Standing Firm In Overwhelming Times

As we walk through 2020, it can feel at times as though things could not get worse in our society or our world. You may be experiencing this on an external level, depressed by the direction of our culture, the political battles, the pandemic, living in the midst of a partial societal shutdown. You may also be experiencing this internally – affected by grief, by the loss or restriction of interaction with friends and families, the removal of familiar routines and hobbies, the constant temptation and burden of your own sins, etc. It can be quite tempting to curl up into a ball and rock back and forth until such a time as the sun comes out from the clouds, the riots and election are past, and COVID is defanged.

Consider a snapshot from Middle Earth (if Lord of the Rings is not your pint of ale, as it were, feel free to skip this paragraph). One of the things I have most enjoyed about 2020 is reading through Lord of the Rings with my wife once our three little ones are asleep. We have finally made it to The Return of the King, which is one of my favorite books of all time. Early in the book there is a beautiful scene where Pippin, one of the pint-sized hobbits, has just arrived in the stronghold of Minas Tirith. He is gazing across the plains at the mountains of Mordor, wherein dwells the full strength of the evil Sauron. Pippin, overcome by the enormity of the battle before them and their long, long odds of success, cowers in fear. He remains so for some time before eventually regaining composure and encouraging himself with these words: “No, my heart will not yet despair. Gandalf fell and has returned and is with us. We may stand, if only on one leg, or at least be left still upon our knees.” Pippin’s hope rests not upon the strength of their armies, or the courage of their hearts – for he knew such things to not be sufficient – rather he finds hope in a transformed Gandalf, who has come back from the dead.

This scene struck me with regards to our Christian call to respond to the overwhelming circumstances of this life by looking beyond them to the crucified and risen Christ. Tolkien may not have been trying to write a Christian allegory, but in moments like this the Christian reader can no doubt draw important parallels to their own life circumstances. So long as we focus upon the circumstances and struggles of this life, despair is the best outlook, and we will sink like Peter as he noticed the waves (Matthew 14:30). We must draw our gaze away from these things and focus our attention to something even more powerful than the decay of society, the grip of sin, and the schemes of the devil. Pippin finds solace and strength to stand even in the face of evil because of a powerful being come back from the pit; we find solace and strength to stand because of a Savior who has died and rose again.

Here is where the illustration breaks down. We should not simply say “Christ died and is with us therefore let us have hope.” Rather, we rest upon the sure and certain truth that by His death He has defeated our enemies – sin, death, and the Devil. While we may not feel the reality of it yet, the destruction of all these foes is certain. Yet unlike Gandalf, our Lord Jesus is not “with us” in His physical presence, rather He has ascended into Heaven. He left us, in order that He could send us His Spirit, which He declared as being an even better situation than if He were to still be with us physically (John 16:7)! Although absent physically, He is doing greater work on our behalf; He is our Great High Priest representing us to God while preparing for us that new and eternal City and glorious New Creation promised in His Word (John 14:2-3, Revelation 21-22).  

How then can we stand firm in the face of despair and amidst the difficult circumstances of this life? I do not write this from an ivory tower. My wife and I are little more than a week removed from a miscarriage, one which left us awash in a greater grief than either of us had ever known. For comfort, I have taken my cues from Scripture. Whatever your struggles may be, I invite you to look with me to Christ, remembering that since we are His disciples, we should expect nothing less than to walk the path that He walked (Matthew 10:24-25). His way was the way of suffering in this life, only then followed by eternal glory (Philippians 2:1-11). 

In closing, I take great encouragement from how Paul constantly points to this identification with Christ as he considers the suffering of this life, saying in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Perhaps this perspective is best summed up in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, which after Paul considered the trials he had endured concludes thus: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

So, when you are tempted to despair, when your situation looks bleak and it feels like sin and death have won out, gaze upon the crucified, risen, and triumphant Jesus, in view of whom all the difficulties of our lives are re-cast as transient “light and momentary troubles.” Remember that He is with you by His Spirit as you walk His path of suffering, a path whose end is to be with Christ in glory. This is the only way I know to stand firm in the midst of overwhelming times.

