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Fridays with Phil

Life, family and unshakeable faith

Month

April 2015

Where is God in Suffering?

The speed of communication these days will not allow us to ignore or be ignorant of the pain and hurt that is in our world.

Where is God in all this tragedy and heartache, in the brokenness of life, sickness and suffering?

Why do bad things happen?

We often default to cliché answers in response to these large, uncomfortable questions. Some common ones include:

  1. It must be God’s will
  2. God knows best
  3. Everything happens for a reason
  4. God is teaching us something
  5. We are being tested
  6. We are being punished
  7. God won’t give us more than we can bear

I too have heard myself giving some of these answers over years of supporting others going through hardship.

While they hold some truth, the problem with these responses is that when there is no rhyme or reason to hardship, we are left high and dry, with little comfort in our present-day pain.  When our circumstances do feel more than we can bear, we could become disheartened in our suffering.

What’s more, they appear to be conditional on our performance, in that once we learn the lesson, or once we pass the test, the trial will end.  Too many times, this is not the case.

When any of these responses are given in isolation or as the universal answer to all suffering – they may only distance us from God at the place of our tragedy, suffering, sickness and heartache.

These answers can leave us blaming ourselves, feeling guilt, or open to manipulation to perform one way or another.

Instead, the very nature of Christ and His message is grace, not blame, guilt or manipulation.  Unlike Karma, the goods news of the gospel is that we don’t get what we deserve!

Psalm 46:1 says:
God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble.

And Psalm 121:1-2 says:

I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Instead of asking “WHY” trouble, David asks, “WHERE” does my help come?

Because David had a relationship with God, he turned to God as his refuge and strength.   Relationship enables us to focus on where our help is found and in turn causes us to live through our suffering.

This tells me that when suffering happens, you and I have a choice to make.

Will we deny it, pretend it doesn’t exist, fake it, isolate ourselves, stay numb, get angry, play the blame game or will we seek God’s help and choose to LIVE through it?

Here’s a few thoughts on how we can live through pain and suffering:

1.  With God’s help

God sends help in the form of others. People need consolation more than explanation when going through tragedy.

Caring and loving people can cause us to endure pain longer, better, and more courageously than if we were alone.

2.  By redeeming the tragedy

Many bad things that happen to us do not have meaning attached to them, they do not happen for any good reason which would cause us to accept them willingly. BUT we can give them meaning! We can impose meaning to them.

Don’t ask, why did this happen? Or, what did I do to deserve this? A better question is, now that this has happened to me, what am I going to do about it?

Why not ask, how can I take what was meant for evil and turn it around for good?

3.  By having an eternal perspective

Romans 8:18 says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

You cannot remove the suffering you face now from the glory that is yours in the future.

If you could put all the difficulties of your life on one side of the scale, and the glory that will someday be revealed to you through Christ on the other side of the scale, the glory would be so much heavier than your present sufferings.

Glory actually has the meaning of being “the weight of Gods presence”.

4.  By living with the presence of Jesus

The reality of a relationship with Jesus is that He is with us in each and every circumstance of life. He promised He would never leave us.  When we are weak, Jesus is our strength.  When we are confused, Jesus is our comfort.  When we are fearful, Jesus is our peace.  When we are sick, Jesus is our healer.

God loves you, He sees what you are going through and He cares – let Him be your help today.

Phil

[Blog originally posted 26 Dec 2013, as “Is ‘Why’ the question?”]

Faith in God, despite your circumstances

I was recently interviewed by Ps Paul Bartlett from Lighthouse in Wollongong.  This is his take on our conversation and I pray it is a blessing to you in your current circumstances.  Thanks Paul!


My friend Phil probably should be dead, or at the very least, angry and bitter.

He’s not any of those things – and it still amazes me.

Phil Camden is a 55-year-old father of two, a loving husband and a popular pastor who was diagnosed two years ago with Motor Neuron Disease (MND).

MND is an aggressive condition that destroys the body’s ability to communicate with its own muscles, usually resulting in death within a few years of diagnosis. Over the past year, you’ve probably come across MND (or ALS as it’s known in America) via the online craze known as the Ice-Bucket Challenge.

Ice-bucket challenge videos, where everyone from Barack Obama to Bill Gates had cold water tipped on their heads, have been viewed by more than 440 million people and raised $100 million for research into the disease.

“You eventually become locked inside a unmoveable body,” Phil said recently on a Sunday night at Lighthouse.

“Today is the strongest day that I will have from this point on unless I get a miracle. One day I’ll be trapped in my body, fully aware and able to think – but not able to communicate.”

Phil shared that the diagnosis had initially challenged his core beliefs but, after lots of tears and prayer, he now saw it as an opportunity to help other people going through similar terminal illness.

“I really believe that God is still a good God. In the midst of our pain and suffering, He becomes even more real and significant,” Phil said.

Like many others, Phil admitted he had sometimes found himself asking why bad things happened to good people.

Then he pointed to his waterproof watch and gave an incredible insight on life.

“My watch can go 200m deep in the water. The manufacturer doesn’t guarantee it won’t get wet, they guarantee the water won’t penetrate and destroy the watch,” he said.

“My Christianity does not guarantee that I will live through this world without any pain or suffering but it does guarantee that the world will not destroy my relationship with God and His love for me.”

