoyed his books so thought it was time to give it a read. In this book Groeschel challenges Christians to pursue holiness in a very unholy world. He uses the idea of “detox” to describe how Christians need to evaluate how they are living and how the world around them is influencing them. He calls Christians to not stay there but to turn from those things and pursue living the way God wants and tells us to. Each chapter is geared towards a certain negative behavior, emotion, or influence.. He address things like hidden sins, bitterness, envy, anger, fear, materialism, and bad relationships. Each chapter is very practical and Biblical. Groeschel does a great job at explaining what the Bible says about each of these things and what Christians should do in response. My favorite part of this book was the chapter on envy (chapter 6). Through it, God gave me a better picture of what envy is and revealed in me some roots of envy. It was a very challenged chapter that helped me grow.

Walking-with-GodWalking with God Through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller. I picked this book up to read while my wife was in the hospital and had to have emergency surgery due to an infection. It was a very painful and emotional few weeks. You can click here to read her story. Our lead pastor, Joe Coffey, recommended this book to the staff a while back. It wasn’t until my wife started her ordeal that I realized it was time to give it a read. Through it God did some work on my heart. He showed me more about what He says in His Word about pain and suffering and showed me how I should walk through it. Like most Keller books, it has both an academic feel as well as a very practical feel. Throughout the book, Keller uses the idea of a “furnace” to describe going through pain and suffering (he spends a good amount of time using the fiery furnace story in Daniel 3 as a parallel for walking with God through pain and suffering). The first section of the book his more academic and explains different secular views of suffering, the Christian view, and the problem of evil. The second and third parts of the book deal more with how Christians can prepare and walk through suffering when it comes into their lives. This book ministered to me a very deep way when I was walking through some pain and suffering. I would encourage everyone, Christian or not, to take the time to read this book. We will all face pain and suffering in our lives. This book will help you as it will ultimately point you to the One who will help you.

Another book I read that I decided not to review was How to Study the Bible by John MacArthur. I went through this little book with my student leadership team and it was great. It gave me a good refresher in understanding what the Bible is and how we should study it. I would highly recommend this book to new believers or Christians who have not started reading and studying the Bible on their own.

Books I’ve Read Recently

deyoungWhat Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung. It’s a question all Christians, and many non-Christians, have asked, “What does the Bible say about homosexuality?” In this very timely book Kevin DeYoung answers that question. He correctly states that “the Bible says something about homosexuality” (page 10). God is not silent on this issue and DeYoung does an excellent job in this book of communicating what God has said in regards to homosexuality. The book is nicely broken up into two parts. Part one deals with what God, through His Word, says about homosexuality. DeYoung carefully walks the reader through the main passages of Scripture where God addresses homosexuality and clearly explains what God is communicating. In my opinion, this section contains some of the very best interpretation and explanation of the central passages of Scripture that deal with homosexuality. The second part of the book deals with the common objections many have to what God has said in His Word about homosexuality. I was very pleased with how DeYoung tackled some of the hardest questions regarding this topic with a balance of boldness and grace. Overall this is a book I believe every Christian should read. It will help the Christian understand what the Bible says about this issue and also equip them to have grace filled conversations with those who may not agree with what the Bible says.

REASON-largeThe Reason for God by Tim Keller. This is a Keller book that has been around for a while now but I have never got around to reading it. I decided to pick it up and give it a read since at the time I was in the middle of an apologetics series with our students. With Keller’s background in preaching to and dialoguing with the skeptics in places like Manhattan, he tackles in this book the common objections to the Christian faith as well as the reasons one should instead believe in the truths of Christianity. Common questions like “There can’t be just one true religion?”, “How could a good God allow suffering?”, and How can a loving God send people to hell?” and many more are answered by Keller in this book. Then in response to all those questions Keller spends the rest of the book explaining the truths of Christianity and the reasons one should have faith in it. This is a book that’s perfect for both the person who is firm in their faith as well as for the person who is skeptical of the Christian faith all together.