The Horse & His Boy: God is Sovereign – God is Good

It’s a good week to breath some Narnian air.

Though The Horse and His Boy is not the most well known work of Lewis’ it remain’s an astounding work of fiction that, in my opinion, applies to all people no matter what age. Shasta, the main character, has always thought of himself as an unfortunate boy, especially in light of his past events where he seemed to get left out. The scene I want to address finds Shasta as low as one can be, feeling so sorry for himself and his circumstances, that tears began rolling down his face.

What happened next put this to a direct stop.

Shasta discovered that someone or somebody was walking beside him. It was pitch dark and he could see nothing. And the Thing (or Person) was going so quietly that he could hardly feel any footfalls. What he could hear was breathing. His invisible companion seemed the breathe on a very large scale, and Shasta got the impression that it was a very large creature. And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he had really no idea how long it had been there. It was a horrible shock.[1]

After going through all sorts of possibilities of what this large Thing could be Shasta could not bear it any longer. He mustered up the courage to talk to It and ask It what it was. The Thing replied and told Shasta that It was not a giant or something dead, and asked Shasta to tell It his sorrows. Without noticing that the Thing had not answered the question but redirected the entire conversation, Shasta began to tell the Thing his entire pitiful life story. After detailing his unfortunate experiences the Thing turned to Shasta and said:

‘I do not call you unfortunate,’ said the Large Voice. ‘Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?’ said Shasta. ‘There was only one lion,’ said the Voice. ‘What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and –’ ‘There was only one: but he was swift of foot.’ ‘How do you know?’ ‘I was that lion.’ And Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. ‘I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.’…‘Who are you?’ Shasta asked. ‘Myself,’ said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again, ‘Myself,’ loud and clear and gay: and then the third time ‘Myself,’ whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all around you as if the leaves rustled with it.[2]

Shasta was no longer afraid of the Voice, or the Lion walking beside him. Rather he felt a terrible gladsome trembling in Its presence. All of the sudden Shasta realized that as the Lion had been talking a light began to grow around Him, so much so that he had to blink over and over because it was almost as bright as the sun. Then he turned toward the light and saw it. There stood a Lion, walking beside him that was taller than his horse, soft and strong at the same time. He caught a glimpse of His face, and jumped out of his saddle and fell on his face before It, without saying a word. Their eyes met, and the Lion and all His glory around Him vanished leaving Shasta and his horse alone on the mountain path. A few days later, Shasta was walking on a hillside far away where all the landscape could be seen around them. Shasta noticed the path he walked on the other night where the Lion met him and was astonished to behold that the path they walked on was a cliff with jagged edges dropping far beneath on the left side. Shasta warmly thought to himself, “I was quite safe. That is why the Lion kept on my left. He was between me and the edge all the time.”[3]

Thus we see Lewis’ purpose in The Horse and His Boy.

His aim throughout the whole story with almost every character was one and the same: to expand and display the reality present in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good, to those that love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Aslan, as you have seen, has this kind of encounter with Shasta and many other characters. All of the characters, even Bree the horse, seem to be down and out when Aslan comes to them with sovereign encouragement one by one.

This story is amazingly helpful because it teaches the reader that those awful circumstances in your own life which you think were the lowest of lows, were precisely the ones that God came to your aid, whether you were aware of Him or not, working them together for your good. And not only your good, but God worked them the best possible way to get to your best possible good. Aslan had been shaping, crafting, and carving out Shasta’s life from the very beginning, and when Shasta realized this he was infinitely humbled because such a glorious King such as Aslan was intimately involved with someone like him. The same is true for all Christian and non-Christian readers. Thus, I think this story has been, is, and will be used of God to bring many people to Himself throughout the past, present, and future simply because watching Shasta deal with real, hard life, and watching Aslan reveal Himself to Shasta gives the reader a window into God’s heart that is rarely seen in this generation.

