How to Live the Bible — A Year of Struggles

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This is the one-hundred-thirty-fourth lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.


This past year has had an unusual amount of struggles. Scripture tells us about the unpredictably of life.

One balmy summer evening, a storm system started moving up the horizon until it covered about half the sky. I stood out on the front yard of our house to examine a sky that was like a bed with covers pulled partway up. Heavy, dark clouds were moving fast and low, with towering thunderheads and a bulbous underbelly. Something dramatic was coming.

Dramatic clouds in the sky

Then a very bizarre thing happened—before the rain ever started falling, with the sun still shining above, I saw a light object in the sky, tumbling downward. Then another and another. I started gathering the objects along with my son, daughter, and wife, though all us should have been inside the house because of the approaching lightning.

A shredded leaf of corn, a piece of roofing material, a page from a cookbook, a golf scorecard with a label from a country club in Stoughton, Wisconsin—all tumbled from high in the open sky along with bits of torn leaves.

At first it was strange and quite amusing, like a game in which you wonder what the next object will be. But as I grew in awareness that this must be the by-product of a tornado somewhere (what else could it be?), it became a more sober experience. I hoped no one had been killed.

Only half an hour later, television news reported that a tornado had been sighted in Stoughton—some 90 miles away—and that homes and a clubhouse at a golf course had been damaged. Pieces of debris had been carried several miles and sprinkled out ahead of the storm system.

It sent a chill up my spine to think I was holding the pieces of someone else’s life. What happened? What will happen for these people?

Why do bad things happen in life? And why does God allow them?

Suffering is the great mystery we all face sooner or later.

When you are face-to-face with somebody who has suddenly lost a loved one, or is going through great physical pain or some other kind of anguish, even if you produce a flawless 500-page answer that fits all the pieces together, that answer will still not replace what that person has lost. The suffering person is still going to say, “Why, oh why, does this have to be?”

In the light of the fact that Scripture does not have God giving a simple cause and effect explanation, neither should we. It’s critically important for loving friends to be there and say, “This is not the way things were supposed to be, but we are here with you and God is with you.”

Romans 8, which says the whole of creation groans “as in the pains of childbirth,” it is “subjected to frustration,” and it “waits in eager expectation” for God’s final redemption, when the bondage will end and the adoption of sons and daughters of God will be complete (Rom. 8:18-39).

Scientists have been saying for a long time that aggressive viruses can be one of the greatest threats to humanity. This is part of the natural world.

Suffering has become nature’s abnormal state. In Genesis 3, it says that the newly cursed world now has enmity and pain and conflict. Even the natural order of things, the way nature itself behaves, has been disrupted because of this moral earthquake.

While there are natural catastrophes like tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes, much suffering in the world has human causes.

We cannot prevent a virus from forming. But human choices will influence how far and wide a pandemic spreads. Some diseases cannot be prevented or treated, and some can.

We experience suffering, in other words, because we’re just small parts of a whole creation that has its good days and bad days. Sometimes we forget that we’re part of a very complex system of cause and effect. If it rains and ruins your family picnic, or floods one region, that same rain might be what saves a farmer’s crops. We will never see or understand all the connections.
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FREE for the next four days (on Kindle) is A Better Year Ahead? Opening Our Eyes to Hope.
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Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s teaching pastor. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel’s many books include Spiritual Leadership Today: Having Deep Influence in Every Walk of Life (Zondervan, 2016). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.

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Queen Elizabeth, Jesus, and the Challenge of Historical Accuracy

How much should we care about TV’s storytellers getting all the details right?

Several weeks ago, Netflix dropped the latest season of its highly acclaimed show The Crown. The fourth season tells the story of the British monarchy in the ’80s and ’90s and depicts the Queen’s relationship with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and features Princess Diana. With so many of the characters depicted still alive and in recent-ish memory for a number of viewers, the show has provoked controversy like never before.

While The Crown always creatively depicted the past, this year, this season has drawn criticism from those who claim the show is misleading viewers about the true history of the monarchy. Netflix even recently put out a statement that said it would not issue a disclaimer reminding viewers that the drama was fictional.

“We have always presented The Crown as a drama—and we have every confidence our members understand it’s a work of fiction that’s broadly based on historical events. As a result we have no plans, and see no need, to add a disclaimer.”

This week on Quick to Listen, we thought we would tackle some of the issues stirred up by this season of The Crown by getting a sense of how they’ve been wrestled with by the creator and showrunner of The Chosen, a series portraying the life of Jesus through the stories of his followers.

Dallas Jenkins heads The Chosen, which has broken records as the largest crowdfunded media project ever, and has been watched so far by more than 50 million people in 180 countries and translated into more than 50 languages.

Jenkins joined global media manager Morgan Lee and editorial director Ted Olsen to discuss how the show has wrestled with historical accuracy, the challenge of adding and changing characters, and how watching …

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Christmas Albums 2020: What’s on Our Playlist

From Tori Kelly to Maverick City Music, here are our favorite new releases by Christian artists.

In an especially disorienting year, we ache for the familiarity of gathering together as Christmas approaches. Luckily, music has a way of stirring up memories and encouraging us toward a future hope, and this year, there seems to be something for everyone.

These eight albums—from better-known Christian artists and some fresh finds—provide the inhale and exhale of Advent, reminding us to both celebrate and hold our breath in anticipation of the coming Christ. You can check out our Spotify playlist to listen to all of the recommendations.

A Tori Kelly Christmas by Tori Kelly

If you’re wishing that Sister Act had been a Christmas movie, look no further than A Tori Kelly Christmas. Known for her impossibly perfect vocal riffs, she puts a spin on Christmas classics that brings in R&B tempos, throwback beats and, of course, a choir of backup singers. It’s not only hype, though. Her rendition of “O Holy Night” is as vocally powerful as it is timeless. If you need some pep in your step, throw on “Joy to The World/Joyful Joyful” and crank up the volume. This album is ideal for getting tasks done or for a boost of energy as the days become shorter.

A Jolly Irish Christmas (Vol. 2) by Rend Collective

In their second release of the year, Rend Collective’s A Jolly Irish Christmas (Vol. 2) complements their 2014 Christmas offering. The 12-track album encompasses everything from classics like “The First Noel,” to an upbeat cover of the Irish carol “Christmas in Killarney.” The Northern Ireland rock band’s folky “Silent Night (Be Still)” adds a chorus that especially resonates in 2020: “Be still my heart / Be still my mind / May I still …

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