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Date December 2022

Personal suffering and a good God

Intro to our time:

  1. We all need a way to frame our personal suffering and the Jesus we have come to know and love. 

  2. What I would love to see accomplished in the very brief time we have 

  3. Develop a conviction of who God is and how we answer the doubts both that we have and others (think of new teammates, friends you made in country) (take a poll of is it a big issue in your country) of how a good God and our suffering co-exist.

    1. We can’t suffer alone or share joys alone so:

  4. Learn from each other how God has revealed himself amid suffering

    1. No hijacking or hideouts

      1. Hideouts -  

    2. Hijacks

      1. we need to hear from each other what you just. might help someone out of a dark place

      2. We need the opportunity to hear from everyone who wants to speak 

      3. No one gets to talk for long 

    3. What is said here – stays here

      1. Please ask permission from the speaker to share a story 

    4. Please ask each other questions, share affirmation, pray

The Need to Develop A Theology Of Suffering

  1. Mary, whose family suffered in the Cultural Revolution said to my team leader, that before I arrived in Macau, I needed to develop my own theology of suffering 

    1. Gave it little thought

    2. I worked in Banking – promotion skills

    3. Ming was Chinese +

    4. Went to seminary +

      1. I had it all figured out +

        1. But there was annoying problem – the people I met 

  2. In Macau I met people who went hungry and simply tighten their belts to drown out their stomach rumbling

    1. I met people who as children watched their parents marched through the streets wearing dunce caps simply because they were teachers during the cultural revolution

    2. Believers who were imprisoned because they were just part of a Bible study

    3. Getting closer - Teammates left because their child developed a rare disease

      1. Another couple were having marital issues left , and later divorced

    4. It was sad even grievous but did not impact me personally, so I anxiously went about my missionary things fearing anything that might ruin this dream


  1. Skin for skin!” he said “A man will give all he has for his own life.

    1. Satan is the father of lies but there was truth in what he said there

      1. How would I respond if I was afflicted?

      2. God was preparing me

  2. 6 months before I developed MS, with no clue of what was coming– started to read How Long Oh Lord by D.A. Carson

    1. The book gave me a framework to see God amid suffering

  3. Flash Forward to After developing MS, I was now out of Macau temporarily to receive treatment in the US

    1. Depressed, angry, and feeling very alone

    2. We just started establishing a church in Macau I was a hero!

      1. And now I was sick fearful, and anxious

    3. Sitting on my bed in the missionary cottage a church provided 

  4. The Words of John 6 came to me

John 6:67-68

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God

  1. I decided then I would continue to believe in Jesus, what choice did I have

  1. September 11 happened and in nearby NYC and it was cataclysmic

    1. We rushed to retrieve our kids from school

    2. and we lived 1 ½ away from ground zero

      1. I had MS and was now suffering 

        1. And all of those around me are suffering deeply

    3. The pastor of our home church in NYC asked me to give a testimony during the morning service about 1 month after the collapse of the trade centers

      1. I was angry, bitter, and thought in my heart there is no way I was going to give that testimony

  1. More on that in a minute, but first – How do we frame our suffering?

    1. A way to view suffering that can make sense of it and draw us closer to a good God 

    2. Let’s use a metaphor like a picture frame


  1. Sovereignty- Like the Back of A Frame, unseen but holds the picture together. 

  2. And Like The Back Of The Frame God’s Sovereignty, Holds our life together when we are suffering 


  1. God Is Sovereign We are not 

    1. Suffering Clarifies Who Is in Control

      1. Hardship has the power to burst the bubble of our self-sovereignty. 

  2. King Nebuchadnezzar Lost Everything 

    1. His Kingdom, Dignity, His Mind,  and For Your Veggie Tale Fans, The Bunny

  1. When he came back to his senses 

He wrote: 

Daniel 4:34b–35

For his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” 


  1. God Is Sovereign We are not 

    1. We have very little control over our lives

  2. One day during my first term, I was standing on my balcony on the 22nd floor overlooking the ferry harbor to Hong Kong

    1. I was reflecting on the cool life I had

      1. An exciting job

      2. A great family 

      3. A beautiful apartment 

  3. I told God (the audacity!) that if He ever allowed me to leave Macau because of an illness I would no longer worship Him

    1. Flash forward to June of 2001, and we returned to the US we were told by my neurologist that returning to Macau was not an option 

      1. Ming responded to Dr. Pachner with incredulity: our whole lives were there

        1. Friends, schools, work, housing

          1. Dr. Pachner coolly said Yes that’s what it means

  4. August 26th, 2002, we moved back forever

    1. God started to move when I couldn’t

      1. It started with a prayer time with Ming, Micah who was 11, and Kristen who was 9, after the news that we had to return to the US

