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Sometimes people have trouble believing that God loves them and wants them to be happy.  Some people have never believed it and others used to believe it.  I was reading Luke 5 the other day and encountered four men with these same struggles.

The first was Peter.  He was having a bad day because he had had a bad night.  Out all night on his boatbad day fishing, trying to make a living, provide for his family, and didn’t catch a single fish.  Not even a minnow.  He was cleaning his nets when along came Jesus.  Peter had heard of this Jesus guy.  Supposed to be some new phenom rabbi who went around preaching, teaching and supposedly healing people.  Large crowds followed him wherever he went, and this day was no exception.  They were jostling him, pushing babies at him to bless, and begging to be healed.  Jesus needed some space.  He saw Peter’s boat on the shore, and asked Peter if he would row him out away from shore.  Peter sighed heavily, looked at his nets, and then at Jesus.  He stood up, walked towards his boat, helped Jesus in, then got in himself and rowed out always.  “At least I get a front row seat to the Jesus show” he thought to himself.

Peter was strangely moved by this itinerant preacher.  He could see why people were taken with him.  He had an engaging smile, told interesting stories, spoke with authority that Peter had never heard before.  He was actually a bit disappointed when the good teacher was through.  But then discovered that although Jesus was finished preaching, he wasn’t finished with Peter.

2.  The second man Jesus encountered knew he was a sinner.  His body was full of leprosy, a judgement from God for his sins, at least that’s what everyone had told him, although he had trouble thinking what sins he had committed that merited such punishment from God.  He was upset at God and couldn’t believe that God loved him and wanted him to be happy.  There was a time in his life when he thought That was true.  When he was caressing his beautiful wife and playing with his children.  Now that had all changed.  He wasn’t even allowed to be close to his family since the leprosy invaded his body.  Now he was an outcast, societies reject, who had to live alone, or with a few other lepers.  Anytime he went near another person, or someone approached him, he had to warn them with cries of “Unclean.  Unclean.”  He couldn’t remember the last time he had touched someone, or that someone had touched him.  Happiness was now a foreign idea to him.  A loving God was none existent.

3.  The paralyzed man could identity.  He wondered how a loving God could see him in his condition and not do anything to help him.  He too, thought about sin, and wondered if he had done something so bad that he had to endure punishment from a wrathful God.  That was the majority opinion at the time, and while a few kind people would occasionally help him out with a shekel or two, he figured they were thinking that he brought this malady on himself one way or another.  “At least I have my friends” he thought.

4.  Levi didn’t know and didn’t much care if God loved him and wanted him to be happy.  He believed that you have to make your own happiness, and for him, making happiness meant making money, and lots of it, even if it meant taking it out of your brothers pocket and putting it in your own.  Levi was a hated tax collector, working in collusion with the Roman government who ruled Israel.  With these two strikes against him, he was despised and rejected by his fellow citizens.  Never invited to his neighbors parties or celebrations.  Banned from the synagogue.  “Who needs them?”  He often exclaimed.  “I have the nicest house in town, eat the finest foods and drink the best wine!”  This was his outward persona, but inside he felt something was missing.  He was restless, always looking for the latest, greatest pleasure that would finally drown the gnawing feeling of discontent that he struggled with continuously.

I think that if we put ourselves in these guys sandals, we might also have trouble believing that God loves us and wants us to be happy.  Christians all over the world, everyday, struggle with pain, rejection, financial difficulties and disappointment with God.  By seeing how Jesus stepped into the lives and situations of the four men from Luke 5, we can get a glimpse of how he might make a difference in our lives and situations.

