bible study

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Why

I’m sure we have all heard the question, or maybe even asked the question: Why do bad things happen to good people?

This is a question that the world wrestles with,  with some even using this reality (that evil exists, and that good people suffer) as a proof that God doesn’t exist…

But what would you say if I told you that in our world, bad things DON’T happen to good people.

Now, some of you might scratch your head at that. “What do you mean? I know good people that have died before their time. I know good people that suffer. I know good people that experience tragedy. I read or see on TV all the time how good Christians are suffering for their faith! Chris, what do you mean that bad things don’t happen to good people.”

Let me just say, yes…when we compare people to people…yes some are good, and some aren’t. Yes, some people are more evil or wicked than others…

But other people aren’t the standard for comparison. God is the standard. When we compare ANYONE to God, they come up short. The Bible almost seems to go out of its way again and again to make sure we know that there are no good people. (Romans 3:10, 3:23 for instance)

Folks, there is only One who is good, and that is God. And I think this ought to put the problem of evil, and this idea of righteous people perishing while the evil prosper in its proper perspective.

In contemplating this question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” R.C. Sproul, Jr. answered it like this: “That’s only happened once, and he volunteered for it.”

He’s talking of course about Jesus. There has only ever been one man, one person, who could truly say that He was good. That was Jesus. Jesus, the Son of God who was God Himself, He took on human flesh, became a man and lived a perfect sinless life even though Scripture says he was tempted in all things as we are. Yet, he did it without sin. This One who was the only truly “good” person who has ever lived went to the cross and suffered and died.

Why did He do it? So that you and I, “bad” sinful people might be forgiven of our sin and saved…saved to live forever with God.

Folks, this is the Gospel. The world asks why bad things happen to good people, but the Gospel says that there was only one time a bad thing happened to a good person, and it happened so that good things can happen to bad people.

We are the bad people, we are sinners. But Jesus took the punishment that we deserved so that we might be saved from our sin and the wrath of God that those sins deserve. God is holy, and because He is, He must punish sin. So Jesus, the perfect, spotless, sinless lamb of God took our punishment for us.

The Gospel is very good news for sinners, and that includes everyone reading this.

So, how does this apply to us, and the reality of suffering. Well, we have to keep it in its proper perspective. Yes, bad things happen in this world, but those bad things happen because of sin. We live in a world in which sin is a reality. We live in a world in which we ourselves are sinners. Since this is true, we can’t ever say, “I don’t deserve this!”

This may sound harsh…but what we deserve is hell. So, if God through Jesus has saved us from hell, friends we have much more, and much better than we deserve.

When tragedy comes, we can’t say, “God how could this happen, why did you do this?” We “deserve” much worse.

Suffering, difficulties, tragedy…these things are never fun. We don’t want to go through them. But I believe there is comfort in the Scriptures as we face these realities. I personally find comfort it in a verse that I quote quite often:  Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good, for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.

For the child of God, even the “bad stuff” we go through, God is using for our good. I heard a question this week, and it was a question Pastor James Boice asked his congregation as he suffered from stage 4 cancer some years ago. He asked, (I’m going to paraphrase) “If you could take your suffering and disabilities and difficulties away…would you?”

Most of us would probably say, yes. But, James Boice said if we did, or if we could, it wouldn’t be nearly as good for us as what God is doing for us AND in us through them.

This is hard for us to wrap our mind around, but this is the truth and the meaning behind Romans 8:28, this is why we have to trust in God when we don’t understand what is happening. This is why we have to rest in the Gospel and rest in Jesus.

So if you are reading this, this is my plea to you. Trust in God and trust in Jesus your Savior…

Because this God, and this Savior, Jesus Christ…He is our only hope, our only salvation, and our only goodness. Don’t reject Him, and please don’t try to live apart from Him. Receive Him, trust Him, and rest in Him.

 

All Scripture

Bible

 

Let’s be honest. When most of us open our Bibles to read, there are some books, some passages, and some verses we like and read more than others. More times than not, I would bet we spend most of our time in the New Testament. If we do spend time in the Old Testament, we probably read the Psalms or maybe Proverbs. Those books are very poetic, and contain such practical wisdom! Who wouldn’t love reading them?

