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Answers to Atheists (Part One)

Mailbox            Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (1 Peter 3:15)

            If an atheist challenged your faith tomorrow, would you be able to defend your beliefs?

            This past weekend, I found myself in a verbal debate with three atheists on Twitter. The verbal jarring began after I posted a link to my Saturday devotion on Pearls of Promise. Because it’s difficult to defend your faith in 140 characters or less, I thought it might be helpful to answer their questions in more detail through a series of devotions on the Pearls website. The questions they raised are not atypical for all non believers so my hope is the answers today, Thursday and Saturday will also help you to defend your faith if ever asked to do so.

            The first response to my tweet was “look like he’s letting these little guys down” with a photo of starving children in Africa. The broader interpretation of this is:

             If there is a God, why is their pain and suffering in the world?

            Answer:

            Unfortunately, we live in an imperfect world full of evil. I believe if it were a perfect world, we would have no need for a perfect God. In John 16:33, Jesus warns his disciples, In this world, you will have trouble. The disciples went on to experience a lot of trouble. All but one died a martyr’s death.  They had first hand contact with God’s son. Would they really have gone to their death if Jesus was just a good guy?

            I believe God is a loving God who doesn’t want anyone to suffer, but works with the  suffering because it draws us closer to him. We all suffer to varying degrees.  If there is no suffering, why would we ever seek eternity with God? There has to be contrast. He allowed us free will to choose evil or good, but ultimately, he desires us to choose him.

              Paul who suffered greatly during his missionary trips said, I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18) Paul had come face to face with the risen Christ. It was Christ who gave him strength in the midst of his battles on this earth. (Philippians 4:13)     

            God loves us so much that he allowed his only begotten son to suffer a brutal death on the cross so that we could spend eternity with him.

            When we suffer, we share in Christ’s suffering.

             But praise God!  The Lord also walks through our suffering with us and we are called to walk through troubles with our sisters and brothers.

            Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.(2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

            Yes, it is disheartening to see a photo of starving children in Africa but God puts it on the heart of his people to alleviate the suffering in third world countries.  I personally sponsor a child in Africa through World Vision, but that is a drop in the bucket compared to the countless other missionary outreaches going on.

            Our church is helping the people of Mozambique. http://www.tmumc.org/serve/serving-our-world/mozambique/  Evangelists James and Betty Robison raise money for clean water wells in Africa. http://lifetoday.org/outreaches/water-for-life/  There are other organizations who organize missionary trips to Africa like Cross-Cultural Solutions http://www.crossculturalsolutions.org/africa and Missionaries to Africa, http://www.missionariesofafrica.org/

            God has heard the cry in Africa and is using his people to comfort those in need.

            It is interesting that despite the suffering, Christianity is growing at a more rapid rate in Africa than many other locations around the world. According to a December 20, 2011 article in USA Today Study: Christianity grows exponentially in Africa, “As a result of historic missionary activity and indigenous Christian movements by Africans, there has been this change from about one in 10 (sub-Saharan Africans) identifying with Christianity in 1910 to about six in 10 doing so today.”

            God is at work in the midst of suffering, drawing his people to him.     

            While there is always unjust suffering due to the evil in the world, I believe during the course of our lives, we should expect some form of suffering, whether it’s physical or emotional.  When we go through trials, we can be assured that God will work good out of our distress. My periods of greatest spiritual growth were in the midst of intense suffering.

                Not only so, but wealso glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.(Romans 5:3-5)

            As Christians, we have hope and look forward to the day where there will no longer be any pain or suffering. Who do you know who needs that hope today? It is our job as believers to share the hope we have in Christ.  Why would I even bother to write this devotional? Because God has put his love in my heart for the lost and my hope is the three atheists I sparred with are reading this today. I am praying the Lord softens their hearts toward him. We can all pray that for our friends and loved ones who may not know the Creator or his son.

            This life is a boot camp prior to eternity.

            Our years on this earth are short-term but they are being used to prepare us for the ever after.  Without the suffering from my difficult childhood, I would not be the woman I am today. Without the difficulties in my adult life, I would not have turned to the Lord in prayer as much as I did.  I would hate to think what kind of person I would be without the trials. However, the pain, suffering and disappointments will no longer exist in Heaven and that is something to look forward to.