With Peter, after his teaching the crowd, Jesus told Peter to go into the deep water, let down his nets, and see what would happen.  I’m sure Peter was skeptical.  Jesus was a good teacher and healer, but what did he know about fishing?  It turns out, plenty.  Peter’s net was bursting with fish.  His heart was bursting with shame.  He realized that more than a man was in his boat, and Peter recognized his sinfulness and unworthiness to have Jesus in the same boat with him.  Peter asked Jesus to leave because he felt so unworthy.  The compassion of Jesus flowed into Peter when Jesus, told him, “Follow me, and you will become a fisher of men.”  A bad day for Peter turned into one of the best days of his life.  That’s what happens when we let Jesus into our boat.

The leper had heard about Jesus the healer, and hoped it was true.  But even if it was true, would he have anything to do with a filthy, sinful, leper.  He wanted to find out.  As Jesus passed by the leper fell with his face to the ground before Jesus and begged him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”  Unbelievably, Jesus reached out his hand and actually touched the leper, something prohibited by Jewish law, but something greater than the law was present.  The compassion of Jesus – and the leper was healed.  He knew indeed, that God loved him and wanted him to be happy.

The paralyzed man wanted to experience the healing touch of Jesus.  His friends took him to the  house where Jesus was teaching and healing people.  They couldn’t get the guy and his mat into the house because of a huge crowd of people trying to get at Jesus.  One of the friends had an idea.  They went to the roof, took off a few roof tiles, and the next thing you know, the man was being lowered down before Jesus very eyes.  Surely the paralyzed man was excited, expecting Jesus to heal his crippled legs, and oh the joy that would fill his soul.

Jesus looked at the paralytic, called him “Friend”, and then said in a loud voice for all to hear, especially the Pharisees, “Your sins are forgiven.”  I imagine the man on the mat was somewhat confused.  He had come to be healed, and now Jesus is forgiving his sins.  What is that all about?  The paralyzed man’s greatest problem was not with his legs, but with his heart. His heart was crippled by sin and resulted in guilt, inner turmoil, and separation from living in right relationship with God. First things first.  Jesus dealt with the heart situation first, and in the process let the large crown in on a little secret, that he was not just a man, but that he was also a compassionate God who heals hearts as well as bodies.  After forgiving his sins, he heals his legs and the guy walks out, carrying his mat, rejoicing in the new found knowledge that God loved him and wanted him to be happy.

Finally, Jesus makes a difference in the life of Levi the tax collector.  Jesus went up to Levi, greedily collecting the peoples money, and spoke to him.  “Follow me.”  Something incredible happened to Levi.  Again, it was a heart thing.  A heart change.  Open heart surgery or a heart implant, where the Holy Spirit opened the spiritual eyes of Levi, softened his heart, and made him realize that there was more to life than money and materialism.  Luke 5:28 tells us that Levi got up, left everything and followed Jesus.  Now Levi’s life had real meaning, a true purpose and he was filled with great joy.  God loved him and wanted him to be happy.

God comes to people lives in many different ways and usually at the most unexpected times.  Sometimes it happens when we seek him, other times when his presence is the last thing we are looking for.  But he always shows up to let us know that he loves us and wants us to be happy!

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compassion

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A few days ago in our morning devotions at the home for needy children where my wife and I serve, a lady named Mireya talked about the recent death of her mother.  Her mother had been battling diabetes for many years.  Not a pleasant struggle to have to endure.  And then, to make matters worse, she was involved in a terrible auto accident that broke bones, inflicted bruises; internal and external, and left her in a coma for some days.  She finally came out of the coma, which was a great relief for her family, but never really recovered, and ended up dying a couple weeks ago.car crash

Mireya talked of her mother’s walk with God and the tremendous impact her faith had on her family, friends, and even the hospital staff who cried at her passing.

At about the same time of Mireya’s mother’s accident, another tragic auto collision occurred.  This time to a lady named Leticia who had faithfully served at the mission in previous years with her husband Edgar.  She was hit by a big truck driven by a drunk man.  In the car with her were her two daughters, son, and sister in law.  They all suffered a variety of bone fractures, contusions and bruises.  The worst off was the sister in law who had both of her legs broken.