Now, if I were to ask us why we read the New Testament more than the Old, we would probably say something like, “Well, that’s where Jesus is,” or, “Well, I like to read about the Gospel…and the New Testament is where we read all about the Gospel and the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Just to illustrate this point, friend of mine told me recently about visiting a church, and a pastor glanced at the Bible that was on the table in the sanctuary – which was opened to and Old Testament passage – and the minister said something like, “I don’t know why the Bible is opened to that book, this is a NEW TESTAMENT Church!”

Now, most of us probably wouldn’t be so blunt…but I have a feeling, that even if we wouldn’t verbalize things quite that way, I think practically in our personal study of the Scriptures, that’s how we approach the Bible.

Take for instance a book like Leviticus. Most of us probably wouldn’t associate the book of Leviticus with the Gospel. Leviticus is one of the five books of Moses that we call the Law. Normally when we start our yearly Bible reading plans, IF we start a yearly Bible reading plan, or if we’ve ever attempted to read through the bible in its entirety…I would imagine that more times than not, Leviticus is the book that we end up getting bogged down in.

And there are probably many reasons for that. As you read through the book you’ll find that basically the entire book is instructions in regards to the various offerings and sacrifices that the people were supposed to offer to God.

In this book we see Moses talking about burnt offerings, grain offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, guilt offerings…and on and on it goes. So, as we read through this book, it can be quite easy to get a bit bored (Let’s just say it)…especially because as we read through this book, we really don’t see how it applies to us.

We don’t have to offer these types of offerings. We are no longer bound by the Law. We don’t have to offer sacrifices. We are now under the new covenant, we have Jesus…so, the question we probably bring to the Bible as we read through a book like Leviticus, is “Why in the world should I read this? What the heck does this have to do with me?”

I would love to take the time to tell us all about how these various offerings and sacrifices all point us to Jesus and see His Gospel, but for now time doesn’t allow.

But, let me say first and foremost, the reason we should read a book like Leviticus in particular, and the Old Testament in general…is because it’s the Word of God. And as the inspired, God breathed Word of God, it ought to be important to us!

2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that, “ALL Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

These words by Paul, do not simply apply to the New Testament, though they do…but we have to remember, that when many of the Apostles and their associates were writing their letters and going around from town to town preaching the Gospel and planting churches…the New Testament as we have it didn’t exist. They, inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit were in the process of writing it and putting it together.

But yet, we see God working powerfully through their preaching. And what Scripture were they primarily teaching and preaching, and appealing to in order to make their case that Jesus was the Messiah? It was the Old Testament!

Jesus did the same thing as he preached…When Jesus first began his ministry, we read in Luke 4:17-21 how Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah, and told them that the Scriptures were fulfilled in Him. But maybe even more clearly, look at Luke 24:25-27:

“And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses (which no doubt includes the book of Leviticus) and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

So, when Jesus was preaching Jesus, what did he do? He went back to the Old Testament and he preached the Scriptures.

My point is this, the Sacred Scriptures for the Christian doesn’t start in the New Testament with the book of Matthew. But Jesus himself tells us over and over again that the entirety of the Bible, including the Old Testament and the books of the Law are about Him. There is not a book in the Old Testament (Or the New) that we can’t see Jesus, teach Jesus, preach Jesus, and glory in the Gospel, because the entirety of the Old Testament was written to testify to the Jesus that is beautifully revealed to us in the New Testament.

 

Let Us Consider: Neglecting to Meet Together

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“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25

I’m sure these are verses that we all have heard quoted many times, especially by preachers who are trying to guilt us into coming to church. Let me say right now before we go any further, I don’t want to guilt you into going to church. I tell folks all the time, even the folks that I pastor, that it is not my job to beg people to come to church. Sure, I want you to know that I want you there. Yes, I want you to know that the doors are always open. Please, know that everyone is welcome. But, I will never beg you to come to church nor will I make you feel guilty for not being there.

Does this mean that I don’t think church is important? Absolutely not. There are few things in this world and in our Christian lives that are more important than worshiping corporately with fellow believers. In fact, as this passage from Hebrews shows us very clearly, corporate worship is a command from God. We are to “not neglect to meet together…” Why? So that we can stir one another up to good works, and encourage each other.