Phil told the crowd that nobody liked talking about death but Christians should not shy away from it.

“Even if I was healed, I would still die one day. So death is not actually the issue.”

“I believe in healing but I also believe that we should be experts on dying because for us, death has lost its sting.”

“Everyone of us is going to die … and this is why God sent Jesus into the world so that when I do die I’ll have eternal life. It’s not a fairytale, it’s real.”

I came away deeply moved and challenged by Phil’s story.

In my world most people who are seen as having great faith are those that get the miracle. After listening to Phil I now believe that often the people with the greatest faith are those who need a miracle and don’t get one – but still believe God!

To read more from Paul visit http://www.adifferentlight.com.au/blog

Lessons from a terrorist

The Apostle Paul before his conversion to Christ went about capturing, imprisoning, torturing and killing Christians.  He was, by definition, a terrorist.

Then one day as he was going about his terrorist activities, he meets Jesus.  This meeting changed his life forever.

His life of hatred, abuse, intolerance, bigotry, privilege and destruction became a life of grace, love, mercy, perseverance and hope.

He exchanged the power of force for the power of freedom.  It’s the difference Jesus makes outworked for us to see in the life of Paul.  And yet, it would be amiss of us to presume his conversion was all smooth-sailing for Paul.  This was not the case.

After Paul’s conversion, he was stoned to the point that he was thought dead, five times he was whipped, each time with 39 lashes, three times he was beaten with rods, three times he was shipwrecked, once spending all day and night in the sea, he was in danger from Jews and Gentiles alike, he was many times weary, sleepless, and hungry.

His conversion to Christ was not easy street.

Often our stories, albeit not nearly as dramatic, are far from easy. 

Yet, despite the difficulties he faced, the hallmarks of his life were still grace, love, mercy, perseverance and hope.

I believe that had he not been fully convinced of the Easter story we just celebrated, of the resurrection and of heaven and eternity, he would not have continued in his faith.  In fact, he said himself, in 1 Corinthians 15, if there is no resurrection then what he was going through wasn’t worth it.  But there was and so it is.

This ex-terrorist not only went on to write half of the New Testament but His writings are full of teaching on how we too can face our less-than-easy life stories.

We see that Paul became a man who was filled with love for those who hated him, he was gracious and merciful to those who had kept him in chains.  He had learned to meditate on whatever was true and good.  He taught us how to have joy in the midst of pain and trial.

Paul was one who gave thanks in the midst of all things and that thankfulness lead him to thoughtfulness towards others who suffered.  He faced the reality of his own death, practically everyday of his adult life, and yet he faced it with courage because he believed in the resurrection and that belief undergirded everything he did, he said and the way he lived.

Not only that, but Paul’s story demonstrates that in a moment with Jesus, anyone can be saved and given a new start in life.  That anyone can be a humble, powerful testimony of Christ’s love, no matter what the circumstances of life may be.

God can and does use our imperfect and weak lives to reveal His incredible grace and desire to forgive.

Paul’s life is an example to us all.  I pray today in your own conversion story, the hallmarks of your life would be as they were for Paul: grace, love, mercy, perseverance and hope.

Phil

Keep Calm and Carry On

What do you know about the man who carried Jesus’ cross?

History tells us his name was Simon. Presumably, he was a man just like you and me.

“A man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, was coming in from the country just then, and they forced him to carry Jesus’ cross.” (Mark 15:21)

By the time Simon was asked to carry the cross, Jesus had already suffered through scourging with whips made of leather and sharp bone. It’s no surprise that He was weak and physically unable to carry on.

Easter, then, is not only a story about triumph and victory, but also for those who at times find themselves too weak or too helpless to carry their own burdens.

It is for those of us who have been given more than we feel we can endure.

Do you know what that’s like?  The feeling of absolute powerlessness? To feel overwhelmed by what you are required to carry? Jesus does.

His body gave out.  He could not take another step in His own strength.  He literally sweated blood.

When you feel like you can’t take another step, or bear another thing, think on this: Jesus has been there and knows how you feel.

“He understands our weaknesses, for He faced all of the same temptations we do, yet He did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

Whatever it is that we have to carry at this time: illness, weakness, pain, trials, temptation, Jesus will help you carry it.

Jesus came into this world to identify with the human race, to experience all that we experience.  He understands you. He knows what it is like not to be able to go on, and He will be there to give you strength in your time of need.

He could have saved Himself, just as He could have prevented Himself from being there in the first place.

He was there, not because He was the victim of circumstances beyond His control, but because He chose to lay down His life for the sake of the world. In fact, He was quoted as saying to the disciples:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep… No one can take my life from Me. I lay down My life voluntarily.” (John 10:11, 17-18)

Jesus wanted to save you so He didn’t save Himself.

He was willing to die so that you can live and be reconciled to God.  That was a price He was willing to pay.

It has been said before: “it wasn’t the nails that bound Him to that tree; His love for you held Him there.

Remember God, victorious, this Easter and also remember God who knew suffering.  He was alone in His agony so that you would not be alone in yours.

I am posting this earlier in the week so that I didn’t miss the opportunity to extend an invite to you, your family and friends to get along to a Church for Good Friday & Easter Sunday services.

If you are looking for somewhere to attend, here is a link to service locations and times around the world of the Church I call home: http://www.hillsong.com/easter

Phil

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