Grace

Why Does a Good God Allow Human Suffering?

“Good and upright is the Lord.” – Psalm 25:8

Why does a loving God allow human suffering and evil? If God is all-powerful, doesn’t he have the ability to prevent it? If the Creator truly cares, wouldn’t he bring peace upon this earth? What is the purpose of suffering, if any at all? These are all common questions that people ask, especially when they are experiencing tragedy.

When my wife was a child, she had a younger sister named Natalia. At the age of 1, it was evident something physically was wrong. Her parents went from doctor to doctor to get a diagnosis. Finally, the worst news possible: Natalia had terminal cancer.

Her parents were determined to save Natalia’s life. They tried chemotherapy, surgery, traveled to clinics around the country, but there was no remedy for this cancer. It started in the tailbone and spread to her lungs.

When Natalia began to walk, she would complain about her leg pain. She just wanted relief. My wife vividly remembers a time when Natalia said to her Mom, “I just want an injection. Can you give me an injection to relieve this pain?” Most children loathe shots, but Natalia needed it because her pain was unbearable. That same year Natalia passed away and began the journey to her heavenly home.

Stories like these are hard to hear. My wife and her family were devastated. Heartbroken. Questioning the goodness of God was a natural conversation considering their circumstances. Despite the pain, this tragedy had started a positive direction for their family.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

After the funeral, my Father-in-Law, who was an agnostic, started attending church. He had nowhere else to go. In his brokenness, the only relief was to be part of a community of believers who would pray and comfort him and his family during this ravenous storm.

My wife started going to church with her grandpa. My Mother-in-Law also began attending church. Although Natalie had passed into eternity, her influence was prevalent. This tragedy brought the entire family into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Today, my wife loves the Lord. She has helped missionaries translate the gospel from English to Ukrainian. She has counseled several women in the church. Everyday,  she teaches my two boys the importance of God’s love. For instance, our eldest son Evan is already sharing Jesus with kids he meets at the park. She has been a tremendous helper for me and a vital asset to the strength of our family.

My Father-in-Law owns a successful business. He gives employees the option of staying after work to do in-depth Bible studies with him. And yes, they get paid for being present. He has contributed greatly to their city, revamping dilapidated buildings, creating programs for youth, and teaching Bible studies at his house. He knows the Bible better than any seminary trained professor I have ever met.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:2-4

All of us will experience tragedy at some point. It’s inevitable. When these tragedies do arise, what will your attitude be? If you become bitter and angry towards God, I can promise you, life will become a dark tunnel filled with disappointment. Bitterness always leads to the grave.

My wife’s sister Natalia was a heartbroken event. Both her laughter and tears will never be forgotten. And yes, grieving is the right attitude, but it’s not the final outcome. Natalia had a positive impact on my wife and her entire family. Her death brought brokenness, but that brokenness led the Livinyuk family to seek refuge in Christ. Praise be to God.

God’s Law and Grace Are Harmonious

“To separate God’s law from grace is to misapply both law and grace.”

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). For all have sinned and stand condemned before God (Rom. 3:23). The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Thus, all deserve God’s wrath for breaking His law.

Thankfully, Jesus took our punishment on the cross in order to satisfy God’s righteous anger toward sin. Because God upholds His law, He must punish all sin, including yours and mine. To absolve us from the curse of the law, God made Jesus, who knew no sin, to become sin for us, so that we could be made right with God through Christ (Isaiah 53; 2 Cor. 5:21).

Not only did Jesus die for our sins, but he lived in complete obedience to the law. That’s why there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ. Why? Because what the law was powerless to do since it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us (Rom. 8:4).

Therefore, the only way to understand grace is in light of the law. The law says, “You are guilty.” But God says, “even though your sins are as scarlet, I will make them white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). Essentially, the law magnifies grace.

Jesus also makes it clear the law is everlasting. “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose (Matt. 5:17). And He did. He perfectly obeyed the law and that’s the only reason we are made righteous before a holy God.