Likewise, in Ephesians 4 the Apostle Paul gives another powerful illustration of what is accomplished through the local church. Paul says that the saints are equipped…”for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God…to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine…we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

The picture we have throughout the Bible, ALL of the Bible, is that believers WILL gather with other believers in order to worship God and to be built up in their faith. It is through the ministry of the local church that we learn who God really is. It is through the ministry of the local church that we learn what God has done and is doing through Christ. It is through the local church that believers are built up in their faith, grow in their walk with Christ, and are shaped more into his image. It is through the local church that believers draw close to other believers and build relationships that help them to love God and love others as Christ has called them to love. It is through the local church that believers encourage each other, love each other, and build each other up.

This isn’t just a preacher talking, this is the Word of God talking.

So, no, I don’t want to beg anyone to come to church. But what I do want you to know is that if you aren’t a member of a local church, or if you don’t attend a local church and serve in a local church then your faith WILL suffer. Your Christian life WILL suffer. Your relationship with God WILL suffer. Your knowledge of and affection for the Lord Jesus will not be what it should be. Perhaps most frightening of all…If you are neglecting to meet together with other believers, you are neglecting and disobeying the clear command of the word of God, and this is called sin.

As a pastor, I don’t want to see people coming to church because it strokes my ego, or makes me feel more successful. As a pastor, I want to see people coming to church because I want to see people drawing near to Jesus and growing in their relationship with him.

I was reading this week about the persecution of Christians in many parts of the world, and I was reminded yet again what an amazing privilege we have here in the United States to worship and speak the name of Jesus freely. In other parts of the world there are believers who have to meet in secret, and literally risk their lives to speak, sing, and praise the name of Jesus. Believers in other parts of the world would literally die to do the things that so many of us take for granted, and even neglect.

I said previously that I don’t want to guilt anyone into going to church, and I don’t see it as my job to beg you to do so. Those things may be true, but I do want to leave you with this encouragement: PLEASE, for the sake of your own soul and your relationship with the Lord, find a local church. Attend that local church, join that local church, be faithful and serve that local church. This is the will of God for your life – Scripture commands it, a thriving and vibrant Christian life demands it.

Coming Soon! Jonah and the Mercy of God

 

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I’m thrilled to be working with Focus Forward Publishing to release my next book, Jonah and the Mercy of God. Tentative release date is early May, so be watching out for it! I’m so excited about this project, and I can’t wait to share it with the world!  More details to follow.
http://www.focusforwardpublishing.com

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Life’s Big Question

Man on the edge of pier

Animals die. People die. This is a certainty. Death is inevitable. It happens to us all. This reality should cause us all to ask a very important question, and I think for most of us it does. This is also the question that King Solomon was asking in Ecclesiastes 3:21-22. Solomon asks, “Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?”

Solomon is asking the question here: Is there life after death? He said, who knows? And like I said, this is a question I think that we all deal with at one time or another in one way or another. It’s a question that most people have.

The inevitability of death is one thing. But here is the real kicker – and if you don’t believe me just read the rest of the book of Ecclesiastes – if this life is all there is, then life IS meaningless. And if this life is all there is, and if life is meaningless, then we all should despair, because that is a terrifying thought.

BUT, if there is life after death, then everything changes doesn’t it? That’s the game changer!

Solomon wants the answer to this most important question, he asks, “Who can know?” And it is true, in one sense, that there is a limit to what we can know about what happens after we die. Yes, we can hear stories or read books about folks who have had near death experiences, but still, there isn’t anyone who has ever been dead for a long period of time, and then came back and told us what the after-life is all about. We have no truly first-hand accounts of all of the details….

Still, we want them! And that’s why books about people going to heaven, and their tales (and I would say tall tales) are so popular to people. Because we want the details about what happens when we die. We want to know what we can expect. Because the unknown is scary. But in and of ourselves, our knowledge of life is pretty limited to our present state. In and of ourselves, we don’t know what happens beyond the grave. This bothered Solomon, and I think it bothers many people.

So Solomon says we might as well just enjoy our present existence, and enjoy life all we can. And IF we are uncertain about our eternities, then I guess this IS the best plan, to simply enjoy life while you can and to get as much joy out of this life while you can…

But the question I have for all of us is this: Do we have to be uncertain about our eternity? I don’t think so. Solomon himself would figure this out too. In Ecclesiastes 12:7 he says of man, “…the spirit returns to God who gave it.”

But even better than this, we have a great advantage over Solomon, don’t we? Why? Because we know Christ. We KNOW the one who can, as Solomon says in verse 22, “…bring him to see what will be after him.” We KNOW the one whom Solomon was longing for.

