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      Ever feel like Neil Young?
            Ever feel like nothing is perfect in God’s perfect plan?

      Ever wonder why life is so hard?
Ever wonder why we always have to fight floods, declining economies, disease, death, wars & on & on?

      Some will tell you that if we’d just trust God then we’d live happily ever after
      Some will try to sell you all sorts of formulas to make life perfect
      Some will even try to tell us that all pain is a figment of our imagination

      But as Wesley, the hero in the “Princess Bride”, says: (PLAY CLIP)

      [“Life is pain. Anybody who says differently is selling something.”]

      Life is hard
              Any expectation otherwise is foolish and contrary to God’s Word

      God in fact repeatedly promises us that we will have trouble in life

      Jesus says in John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble.”

      The book of Job says: “Man is born to trouble ...” (Job 5:7)

      We don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that life is hard
           That everything is not a rose garden
           That everything is not happily ever after

      But why does life have to be this way?
            Why didn’t God come up with a better plan?
            Why doesn’t God protect us from bad things?

      The problem of evil, as philosophers and theologians, refer to it
            is the greatest challenge to faith

Some people wonder about God’s existence or the Bible’s trustworthiness or evolution or whatever?

      But I am convinced that all of these issues are comparatively trivial and easy to answer
             compared to the problem of evil

      The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, three centuries before the time of Jesus,
           stated the classic defintion of the problem of evil that is still argued today

      It is known today as the “Epicurean Paradox”:

      “Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot;
             or he can, but does not want to;
             or he cannot and doesn not want to.

      If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent.
      If he can, and does not want to, he is wicked.

      But if God both can and wants to abolish evil,
            then how comes evil in the world?”

      In simpler terms:

      If God is all powerful, then He is able to prevent evil.
      If God is good, then He wants to prevent evil

      But since evil exists God must either not be all powerful or not good

      How do we reconcile God being good and all powerful
           and the existence of evil?

      How can we trust God when He allows things like floods or failing economies or whatever?

      This is the basic issue that we are going to be dealing with for the next several weeks

     Today we being the process of putting together as it were the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle
Hopefully in a few weeks we’ll have put together enough pieces to have an idea of the complete picture

      But today let’s begin to consider why life is so hard

      If you know the basic story of history then you know God originally designed life to be perfect

      God created the first two humans, Adam and Eve, and put them in the garden of Eden

      Adam and Eve had a perfect relationship with each other and with God
           and with their environment

      There was no suffering or evil
      They had as it were heaven on earth

      But prior to their creation God’s highest ranking angel, Lucifer, became jealous of God
             and motivated by pride he tried to overthrow God

      He failed in his attempt but when God created Adam and Eve and Eden
             Satan went to Eden to try to tempt Adam and Eve into also rebelling against God

      Into going his way rather than God’s way

      And tragically Adam and Eve took the bait

      God had put only one limitation upon Adam and Eve in Eden
           One test as it were by which they could demonstrate their faithfulness to Him

      And Adam and Eve failed their only test
           They choose to follow Satan rather than God

      And they plunged all of humanity since into sin, chaos and evil

      God pronounced a series of curses upon Satan, Adam and Eve
           To Adam He said:

      17 To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which
            I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,'

    "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it
      all the days of your life.

      18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.

      19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground ...”

      Life was perfect in Eden but we no longer live in Eden

      Sin has changed everything
            Sin, like a computer virus, has spread everywhere and infected everything

1) Feel the Burden of Sin (Gen. 3; Rom. 5:12; 8:16-25)

      God through the Apostle Paul says that as a result of mankind’s fall into sin
            everything in the creation has been defiled

      As the New Living Bible paraphrases Romans 8:

19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.
      20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse.

      Verse 22 continues:

22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up
     to the present time.