Through life, Lewis learned one stunning truth that led his own heart to trust God like no other, namely, that God is sovereign and good. This is the helpful, not hurtful, message of The Horse and His Boy.

May you breath this Narnian air deeply amid these times.


[1] Lewis, 280.

[2] Lewis, 281.

[3] Lewis, 290.

Boasting in Our Weaknesses

Weakness. It is something each of us has an abundance of and yet none of us want to admit it. Even the word weakness conjures up a negative mental image of someone we never want to become: I think of that Norman Rockwell painting of the scrawny teenage boy with glasses looking at a picture of a bodybuilder while curling some light dumbbells. Why is weakness such a terrible concept in our minds? Why do we try to avoid it at all costs or choose the route of masquerading as though we’re strong? I think it is because at the root, we are all far too man-centered. Our sin nature and the confused culture around us deceive us into thinking that true strength resides somewhere deep within. Because we assume strength is found somewhere in us, the only solution for tapping into that strength is self-esteem or self-discovery or self-expression. This is the lie we are spoon-fed to believe in 21st Century Western civilization. Isn’t it odd how we’ve even projected that facade of self strength into the way we respond to terminal illness? When diagnosed with cancer, people say, “I’m going to beat this.” Now don’t get me wrong: it is good to have a positive outlook on life, but that should stem from a source more trustworthy than us. Even in our strongest moments, a microscopic virus or bacteria can wipe us out. At the end of the day, we just don’t want to be weak because weakness is seen as the enemy of all true progress; but that is just dead wrong.

What if God hard-wired weakness into us for some grander purpose? What if our weakness and frailty and vulnerability in life were all sovereignly intended to point us to the source of true strength, outside of ourselves? This is what Paul discovered. In 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul is writing to defend his ministry against those denying his credibility as an apostle. They said, “his bodily appearance is weak” along with his speaking skills (2 Cor. 10:10). Although Paul goes on to defend his ministry and authority as an apostle, he never denies their claims concerning his weakness. As a matter of fact, he seems to wear this weakness as a badge of honor. Paul writes tongue in cheek about all the things he could boast in such as his beatings and shipwrecks and hunger and poverty. He then goes on to say, “If I must boast, I will boast of all the things that show my weakness…I will not boast, except of my weaknesses…I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses…I am content with weaknesses…I am nothing” (11:30; 12:5; 12:9; 12:10; 12:11).  Wow. It’s almost like Paul is saying, “Hey everybody, I’m really good and not being good enough! Watch me as I dominate not dominating anything.” Why would Paul be so backwards from the culture and boast in his weakness? It wasn’t just because he was jaded and fed up with the church. It was another reason altogether. It was because God taught Paul that the very weakness that made life miserable for him at times was part of God’s plan to point him to true strength.

We see this in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10. Paul was given a “messenger of Satan” to torment him, which he also calls a “thorn” in his flesh. Theologians have debated for two millenia about what exactly this is (many say an eye disease perhaps received after being blinded by the vision of Christ; others some opponent to his ministry), but the point is the same nonetheless. He writes, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

When we don’t see our prayers answered the way we want, we can be encouraged to know God didn’t answer Paul’s prayer the way he wanted here (and Jesus’ prayer in the garden either for that matter). God was teaching Paul and us something marvelous about His purposes: weakness reveals to us our insufficiency, but it can also remind us of the sufficiency of God’s grace for every trial. Paul’s ailment lead to his repeated pleading, which led to the promise of God’s all-sufficient grace. There are moments in each person’s life where God gives us a nice reminder of our own weakness. Sometimes it is in the form of an illness; sometimes in the form of a sudden brush with death; sometimes in the form of the loss of a loved one. Yet there is that moment when our frailty is exposed and we can sing with the band Kansas, “All we are is dust in the wind.” If we could just learn to keep that mentality we would be less quick to pretend we’re strong and more prone to abide in Christ, our refuge and strength.

