The Problem of Evil, Theodicy, and the Power of Story

dark-cloud-1539729-1599x1066The problem of “theodicy” (evil, and cruelty in the world) is a problem that theologians have wrestled with for decades. I read this one line a little while ago and it really resonated with me.

What do you think of it?

We don’t have an argument that solves the problem of the cruel world, but we have a story – Francis Spufford

You are Made of Stories

1077691_68991810Michael Gungor, a singer / songwriter in the band Gungor, says this:

More than skin, and bone, muscle and tendon – you are made of stories. 

And I think that is true. We all have stories that make up who we are. We all have experiences, encounters, and narratives that not only shape who we are, but often define who we are. You are made of stories and so are those around you.

Some of us are made up of difficult stories, stories of pain, hurt, and abuse. Some of us are made up of stories of love, grace, and forgiveness. The point though isn’t to live a life, or a story, without pain or conflict. The point is to live a life that isn’t controlled by pain, fear, or conflict. To live a life, and share a story, that is about something bigger and better. To live a life that joins in the story that God is telling.

There is this really beautiful spiritual practice of reflection. In it you look back over your life, the stories and encounters you’ve had that really impacted you. You can plot them on a paper, as highs or lows, and reflect on the major turning point in your life.

And once you’ve done this you look over your story. The highs and lows,t he good times and difficult. The stories and encounters that build you – who you are. And you ask yourself two simple questions:

  • Where was God moving in those times?
  • And where is God leading today? 

It’s amazing how as you reflect and look back you can see God moving in your life. And as you see where he did move, you can get a sense for where he might be moving you.

So my simple little challenge today is this.: that you are made of stories, and that you look back on the story of your life. And as you look, and remember, pay attention for God. Look and see how he was moving in this moment, and that moment. And look for where he might be moving.

Because Michale Gungor is right, and as you do this you ask a simple question: where has God been leading?

The question really is what stories: More than skin, and bone, muscle and tendon – you are made of stories. And the question is where is your story leading? Is it joining a bigger story – God’s story? We all have good and bad encounters but none of that needs to control our story or destiny. Because here is the beautiful thing: your story isn’t over yet. So live it well.

The Women in Jesus’ Life and In Ours

1422766_42566222On Sunday we looked at the story of Jesus and the influence of women on the story of Jesus. And this matters because today in our world we still seem to set the bar lower for women. But the point is that Jesus didn’t – so Christians shouldn’t either. The first person to meet the divine in flesh was a woman – Mary.

The first person to discover that Jesus was the Messiah was a woman – the woman at the well.

The first person to discover the resurrected Jesus and be the first witness to the miracle that changed the world – Mary in the Garden.

The point is that women are central to the story of Jesus. And not just central because Mary, Jesus’ mother, gave birth to Jesus.

Mary did not change the world because she was a mother. I know that sounds controversial but it really isn’t. Mary changed the world because she was obedient and said yes to God. Before Mary was a mother, she said yes to God. That yes changed the world, through her giving birth to Jesus, but birthing Jesus didn’t happen before she said yes.

The point is that Mary matters not firstly because she birthed Jesus, but because she first said yes to God. Motherhood is not the highest calling of a woman in the Jesus story; obedience, faithfulness, and saying yes to God in his various callings is the most important thing.

So that’s what we looked at on Sunday; how important woman were to Jesus’ story. How in Luke 8 we read that women financed Jesus ministry. How Jesus radically included and welcomed women into his ministry. How Jesus bypasses social barrier to remind us that God welcomes each person.

And as we reflected on this reality we shifted to think about ourselves. If women were this central in shaping the Jesus story, who has been central in shaping our personal stories? What woman has supported us, said yes to us, and been faithful to us that made us who we are? Whose investment shaped the direction of our lives?

And after thinking of that we left with one challenge: to go and thank them. To thank them for their prayers, their support, their investment. Whether they  happened to be our mothers, grandmothers, aunt, friend, community friend – whatever – to thank those women who made our stories better. Because that’s what the gospels insightfully reveal about Jesus. That women made his story fuller and better, and I can say it’s the same in my life. So why not thank them for that.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Without women there would be no story of Jesus

Take Aways…

  • Women are central to the story of Jesus.
  • Not only are women central to Jesus story, but our stories as well.
  • Jesus interaction with women was revolutionary at the time
  • “Jesus actions towards women were controversial, provocative, and even revolutionary” Joel Hamilton
  • But what we see in Jesus is God available to everyone
  • Mary didn’t change the world because she was a mother, but because she was obedient.
  • Changing lives begins by saying yes to God.
  • God bypasses barriers to communicate directly
  • Women matter in this story of God.

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? Had you realized the important role women played in Jesus life before? What women have played an important role in your life? How did they impact and influence you? How can you show them your thanks today?

Discussion Questions / Actions for Young Families: Today talk to your kids about the importance of valuing the women in our lives. Have them share who some of the important women are in their lives. Decide on a way to show them that you are grateful for them today – and then do it.

Challenge for this Week: Thank those women who have changed us today

Just Share Your Story ~ Its that Simple

445240_46957018On Sunday we looked at a unique text in Mark 5. Here Jesus heals a man possessed by a demon. What is interesting is that after being changed by Jesus and transformed the man wants to follow Jesus. This is all pretty straightforward I would think. If Jesus transforms you completely, deciding to follow him isn’t a stretch. But Jesus does something unique. He says no. He actually refuses to let the man come with him. And instead he says, “Go home to your family, and friends, and share the mercy God has shown you”

In essence, Jesus says simply go home and share your story. Share you story with those around you. Let them know about how you’ve been changed. Simply share the mercy God has shown you with others.