My wife, Anita, and I, went to visit Leticia recently, and she recounted for us the injuries and physical pain they all went through.  Almost as bad as the physical pain, was, and is, is the psychological ordeal they are going through.  The drunk man who crashed into Leticia was questioned by police and released.  The police never filed a report and there is no evidence that they were ever on the scene.  Leticia’s son took a picture of the drunk man and his license plate, which allowed them to find out where he lived.  Evidently this man is a man of some means, as it seems he paid the police off and has hired a number of lawyers to defend him in case any one tries to make him pay.  Edgar went to find the man in order to talk to him about the situation.  He was no where to be found, and so Edgar talked to a few neighbors, telling them what happened and why he wanted to speak with the guy.  He gave them his cell phone number.  That evening he received a call from a relative of the drunk driver who cursed Edgar out.

What is the import of these two stories?  I always say that God loves us and wants us to be happy.  These are not very happy stories.  The members of these families are strong, faithful Christians involved in ministry.  It would be natural to ask God the question “Why”?  In fact, Mireya confessed to asking that question.  God answered her question.  It’s not important to know what the answer was.  It is important to know that our God who loves us and wants us to happy, always answers that question.  Sometimes he gives the answer in a still small voice that brings us great satisfaction.  Sometimes he answers that question through circumstances that follow, or with wise council from trusted friends or family members.  Sometimes he answers with the response that Jesus gave John the Baptist or to Peter, which was, “What I do now you cannot understand, but in time you will.”

The New Testament writers James and Peter wrote about going through times of suffering, and both of them said that we should rejoice and be filled with joy because God uses the hard times of pain and confusion to bring about spiritual growth and greater intimacy with the Father.

 Consider it  pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  James 1:2,3

           For a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.   1Peter1:6,7

The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk wrote about difficult times ahead for the chosen people of God.  Times of distress and want; hunger and pain. This prophet also declared “though the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vine, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen or cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior (Habakuk 3:17,18).”

So whether we suffer a car crash, emotional or physical crash, financial or familial crash, we can be sure that while we go through the pain, God is with us to strengthen us and encourage us, and when we come out the other end, we can rejoice and consider it pure joy that our faith is real and God is glorified.

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suffering

pain – death – war

Last time I wrote that we were created to enjoy God.  I wrote that God loves us and wants us to  be happy.  Writing that, I could hear in my mind, voices of readers making objections.  People naturally asking, “If God loves us and wants us to be happy, then WHY?  Why is there suffering and pain in the world?  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why were more Christians tortured and killed last century, than all the other centuries put together?  Why are babies born with defects?  Why does God allow children to be abused?  Why is there war?”  The “Why’s” are many.

These questions lead to others.  Is God good and loving, yet weak or powerless to prevent pain and suffering?  Or, is God the almighty creator of the universe who made us and then takes an apathetic step back to see how it will all play out?  Questions like these are asked everyday in a hundred different ways, and it seems that no one has the answers.

Well, never fear, friendly reader.  Michael James Santiago Schwab is here.  I have all the answers.   In my dreams!  To tell the truth, my own voice was making the same objections when I wrote about God’s love, enjoying God, and being happy.  I was asking WHY?  I wish I had all the answers, but of course I don’t.  I live in the same world as you – a world filled with  the tensions of good and evil; wholeness and brokenness;  happiness and sadness; peace and conflict; joy and disappointment; success and frustration.  These types of tensions confront most of us on a daily basis.

Another question.  What do we do with all these tensions?  Try to ignore them?  Bury our heads in the sand?  Put on rose colored glasses?  Pray for the best, but expect the worst?  Let go and let God?

Again, I don’t have the answers.  All I can do is share some ideas about how I have learned to cope with these issues as they have sprung up on my spiritual  journey.  I hope what I have to say will encourage everyone, but undoubtedly my words will be a disappointment for some and ring hollow to others.