We KNOW the one who has been through death, and yet came out victorious. We KNOW the one who came down from heaven to reveal the truths of eternity to us. We KNOW Jesus the Son of God who was put to death on a cross.

But He didn’t stay dead did he?

We know that on the third day he conquered death and was raised. He is now in glory at the right hand of God! And now all who believe in Him will rise again to the better life that Hebrews 11:35 tells us about. Jesus has gone to heaven to prepare a better place for us, so that we can be where He is. That’s what John 14:3 says. And because of these things we can be certain of our eternities, and we can have the blessed assurance that we sing about so often.

Jesus has revealed eternity to us, and He has won it FOR us…and all we have to do is receive it, and trust and rest in Him.

Follow Me: The Danger of Comparison

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On a recent Sunday as I was recovering from some minor surgery, I was home and therefore had an opportunity to listen in to various church services led by other pastors. For the most part this was a very positive experience and very uplifting.  To listen to other pastors as they expound the Word of God is such an encouragement, and something I enjoy tremendously. As a preacher, one of the ways I improve my craft is by listening in to how other guys approach the art of preaching. Of course anytime you hear the Word of God proclaimed, it should drive your heart to worship, and on this Sunday I was certainly moved to worship by many of my fellow laborers in the Word.

That being said, I was also reminded of something that I all too easily forget. Comparison isn’t always a good thing for a Christian, and very often it can be a dangerous thing. Let me explain.

As I listened to some very gifted preachers boldly speak of the truths of God’s Word, I found myself thinking, “Wow, this guy is a great preacher. I sure wish I could preach like that.” This might sound innocent enough to most of us, and I too am tempted to just shrug it off…but I think there is a bigger problem here than we might think. The problem as I see it, is that if I can hear a man proclaiming the amazing truths of the Scriptures, and all I can do is wonder if the guy is a better preacher than me…then I have a problem. How can I hear about the beauty of our God and the wonderful acts of our savior, and instead of being driven to worship…be driven to compare myself to another of God’s servants while wondering who the better preacher is?

Sadly, this isn’t something that is limited to this particular Sunday. It happens quite often. I find myself on many a Sunday afternoon scrolling social media and reading about what God is doing through other Pastors and other churches, and I often find myself questioning why God doesn’t seem to be blessing me and my church in the same way he might be blessing others.

But, comparison isn’t just a bad thing because it brings out our insecurities. It can also lead to pride.

You see, on this same Sunday I heard other guys totally miss the point of the text they were preaching. I heard others say things that were completely false. I saw some guys being just plain silly. I picked up on others who had weird quirks or mannerisms. I could go on, but you get the point and can probably tell where this is going. Just as previously I was questioning myself, and feeling very insecure about my gifts as a preacher…when I listened to others, I found myself feeling pretty good about myself and getting puffed up with pride.

It’s really quite silly. But, whether most pastors want to admit it or not, this is a problem for many of us. I know, because I have a lot of friends who are pastors and I know the conversations that we have.

Now, a lot of you are probably reading this and thinking, “What in the world does this have to do with me? I’m not a pastor. Why should I care about your weird insecurities?”

The reason I think you should care is because I don’t think this is a problem limited to pastors. I think all of us look around at other Christians from time to time and wonder why God is or isn’t blessing us like he is blessing them. Perhaps we look at how God has gifted someone else to serve Him, and we wish that we had that gift. Maybe we wish we could pray like someone else. It could be that we would like to teach that Sunday school class. It might even be the fact that we look at one of our brothers or sisters who have such an outgoing personality that the ability to witness or evangelize seems to come so easy to them, and we wish that God had given us that gift. It could be any number of things.

Perhaps this isn’t you, but maybe you are the one whom God has gifted in one of these ways. Do you ever look down on other Christians because they don’t have the same abilities that you do? Do you ever find yourself feeling superior to other Christians because you have the ability to pray in public or the gift of teaching, or because you’ve done so many great things for Jesus while others haven’t? Surely, none of us would want to admit to this…but in our most honest moments, are those feelings there?

Maybe no one else has ever had these feelings, and I’m just a bigger sinner than everyone else…but I tend to doubt it. I think all of us have a tendency to want to compare ourselves to others and gauge where we are in the Christian life by our perception of where someone else might be.

