Osprey church of Christ

In the course of trying to find a congregation in Key Largo to worship with, Mark was given a lead of someone who might know that information, who lived near Sarasota, Florida and worshipped in a congregation in Osprey, Florida. Mark called and got the information he needed, and as the conversation continued and our story unfolded of living on the road out of a van for a couple years, Mark was given an invitation to fill in for their preacher Nathaniel Outcalt, whom they’d recently hired, but was going to be in the Virgin Islands vacationing with his wife and three children. 

I grinned when we turned the corner and saw the church building was on, of all streets, Pennsylvania Avenue and smiled to myself at the fact that the church house was indeed.. white. I’d never worshipped at the white house on Pennsylvania Avenue, but love new experiences, so I was in my element.

You could tell the congregation was “tight” from the get go, but what really stood out was the wonderful class participation, the quality of the comments that were being offered and how many people came up after class and expressed their gratitude for Mark’s teaching. I was also taken aback by the quality of the sermon given by one of the other talented members who had settled in the area. It was on the topic of the significance of the etymology around the names of God, and how those meanings relate so beautifully to the story of the gospel. 

After worship we got an above average amount of invitations to settle in the area when we are done travelling, which was kind of ironic to me because none of them knew that the Sarasota area had been at the very top of my wish lists of where we may perhaps settle one day, IF we must settle. (I’d rather not). We also got an invitation join some Christians for lunch, which, to be honest, is more rare than we’d wish, and is most likely due to COVID, so we understand. Sort of. We laughed with these new friends like we’d always known them and got an invitation to someday go out on the boat of a sixth generation fisherman, who not only makes some killer fish sip out of the mullet he catches, he was so experienced on the sea that he’d been asked by the government to help tag bottlenose dolphins in a conservation effort. I’m all for that.   

We parted ways after lunch and two days later Mark’s cell phone rang. Their 47-year-old preacher had drowned while snorkeling in the US Virgin Islands. His family and the congregation was of course absolutely reeling from the shocking and tragic loss. Mark immediately offered to fill in, but they had already scheduled someone to preach even before the accident, in fact, as Providence would have it, it happened to be the same guest preacher, Nathan Ward, who had preached some 18 months previously on the heels of a previous loss.  Brethren online were heartbroken and expressed their compassion in an outpouring of love by way of a fundraiser [https://gofund.me/81505d5d] that made it’s goal in only one day and then went on to surpass it by 8K. So loved with this good man. His memorial was the Saturday following his death and we again met with this hurting congregation. If there was ever a congregation acquainted with grief, it was this one, and the resiliency? Rock solid by faith.

Together we sang "Take My Hand, Precious Lord, Lead Me Home".

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I'm tired, I'm weak, I'm lone
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

When my way grows drear precious Lord linger near
When my light is almost gone
Hear my cry, hear my call
Hold my hand lest I fall
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

When the darkness appears and the night draws near
And the day is past and gone
At the river I stand
Guide my feet, hold my hand
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I'm tired, I'm weak, I'm lone
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home
(Lead me home)

It was an honor to be with them during this such a sacred moment, and we will return to spend some more time with them within a few weeks to fill in and be together again.

The sermon by Nathan Ward was the best I’ve ever heard on the topic of suffering. I was moved.  It was not recorded, but if you google his name and suffering, you should be able to find about three similar ones on the topic that he preached at his own congregation on 58th Street in Temple Terrace, Florida in the summer of 2018. May this sermon be beneficial to all those currently suffering from pain and loss. My heart goes out to you all. 

Why Do Bad Things Happen?

  1. Why?!
  2. How Can a Good God Allow Suffering?
  3. The Problem of Evil
  4. A common skeptical argument
  5. Not terribly convincing on an intellectual level
  6. The Problem of Believers
  7. Not intellectual but emotional
  8. Easy to refute logically, but far more difficult in the midst of suffering
  9. Full of faith when things are going well
  10. Young parents with a third baby, working 60 hours a week with a wife who is sick, a boss riding their back, and your mom was just diagnosed with cancer

(a) [Emotions] are that part of us most vulnerable to outside influences, and in this sense, they are the part of us most easily manipulated. ... Our understanding can be persuaded not to believe and our conviction can be broken. But when we are under pressure our emotions tend to throw in the towel long before our understanding or our will. This gives the impression that the emotions are a problem because they are weak. But it is just the reverse: The real problem is that they are too strong. Not only are our emotions easily influenced; they are highly influential. Once persuaded, they become the powerful persuaders, and here is their danger. (Os Guinness, God in the Dark, 127–128)

(b) Supposing a man’s reason once decides that the weight of evidence is for [believing in God]. … There will come a moment when there is bad news, or he is in trouble, or is living among a lot of other people who do not believe it, and all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief. Now faith, in the sense of which I am using the word, is the art of holding onto things your reason has once accepted, in spite of our changing moods. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 123)

  1. Some Thoughts on Suffering
  2. Modest Goals
  3. Not trying to “prove God’s existence” or His love or anything else
  4. Certainly not trying to say that emotional responses to bad things are improper or should be bottled up (see Laments)
  5. Simply want to think through the difficulties we face in life calmly and rationally
  6. To bring our emotions under the control of our reason—or to further establish our reason for when the emotional onslaught comes
  7. I certainly can’t and won’t answer every question we ever face

