“Why do so many bad things happen to good people?”
Open up to Mark in the New Testament, Mark, chapter 10. As you are doing so, I want to tell you a story about a good friend of mine named Mike. Now, let me tell you about Mike. Mike believes in God, but he’d be the first one to tell you that he’s not sold out to the whole church thing, nor a committed follower of Christ. But, he is an incredible person. He is a person that many people would say, “I am surprised that you are friends with this guy, because quite frankly, Mike is a wild party-er.” But I’ve got to tell you that I am absolutely convinced with everything in me that if Jesus was walking on planet earth today, that Mike is the kind of guy that Jesus would be friends with, and Mike is the exact kind of guy that Jesus would invite to be His disciple. I love him for his rawness. I love him for his honesty. I told this story before, but it’s worth telling again. Some of you haven’t heard. A while back, Mike had a party at his house, and everybody was getting toasted, wasted, and some people started making fun of preachers, and my name came up and they started making fun of me. And, Mike chimed in to my defense, and they were saying, “Yeah, Groeschel, that guy’s getting loaded and rich off of all the profits of the DVDs and the tapes and this, that, and the other,” and Mike spoke up and told them truthfully, which is accurate, that I don’t take any money from that, nor does any staff member make any money on any of that stuff, and he defended me … and then, he started bragging on me to his drunk friends, so much so that they were finally convinced, according to Mike, that I am the real deal. He had all of his drunk people at his party hold up their beers and toast Pastor Craig. [laugh] I like that a lot, and I like Mike a lot. Mike is here today in this experience. This is his fourth time at LifeChurch, and honestly, it’s his fourth time at church since he was a young boy, and he gave me permission to tell you why that’s so. When he was twelve years old, his mom was taking a bath and had an epileptic seizure, and Mike, at the age of twelve, walked into the bathroom at his house and found his mom had drowned under the running water. And, let me tell you right now, I cannot begin to imagine what that was like for him, but I can imagine what kind of faith questions that would bring into the mind of any twelve-year-old boy, who went through that. And so, it’s to my good friend, Mike, that I dedicate this message today, and I really pray that God would touch him in a way that God wants to do.
Mark, chapter 10, we are going to look at Jesus, who had an encounter with a very rich and up and coming ruler, and this is what happened. Verse 17, “As Jesus started on His way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before Him.” Now, it’s interesting to notice, this guy was a leader. This was a respected guy, so for him to run to Jesus, it reflected a real sense of urgency. For him to fall on his knees, that reflected a sense of humility and genuineness. This guy did so, and then, he called Jesus this. At all of our campuses, would you say these words out loud? He said, “Good,” what? He said, “ ‘Good teacher,’ he asked,” and then he asked one of the most important questions, “ ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ “ Now, Jesus didn’t answer the question; instead, He did what Jesus often did, which was respond with a question, and He asked, “ ‘Why do you call Me,’ “ what? He said, “ ‘Why do you call Me good?’ Jesus answered, ‘No one is good-except God alone.’ “ Now, that very phrase, or title, “good teacher” was a statement that was without parallel in Jewish history. Nowhere in all of the ancient Jewish writings can you ever find any student calling any rabbi good teacher. It was simply unheard of, and it would never, ever happen. Why? Because everyone knew that immediately, the only response that any rabbi would give would give would be, “There is nothing good but the law.”