      If you have ever gone through labor or if you’ve ever watched your wife go through labor
             it is not an easy process

      Carol Burnett said that the best way to try to describe what childbirth feels like would be to
            take your bottom lip and pull it over the top of your head

      Childbirth is an agonizing process
            But it only lasts a few hours

      Imagine all of life being like perpetual childbirth

      God says that life outside of Eden, life in our fallen world,
           is like continually experiencing the stress and pain of giving birth

      Chris Tiegreen puts it like this: “Eden’s gone. ...
There we met with God; he was no distant deity in our minds, but a companion.

      There we attended to the land, but everything was abundantly supplied.

      No one died there. No one even got hurt there.
           There as no decay, no sorrow, no pain.

      But Eden is gone. ...

      But Eden is buried deep in our psyches, written somewhere in our genetics,
            and lingering in our desires.

        We try to reconstruct it here in the wastelands we now wander, but it remains elusive.
It’s a haunting call from a forgotten past, and we miss it.” (Why a Suffering World Makes Sense, p. 13)
We live between Eden and Heaven and life here is hard
      Life here often hurts
      Life here always disappoints

Floods come, economies fail, marriages fail, jobs evaporate, our bodies fail,
      As Neil Young says: “Nothing is perfect in God’s perfect plan.”

And Neil is half right: “Nothing is perfect in this life.”
     But as we’ll see the imperfection of this life is in fact part of God’s perfect plan

The flood may have brought some of us to the verge of despair
The economay may be keeping some of us on the verge of despair

But God is not wringing His hands and losing sleep over our present circumstances

Before God ever created this world and humans He planned both our fall and our restoration

Why did God do this?
     Why did God allow us to plunge all His creation into chaos?

Why did God allow us to as it were turn over the keys to this world to the Devil?

I will argue in coming weeks that God has allowed, even ordained evil,
        to bring the greatest glory to Himself

I will argue that there are attribtues of God, elements of His character,
        that we could never know apart from the existence of evil

I will argue that there are blessings that we can only experience through suffering

And I will argue that all evil and suffering will ultimately work to God’s glory

Question: What is the purpose of life?

Why are any of us here this morning?
     Why do we exist?

Well as John Piper says: “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.”
      (Desiring God, p. 14)

Life is not about us
Life is about God

As Rick Warren begins his Purpose Driven Life:        “It’s not about you.

The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind,
     or even your happiness.

It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions.

If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God.
       You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.” (17)
      Max Lucado similary says: “Our place is not at the center of the universe.
           God does not exist to make a big deal out of us.

      We exist to make a big deal out of him.

      It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s all about him.”   (It’s Not About Me, p. 6)

      Col. 1:16 says: “.. All things were created by Him and for Him.”

      And Eph. 1:11 says that God “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will.”

      Thus Chip Tiegreen in his excellent book Why a Suffering World Makes Sense says:

      “Everything in the universe is ultimately about God.
            We are not the center of anything; He is the center of everything.

      That is why when we cry out in anguish, ‘O why are you doing this to me?’
             we are revealing our lowly frame of reference.

      We’re forgetting that we exist for him, not him for us.

      We’re showing a natural inclination to think our well-being is the ultimate goal,
            and since this pain doesn’t fit with out understanding of what is good, we’re confused.

      A better question would be, ‘God, how do you want to reveal yourself in this situation?’” (83)

      The point is this: God uses pain to pull us toward Himself

Pain is, as C.S. Lewis, suggested God’s megaphone through which He shouts to rouse a deaf world
       (The Problem of Pain)

      In the next few weeks we are going to do an overview of the book of Job

      If you remember the story God allowed Job to suffer horrible things

And the majority of the book is focused on Job questioning God about why He allowed these things
      and Job’s friends trying to explain why they think God allowed these things

      But God never answers Job’s questions

      God instead ultimately uses Job’s suffering to show Job Who He really is

      God challenges Job with His soveriegnty and His wisdom
           and Job ultimately sees God more clearly than he ever did before

      Pain, pressure, struggle, tough times show us who we really are and Who God really is

      We never knew how good of a basketball team NDSU had this season
           until they played Kansas University

      When they faced one of the greatest teams in college basketball
           and gave them a run for their money we found out how good NDSU really was

      And so it is with us in life
      When floods come, when finances fail, we find out who we really are
           and who we really trust in

      We can choose to reject God because of our pain

      But God’s purpose in pain is to get us to cling to Him as never before

      As Chris Tiegreen suggests: “The further we fall, the more impressive God’s deliverance.