Dear Church, Love Always Triumphs Over Hate.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” – Matthew 5:43-45

Last week, I watched a video uploaded by a pastor on YouTube. He told his opposing viewers to get over the presidential election and stop crying like a “bunch of babies.” Do you think his attitude was constructive? Was it in the Christian Spirit to sharply condemn in this manner? What does his response reveal to outsiders about the leaders in the Christian religion?

I don’t think calling people a bunch of crybabies is what Jesus would do. Jesus not only taught to love those who disagreed politically (Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and God what belongs to God), but also to radically love your persecutors. And Jesus isn’t just talking about cyber bullying. He is referring to enemies of God who killed followers of Christ.

For instance, when Stephen  publicly praised Jesus in front of the Pharisees, they stoned him to death. What was Stephen’s response? “Lord, don’t blame them for what they have done.” Isn’t this the exact response Jesus had when he was crucified? He cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Compare the attitude of Jesus and Stephen to the pastor on YouTube. Isn’t there a stark difference? Why is it, then, that leaders in the church are not imitating what Jesus said? God told us to beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. I don’t know if this pastor is a false prophet, but I do know, based on his temperament, he shows no signs of the Fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).”

While I understand this political election has caused division, anger, and resentment, the Christian church needs to arise out of the ashes. The Church has a great opportunity to be the new role model. Can you imagine how many people would be attracted to a religion that tells them to “love those who persecute you?” A worldview that teaches all of us are “created in the image of God?” A belief system where God took on human flesh to die for the sins of rebels?

This worldview is the only hope for humanity. So what are you waiting for? Go, stand, and speak this great truth to a world in desperate need of acceptance, love, grace, and forgiveness found at the cross!

Lent Reminds us of the Real Revolutionary

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Substitutionary atonement is the sacrifice Christ made for the sins of the whole world (Jn.3:16). Those who repent and put their faith in Christ alone for salvation (Eph. 2:8-9) will receive the righteousness of Christ. The righteousness of Christ is imputed or given to believers. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of Christ (2 Cor. 5:21).” The reason Christ could be our substitute and impute his righteousness was because he perfectly obeyed the will of God the Father. He is the perfect standard of the love and justice of God that was required for humankind to be reconciled to God.

Furthermore, substitutionary atonement not only comprises Christ imputing his righteousness to us. It’s important to understand that God was also sent to be the “propitiation” for believers (Rom. 3:25). Propitiation is a sacrifice that bears all God’s wrath on sin. Since God is just and can’t ignore the sins committed by humankind, He chose to sacrifice His only begotten Son. We must remember that Christ voluntarily chose to take the wrath of God, and that this wrath was what satisfied the demands of his own righteousness and justice. Thus, atonement is both God giving us His righteousness and appeasing the wrath of God.[1]

The implications of this doctrine for human guilt over sin is crucial. Because Jesus bore our penalty—penal substitution, He became our representative. By becoming our representative, God penalized his only Son instead of us. When we come into a relationship with Jesus, the Bible says “there is therefore now no condemnation (Rom. 8:1).” Since there is no condemnation, Christians who struggle with false guilt should remind Satan, who is the accuser of the brethren, that the sins of mankind were paid in full by Jesus of Nazareth.

Even though we deserve to die for the penalty of our sins and warrant the wrath of God for eternity, Christ, because of his love and mercy, reconciled us through His substitutionary atonement. He brought us back into fellowship with God. The Bible says that “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:18-19).” This is the greatest news for the world. Heaven is a free gift given to us by God, but we should never forget that God bought it in full for us when he suffered on the cross for our sins. Praise Jesus for His grace.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p.569.

Martin Luther’s Conversion Experience

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There’s a story about Martin Luther, a German monk, priest, and important figure to the birth of the Protestant Reformation in 1517. When he was traveling through a terrible thunderstorm, a lightning strike nearly killed him. He cried out a vow to God that if he survived he would live as a monk. And so he did.

He entered the Augustinian order at Erfurt. He prayed eight times a day, slept little, and performed painful self-infliction for his sins. He was attempting to love God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength. Yet he was miserably bound by the law.