Jesus, though, as no ordinary rabbi, over looked the law because He came to fulfill that, looked to the giver of the law, God, and instead of saying there’s nothing good but the law, He said, “There’s no one good, but God.” Then, the son of a good God did something and said something to this rich, young man that, in my mind, does not seem fair. Jesus said, “You want to have eternal life? Obey the commands.” And the guy said, “Check, I did that.” Then, Jesus said to him, “Go and sell all your possessions and give them to the poor, and then come and follow Me.” And scripture says, this guy went away very sad, because he was very wealthy. In my mind, I’m asking some questions. Why was that statement only one time, and why this guy? Jesus never said that to anyone else. Why did He say it to this guy, who was very, very sincere, humble, and searching for answers? In my mind, that response doesn’t seem quite fair. Now, I think through all that goes on in the world, and the list of things that are unfair just tumble into my mind. The tsunami. I ask myself, “Why all those people? Why not others?” The earthquake, just this week, a couple of thousand family lives shattered in, really, an instant. I look at the poorest person that I know in our church, and on a global scale, we live in ultimate riches compared to so many people. Why are we so wealthy, when there are children that are starving to death today? And, why won’t we do anything about it? It doesn’t seem fair. Why is it that you can take the greatest Christian couple, who desires to have kids, and they can’t have any children, when so many other people have abortions? Doesn’t seem fair. Why is it that one of my best friends and one of my daughters have migraine headaches, and we prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed, and the God I read about in scripture can certainly and very easily heal these migraine headaches, and yet, He doesn’t. And the list could go on and on and on and on about all the things that, in my mind, and certainly in yours, don’t seem fair. Where is God in those events?
There are those of you that certainly, you are facing some tough stuff right now. You’ve got some questions. You’ve got some pain. You’ve got some suffering. You’ve got some trials, and it’s during those times that one of two things will happen to your faith. If you are taking notes, write this down. Suffering trials and pain will either shake your faith, or it will prove your faith. Either it will shake and rattle you, or it will take you to a deeper level of committed faith than you have ever known in your entire life. Peter addressed the proving of our faith. Now, any time you read Peter, you have to remember who Peter was writing to. Peter was writing to a group of Christians that were, perhaps, some of the most persecuted and suffering Christ Followers who ever lived. It was common in that day, for entertainment to this group, that they would take Christians, and they would bring them into a huge coliseum, and they would watch lions eat these Christians alive, and it was to these Christ Followers that Peter wrote these words. I Peter 1:6-7, he said, “In this,” and he is talking about suffering. “In this you greatly rejoice.” He says, “Though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your,” what? Would you say that word out loud? “These have come so that your faith of greater worth than gold … may be,” what? Say it out loud. “May be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” These trials, these pains, these struggles have come with a purpose, that your faith, the most valuable thing that you have, more valuable than anything on this planet, your faith, though greater worth than gold, may be proved genuine. You see, it’s easy for me to prove great faith when everything’s going the way I want it to go. It’s more difficult to claim great faith when my world is falling apart, but it’s exactly in that time, if you continue to seek God, your faith will be proven.
So, let me tell you what I’m not going to do today. In Mike’s situation, and in yours, I’m not going to try to defend God. I’m not going to offer you cheap answers to expensive questions. I’m not going to insult your intelligence by trying to simply explain things away. I will not try to pretend like I know what you feel. I don’t. Instead, what I want to do today, in my mind, takes greater faith, and that is to point you toward a good God, and trust that in His presence, He will be enough for you. So if you are hurting, or one day when you do hurt, keep these thoughts in mind. How do you keep the faith in the fire? A couple of Biblical principles. The first one is this. With the help of the Spirit of God, long to embrace God’s purpose in your pain. Embrace His purpose. In the middle of the pain, you may not see it, feel it, or even believe that it’s there, but take comfort. God is a good and a sovereign God, who never wastes a hurt. Look at what scripture says. II Corinthians 4:17-18. Paul said, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us a,” what? Would you say it out loud? “Are achieving for us an eternal glory that,” does what? “That far outweighs all of the troubles,” he said. There is a purpose behind the pain. He goes on to say, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but instead, on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” For our light and momentary troubles, when we look at things in all of perspective of eternity that never, ever ends, all of a sudden, what seemed so huge to us today becomes a little bit lighter, and a little bit more momentary, when we start to realize that perhaps, behind the pain is something even broader and bigger than we could ever imagine, but it’s God’s purpose in the middle of our hard times. Let me explain it to you like this, and admittedly, this is kind of a disgusting story, but that’s never stopped me from telling things like this before. There was a bird that was one day flying south for the winter, and the little bird flew into the middle of an ice storm, and all of a sudden, his little wings got pelted with ice and they started to get heavy, and he couldn’t stay afloat, and he came in for a crash landing. The ice and snow continued to pile on top of him, when all of a sudden, the little birdie was frozen stiff, and he thought to himself, “I never thought it would end this way.” A few minutes later as he was preparing to die, a cow came and stood on top of him. There’s really no good way to say this, but the cow made a deposit on top of the bird. You could call it manure from Heaven, if you want. And all of a sudden, the bird thought, “Great, now I’m going to freeze to death, and I’m going to stink while I’m dying, too.” When, all of a sudden to his surprise, the warmth of the manure … yes, this is disgusting, but just hang with me … the warmth of manure started to cause the ice to melt, and the little birdie started to thaw out, and with excitement and joy, he started to sing, “Chip, chip, chip, chip, chip. Chip, chip, chip, chip, chip,” when all of a sudden, Satan’s leading creature, a cat came along, heard the cheeping, dug the little baby bird out of the manure, ate the bird, dead. Tragic story. Cats. Three morals behind the story. First one is this. Not everyone who drops manure on you is your enemy. Not everyone who digs you out is your friend, and, when you are in manure, keep your mouth shut. Glory.