            And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”(Revelation 21:3-4)

            Alleluia. One day the suffering will be gone, for us, for our family, for our friends, for the children in Africa.  The prerequisite is we have to believe in the risen Christ.  We may not have tomorrow.

             On Thursday, we will address the status of women in Christianity. Are they really supposed to be quiet in church?

Dry

Empty Bottle            I wondered when it would happen. When the well would run dry. Today I didn’t have a devotion idea. I thought, “Should I write about my trip to Walmart yesterday?”

            Boring.

            “How about a devotion about putting all the Christmas decorations away?

            Did that last year.

            Surely there’s some angle connected to the college bowl games.

            How about “Coming From Behind to Win at Life?” Nah.

            Are you ever at a loss for words?

            Sometimes we can even be speechless when we pray.

            We are either too tired, too distraught or too confused to put a sentence together in our time with God. Our prayer well is dry.

            But the Lord knows there will be days like this and is there to help us out. He does not want us to stop praying.

            In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

            There have been many times during trials I didn’t know how to pray and have asked God for his will to be done. While I am a believer in specific prayer, I don’t want to pray specifically if I don’t know what outcome is best.    

            Recently, my oldest son, Kyle, who will soon be a college graduate, began interviewing for jobs. I didn’t pray he would get this job or that because I wanted him to land the job God desired for him. So I prayed, “Make it clear which company Kyle should work for.” Kyle only received one job offer.  That’s pretty clear. I believe the Spirit interceded at that time and when I didn’t know how to pray, the Spirit prayed specifically for the job he ultimately accepted.

            What situation has you tongue tied? Have you not prayed because you simply don’t know what to pray for? Is it too difficult to pray?

            It’s OK to be dry.  Don’t let that stop you from coming into God’s presence to spend time with him. He knows what is on your heart. Your words aren’t required because he has you covered.

            I am thankful that when we are dry, God’s cup overflows into our lives. He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs...(Psalm 107:35)  

            I am also thankful God writes devotions.

                       

           

 

 

Forced to Be Still

Bible on couch            Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)

            2 Corinthians 4:16 is more of a reality for me on January 1st than any other day. While I love the holidays and get togethers with friends and family, I am physically tired from a week of decorating, entertaining and cleaning.  It doesn’t help that at our annual New Year’s Eve Sunday school party, I danced for hours to old disco tunes with friends. While it was fun at the time, my body is now sore and stiff from the contorted moves I made; twists and turns that were a breeze in my younger years.

             I am forced to rest.

            How about you?  Is your body starting to break down? How are your knees? Your back?

            Thankfully, this earthly tent we live in is not the main connecting point with God. Instead, God works with our minds. Even though my body is barely moving, I am still able to start the new year out in God’s Word and prayer while wrapped up like a cocoon in my blanket.  

            So often, our agile bodies can actually be our downfall. When all the parts hum, we are busy running and don’t sit down long enough to have a quiet time with God.

            But Scripture says, Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)

            You may be forced to be still but are you knowing God?

            Even if you are aging and have had to drop the tennis league or can’t run like you used to, what are you doing with your newfound down time?  Are you spending your stillness developing a closer relationship with your loving Father who desires intimacy with you?

            Today I am wondering if God allows our bodies to slow down so we will turn to him more as we approach the end of our earthly life. Then he’s not such a stranger when we see him in eternity. It’s a much easier transition.

            So while we are wasting away on the outside, we should seize this opportunity to be renewed by God on the inside. Wouldn’t it be nice to feel like 30 years old in our minds no matter what age we ouwardly appear to be?

            As you turn a year older in 2014, try to look at the aging process in a different light. Instead of being down about your aching bones, see this phase of life as an opportunity to exercise your mind through Scripture, to have more conversations with God and to rest in him.

            If we want to know God, we have to be still. 

           

Is it a Jolly Holiday?

Dick Van Dyke and penguins            As I sat watching the movie, Saving Mr. Banks with my twenty-four year old son, Kyle, it  brought back fond memories of him when he was four years old, dancing joyfully in our den to all the songs in Mary Poppins. Kyle’s favorite part of the movie was the penguin dance, so artfully choreographed by Dick Van Dyke, who portrayed the chimney sweep, Bert. In an effort to emulate Bert, my son would pull his pants down so he’d waddle like the penguins and dance to It’s a Jolly Holiday. Somewhere we have his dance on tape and will probably retrieve it when Kyle brings his future wife home one day!   