In the first chapter of 2 Corinthians Paul expresses this: “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” The statement, “God will never put on you more than you can handle” is false. He will and often does. But He has a purpose in doing so: to drive you to rely on His strength. Pastor Matt Chandler has pointed out that when skeptics call Christianity a crutch they are correct, for we are all crippled and it is far better to acknowledge that than to hobble around on our broken femurs declaring we’re fine.

Years ago, my wife and I gathered the family for pictures outside our home. It was a beautiful Easter day and we were all in our “church clothes” looking good. There was a stunning array of azalea bushes we used as a backdrop. However, as many parents can testify, toddlers and babies don’t always do great at picture time. The picture we finally ended up with was priceless: both kids were screaming as my wife and I were holding them in a death grip with exhausted smiles on our faces. When we posted it on social media, it was interesting the response. People loved it because for once they felt they could identify and weren’t seeing just another picture of someone who appears to have it all together. It sure is easy to present a nicer image of ourselves than is reality…not only in social media, but in real life too. In our churches we can shy away from real community when we don’t open up about struggles in our sanctification. If we don’t embrace our weaknesses, then this Gospel we preach and believe can easily appear unnecessary for us who clearly aren’t that bad off. There is a reason why James 5:16a calls us to, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another.”

So instead of hiding behind the mask of our sufficiency, may we all learn to embrace our weaknesses and run to the strength God provides in Christ. The next time you’re out of energy and feeling the only way out is sin, remember His grace is sufficient in that moment. When you just want to give up hope because things just seem too hard, remember: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence” (2 Pet. 1:3). May we say with Paul, “I am content with weaknesses”, knowing His power is perfected in weakness. After all, how else is the world going to see the power of the Gospel if not in the midst of our own weakness and clinging to His strength? 

The Son’s Sobering Preservation

Jesus, anticipating what’s to come, says in John 16:1, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” Then in 16:4 He similarly says, “But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” These form bookends to v1-4, because in both Jesus gives reasons behind why He tells them what He is telling them, and the main reason is preservation. The reason in v1 is so that they won’t fall away when trials come, and the reason in v4 is so that they won’t be surprised when trials come. Taking them together we can see the meaning in view. Jesus doesn’t want His disciples, and doesn’t want you and I, to encounter the hatred of the world and be so shocked or scandalized[i]by it that we abandon the faith.[ii]

No, He wants us to last, He wants us to be informed, and He wants us to be prepared for what’s to come.

So He continues on in v2-3 saying, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor Me.”

Sobering words from the Son intended to function as a means of preservation for His disciples. v2-3 repeat many of the same things we saw in 15:18-25 but here the tone is stronger. Back in chapter 15 the hatred in view was from the world in general, here in chapter 16 the hatred has a very specific origin. It’s from those who are very religious. Does that surprise you? That someone with deep religious zeal could be so blind and so violent? These religious zealots will first excommunicate them, which wouldn’t only remove them from the spiritual life of the society (they wouldn’t be able to attend sacrifices, feasts, etc.) but the social life of the society as well. This would’ve meant things like getting a job would now be difficult, it meant you’d likely lose business customers, and might ultimately lose your livelihood. Some of you have experienced these very things already and the trend of our world isn’t headed in a Godward direction.

May we not be caught unaware. 