Just because you are facing pain at this moment does not mean that God is not good. You see, He is. And, just because you would give anything for it to go away does not mean that eternally, that is the best thing for you and God’s kingdom. Embrace His purpose in the middle of your pain. There’s an encounter that a blind guy had with Jesus. It’s recorded in John 9:1-3. Everybody wanted to know why this guy was born blind. Whose fault was it? Scripture says this. “As Jesus went along, He saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, whose fault is it? Who sinned, this man or his parents?” Where can we place the blame that he was born blind? Watch what Jesus says. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.” We are not going to place blame, Jesus said, “But this happened,” check this out. “So that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” This was a pain with a purpose behind it. This was a hurt that was not wasted. This was something with a, from the foundation of time, this was a pain with a purpose behind it. This happened so that the work of God might be displayed through his life, and Jesus went on to heal this guy, and boy, the true rumor started. Everyone needs to know that Jesus is opening blind eyes. Embrace God’s purpose in the middle of your pain. In my family, it was probably about two months ago that my dad had a pretty serious stroke, and for those that have asked about him and then praying for him, thank you. He looks like he will return to work in about a month, and we celebrate dad. He’s doing well. This is something that I would never, ever, ever, ever, ever wish on him nor anyone else, but let me tell you what. In God’s mysterious ways, it’s been a gift to our family. I can’t fully explain it, but God has done more good through that than you could ever imagine. I would never wish that on anyone, but God had a purpose in his pain.
For those of you that are in pain right now, there’s a second thing, and I pray this would be true for you, as well. In the middle of what you are going through, right now, at this moment, I pray that you could embrace God’s peace in your pain, that you could embrace a pain that goes beyond your ability to understand, right now, in the presence of God. Paul penned these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit from a Roman prison, so put that in your mind as you read his words. Philippians 4:6, he said, “Do not be anxious about,” how much? All of our campuses, would you say that? “Do not be anxious about anything.” Okay, you guys can do better than that. Let’s try it again. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in,” how much? In how much? “In everything by,” what? “By prayer and,” by what? “By prayer,” with what? “Petition, with,” what? “With thanksgiving,” do what? “Present your requests to God.” Stop right there. When you cannot make it on your own, when it’s too much, when you don’t have the answers, and when you don’t understand, all of a sudden, you may be divinely positioned for a gift, which is complete dependence upon God, and you present that which you are incapable of handling to a good God, and scripture says, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,” which is impossible for us to humanly comprehend. “It will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The Greek word is the word eirene. It’s translated as peace. It can be translated as peace, as quietness, or as rest, and the peace of God, “which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts at this moment.” I pray that this story would pass to you the peace of God, which transcends all understanding.