      The deeper we hurt, the sweeter His comfort.
      The lonelier we are, the more tender His fellowship.

      The more we need Him, the more we will see Him.”         (59)

      We will see in coming weeks that God has multiple purposes in pain and suffering
           but the important thing to begin to recognize is that suffering can be a blessing

2) Look For the Blessings in Suffering (Jas. 1:2-4; Rom. 5:3-5; 2 Cor. 12:7-10)

      Jesus’ brother James counsels us:

       2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know
that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may
be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

      Paul says in Romans 5(3): “we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know
            that suffering produces perseverance...”

      When suffering or evil or pain or trials come our way?
           How should we respond to them?

      With joy!

      Not because they don’t hurt
      Not because they aren’t hard

      But because even though the trials may be awful to go through
            if we trust God through them we will prove our faith

      We will persevere and become more mature
      We will get to know God better
      We will glorify Him

      James goes on to say in verse 12:

      12Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test,
            he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

      To persevere through trials is to be blessed by God

      Trials are a blessing because life is not about us

      Life is not about our comfort and ease
      Life is about our knowing and enjoying and glorifying God
      And there are lessons we can never learn about life
            There are ways we can never know God except through pain

      Do you remember Paul’s testimony in 2 Corinthians 12?

      7To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was
given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

      8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.

      9But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.

      10That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions,
           in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

      We can never really know the sufficiency of God’s grace if we never seemingly need it

      If life was a bowl of cherries then we would not need God
               We would not know His power

Two weeks ago for only the second time in eleven years we got to visit another church in

      We in fact visited both Bethel E Free and First Assembly in Fargo

      And at First Assembly’s service we heard that their youth director of the last 17 years,
            Cal Thompson had suffered a tear in his aorta on Friday 20th

      Thus he had had emergency open heart surgery and was in critical condition

      Cal’s chest pains began while he was fighting the flood at their house on the Red River

      And the following Friday, the 27th, Cal was supposed to perform his daughter’s marriage

      I was struck by Cal and his family’s plight

      Their house was being threatened
            Cal’s life was precarious

      And they were supposed to celebrate a big wedding in five days

      I thought: “Why God would you do such a thing to one of your servants?
             Cal is a good man. He does not deserve this.     This is not fair.”

      But you know what?

      Friday morning, Cal and his family, were all interviewed and featured on Good Morning America

      Cal got to testify to all the nation about how God had preserved his life and his home
            and was enabling him to do his daughter’s wedding

      Cal was still in a wheel chair and they ended up doing a much smaller wedding than they planned
            but God dramatically displayed His grace and strength through Cal and his family

      Cal shared that months ago his daughter and son in law choose Song of Solomon 8:7
             as the verse for their wedding invitations

      What does Song of Solomon 8:7 say?
           “Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away.”

      God uses pain in many ways as we’ll see in coming weeks

      But fundamentally God uses pain to draw us to Himself

      Again Chris Tiegreen writes:

      “Suffering is a blessing from God that will drive us either passionately and desperately
            toward him or hopelessly away from him.” (183)

      “Suffering is a gift that strips us of apathy and indifference and sends us on a diligent search
            for the heart of God.” (184)

      “In the post-fall experience, ease equals apostasy and pain equals a desire for God. ...

      Between Eden and the kingdom of God, we need pain.
           Without it we fall under the illusion that all might be well in this broken world.

      Pain accurately represents our condition and breaks the spell of the illusion.
            It points us in the right direction.” (173)

      “Our need often gives God a foot into the door of our hearts.
We can ask why about our pain until we are blue in the face, but if it drives us to God, it’s worthwhile.”