41mG8HhtgDL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Anxious for Nothing by John MacArthur. This is a new edition of an older MacArthur book called Anxiety Attacked. I picked this book up to read in preparation for a sermon on the topic of worry. This book ended up being more than just a help for my sermon prep but was actually a game changer for me as a person who struggles with stress and anxiety. MacArthur covers a lot of ground in this book. Everything from key Scripture passages on anxiety are clearly explained to understanding how other people help or hurt you in the area of anxiety. What I loved about this book was MacArthur’s balance of theology and practicality. MacArthur helps the reader understand what God’s Word says about anxiety as well as how to apply what it says to their daily lives. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who struggles with worry, stress, or anxiety. It will be a blessing.

Another book I read recently that I chose not to review was Rx for Worry by James Gills. I am currently reading a few books on the topic of marriage, sex, and dating that I will review soon.

Books I’ve Read Recently

515XatoWK1L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Preaching by Tim Keller. Before reading this book it had been awhile since I had read a book on the topic of preaching. Since preaching the Bible is something I do regularly in my role I was excited to pick up a new book on the topic. I gained a lot of wisdom and practical insights from this book and I’d encourage anyone who finds themselves in a preaching role to read it. I’d also go as far as to say that all Christians should read this book since “preaching” is not just preparing and delivering a formal sermon. All Christians are called to proclaim the Gospel whether that’s at work, online, or in front of a large crowd. However, the majority of this book is aimed at those of us in vocational preaching roles. So this book is helpful to all Christians, but primarily for those in vocational preaching roles. Throughout this book there are several themes and main ideas that Keller covers. First, Keller points out the need for expository preaching and letting the Scriptures lead the way in preaching. This is primarily the focus in chapter one. Keller says, “I would say that expository preaching should provide the main diet of preaching for a Christian community” (page 32). Keller follows this statement up with a few reasons why he believes this and also a few dangers to avoid when doing expository preaching. Second, Keller rightfully argues that the Christ and the Gospel must be at the center of every sermon and should be preached from every text. Keller spends a good amount of time explaining how this can and should be done in preaching. Third, Keller highlights cultural narratives that will impact the way we preaching to an unbelieving world. This was a large part of the book but a very helpful section. Keller helps us understand the cultural narratives that impact preaching in our cultural context and shares practical ways we can preach God’s Word by engaging those narratives. Overall this was a fantastic book that I’d recommend to anyone who wants to share Christ well in our culture.

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Creating a Lead Small Culture by Reggie Joiner, Kristen Ivy, and Elle Campbell. Every now and then I read a church ministry or student ministry book that causes me to rethink and evaluate everything I am doing in my student ministry context. This was one of those books. I’m grateful the student ministry that God allows me to lead is healthy and has a good small group structure in place. However, we have areas we need to improve and our small group structure and strategy has some holes. This book has helped me strengthen our small group structure and better develop a team of leaders who serve students in a small group context. The whole point of a “lead small culture” is to have students (or kid if you’re in children’s ministry, which this book is for as well) cared for and ministered to in the context of small groups. Relationship and life change happens when students are connected with an adult that loves Jesus and cares for them. Real teaching, mentoring, and modeling happens in circles not in a crowd. This book walks through three main ways to create a lead small culture: improve the structure, empower the leader, create the experience. The book is filled with practical wisdom, insights, and experiences from other ministry leaders as they share how they have created a lead small culture in their context. If you’re a ministry leader that oversees small groups or just wants to make small groups more of a vital part of your church than you need to read this book. It’s simple, practical, but has the potential to change the way you do ministry to students and kids.

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Get Out by Alvin and Josh Reid. One of the common struggles local student pastors face is the struggle to get outside of their office and church walls and into the community where students are. That’s the issue this book addresses. This book is a practical book for student pastors who want to get onto their local school campuses and into the community where their students and their friends are. Alvin and Josh Reid say this about their book: “This book serves as a primer on student minister focused specifically on getting out of the church building and into the community to impact it for Christ” (page 15). This book helps student pastors realize a much needed shift is called for in student ministry today. We must see our ministry as bigger than our church walls and not just focus on our program and the students we have coming. We must go to the students that are not coming. We must meet them on their turf. We must reach students where they are at. In addition to all of that, this book is filled with practical advice from other student pastors and what they have done to get out and reach students in their communities. I’d encourage every student pastor to read this book. It’s challenging and will help you think about how you can get out and serve students in your community.