This is a true story about a man named Horatio Stafford, a Christ Follower, who lived in the late 1800s. Horatio had many reasons why he could have doubted the goodness of God, but no matter what happened, his faith remained strong. Horatio first lost his four-year-old son to scarlet fever. Then, in 1871, he lost everything. This famous and well-known Chicago lawyer lost all of his business, wealth, and property in the great Chicago fire. Then, in 1873, he faced an event that could have shaken his faith, but because of God’s presence, his faith was once again proven. In 1873, Horatio booked a trip to Europe for his family on a ship. Business kept him behind, so he sent his wife, Annie, and his four daughters on ahead of him. Midway through the trip, though, Horatio’s family’s ship collided with another ship, and within twelve minutes, the entire ship sank to the bottom of the ocean. Horatio’s wife, Annie, her last memory was clinging on to his and her four daughters as she was knocked unconscious, and her daughters washed away to their death. The only thing that kept Annie alive was that she was knocked out on top of a log that kept her afloat. Twelve days after his family left, Horatio received a telegram from his wife that said, “Saved alone.” We can only imagine his loss. Horatio Stafford immediately boarded the next ship and traveled to be with his wife, and it was when the ship that he was on passed the approximate spot of his four daughters deaths, that’s when God gave him the words to the song that we sing today in worship. [singing] When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.”
“Now, God, in Your presence, I ask that Your peace that passes all understanding, no matter what Your children are facing now, God, that You would guard their hearts and offer Your peace, and that we could reflect those inspired words. Even though things around us are not well, in Your presence, it is well. It is well with my soul.”
So, I think about Mike, and I think about all that so many people are going through, and people that raise the question, “Is God fair?” And, my answer is unquestionably, “No, He is not. He is not fair.” He is good, and He is just, but the best news that I can tell you is this. He is not fair. You see, if He was fair, then we would get what our sins deserve, and that is death. But because He is good in His mercy, He did something for us that we did not deserve. He sent Jesus to forgive our sins and offer us a life that we are not worthy to live. Psalm 103:10 shows us the reality of His truth. He is not fair, but He is good. “God does not treat us as our sins deserve, or repay us according to our iniquities. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Praise be to God.
So, it was several years go that one of my favorite families in the whole church faced a tragedy that no one would ever, ever want to face. This is truly one of the greatest families that I know, who had one of the greatest kids that I have ever known, and at fourteen, this young man, who was in a state of momentary confusion, made the stupidest decisions that anyone could ever make. He took his own life, and it was my burden and my honor to do his funeral, and I planned it all out. I sought God and had everything ready, and I stood up on the stage, but I’d forgotten one thing. I’d forgotten to think of how to open up the funeral. What words would I speak off the top? Usually, pastors will say, “Dearly beloved.” That just doesn’t work for me. I didn’t know what to say, and so I stood there on stage in front of my grieving friends and family members, grieving myself, and I froze. And I just stood there for an awkward, pregnant pause, and I prayed, “God, tell me what to say.” And, I believe that God spoke to me. It was not audible. It was too loud to be audible. And I felt like God said, “Tell them that I am good.” Now, I’m not going to tell you I talk back and forth with God like some people do. It just doesn’t work that way for me, but in my mind, I had an argument with God and said, “No, I’m not going to tell them that.” And, for whatever reason or way, I am going to tell you, I felt very impressed by God to tell them. I said, “No,” and finally, I just surrendered, and I thought, “I hope this isn’t a big mistake.” And so, the very first words I said to this grieving crowd of my friends and family members was, “God is good,” and the moment I said that, I am going to tell you, simultaneously, everyone smiled and everyone cried, and the wind of the Son of God blew into this place, and everyone there said, “All the time, God is good. God is good, all the time.” And as long as I live, I will never be able to put it into words that the tangible presence of God was so much there, that in the middle of life’s greatest loss, all I can tell you is that God is good. And so, for my buddy, Mike, and everyone who faces questions like he does, I come with no answers, no explanations, only a promise that is true, truer than anything I could ever say. God is good all the time, and all the time, God is good.
Let’s all pray together. “God, we ask that in Your presence, You can do what only You can do.”