As bad as these things are Jesus didn’t stop there, He also said here that they would be killed by those who fully believe they’re pleasing God. Only in a fallen world could such a monstrous reality be true. This pattern has played out throughout history ever since. Today we find it true that most of the vicious threats to the gospel are often by religiously motivated zealots, thinking their god is pleased with such violence and will reward them for doing so. But go back a bit further. Did you know Thomas Cranmer, the English Reformer, was burned at the stake in 1556 by Roman Catholics as one of their priests was preaching a sermon? Did you know when Pope Leo X excommunicated Martin Luther from the Roman Catholic church and put a price on his head he said, “Arise O Lord, a wild boar has entered Thy vineyard.” Go back a bit further. Paul himself followed this pattern in his pre-Christian life. By persecuting the Church he believed God would be pleased with Him. It was Paul who chased down followers of The-Way and threw them in jail and it was Paul who looked on and held the coats of those who stoned Stephen in Acts 7. Thank God, that for Paul, his zealous pattern of violence was interrupted on the Damascus Road as he became a Christian and experienced an overwhelming irony going from persecutor to persecuted. We could speak of all the disciples here as they we’re executed or exiled at the hand of religious zealots but go back a bit further one more time.

This pattern was played out most vividly with Christ. The Jewish leaders, being very religious, claimed to know God but in v3 Jesus says they didn’t, and that their ignorance of who God truly was and who He truly was is actually the origin of their vile ways. These leaders believed God would be pleased for Christ to die, and that in doing so they would be glorifying God and keeping their religion pure and undefiled. The irony here is that they were right in a sense more true than they could know. Jesus seemed to be suffering defeat while He was accomplishing the greatest of all victories at the very moment the Jewish leaders seemed to be winning a victory while they were suffering the greatest of all defeats.[iii]In the most ironic moment of history the hour of their persecution mentioned in v4 was really the hour of the Son’s glorification[iv]where God was glorified and was very pleased for Christ to die as He bore the full wrath of God for sinners like us. And having been warned of it by Jesus, when these things fell on the disciples afterwards, the trials of persecution and death wouldn’t be an obstacle to their faith but a strengthener to their faith because they saw that everything plays out as Jesus says it will.

But remember what Jesus has already said. Between the hard words in 15:18-25 and 16:1-4 we find a marvelous description of the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit. From hearing about the Helper and the Spirit of Truth this morning in the midst of this fallen world full of hatred we must embrace a certain reality:

the Holy Spirit isn’t sent to be our Helper to aid us sail the seas of calm serenity, but is sent to be our Helper to aid us sail through the hard and difficult waters that lie ahead in this world. For the way of Christ is the way of hardship and difficulty.[v]

But, it is a way He walked before us, so we do not lose heart. As high as the waves become, the Ancient Mast of our soul – the Holy Spirit – reminds us of Him and thus we remain ever sturdy within. May you be sobered by the words of the Son, and may you be assured of the assistance of the Spirit.


[i]The Greek word ‘scandalizo’ is here translated as ‘falling away’ in v1.

[ii]D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – PNTC (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1991) page 532. See Phillips page 329 also.

[iii]Carson, page 532.

[iv]Ibid., page 532.

[v]Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1971) page 692.

Are You Suffering?

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

Last week I got the news that someone in my small group had a stroke and they are still in the hospital recovering. Today, while at small group I found out that another member of my small group had an unexpected death in the family. There are other members of my church who have lost loved ones recently, or battled serious illness, or suffered other difficulties. I know of a church in the panhandle (certainly there are others) that was badly damaged during hurricane Michal this past October. I have a friend who just received the news that he has brain cancer and there is not much he can do for it.

Many Christians face difficult circumstances in life. This has always been the case. Job lost his possessions and family (Job 1:13-22). John the Baptist was imprisoned than beheaded (Mark 6:16-17). The author of Hebrews tells us some believers suffered “mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated…wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:36-38).

The apostle Paul speaks at length of some of the difficulties he experienced in this life in his second letter to the Corinthians. He writes, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27).

Perhaps you are reading this today and you have recently received bad news from the doctor, or learned that a loved one has passed away, or have been told that you are going to be laid off from work, or that you had a miscarriage, or that your child is not walking with Jesus and you are suffering deeply. Remember Paul’s words here to the Church at Rome. He tells them, “that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

The worst suffering that any Christian has ever experienced does not even remotely compare to the joy that they will have in heaven with Jesus for all of eternity. The Psalmist speaking of Christ writes “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). Our joy will be full and never ending one day in the presence of Jesus. That is our hope as believers. Remind yourself of this regularly.

