Published February 18, 2014

Paul's Epistle...
"Bad Things - Good People" (Part 3)

We're in the midst of a series of columns looking that age-old question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" Last week, we looked at the first two of seven answers to that question. (If you haven't seen those previous columns, you can review Part 1 here and Part 2 here.)

The third reason "bad things" happen is that – in what seems odd at first glance – suffering can remind you of God's blessings.

A pastor once said, "Sometimes you need adversity to see the real blessings you have received." Put another way, sometimes you need to lose something – or nearly so – to realize what you really have. Think of a parent who has almost lost a son or daughter to disease or an accident. Think of a marriage that almost dissolved – but was restored. Think of some other disaster that could have affected loved ones – but was averted. In each such case, those affected come away with a renewed sense of God's blessings.

Be honest – when you go through really difficult times, don't you wind up with a renewed sense of how much God actually has blessed you?

Fourth, good things grow from bad things.

Any farmer can tell you that. What we smell in the air here in Lancaster County's air each spring isn't pleasant. But it's the "stuff" that helps the "good things" grow.

You heard in April, 2013, that a son of well-known pastor Rick Warren – Matthew Warren – committed suicide. Matthew had struggled for years with mental illness. Rick Warren subsequently stayed out of the pulpit for 16 weeks. But when he came back, he told his congregation, "For 27 years I prayed every day of my life for God to heal my son's mental illness. It was the number one prayer of my life. It just didn't make sense why this prayer was not being answered."

Later, on NBC's "Today" show, I heard Rick Warren say, "It's OK to ask God ‘why?' But the real test of your faith is what you do when you don't seem to get an answer."

So, what's the "good thing" that's come out of this "bad thing?" Rick Warren says he has learned first-hand how to cope with grief – not just intellectually but experientially – so he can better counsel others going through such problems. And now Warren and his wife pledge to work to help improve the stigma of mental illness and help those who've experienced such losses. It's a whole new ministry outreach – birthed through a "bad thing" that happened in the Warrens' life.

So, is there something unpleasant that God has allowed to come into your life that can help you help others?

Remember what Christ said in John 15:2, where He called Himself the "true vine," His Father is the "vinedresser" and we are the branches: "...every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit." The fruit tree might not enjoy the pruning, but the pruning results in even more fruit. We might not enjoy the Lord's pruning, but it is for our ultimate good.

Reason number five – and this continues a theme that runs through all of these reasons – is that through struggles, God wants to strengthen your faith.

Peter told Christians of his day – and us, too – that "now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it be tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Do you feel "tested by fire?" The appropriately-named trio Beyond The Ashes has, twice in the past two years, had fires in their tour bus. And once they were on stage in a theater when it caught fire. Anthony Facello of the group told me their name has proven appropriate: "Especially now, it really means something to us. And it holds true. You've heard it time and again that the purest gold is...when it's been through the fire process. The old junk is skimmed off the top. That's sort of what our ministry's going through – God's refining us. We don't know why we've lost five years of work and why we've lost equipment and it's not covered by insurance. We don't understand that stuff... But you know what? We know it's gonna be alright."

Do you sometimes feel like you're being "tested by fire?" How are you holding up? Look for the good that's coming out of it.

And please understand that God's principles apply to everyone. Walt Disney once said, "All the adversity I've had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me... You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you."

Next week, I'll share two more reasons why "bad things happen to good people." And they might not be what you'd expect.

- Paul

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