      2. Five-minute phone call to Mike resulted in 

        1. Housing, job pastor of a English speaking Chinese church (I was 40 and needed to work)

        2. Ming began studying for a degree in counseling from a nearby seminary an essential part of our story

  5. Then When After 10 years of seemingly fruitless work as an immobile mobilizer, I was tired God moved again

    1. I woke up on the morning the director of Paraclete was coming to see how I was doing and was led to pray, a seemingly non-sequitur prayer 

      1. I asked God to have the director offer Ming a job 

    2. That day in our living room, after hours of focusing on my health and options of when I die

      1. The director became reflective of her insurmountable workload and offered a job to Ming

  1. God Is Sovereign and we are not

    1. We believe in a good and sovereign God because as believers in Jesus we hold to a God who is completely and totally sovereign. 

      1. There is no other god in the universe, 

        1. in scripture, 

        2. in reality 

        3. We must acknowledge that God is Good and sovereign, and that is He is

      2. That is both great news (God is truly watching and cares for me) and difficult news. 


  1. What about the mystery of God tends to frustrate you?

  2. What about it do you find comforting?



God is Love



  1. The love of God is an objective truth in history. 

    1. By sending Jesus rejected, scorned, spat upon beaten, and finally crucified 

    2. God demonstrated incredible humility, patience, and love.

      1. His death and resurrection as recorded in history is an anchor for us when we are suffering 

  2. I base my life on it even when i don’t necessarily feel the love of God (which is often).  


  1. Paul says in Romans 5:8

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.


  1. Throughout scripture and undeniably through this verse we know:

    1. God clearly showed His existence in Jesus

    2. God clearly showed His love 


  1. While we can have doubts, feel afraid, even alone, 

    1. He gave us an unmistakable, undeniable, rock-solid proof of His love, His goodness, His mercy. 

      1. This is where a loving community can help immeasurably 

      2. Believers in Taiwan, Macau, China, and the US rallied around us with words of encouragement, prayers, gifts, personal visits, even furniture 


  1. For me personally , God showed up also in this way


  1. I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis on March 11, 2001. 

    1. While back in the US seeking treatment, I was angry, depressed and moping around.  

      1. Ming recommended me seeing a counselor.

        1. I began seeing a counselor and after one session when I was walking to my car, I was overwhelmed with a sense of God’s love for me.  

    2. It was as if God’ was speaking to me and assuring me of His love. 

      1. It was at that moment all despair disappeared and it was replaced by hope in the love of God.  


  1. God’s word says in   Ephesians 3:19 “…and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God”.

  2. This was two weeks before I was to give that testimony I spoke of earlier

  3. I went to my home church in NYC and Infront of many who lost loved ones in 9/11, who were crying

  4. I shared the hope I have in the love of God 

Tim Keller wrote:


“See what this means? Yes, we do not know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, or why it is so random, but now at least we know what the reason is not. It cannot be that he does not love us. It cannot be that he does not care. He is so committed to our ultimate happiness that he was willing to plunge into the greatest depths of suffering himself. He understands us, he has been there, and he assures us that he has a plan to eventually wipe away every tear”


  1. How has God revealed Himself to you as good and loving?

  2. How is the love of God difficult for you?


  1. God is sovereign, God is loving

    1. Then why is there personal suffering? 

      1. How do you answer that?

        1. A Christian friend, A colleague, a yet to believe church member? 

  2. This is How I would answer it - The first place I look to is the fallenness of humanity.  

    1. When Adam & Eve fell, the impact personally was and is dramatic.


  1. I was visiting a good friend after I was diagnosed with MS and the disease was progressing.  

    1. Another good friend joined us that evening, and the first thing he said to me was “Don’t you just hate the fall!” While I was taken back by his words they immediately reoriented me to a Biblical view of the world.

  2. Sin is the #1 reason we suffer in this world, the fall from the perfection we had with had with God in the garden of Eden.  Adam and Eve’s sin resulted in a people that live apart from God, in rebellion against Him, and seeking to be their own Master


  1. We can look at the results of sin in at least 2 ways that it can lead to suffering. 

  2. Physically

    1. Sin leads to weakened bodies & minds we become sick and die 

In Genesis 3:19 Moses records 

“By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return”

  1. Death, while ushering believers into God's kingdom, is still an enemy, Sickness, and weakness from chronic or terminal illness are the results of our fallen state.