9/11 and Job – Suffering With God

It is fitting to talk about suffering on this day rather than others, because today is the 17th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center. Many people suffered on that day and many people still suffer on this day who lost loved ones. It was a tragic day, and it feel’s like yesterday to most. But did you notice what most people were asking when they were suffering great pain and heartache? “Why?” The question of “why” teaches us something about people’s suffering. It teaches us that in the midst of suffering people want to know the reason they have to go through this. They want to know the design or purpose this suffering has come into their lives. Isn’t this interesting that in the midst of utter darkness people don’t cry out over the pain first they cry out to a higher being and ask “Why?”

This points us to Job 3 where we see Job asking the same thing.

Job is mourning and grieving all the suffering that’s come upon him. Yet, he’s also protesting because Job is angry and wants to know the answer to one question, ‘Why?’ Job isn’t addressing his friends and he’s not even addressing God either, no, Job is a tea pot of suffering that’s reached the boiling point of sorrow and he bursts out in steaming anguish. It’s as if Job is trying to bring his faith and his experience together into something that makes sense to him in this present suffering.

The Lament (v3-10)

“Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man is conceived.’ Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, nor light shine upon it. Let gloom and deep darkness claim it. Let clouds dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it. That night—let thick darkness seize it! Let it not rejoice among the days of the year; let it not come into the number of the months. Behold, let that night be barren; let no joyful cry enter it. Let those curse it who curse the day, who are ready to rouse up Leviathan. Let the stars of its dawn be dark; let it hope for light, but have none, nor see the eyelids of the morning, because it did not shut the doors of my mother’s womb, nor hide trouble from my eyes.”

We’ve seen a few special and specific days before in Job 1-2, now in chapter 3 Job has brings up two more specific days in view. Specifically, in v4-5 we see the day he was born and in v6-10 we see the day (or night) he was conceived. In light of his current state Job, in v3, looks back and curses these days desiring that he had never been born. He now wishes the sun had never risen that day and that darkness would’ve reigned instead of light. In an ironic reversal of creation and redemption where God speaks into and redeem the dark with His light, Job wishes the opposite would’ve happened. Yet, all Job’s lamenting is fantasy. The past is the past and nothing desired in the present will change what has already occurred. This poetic lament is powerful then, not because his desires will happen, but because they truly reflect the darkness of his heart.

The Protest (v11-26)

The futility of these laments probably hit Job hard after v10 because in v11 there is a clear shift in language. He began expressing desires, desires that won’t ever come to pass, and thus, Job begins his protest asking five questions, all around the word ‘Why?’

Question 1: v11, “Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire?”

Question 2: v12-15, “Why did the knees receive me? Or why the breasts, that I should nurse? For then I would have lain down and been quiet; I would have slept; then I would have been at rest, with kings and counselors of the earth who rebuilt ruins for themselves, or with princes who had gold, who filled their houses with silver.”

Question 3: v16-19, “Or why was I not as a hidden stillborn child, as infants who never see the light? There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest. There the prisoners are at ease together; they hear not the voice of the taskmaster. The small and the great are there, and the slave is free from his master.”

Question 4: v20-22, “Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures, who rejoice exceedingly and are glad when they find the grave?

Question 5: v23, “Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?”

Moving from the womb, to the knees, and then to the breast to nurse is usually a pattern of health, of loving nurture, and a sustained life. But for Job all this pattern did for him was launch him out into a sea with waves too high for him to stay afloat. These things fill out the first three questions of his protest and each time the answer seems to be that while life is now horror and misery to him death would be rest and peace to him. In the evening we usually lay down to rest, we are quiet, and we are in peace. This is what Job wants most. His daytime is nothing but terror, so he wants to escape his preset. Or switch his analogy around a bit and perhaps see it like this. There are times of suffering so deep and so vast that an evening’s sleep is a break from the nightmare of the day.