            However, Saving Mr. Banks also had another message.  It reminded me of how the trials of life can steal our joy if we let them. The author of Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers, had endured hardships she never seemed to recover from. The movie portrayed her as a rude, hard-nosed woman, who seemed discontented at every turn. She lost her joy in childhood and never claimed it back. “Was this really the author of Mary Poppins?” I asked.

            We all have the potential to be joyless. Whether it’s a tragedy in our childhood or difficult circumstances now, we can easily become crusty, bitter and hardened by life’s difficulties. But through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have a supernatural ability to choose joy. How do we transform from bitter to joyful?  Here’s a joy formula for you to consider.

            1. Pray to be joyful.  Joy is a fruit of the spirit. It is there for all Christians to download. But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)  While you are at it, you might want to download the rest of the basket of fruit as well.

            2. Trust God with your life. Regardless of what is going on, trust the Lord will use it for good.  My own childhood was filled with dysfunction, but I realize that only God could have brought me out of those difficult days. That alone gives me joy.  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.(Romans 15:13)

            3. Take the focus off yourself. A pity party is no party at all. Where’s the laughter?  Where are the people? Most pity parties take place in a party of one. But throughout the New Testament, the apostles talked about how other believers gave them joy. They focused on the new believers’ progress, not their own difficulties. In 1Thessalonians 2:19, Paul said this about the Thessalonian believers: For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes?  Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. It’s important to stay connected with people to remain joyful.

            4. Joy should be found in salvation alone. While I have difficulties with this concept myself, the fact that we have received salvation and eternal life with God should be enough to keep us skipping through life. In the face of death, it was all Paul had to hold onto when he said, And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

            P.L. Travers’ obituary indicated she sought several other religions but never knew the saving power of Jesus Christ, therefore she could not tap into the joy of her salvation. As Christians, the gift of joy is there for us to claim. As we celebrate the New Year, make it a jolly holiday filled with joy!

             

 

 

Be a World Changer

World changer            Coming from 19 years in the television news business, I look at devotions as breaking stories about God.  When I pen the short inspirational pieces, I am writing about what God has taught me during the week. Instead of journaling it privately, I open my journal to you all, hopefully to encourage you.

            The cool thing about news from God is we all receive words from him during our quiet time and through our daily existence. Each of us has something to share because the Lord is a 24-7 teacher. We just have to choose to share it.

            That’s the difficult part.

            Many times, we are worried about what people will think. We are concerned our faith will drive our friends and family away. We don’t want to be an alien in our own home.

            But when God does something supernatural in our lives, a phenomenon we can’t explain, it’s our obligation to share it so others might believe.

            In John 11, Jesus raised his dear friend Lazarus from the dead.  There were many witnesses. Those who saw the miracle believed in Jesus. Later in John 12:17-19, the group at Lazarus’ house was mentioned again:

            Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word.  Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him.  So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘See this is getting us nowhere.  Look how the whole world has gone after him!’

            The whole world has gone after him.

            I read those words and I thought, “If we all shared our stories, we could change the world.”

            I know I’m dreaming, but wouldn’t it be amazing, if through our stories, the whole world went after Jesus?

            This new year I am going to issue a challenge. Ask the Lord to make you keenly aware of his presence in your life. When he heals, when he ministers to you, when a loved one you’ve been praying for accepts him, when he opens a door, when he guides you or when he teaches you, write it down and tell someone else.

            Be a world changer.

            In Acts 4, the apostles Peter and John were forbidden by the Sanhedrin to speak about their faith in public. They replied:

            ‘Which is right in God’s eyes to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’

            They were experiencing news stories about God every day and they had to broadcast them to the world.  Through their open faith, Christianity spread like wildfire.

            It takes a small flame to ignite a bonfire. Never underestimate your stories.

            Spread the word.

            Your life experiences have value.  Your testimony alone might be the difference in someone’s eternal future.

            5, 4, 3, 2, 1…..You’re on!

            If you have a news story about God to tell from your life, you can start by sharing a devotion through the Pearls of Promise Ministries website.  Please submit your devotion to lisabworley@pearlsofpromiseministries.com

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