Would you take a minute and just kind of reflect on what we have talked about today. Just in a, groups this size, there are those of you facing major, major, major challenges, pain, questions, struggles, heartache. Those of you that would simply say today, “Craig, would you just pray for me? I am hurting, and I need prayer.” At all of our campuses, would you just lift up your hands honestly, right now, and say, “Please pray for me.” Hands going up all over the place right now. Thank you so much for your honesty. “God, I would ask that in Your presence at this moment that You would simply be enough, that You would be enough. God, I pray for eyes to see You at work, whether at this moment, or months, or even years down the road that would could see Your purpose in the middle of our pain. God, I pray that we would all take comfort, that You don’t waste a hurt. That You are in all things, working them together for good to those who love You and who are called according to Your purpose. And God, now as we seek You, I thank You that we will find You, and I pray just a prayer of faith, believing that You will do this. That no matter what people are facing, we could echo the words of Horatio Stafford, “It is well with my soul,” because You are here, God. In Your presence, no matter what we face, there is a peace that passes all understanding. May it be so in the hearts of Your children here today. “
As you continue praying today, there are those of you right now, at this moment, that you are very aware that you are not in a relationship with God. You may believe in God. Great. That’s a good place to start, but you are not, you are not a Christ Follower, and you know that. Our greatest problem is that we are born with a sin nature. The Bible tells us, all of us sin. All of us, our hearts, the Bible says, they are deceitful above all things. We even try to fool ourselves into thinking everything’s okay. The Old Testament calls us sheep. We are all like sheep. The Bible says that we’ve gone astray from God’s plan. We have all turned to our own ways. The problem is, God is so holy that He cannot look upon sin. The good news is, though, God is not fair, because the only thing that we deserve, because of our sin, is death, but God is good, and He is full of mercy. You see, that is why He did something that we did not deserve. He became one of us. He became Jesus, born of a virgin, without the sin nature passed along, lived a sinless life, and shed innocent blood so that we could be forgiven. He died and is risen from the grave, and now the scripture says whoever believes in that, that person would be changed forever. No matter what your sin is, it will be forgiven. No matter how bad you’ve been, He will forgive you, and He will separate your sins as far as the east is from the west. He will remember them no more. You will become brand new.
There are those of you here today, you may be at the bottom. Guess what? God may have let you get to the bottom. There’s only one way to look, and that’s up. You may be at the top right now, and you know what? When you are at the top, it’s empty and there is nothing there, because that’s because there is a God-shaped void in your life, and you need to say, “Yes, take over. I am a sinner. Filthy. ” No matter how hard you try to be good enough, you do not qualify. It is impossible. “Jesus, be that for me. I believe You died so I could live. Forgive me.” Every sin will be forgiven. At every campus, those of you that would say, “That’s my prayer. Jesus, take over. I trust you. Forgive me. Be the Savior and the Lord of my life. I want to know You and follow You.” Boldly lift your hands right now. All over the place, lift them up. Let me just meet you eye-to-eye, too. Right over here, ma’am. Right here, ma’am. Let me just meet you eye-to-eye. Right back here, God bless you. Right over here in this section. Thank you. Right back over there, God bless you as you say, “Yes.” Let me find … right back there, let me see. Both of you right here together. Praise God for you, sweetheart. Right here in the middle section. Sir, right here. Right there. God bless you together, both of you saying, “Yes.” Ma’am, right over here, “Yes, I surrender, Jesus.” Others of you. Sir, right there. “God, touch his heart. May he never be the same.” In this section saying, “Yes, Jesus, I surrender.” Others of you. “Forgive me. Be the Savior and the Lord of my life.” Right here in this section saying, “Yes, I give You my life.” Others of you today. “Jesus, take over. Forgive me. Make me brand new.” Right over here in this section, sir. “Yes, God, touch his life. Touch his life.” Others of you. Right here, sir. Praise God for you. “God, thank You for this man, who says ‘Yes’ to You.” Others of you today.
At our other campuses, you guys, you campus pastors are free to go at your own pace. Let’s pray together with those around you here, and then we are going to celebrate big God’s new life through Christ. Would you pray out loud? Pray, “Heavenly Father, I am ready for You to have my whole life. I acknowledge that I am a sinner, and I need a Savior. I believe Jesus is Your Son, who died for me, so I could live for You. Forgive me. Make me new. Take my whole life. I am Your disciple, Your follower, and Your child. In Jesus’ name I pray.” Would you guys worship God? Would you tell Him thank You for new life through Christ …