      Pain is a blessing
      Pain is a mercy of God

      Pain wakes us up

      It causes us to see what is real and what is an illusion
      It causes us to realize what really counts

      But it still hurts

      If we lose everything to a flood or to stupid decisions made by the people in power
      If we lose a loved one

      If our every moment involves physical agony

      Suffering still stinks

      Counting it joy does not come naturally

And so while we do need to totally reevaluate pain and suffering and look for the blessings in them
     our hurts remain

      Nothing is perfect in this life

      Anyone who says that life is not painful is trying to sell us something
      And when the pains come, when we suffer awful tragedies,
           we must not only look for the blessings in them and look for new lessons about God

      We must also

3) Long For the Beautiful Glory to Come (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; Rev. 21)
      Returning again to Paul’s analogy in Romans 8 the pain of childbirth produces babies

      The process is no fun, but the product is fantastic

      And although Paul says that all of this life is like perpectual childbirth
            there is another life to come

      One day all of our perpetual pain will finally give birth to a whole new, pain free world

      “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory
             that will be revealed in us.” (Rom. 8:18 NIV)

      “... with eager hope the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children
              in glorious freedom from death and decay.” (Rom. 8:21 NLT)

      Pain should not only help us learn new things about God
            It should also make us long to be with God

      Malcom Muggeridge said that “the only ultimate disaster that can befall us is forgetting
           that we are aliens, forgetting our true homeland.”

       C.S. Lewis said: “There have been times when I think I do not desire heaven, but more often
I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else.”

      Jonathan Edwards said: “All true saints ... set their hearts upon, long, love and pray for
            the promised glory of that day.”

      Revelation 21 describes a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no tears,
           no death, no mourning, no pain

      We spend our lives searching for Eden

      But one day if we’re a Christian we will find Heaven

      Life will one day be again what it was meant to be

      Thus Paul says:

       16Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are
being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory
that far outweighs them all. 18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is
seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

      Romans 8 and 2 Corinthians 4 picture this life as a groaning for glory

      The very best experiences of this life are but tiny tastes of the glory to come
      1 Cor. 2:9 says: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived
            what God has prepared for those who love Him.”

      As Randy Alcorn suggests (233-34):

      “This life gives us foretastes and glimpses of the next life. ...

    Every joy on earth .. is an inkling, a whisper of greater joy. The Grand Canyon, the Alps, the
Amazon rain forests, the Serengeti Plain - these are rough sketches of the New Earth .....

      Whenever we see beauty in water, wind, flower, deer, man, woman, or child, we catch a glimpse
of Heaven. Just like the Garden of Eden, the New Earth will be a place of sensory delight, breathtaking
beauty, satisfying relationships, and personal joy.

       God himself prepared mankind’s first home on earth ... In the same way that God paid attention to
the details of the home he prepared for Adam and Eve in Eden, Christ is paying attention to the details as
he prepares for us an eternal home in Heaven. If he prepared Eden so carefully and lavishly for mankind
in the six days of creation, what has he fashioned in the place he’s been preparing for us in the two
thousand years since he left this world?”

      As C.S. Lewis suggested our world is a shadowlands, a copy of something that once was, Eden,
            and something that will yet be

      In a word, heaven will be an infinitely better version of the best things of this life

      And Paul says that all the groanings of this life when compared to the glories of the life to come
           will seem incredibly trivial

      Francis Schaeffer said that our problem is that in this life we only see the debit side of the ledger

      But when we get to heaven and see the assets we will exclaim:
            “Why didn’t I see it this way before?”

      C.S. Lewis said that our first two words in heaven will be: “Of course!”

      When we get to heaven and see the other side of the ledger

      It will be like two scales

      On one scale will be all the suffering and trials of this life
           and on the other side will be all of the glories of the life to come

      And the scales will be totally lopsided

      The glories of the life to come will totally outweigh the groans of this life

      Comparing our present sufferings to the future glory is like comparing a thimble of water
          to the Pacific Ocean

      Nothing is perfect in this life
            This life will always include floods, financial failures and other losses

      But a perfect life is coming
            with glories that will overwhelmingly outweigh all the groanings of this life
[Conclude with “I Can Only Imagine” slideshow]

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