In recent months, it seems as though there has been a rash of what we call "natural disasters." The earthquake/tsunami in Japan took the lives of more than 10,000 people. Just last month in Joplin, Mo., we saw the devastating tornado that wiped out an entire city along with 138 lives. The pictures are still fresh in our minds as photo after photo revealed the pain and suffering of people like ourselves who lived the nightmare. It makes one think, "What in the world is going on?"

In Romans 8:19-22, we read about present creation versus future creation. The Apostle Paul writes, "For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now."

This passage is in the context of suffering that goes back to verse 17b, "... if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him." This is a reference to the suffering that true believers face in a world that is not tolerant or accepting of those who follow Jesus Christ as a way of life.

Then Paul goes on to say in verse 18, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us." What suffering we face now is nothing compared to the glorious revealing that will take place when Jesus takes His Bride, the church, the true believers and followers of Jesus, with Him to heaven someday.

In this context, Paul turns his attention to what is currently happening in the physical world among all of creation. Sin at the Fall in the Garden of Eden not only had its corrupted effect upon mankind, but also upon creation itself.

In Genesis 3:17-19 we find the curse that God placed upon man and creation. "Then to Adam He (God) said, 'Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, "You shall not eat from it;" Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; 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.'"

In Romans 8:19 we read that creation is anxiously longing and waiting eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. It is a rather amusing picture of creation with an outstretched head on tiptoes with eyes looking ahead with intent expectancy to the return of Jesus Christ. Now it is hard to tell who the true believers are and who are not. But, at that time, Jesus will reveal those who are His own.

Verse 20 goes on to indicate that creation was placed under subjection to futility. Before the Fall of man, there were no weeds or poisonous plants, thistles or thorns, or anything else that could cause man misery or harm. Since the Fall, we have decay, disease, pain, death, natural disasters, pollution and all the other forms of evil that are the result of God's curse on creation.

God will someday remove the curse. When? Verse 21 says when God's children reach glory. There will be two phases to this. There will be a partial removal of the curse during the Millennial Kingdom, when Jesus sits on the throne of David in Jerusalem reigning over the earth for a 1,000 years. Then, after the Great White Throne Judgment, God will destroy the current heaven and earth and will create a new heaven and earth.

Revelation 21:1 says it like this, "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea." Verses 4 and 5 go on to say, "and He (Jesus) will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." And He who sits on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." And He said, "Write, for these words are faithful and true."

Just like the believer in Jesus Christ awaits his redemption, the whole creation awaits its redemption. Romans 8:22 says, "For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now."

Creation is out of sync. Just like the woman has pain in childbirth, the earth endures labor pains of its own. So we have earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and other natural disasters. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

The Rev. Ronald A. Smals is pastor of Woodville Grace Brethren Church, Mansfield.

Newsjournal Article

News Journal Article for July 24, 2010

HELPING THE HURTING


Hurting people are all around us!  We face an economy that has led to layoffs and unemployment.  Many are wondering where their next meal will come from.  Some try to cope by turning to drugs and alcohol.  Marriages are breaking up due to the pressure and stress.  Children are abused out of anger and frustration.  Where do they turn for help?  And how long will that help last?


These are real-life situations that I face in ministry every day.  What is the church to do?  Is the church even relevant to the needs of the day?  Where does Jesus fit into the scenario?  I have asked these questions over and over again.


As I have contemplated these issues, I have searched the Scriptures for answers and find that the church of believers has been called to meet needs both physically and spiritually.  I grew up in an era of churches that shied away from meeting the physical needs of people because you might be labeled liberal and holding to a “social gospel.”  It is time that the church be Jesus to a world of hurting people.  We must lay aside our fear of labels and be obedient to Jesus’ call to His church to reach a world that is lost and in desperate need of help.


So what do we do?  As I look at the Gospels and view the ministry and teaching of Jesus, I learn that Jesus first met the physical needs of people in order to lead them to their greatest need which is spiritual.  He healed the lame, the blind, he raised the dead, and he fed the hungry.  But, at the heart of all that He did, He was driven by compassion and love for the downcast and hurting.  In fact, He said in Luke 5:31-32, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”


But how do we get sinners to see their need?  When they are hungry, how do they hear the truth?  When they are addicted, how do they see the significance of the Gospel?  When they are hurting, how do they understand what will take away their pain?


In Luke 10:25-29, we find Jesus in a dialogue with a lawyer who was attempting to discredit Him by asking, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus asked him what he personally thought.  The lawyer responded, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”  Jesus told him that he was right on.  In fact, Jesus said, “DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE.”  But the man wanted to justify himself, since this is impossible to do without coming to God on His terms.  So he asked, “And who is my neighbor?”


Jesus responded by telling a story about the Good Samaritan.  In that story, Jesus applauds a Samaritan and his acts of kindness.  That Samaritan, who was hated by the Jews for he was half-Jew and half-Gentile, helped a Jew who was lying on the side of the road half dead while the religious people (a priest and a Levite) passed by and refused to help.


The Samaritan “felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.”  Jesus asked the lawyer which of the three had been a true neighbor.  The lawyer answered, “The one who showed mercy toward him.”  Then Jesus answered, “Go and do the same.”


Nowhere in that parable did the Samaritan say a word.  Actions speak louder than words.  Jesus does not tell us the conclusion to that parable.  Did the Samaritan follow up with the spiritual needs of the Jew?  We are not told.  But, who would have the best opportunity to reach that wounded Jew with spiritual truth – the priest, the Levite, or the hated Samaritan?  I believe it would the latter.


Churches and individual Christ-followers can help the hurting by first meeting their physical needs and building relationships that will lead opportunities to lead them to their greatest need of spiritual hope.  When a man is hungry, the greatest need on his mind is physical food.  Once he has been fed, he is most ready to listen to the one who has fed him.  Once the hurting person has found help for their felt needs, the next step is to satisfy the need of the soul.  The church must once again become the church, following Jesus by meeting needs both physically and spiritually.