Luther was known for confessing his sins so often that he would stay up all night and the priests would grow weary. Whenever Luther showed up, they would exclaim: “Oh no, Luther is here. We are going to stay up all night now.”

It wasn’t until Luther meditated on Romans 3:20 that he finally understood what God desired from him. “By the works of the law no flesh will be justified in his sight; for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” Finally, Luther came to the brink of his own self-righteousness. He gave up in his works-based religion and asked for justification by faith alone in Christ alone!

As Christians, we can be tempted to view our salvation along with our commitment to attending church, reading the Bible, praying, and evangelizing. Yes, we are called to produce fruit. Faith without works is dead, as the Apostle James said. However, when it comes to our salvation and justification, it’s all the work of Christ. Let’s never forget that!

Bless And Love Your Enemies Like Jesus Did

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“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:9-10).”

Warren Wiersbe, an American Pastor, once said: “As Christians we can live on one of three levels. We can return evil for good, which is the satanic level. We can return good for good and evil for evil, which is the human level. Or, we can return good for evil, which is the divine level. Jesus is the perfect example of this latter approach.”

How true! Jesus called us to radically love our enemies, not to take revenge. We should return positive good deeds for evil ones. Jesus said in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will inherit the Kingdom of God.” Moreover, the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthian believers to bless those who curse you and answer kindly to those who slander you (1 Cor. 4:12-13). This type of radical love is foreign to the world today.

In the Grace of Giving, the author, Stephen Olford, tells of a Baptist Pastor, Peter Miller, who lived in Pennsylvania during the American Revolution (1765-1783). He was good friends with George Washington and often visited him. In Miller’s place of residence lived a man named Michael Wittman. He was a bully and wicked minded man who would oppose and slander Pastor Miller daily.

One day, Mr. Wittman was accused of treason by the American government and sentenced to die. Pastor Miller heard about this and traveled seventy miles on foot to Philadelphia to defend this traitor in front of General George Washington. “No, Pastor Miller, I can’t grant you the life of your friend.” “My friend!” exclaimed the preacher. “He’s the bitterest enemy I have.” “What?” cried Washington. “You’ve walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in a different light. I will grant your pardon.” And he did. Peter Miller took Michael Wittman back home–no longer an enemy but a friend.

When we bless those who curse us, we are demonstrating the love of God to the world. We are also admitting that grace was once given to us. There was a time when we were cut off and separated from God. Despite our former, rebellious hearts, Jesus decided to forgive us, so we should forgive others.

As Christians, never forget where you came from, lost and without any hope. Instead, be eager to share this hope with others. Ask yourself: Do you have any enemies at this moment? Are you storing up bitterness inside? Have you attempted to reconcile yourself to this person? As Christians, it’s our duty to seek reconciliation and peace. Please do this today before it’s too late.

Extending Grace in a Culture of Revenge

Carnegie-1903There are 5 members of my family. I have two older brothers, Tyson and Brian. They are both in the medical field working as doctors. My Father made his living as a Physical Therapist and business owner while my Mom stayed at home. I had a great experience growing up. My family demonstrated mercy, forgiveness, and grace.

Grace is what I want to speak to you about. Grace is defined as getting something you don’t deserve. It comes from the Greek word charis, which means favor, blessing, or kindness. Grace is giving a blessing we don’t deserve. I want to share moments in my life where this type of grace or blessing was shown to me by members of my family.

My Dad is a huge Baseball fan. He built a Baseball field in our backyard and was the coach of my team throughout my youth. One day, before a game, my Dad and I got into an argument and we refused to talk. He still put me in the lineup and let me play in the game. When it was my turn to bat, I hit the ball over the fence, which we call homerun. It’s like scoring a goal in soccer. As I was rounding the bases, everyone, including my Dad, was cheering for me. When he gave me a high five, I ignored him. After the game, I felt really bad. However, my Dad wasn’t angry with me. He chose to forgive. I didn’t deserve to have this grace extended, but He chose to forget about the situation.