In John 21:18-19 Jesus tells Peter not just that he would die in service to God, but he tells him how he would die and glorify God in his death. He then tells Peter, “Follow me.” Upon hearing this, Peter looks around and sees John. Peter then questions Jesus by saying basically, “Well, what about him?!?” Jesus’ response to Peter are words of wisdom that we all need to take to heart. Jesus said, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that you? You follow me!”

Friends, we aren’t called to compare ourselves to others. We aren’t called to question why we have some gifts and others don’t. We aren’t called to wonder why God may be blessing someone else one way, while our blessings don’t seem so obvious. The fact is, God has gifted us all differently and called each of us to serve him in unique ways. My service to God won’t look the same as yours, and yours may not look the same as mine…and that is okay.

The fact is, we all have one calling in common, and that is to follow Jesus. We all would be well served by worrying less about how God is using others and comparing ourselves to them, and instead focusing more on our Lord who has called us to follow Him…no matter how he chooses to use us to glorify Himself.

I’d Rather Have Jesus

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Jesus asks the question in Mark 8:36, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” The answer, of course, is nothing. There is no profit, no matter how much you gain in this world and in this life if you lose your soul. If you lose your soul…then you lose everything. If you lose your soul, then you lose eternity.

As I contemplate this question from Jesus and the powerful implications, I’m reminded of King Solomon. King Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes talks at length about his pursuit of meaning, purpose, joy, and ultimate satisfaction. Solomon in the first two chapters of Ecclesiastes talks about how he pursued meaning in laughter, having a good time, alcohol, his work, possessions, wealth, wisdom, and even sexual pleasure. Yet, in spite of all his pursuits, Solomon arrived at the conclusion that ultimately all of these things he pursued were empty and meaningless. Listen to his own words in Ecclesiastes 2:9-11, “So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all ALL WAS VANITY AND A STRIVING AFTER WIND, and there was NOTHING TO BE GAINED UNDER THE SUN.”

Solomon is basically telling us in these few verses, and really the entire book of Ecclesiastes, “I’ve done it all, I’ve tried it all, and I had it all…yet in spite of all I did and all I had, I found it completely meaningless.” All of Solomon’s pursuits left him empty. He found no lasting and ultimate satisfaction in any of it.

I think the question we all have to ask ourselves in light of these revelations from Solomon is, why.  Why can Solomon not find meaning or satisfaction in any of his earthly pursuits? Well, it’s for the same reason that you or I can’t.

You nor I won’t ever have the wealth of a King Solomon. (Just guessing) You nor I won’t ever possess the earthly wisdom of a King Solomon. You nor I won’t ever have the means to pursue the many things that King Solomon does as we read about his life in Scripture. But the same conclusions that Solomon arrives at in the book of Ecclesiastes are just as true for us as they were for him. You and I won’t ever find ultimate satisfaction, meaning, or purpose in the things of this world.

Why is this? Very simply because we weren’t created to be satisfied by the things of this world.

This doesn’t mean that everything in this world is bad. Laughter and fun is a wonderful thing. Most of us could use more of it in our lives. But it’s not an ultimate thing. It’s not why we were created. A nice house, more money, a lot of possessions can be good things. Wisdom is certainly something that we should all strive for. Even sexual pleasure is a gift from God. But all good gifts must be enjoyed in their proper context and with a proper perspective. The good gifts God gives us must not overshadow the God who has given us the gifts.

Is this because God is some cosmic killjoy who doesn’t want us to have fun? Absolutely not. God wants us to enjoy our earthly existence. It’s why he gives us good gifts. But ultimately those gifts are meant to point us to the ultimate good, which is God himself. God doesn’t want us to settle for the inferior pleasures of this world when he himself offers us the greatest of all pleasures.

Psalm 16:11 says, “…in your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” We know from Scripture that at the right hand of God is Jesus. So it is in and through Christ that we find the fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore.

The overwhelming teaching of Scripture is that God is the greatest good, the greatest pleasure, and the greatest joy. Only in a life focused and centered on God will we find true and ultimate meaning, and all of this is found in Christ. These things being true, I find the words of the well-known hymn “I’d Rather Have Jesus” especially pertinent, and my prayer for all of us is that these words would truly be the cry of our hearts:

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;

I’d rather have Jesus than have riches untold;

I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands;

I’d rather be led by his nail pierced hands

Than to be king of a vast domain and be held in sin’s dread sway.

I’d rather have Jesus than anything, this world affords today.

 

May these words be true for all of us, and may we all live our lives as if it were so.