For me, finding the  right perspective on these issues of good and evil, suffering and pain, begins with reading the Bible.  I believe the Bible is God’s Word that He gives us to help us think His  thoughts after Him.  To open the eyes of our heart, our spiritual eyes.  I think of the Bible, the Holy Scriptures, as a User’s Manual, that God has graciously given us to.  He made us.  He knows how we function.  He explains what we need to know in the Manual.  In reading, studying and meditating on the Bible, God helps me  understand, a little bit more everyday, what’s going on.  I get more of His perspective.  Through the help of the Holy Spirit, I can see things more clearly.

One of the first things that I learn from Scripture is that having all the answers in life isn’t all that important.  In fact, having all the  answers is impossible.  What is important in life is to trust that God loves us and  wants us to be happy.  That’s what the Bible says.  One example- I just scanned the book of Psalms, all 150 chapters.  I  have read it many times, and underlined things that were important to me.  Scanning all those pages and reading things I had underlined, certain words and phrases jumped out at me.  Rejoice, gladness, joy, delight, steadfast love, love endures forever, rescue, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, goodness.  These are the words that the writers of the Psalms use to describe God, His gifts, and their reaction to those gifts.  Throughout the Bible, from the Garden of  Eden in Genesis, to the New Jerusalem in Revelation, I read about a Good God who loves His people and wants them to be happy.

Job

Job and his “friends”

This is not to say that  God’s people never suffer.  All we have to do is to read the book of Job to see that.  This book gives the account of a “blameless, upright man who feared God and shunned evil”.  He was very wealthy.  He was a devoted father.  A picture of health.  We all know the story.  He lost everything in a short time.  His wealth was stolen.  His children died in a tragic accident.  He began suffering from a horrible, painful skin disease.  How did Job react?  The first two chapters tell us that “Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” and “Job did not sin in what he said.”  Job 13:15 records Job as saying, “Even if God kills me, still I will trust Him.”

Naturally Job wanted to know WHY?!  Why God?  Why?

Towards the end of the book of Job, Job receives an audience with God.  Surely he must have thought, Now God will answer my question – WHY?  Guess what?  God did not answer the Why Question.  God proclaimed  His might and power to Job.  God told Job to consider the universe that He had created.  God directed Job’s attention to nature, and God asked a few questions of His own.  Forty-seven questions to be exact.  A few examples of the questions that God asked Job –

Where were you when I laid the earths foundations?

Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place?

Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?

Can you bring forth the constellations?

Do you send the lighting bolts on their way?

Will the one who contends the Almighty correct him?

To all these questions, Job had to answer “No”, while God says, “I was there, I have done it and will continue to do it.”  What God is saying to Job, and to us, is that He is all powerful.  He is sovereign.  He has given us a beautiful creation, and He can be trusted to do the right thing, even if we can’t see it or don’t understand it.  Job never did understand, this  side of eternity, why he had to suffer the way he did, but he did understand that he had to to trust in God, that  He is  good and that His love endures forever.

I love Psalm 103.  God is pictured as a loving, compassionate father.  He understands what we are going through.  Why we suffer.  Verse 14 says, ‘he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”    Our attitudes are dust.  Our actions are dust.  Our strength is dust.  Our motivations are dust.  As a result of all that “dust”  we suffer sometimes because of our sin.  We cause other people to suffer because of our sin.  We suffer because of other peoples sin.  Sin is the main cause of suffering, although certainly not the only cause.  Despite our sin, as Psalm 103 says, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him.”  When we recognize our sin, and ask God to forgive us and restore us to a right relationship with Him, then we can be assured, as verse 12 states, “as far as the east is  from the  west, so  far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

In our times of trials, turmoil and terrible pain, we can be sure that God, our compassionate Father, is  there beside us, walking with us, and at times carrying us.  Ultimately we can rest assured that we will  be delivered from all  sorrow  and suffering.  Why?  Because God loves us and wants  us to be happy.

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“Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home”     Amazing Grace

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Next blog – Three Happy People

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