  1. Limited Understanding and Perspective
  2. An Analogy: A hunter comes across a bear caught in a trap and, out of sympathy, wants to free it
  3. He tries to win the bear’s confidence—but wild and in pain, the bear will not trust him 
  4. So he shoots the bear with a tranquilizer—and the bear thinks this is an attack and that the hunter is trying to kill him

iii. In order to get the bear out of the trap, the hunter has to push the trap further closed to release the tension on the spring; if it were even semi-conscious at this point, it would be convinced that the hunter is its enemy who was out to cause him suffering and pain

  1. The bear is, of course, wrong—and it reaches this incorrect conclusion because it is not a human being
  2. How can we be sure that this isn’t an analogy between us and God—that we can’t anymore understand the ways of God than the bear could understand the actions of the hunter?
  3. Our Experience with Suffering
  4. E.g. Joseph’s Experience
  5. Experiences with suffering, illness, death—often greatest personal, spiritual growth in life

iii. With time and perspective, most of us can find good reasons for at least some of the tragedy and pain that we experience

  1. Is it possible that, from God’s vantage point, there are good reasons for all?
  2. The Value of Pain
  3. The bear illustration—must endure pain to be set free
  4. Real Examples of the Value of Physical Pain
  5. Pain does do us good, and we would be lost without it
  6. What would happen if we couldn’t feel when something was too hot to touch, and we leaned over against a burner on high for fifteen minutes or so without realizing it?

iii. What would happen if injured a body part, but instead of taking better care of it, we went about our business using it as normal, straining it when it was weakened?

  1. There is a sense in which pain is very much a gift
  2. Evil as Evidence for God
  3. Any time someone responds with outrage over evil and suffering, he is presupposing that there is really a difference between good and evil
  4. The fact that he is using the standard of good to judge evil—that he’s saying that this horrible suffering ought not to be—means that he has a notion of what ought to be
  5. He believes, at some level, that this notion corresponds to something real—a reality called the Supreme Good
  6. In other words, if there is no God, where did we get the standard of goodness by which we judge evil as evil
  7. If all there is are unguided forces of nature, why do we call things evil?
  8. It is at this level where the Problem of Evil is not just a problem for the Christian, but for the atheist as well—if there is no God, how can it be a “problem”?
  9. Free Will and Sin as the Cause of Evil 
  10. The need to reflect on this
  11. Easy to forget just how thoroughgoing the effects of sin are
  12. Easy to overreact to Job’s friends or to overemphasize what Jesus says about the man born blind (John 9.3) so that we minimize the connection 
  13. b. Generally, sin is the cause of all suffering (Gen 3)
  14. How sin is specifically the cause of suffering
  15. Suffering as a Natural Consequence of Sin

  (a) When the connection between suffering and sin is readily apparent

(b) The bank robber who is killed in a shoot-out; the promiscuous person who contracts a venereal disease; etc.

  1. Suffering as Punishment for Sin

(a) Clearly, not all suffering is punishment for sin (see above)

(b) Some, however, clearly is

(1) Nadab and Abihu, Uzzah, Ananias and Sapphira

(2) John 5.14: “Sin no more lest a worse thing happen to you”

iii. Suffering as a Member of a Sinful Group

(a) Achan sinned, the nation suffered defeat in battle; 36 were killed

(b) “If you ride with outlaws, you die with outlaws”

  1. Suffering to Bring Repentance

(a) C.S. Lewis said that pain is the megaphone God shouts through when he really wants to get our attention

(b) Hebrews 12.5–11 – heavenly discipline

(c) Luke 13.1–5 – a warning to others to turn from sin

  1. Suffering to Keep Us from Sin

(a) God may allow us to suffer just to enable us to resist some of the temptations we will face in the future

(b) 2 Corinthians 12.7–10 – Paul’s thorn to keep his ego in check

(c) Hebrew 5.8 – Christ learned obedience through suffering

(d) James 1.2–4 – Suffering part of what makes us “perfect and complete”

  1. Suffering Because of Someone Else’s Sin

(a) Sometimes the sufferer is truly innocent, but is caught in the wake of someone else’s sin 

(b) Naboth who suffered because of the sin of Ahab and Jezebel

(c) Child whose mom does drugs while in utero, or are otherwise abused

(d) Those who are persecuted “for righteousness’ sake”

vii. Suffering for the Good of Other Sinners

(a) Sometimes, the righteous does not only suffer because of others’ sins, but for the benefit of other sinners

(b) Joseph, who ultimately realized that the harm they meant him was meant by God for the family’s good (Gen 45.5)

(c) Paul’s imprisonment led to a more fervent teaching of the gospel

viii. The One Who Suffered for Our Sins

(a) The only sinless one who ever lived suffered

(b) So he could understand human suffering to be the perfect high priest

(c) That by His death, he could be the perfect sacrifices to remove our sins

Osprey church of Christ

406 Pennsylvania Avenue

Osprey, Florida 34299