I’m currently reading 30 Events that Shaped the Church by Alton Gansky and plan to review that in my next “Books I’ve Read Recently” post.

Books I’ve Read Recently

jesus-continued-cover-largeJesus Continued by J.D. Greear. I have read a lot of books recently and this one was by far one of may favorites. I’ve always enjoyed reading J.D.’s books and they have played a big part in shaping my faith and ministry. In this book J.D. deals with the topic of the Holy Spirit and how believers have the advantage of not having Jesus beside them (like the disciples in the Gospels) but instead, through the Spirit, they have Jesus presence inside them. Not only that, but J.D. helps believers understand how they can experience the Holy Spirit in their relationship with God. J.D. says, “The Holy Spirit tends to be the forgotten member of the Trinity. Most Christians know he’s there, but they are unclear about exactly what he does of how to interact with him-or if that’s even possible. Yet something was so important about the Holy Spirit that Jesus told his disciples it was to their advantage that he go away-if his departure meant the Spirit came. The Spirit’s presence inside them, he said, would be better than himself beside them” (page 13). This is one of the most insightful and practical books on the subject of the Holy Spirit that I have ever read. It has a great balance of theological content (which is very much needed in the discussion of the Holy Spirit) and practical application (which is just as much needed in this topic) in regards to the Holy Spirit and how Christians can experience the Spirit’s ministry in their life. J.D. does a great job in this book building a foundation of what the Bible teaches about the Holy Spirit and explaining how believers can experience and seek the Holy Spirit. This is a great book I would recommend to anyone who wants to understand the Holy Spirit better and how they can experience him more in their relationship with God.

51VrdA14sfL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Prayer by Tim Keller. Prayer is an area of my Christian life where I struggle the most. I go through seasons where I feel like I’m a “strong prayer,” but many times I feel like I am coming up very short in this area. This is one of the reasons I wanted to read this book. Also, I haven’t read many books devoted entirely to prayer so when I heard about this book I knew I had to read it. Keller has managed to put together one of, if not the most, thorough books on the topic of prayer. This book really does serve as a modern day handbook for what prayer is and how does one go about practicing prayer. The first part of the book is very academic and philosophical. Keller does a great job as painting the landscape of how people and religious groups view prayer. But this isn’t where Keller spends most of his time in this book. Once Keller helps the reader establish a definition and view of what Biblical prayer is in the Christian life he quickly moves towards helping them see how Christians can practice prayer. The rest of the book, and majority of it then, is a practical guide on how to practice prayer. Keller explores the prayer habits of early church fathers as well as walking through many Scripture passages on prayer. He also offers many practical tips on how Christians can practice prayer in their daily lives. If you want to grow in your understanding of prayer and how to practice it, read this book.

6a00d83452063969e20162fef31dc1970dThe Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller. I haven’t read many marriage books (even though there are many out there right now I want to read), but out of the ones I have read this was has been my favorite. I read this book along with a few other men in a men’s group I am a part of at my church. I really enjoyed this book because of Keller’s approach to the topic of marriage and how to do marriage well. He quickly admits and helps the reader see that marriage is impossible to do well apart from God. Throughout the book Keller keeps the Gospel at the center as he shares how marriage is only possible through having a personal relationship with God through the Gospel that helps you truly love and serve your spouse. Keller spends a great amount of time explaining and applying the main Scripture passages on marriage. I also enjoyed how his wife wrote parts of the book and brought another persecutive to this topic. I believe this is a book everyone who is married (or one day hopes to married) should read. It’s practical but always keeps God and the Gospel at the center, which is the only way to do marriage well.

I am currently reading What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung and 30 Events That Shaped the Church by Alton Gansky. I plan to review those when I am done reading them.