  1. Sin causes suffering physically 


  1. Relationally we see the tremendous impact of sin.  From Cain killing Abel to us today.  

  1. It’s being disconnected from God the Holy Spirit, who is love, and the subsequent fruit of love, joy peace, patience, kindness 

  2. All humanity is in the same camp

    1. Divorce, wars,  abuse, bigotry, murder, just watch the news

    2. That results in much relational strife. 

    3. How does it impact you personally

      1. How does the reality of having a sinful and fallen nature impact our understanding of suffering in our bodies?

      2. How about in relationships?


  1. If we belong to God, He is working on us to heal our addiction to sin, to a life of self-effort and of self-centeredness.  Suffering can be a part of that training

    1. God is working to reconcile our relationship, with Him and with others.

      1. Our training in Godliness usually starts with those closest to us, our parents, and our wife and children. 

  2. When I became ill, 

    1. I finally slowed down enough to see how much I missed just being with Ming.  

      1. At the time MS began we were taking weekly trips to receive treatment, and this gave us plenty of time together.  It was and is a wonderful blessing! 

  1. On the other hand, it also showed me painfully that my dependence and love for God needs to be first.  I was fearing what my inability to provide for the family would mean for our relationship. 

    1. She would need to work leaving me alone and her social circle would go beyond what our first 15 years of marriage resulted in. What would happen to our marriage?  I was afraid. 

  2. The real issue though was who was I depending on for my love, security, and provision? 

  3. If I am reflective enough and willing to change, I could be available to love others well and not be consumed by my outward appearance. 

    1. God is teaching me that my weakness and need for others results in an opportunity for the “helper” to share their struggles and pains.


Hebrews 12:4-11


This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? 


  1. What is one of the challenges of knowing if our suffering is from training, a sinful mistake, or just a fallen nature?

  2. What area of your life has been the most difficult for you lately? 




  1. A story in Luke 13 gives us a picture of the havoc Satan can have on individual lives. We pick it up in verse 15 and 16


And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?


  1. Even while Jesus has all authority in Heaven and Earth

    1. This woman was allowed to suffer with a crippling disease caused by Satan


  1. He commands us to ask the Father for deliverance from evil?


And lead us not into temptation 
   but deliver us from the evil one




Revelation 12:17


Revelation 12:17 (ESV): Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.


  1. How do you see the influence, oppression and opposition from our enemy in Europe?

  2. Someone once said the biggest mistake is to overemphasize Satan’ actions or to underemphasize. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Which part?


  1. Tim Keller writes

“…in God’s universe, even Satan’s work cannot step outside the outermost boundaries of God’s sovereignty. While that is what raises the problem, it is also what promises hope”



The World

  1. I’m defining the “world “as the way the organized, Godless, and sometimes outright oppositional governments and corporations, that exist worldwide. 

  2. Who either make policies or ignore evils inflicted, and especially on the church of Jesus Christ. 


  1. What do you think of this definition? What would you add or subtract from it?

  1. As I suddenly find myself as a disabled person in a world of “normal” people, I am keenly aware of the dismissive looks and reactions people of color have endured for centuries

  2. The reasons for these sufferings created by the world are complex and voluminous.  

  3. We can talk about human trafficking, the causes of endemic poverty, the plight of the 10 million or so orphans caused by aids, the reasons for starvation in countries in Africa or a plethora of others world ills. 

  4. We can talk abortion, which has killed millions of unborn children in the US alone, systemic racism which enslaves people due prejudice or fear 

  5. Whether it’s in policy or persecution, seems to be clearly from our enemy


  1. I know personally a person who was leading a small house church

    1. He was Detained, Questioned, and released

    2. While telling the story, the trauma caused him to cry and shake for years after

  2. This doesn’t even cover the believers left behind in that country who faced harassment and possible arrest

  3. There is a type of suffering we all face in living in this world

  4. Vicarious Trauma

    1. We need to talk with others- counselor, friends 

  5. We need to daily grieve and lament

  6. When will we be released?  How long Oh Lord!


Eternity Revelation 7:16-17


 16 They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

Think on the description of heaven in this verse: 

  1. No more hunger or starvation, 

  2. No more dying of unclean drinking water, 

  3. No more dying because of skin cancer or of dehydration due to exposure to the elements, 

  4. No more feelings of directionless or loneliness, 

  5. No more death, no more crying.  

  6. One word sums it up nicely: paradise!

“No matter how hard we try to make it so, this present world refuses to be our paradise. We cannot make heaven happen for ourselves because heaven can only be given and received.” – Scott Sauls

Question for reflection

How often do you think of heaven?

Does the knowledge of the fact that your life does not end in suffering comfort you? 



  1. Providence

  2. God’s love

  3. Sin

  4. Discipline/Training

  5. Satan

  6. The World

  7. Eternity


Which Frame Side Seems most protruding you?

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