When God Doesn’t Make Sense: Week 1 from Life Church

This is a bad time of year for this, Pastor Craig!  Yes, this takes me back to November and December of 1999:  the 2nd time my life fell apart.

The first time, I don’t remember.  That was when I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.  The only reason I remember the date, May 19, 1986, is because my grandmother told me and showed me her journals at a much later date.

And I am taken back to a year ago, when my uncle died.  And I couldn’t be there.

And I am taken back to a few years ago, when my great-aunt passed away.

And I am taken back to the struggles with my faith I have had on and off since I lost my sister. My grandfather.  My science teacher.  My great-grandmother.  My uncle.  Close friends who have inspired me.  My divorce.  Coming to terms with depression.

Not a good time of year, Craig.  And yet, the TRUTH I have learned through each of these experiences has blessed me.  God has taught me SO MUCH each time my world has fallen apart.

Watch this:  When God Seems Inattentive.  Then you may continue.

When it seems like God doesn’t answer, He does.  I prayed and prayed and prayed so hard for my sister!  And yet, He didn’t spare her life.  She chose to end it.  I’ll never fully understand why.  Even 16 years later, I will never fully understand.  So why didn’t He answer?  Oh but He did!  It took me months, if not years, to see it.  I prayed, “God, BE with her!  Be with her.  Comfort her.  Be with her.”  My dad shared with me the image he had when he found her:  “Jesus was cradling her.”  BAM!  HE WAS WITH HER!!!!  He held her through her pain, through her anguish, through her grief.  He answered my prayer by revealing Himself to my dad in that moment.  Doesn’t make sense, but He was there.  He never left.  He heard me, despite the enemy’s best attempts to convince me otherwise.

When life if falling apart, and it seems NOTHING good can come out of it, God makes a way.  When I reflect back and see the safety net He had in place for me in that time, and every time since, I am in awe.  His goodness NEVER fails.  He provided for me through my roommates, my boss (the college chaplain), my college advisor, my then-boyfriend…so many people who helped keep me afloat through grief and depression, who ultimately saved my life, became blessings from my Father above.  Craig shared this phrase:  “We should not interpret the goodness of God through our experiences, but we should interpret our experiences through the GOODNESS OF GOD.”  God is GOOD in ALL THINGS, and at ALL TIMES.  He never fails.  The brokenness we experience is a bi-product of sin, original sin, continued sin…

My faith, therefore, must be in God’s PURPOSE rather than MY PLAN.

Isaiah 55:6-11 says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.  For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Proverbs 19:21 (NIV) says, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

Even Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane:  (Luke 22:41-42, and in other places in the Gospels…)  And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

It is OK to pray these types of prayers!  God wants us to share our heart’s desires with Him!  Sometimes, they line up with His will and purpose.  Sometimes, they don’t.  And that’s ok.  Each time, we learn.  We grow.  We learn to TRUST HIM MORE.  Sometimes we have to get over some distrust and misunderstanding first.  But ultimately, we grow closer to Him.  We learn to cling to Him in times of struggle.  We begin to live out the Footprints poem and recognize when God is carrying us, even kicking and screaming, through the most difficult of times.

I may never understand why God has allowed me to experience these thorns and trials.  And I know Job never understood his hardships either.  And yet, I am thankful for the love, the grace, the mercy, the forgiveness He has given me through Jesus Christ.  I am thankful for the gift of compassion and empathy..  I am thankful that He has saved my life.  It is my desire, as much as I am able, to give this life right back to Him.  Lord, I am Yours.  May Your Will be done in my life, now and always.  Catch me when I fall, hold me when I falter.  May YOU ALONE be glorified each time You save me.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Interrupted: Phase 5

Phase 5:  Sent

“We see a church where people can find biblical community.  We believe that the church should be the best place to build honest and encouraging relationships that speak, share, and seek to live out God’s truth.”

