Wednesday, January 18, 2012

New Sermon Series: Where is God When It Hurts?

Beginning February 5 I will preach a ten-part sermon series, Where Is God When It Hurts? – The Problem of Evil and Suffering.  The messages (and the tough questions they will tackle) include:

Ø  If God Is Good, Why Do I Hurt? (What is the problem of evil?)
Ø  Trouble in Paradise (Where did evil come from?)
Ø  Why Is Life So Hard? (Why do I make so many bad choices… and is free will really free?)
Ø  Does God Play Favorites? (Why are some healed, but not all?)
Ø  Acts of God (How do I account for evil and suffering in nature?)
Ø  Good Grief / Bad Grief (What are healthy and unhealthy ways to grieve?)
Ø  The Suffering of the People of God (Why is it so hard to be a Christian?)
Ø  The Ulcer in the Belly of God (How can a loving God send people to hell?)
Ø  The Suffering God (Why did Jesus have to die?)
Ø  When Every Day Is Easter (Will it ever get better?)

These messages will tackle some of the most fundamental questions that have haunted the human race for millennia.  Most—perhaps all—are questions you have asked yourself.  Some are questions that you may be asking right now.  And you may be sure that these are questions that your friends, co-works, neighbors and extended family struggle with as well.  I encourage you to be at Rivermont Avenue Baptist Church for these messages and use the occasion to invite others who may be searching for answers to these ageless questions. 

Because of the strong emotions and additional questions that may be stirred by these sermons, beginning Sunday evening, February 12 at 5:00 PM, I will be leading a post-sermon debrief each week.  These sessions will vary but will include Q&A time and additional thoughts and reflections. 

Pastor Glen

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Law of Unintended Consequences (and what to do about it)

It was announced today that the Food Lion grocery store on Bedford Avenue in Lynchburg is closing within thirty days.  This is a major blow to the people in the Rivermont and Daniels Hill neighborhoods—especially those with limited incomes—many of whom depend on this store as the only grocery store within walking distance of their homes.

I’m no Occupy Wall Streeter—not by a long shot.  But that Food Lion store could be a case study in how capitalism contributes to the perpetuation of poverty in poor neighborhoods.  For middle class, suburban and small town America there is little appreciation of how circumstances often conspire to keep the poor…poor.  I’m not suggesting the existence of an intentional plot hatched in the executive boardroom of some Manhattan high-rise.  But I am suggesting that the laws of the market place—the laws of profit margins, cost and risk analysis, etc. mindlessly work against the interests of poor people in depressed communities.  From the perspective of a suburban middle-class shopper that Food Lion store is crummy place to buy groceries.  It is small, shabby, grimy and rather depressing.  The selection is pitiful.  The prices are high.  With limited floor traffic and given the cost of bringing the store up to contemporary corporate standards, I’m not at all surprised that some executive at Delhaize Group (the Brussels, Belgium based conglomerate that owns Food Lions) added that particular store to his closing list.

The people in the Rivermont area don’t need that Food Lion.  They need a Walmart Super Store within walking distance.  They need a store with the kind of selection and prices that suburban shoppers take for granted as a fundamental right.  They need that extra margin of financial advantage that shopping in such a place brings to people who must count every penny.  But the same marketplace realities that will close the Food Lion on Bedford Avenue before Valentine’s Day will prevent a Walmart from taking its place.

Next month that poor elderly Black woman who barely ekes out a subsistence level existence—who lives within a long and tiring walk from the intersection of Bedford Avenue and Magnolia Street—who nonetheless makes that walk every couple days to save bus fare money—will have to find a new way to buy her groceries and get them home.

I pastor a church in this neighborhood.  And I find myself asking what can we, as Christ’s followers, do to ease the plight of that woman?  It is a hard question without an easy answer.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Where is God When It Hurts?

The fact of evil and suffering is perhaps the most persistent and enduring challenge to the Christian faith. Many thoughtful people consider evil incongruous with the biblical affirmation that God is good and his reign powerful and sovereign. We speak of God as being both the creator and governor of the world. Orthodox Christian faith defines God as all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present and holy. God’s love and mercy are declared to be without equal.

Yet evil exists.

In his wonderful little book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis defined the problem this way:

"If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both." [C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.; Macmillan Paperbacks Edition, 1962), 26.]

Or as Professor D.A. Carson at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School put it:

"The truth of the matter is that all we have to do is live long enough, and we will suffer. Our loved ones will die; we ourselves will be afflicted with some disease or another." [D.A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 1990, 2006), 16.]

How does the Christian come to terms with the apparent paradox of a loving and all-powerful God and the reality of pain, suffering and evil in His creation?

Starting on Sunday, February 5th I will begin a ten-part sermon series at Rivermont Avenue Baptist Church on the problem of evil and suffering entitled Where is God When It Hurts? We will examine such issues as The Fall, death and grief, suffering in nature (animal pain, natural disasters, etc.), holy war and hell, when bad things happen to good people, persecution of believers and the suffering of God. We’ll consider the contrast of how Christianity addresses these issues compared to other world religions and philosophies. I’ll not be pulling any punches. If you are looking for cheap simplistic answers, don’t bother coming.