It was my 16th birthday. I just got my driver’s license and wanted to show off to my friends my Mom’s brand new Mustang convertible car. One friend asked if he could take the car for a ride. I said, “Go right ahead, but don’t drive past the end of the street.” Immediately, He got into the car, sped down the end of the street, and ignored my instruction and kept speeding down the road. As he took a turn, he hit a mailbox and fence. It damaged the side of my Mom’s car. When she found out about it, her face was hot with anger. It was the first time I ever say my Mom really upset. The amazing thing was she forgave me just a day later and cooked me dinner. I didn’t deserve this blessing and affection. This was grace.

My oldest brother and I got into a heated argument one day. I decided to get out the boxing gloves and told him, “I can take you, wimp.” My brother said alright, but I got scared. I ran in circles around our yard so he couldn’t catch me. Finally, he gave up, but I think he was showing mercy to me. He didn’t want to beat me up even though I deserved it.

Recently, while studying at the seminary, my wife and I spoke to a gentleman about ministry outside our apartment. We were planning on eating dinner soon, but this man continued talking to me. I told Olya to go ahead to our room, cook the meal, and I will be there in a few minutes. Those few minutes lasted for 30 minutes. She called me and said, “The food is ready. Please come now.” I said okay; just give me 5 more minutes. That turned into another 30 minutes. Finally, she called me on the phone and said the food is cold. When I got to the apartment, the food was still there on the table. She put it in the microwave, served me the meal, and was only upset for a moment. She decided to still love me even though I didn’t deserve it at the time.

Like me, most people here have experienced some type of grace or forgiveness in their lives. But when the word grace is used in connection with God, it takes on a more powerful meaning. The examples above were conditional grace. My Dad might have forgiven me because he didn’t want others to see his anger. My Mom could have shown me grace so that she didn’t have to deal with any more confrontation. My wife could have forgiven me so that bitterness wouldn’t enter into her heart, making our marriage worse. See there is benefit in this type of grace for both people.

But the grace of God is unconditional. It doesn’t benefit Him like it does for us. Grace is God choosing to bless us rather than curse us as our sin deserves. Read Ephesians 2:1-9. Here we see that God shows both mercy and grace. Mercy withholds a punishment we deserve; grace gives a blessing we don’t deserve. Consider this illustration: you were stopped in your car going 30 kilometers over the speed limit. The ticket is high and you can’t pay it. You appear before the judge with nothing to say. He hears your case, and to your surprise, he cancels your fine. That is mercy. But the judge doesn’t stop there. He walks you outside and hands you the keys to a new car. That is grace.

In mercy, God chose to cancel our sin debt by sacrificing His perfect Son in our place. 2 Corinthians 5:21 states: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  In Romans 5:10 the Bible states, “Through Jesus he reconciled to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

That’s why salvation is found in no one else but Jesus. He is the only one worthy to pay the penalty for our sins demanded by God’s holiness (Revelation 5:4-5). Only when our sins are dealt with in Christ can we enter heaven. We cannot pay our own way. There is no amount of good works or religious acts that we can do to earn God’s favor. Repeat: It is only by grace that we are saved. When we confess this to God, turn from our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).”

If you are a believer here this morning, I want you to think about your life. Ask yourself the following questions: Do I extend grace to others out of duty or because of my love for Christ? Am I trying to earn God’s favor by attending church services, dressing modestly, and reading my Bible, or because I want to be holy, please God, and have a relationship with Him? Lastly, I want to challenge you to think of at least one way you can extend grace to someone this week, whether it’s sending a card, smiling at a stranger, sharing the good news of Jesus, or anything that would extend grace and love towards others.  

For unbelievers: If you want to trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior, do it now! God promises He will answer your prayers. If you don’t know what to say, you can say this out loud: “Dear Jesus, I know I am a sinner who deserves Hell. I also realize you are a loving God who doesn’t desire for people to perish, but to be saved. You died on the cross for my sins and I am eternally grateful for that. I accept your free gift of salvation. With your help, I am willing to forsake my sin and put my trust and faith solely in you. Thanks for your marvelous grace. I believe all these words are true and declare them in the name of the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.