And in this one little verse I think we get a huge insight into how to share the love of Jesus Christ with others. We don’t need to force it into conversations, we don’t need to go door-to-door; we can simply share our story with our friends, family and neighbors. We can with humility, and grace share how God is changing our lives. We can say how God has freed us from fear, given us hope, supported us in difficulty, given us a purpose etc. We can simply share the wonderful things God is doing in our lives.

This is simple, easy, and sensitive to others. If you have a true friendship with others who aren’t following Jesus, they should care about how your life is changing. And if Jesus is the cause of that change then we should feel free to share it. The focus isn’t on changing others, but sharing the change within ourselves.

And the amazing thing is the story in Mark 5 actually testifies to how remarkably powerful this can be. As Jesus leaves the man the townspeople hate Jesus. They are completely against Jesus and want nothing to do with him. But Jesus leaves behind one man and his story with these people. We read that the man goes home to the region of the 10 Towns. A few chapters later Jesus shows up in the same region again. But this time the response from the people is completely different. One man and his story has changed the region from being against Jesus to being interested in Jesus. Mark records that with the women and children there, 10,000 people (approx.) show up to see Jesus. This is the power of sharing your story. People can become interested in Jesus and actually seek him out.

So on Sunday we left everyone with one challenge. Share your story. It’s that simple and see what God might do.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Share Your Story

Take Aways…

  • Jesus is already active in our relationships
  • If our life isn’t changing lives we’re missing something
  • Details matter even minor ones
  • Jesus saw the man
  • Go home and share your story
  • Sharing your story, changes lives
  • More than skin, and bone, muscle and tendon – you are made of stories. Michael Gungor
  • We don’t need more sermons, conferences, or Bible studies we need more of Jesus and a willingness to share him.
  • Our stories have to be real, honest, and focused on Jesus

Discussion Questions for Adults: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new?

Have you ever struggled to share Jesus with others before? What made you uncomfortable or struggle?

Whose story has impacted and influenced you to follow Jesus? How did you hear about it, or how was it shared with you?

What mercy has Jesus shown you throughout the years? Share a few stories about how Jesus has changed you.

Who are you friends with that God might be leading you to share your story with them? Take time and pray that God gives you an opportunity to share your story with them.

Discussion Questions for Young Families: If its true that sharing our stories change lives, why not take time and share your personal story with your kids. Be honest, be truthful, and take time to bring them along the journey with you.

Challenge This Week: Share your story with someone this week

 

The Christmas Story

Merry Christmas!

Take a moment if you can and maybe read the story here. Read it to your family, friends, or on your own. But read it and be reminded of why we have Christmas:

Mary, a virgin, was living in Galilee of Nazareth and was engaged to be married to Joseph, a Jewish carpenter. An angel visited her and explained to her that she would conceive a son by the power of the Holy Spirit. She would carry and give birth to this child and she would name him Jesus.

At first Mary was afraid and troubled by the angel’s words. Being a virgin, Mary questioned the angel, “How will this be?” The angel explained that the child would be God’s own Son and, therefore, “nothing is impossible with God.” Humbled and in awe, Mary believed the angel of the Lord and rejoiced in God her Savior.

Mary must have reflected with awe on the words found in Isaiah 7:14 foretelling this event, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

While Mary was still engaged to Joseph, she miraculously became pregnant through the Holy Spirit, as foretold to her by the angel. When Mary told Joseph she was pregnant, he had every right to feel disgraced and ashamed. He knew that the child was not his own, and Mary’s apparent unfaithfulness  would shape his community’s opinion of him and her. So Joseph decided to quietly break off the engagement seeking to spare Mary as much shame as possible. Joseph was a righteous man and sought to act with grace even in difficulty.

But God sent an angel to Joseph in a dream to confirm Mary’s miraculous story and reassure him that his marriage to her was God’s will. The angel explained God’s amazing plan that the child within Mary was conceived by the Holy Spirit. That the child was the Messiah, and was to be named Jesus meaning God with us. When Joseph woke from his dream, he willingly obeyed God and took Mary home to be his wife, in spite of the public humiliation he would face.

Joseph too must have wondered in awe as he remembered the words found in Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

At that time, Caesar Augustus decreed that a census be taken, and every person in the entire Roman world had to go to his own town to register. Joseph, being of the line of David, was required to go to Bethlehem to register with Mary. While in Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to Jesus. The Inn was full so she gave birth to Jesus in a manager, on their own, on the outskirts of town. She wrapped the baby in cloths and placed him in a manger.

Out in the fields, an angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds who were tending their flocks of sheep by night. The angel announced that the Savior had been born in the town of David. Suddenly a great host of heavenly beings appeared with the angels and began singing praises to God. As the angelic beings departed, the shepherds decided to travel to Bethlehem and see the Christ-child.

There they found Mary, Joseph and the baby, in the stable. They praised God for the miracle of the birth of the Messiah. They went on their way still praising and glorifying God. But Mary kept quiet, treasuring their words and pondering them in her heart.

After Jesus’ birth, Herod was king of Judea. At this time wise men from the east saw a star, they came in search, knowing the star signified the birth of the king of the Jews. The wise men came to the Jewish rulers in Jerusalem and asked where the Christ was to be born. The rulers explained, “In Bethlehem in Judea,” referring to Micah 5:2. Herod secretly met with the Magi and asked them to report back after they had found the child. Herod told the Magi that he too wanted to go and worship the babe. But secretly Herod was plotting to kill the child.

So the wise men continued to follow the star in search of the new born king and found Jesus with his mother in Bethlehem. They bowed and worshipped him, offering treasures of gold, incense, and myrrh. When they left, they did not return to Herod. They had been warned in a dream of his plot to destroy the child.

This is the story of Christmas. Merry Christmas, enjoy the day, and Jesus’ presence!!