1 Corinthians 9:19-23

 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.  To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

  1. The manner in which Austin New Church was named is where Jen begins in Phase 5.  What are your thoughts?  How is a church named, and what name would you choose for a church?
  2. As we finish up “Out of Kindergarten,” what are your thoughts about the birth of a new church? Have you ever experienced anything like that before (could be a church, a non-profit organization, a business…)? What was it like?
  3. On pages 198-199, Jen describes the difference between mission and missional. What is your understanding of these differences?
  4. Page 200: “Among, beside, within—this is the way of the Trinity.  God has gone to people since the day He walked in the garden.  People came to Him only after an encounter, after a revelation, after  He is the initiator, meeting humans on their turf in the middle of their chaos.  God understood that we were too broken and confused to find Him in His divine dwelling places.  Once we belong to Him, we know where to look for sweet communion, but until then, He comes to us.”  How have you experienced these words?
  5. Also on page 200, Jen writes, “On a practical level, why would we expect unbelievers to come to church with no provocation? What do they know of the beauty of the Spirit?…But why would cynics join a weekend celebration of a God they don’t know, especially One who has been so poorly represented by His people?” Here, she encourages us to bring the message to THEM.    How does this make you feel?
  6. Page 202: “[Christian subculture causes us to] turn a blind eye to the customs, cultures, communities, and contexts where people live their lives with different preferences and worldviews right next door to us.”  Are we blind to the cultures around us?  How do we balance sharing the Gospel and compromising?
  7. “’Church must not be the goal of the gospel anymore. Church should not be the focus of our efforts or the banner we hold up to explain what we’re about.  Church should be what ends up happening as a natural response to people wanting to follow us, be with us, and be like us as we are following the way of Christ.’” (page 203) What does this passage speak to you?
  8. When WE are transformed by Christ, the World sees it. Non-believers can SEE something and experience something tangible.  How can we share this change, this way of life, with those around us?
  9. “’[Jesus] doesn’t need us to stick up for him; he needs us to represent him, to be like him, to look like him and to talk like him, to be with people that he would be with, and to take the side of the ‘ignorant’ instead of those in the ‘know.’’” (page 206) How are we representing Jesus?
  10. “Love has won infinitely more converts than theology.” (page 206) What is the difference and why does it matter?
  11. What is the “new set of rights” Jen shares with us on Page 210? Why do we have these rights?  Why do these rights matter?
  12. What is the difference between leading in love or leading in doctrine? (Refer to page 211)
  13. Why is it so important to know the communities we are serving? What does it mean to truly serve?
  14. Page 222: “When love regulates our liberty, we create a context to share the gospel and have it actually received…But if they are offended by our representation of God, then we’ll answer for our arrogance.  We can help that, and we had better do it.”  How do our actions affect others’ response to God?
  15. How are we living in mission? How do we represent Christ in our communities and places of employment?
  16. “There will never be enough knowledge to fill the cracks of Christian maturity without the fruit of selfless service manifested in our lives. Our lives must reflect this heart of Christ, or we will always remain one click away.” (page 228)  Where do we seek fullness and growth?  Where do we go deeper?
  17. Let’s read Ephesians 3:17-19. What does this passage of scripture speak to you?
  18. Page 229: “Do we really need to be fed more of the Word, or are we simply undernourished from an absence of living the Word?”  Thoughts?
  19. Page 231-232, Jen writes about small groups. What are your thoughts after reading this?  What changes would you make to our own small group?  Where do we go from here?
  20. “I believe the largest factor in feeling unfed is not feeding others.” (page 232) Do you agree or disagree?  Why?
  21. How can we live missionally, here in Champaign-Urbana? Here in our places of employment?  Here as parents, as coworkers, as fellow heirs of Christ?
  22. “Decode the love language of the tribe around you, and speak it. It’s not rocket science.  Win them over to you, and you’ll have the best chance to win them over to Christ.”  (page 237)  How do we do this?  What have you experienced or witnessed as to the love language of your community?
  23. In conclusion, how are you inspired to serve God, to share Christ, and to be NEW right where you are?