This is Job’s current experience here in chapter 3. Because of all these things when we come to v24-26 it feels like a climax to all his pain. “For my sighing comes instead of my bread, and my groaning’s are poured out like water. For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, but trouble comes.”

Suffer With God

What are we to make of this chapter? One principle: sometimes those who walk with God can walk in such darkness that death seems to be the only source of relief. Jesus even experienced this as He was walking near the cross where He would make full, final, and forever atonement for all who believe in Him. But in His suffering He knew His Father’s will was best for Him, even if that meant His own death. And ironically it’s in His suffering where our suffering comes to an end. How? His suffering absorbed the Fathers wrath for all who believe so any suffering believers now experience isn’t punitive but purifying. Which brings hope in the dark.

Christians then, can have seasons and even years and years of life just like Job 3. And when we see others in seasons like this we would not serve them well if we made them feel as if their suffering were sinful or faithless. Job 3 is dark, for sure, but even in Job’s protest see a ray of hope. All throughout this chapter we see him energized to find out why God has done this to him (v20 indicates he’s dealing with God here who gives life or light to men, think also of 1:20-22). This shows us that Job, even here, wants to struggle with God rather than without Him and that ought to give us hope and leave us an example in our own suffering.

May all those who have, are still, and will continue to suffer from the events of 9/11 do the same and suffer with God rather than without Him.

Job’s Rare Pearls – Scene 2

Two weeks ago we looked at the first scene showing us Job’s rare pearls (1:6-12). Today let’s look to scene 2.

Scene 2: Earth (1:13-22)

Here we move from heaven to earth, from the first specific day in v6 to a new specific day in v13. This day begins like any other day but ends up being a day he’ll never forget. Four messengers each with their own message come to him, they end up being, to him, more like the four horsemen of the apocalypse.[6]

v13-19 tells us the horrific details, “Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and there came a messenger to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”

v13 sets the stage and we see that all his children were together in the oldest brothers home having one of their festivities. v14-15 is the first intrusion where we see a messenger come with news that all of Job’s oxen and donkey’s have been taken and the servants caring for them have been killed. Before we can catch our breath another messenger comes in v16 with the second intrusion saying all of Job’s sheep were destroyed by fire from heaven (lighting) and the servants caring for them have been killed. Again, before we can catch our breath from these first two messages, in v17 we see another messenger come saying all of Job’s camels have been stolen and the servants caring for them have been killed. First was the oxen and donkeys with some servants, then the sheep with some servants, then the camels with the rest of the servants. As these three messages hit Job wave after wave he stands in a stunned silence, probably unable to believe he has been bankrupted and stripped of most of his wealth in one afternoon. He’s gone from riches to rags.

But poor Job[7]doesn’t have time to process these losses when the fourth and final messenger comes. And we as the reader dread what’s coming next. We’ve felt wave upon wave with Job, and as this fourth wave approaches we think back to v13 wondering why we were told that all his kids were together. Then the worst news comes, a great wind has blown down the house with all the children in it, and they are dead. If we dwell on these four waves long enough it is not hard to weep with Job. Two terrorist attacks and two natural disasters leave Job basically all alone.

We, again, remember: the glory of God is more important than our comfort. We know it’s true, and Job does too, but Job didn’t get our privilege of seeing behind the curtain into the details of God’s providential governance of all things. What will he do? Will he curse God and reveal that he only loved God for God’s gifts? Or will he reveal that He loves God still, for God alone, despite what has occurred? v20-21 show us, “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

After all that has taken place what does he do? He acknowledges that one day he will die and leave it all behind, and he worships God confessing that God is God and that dark as his road may now be whatever God ordains for him is right. Job words have stood the test of time. Speaking of them Charles Spurgeon said, “Some of the rarest pearls have been found in the deepest waters, and some of the choicest utterances of believers have come when God’s waves and billows have been made to roll over them.”[8]

In v22 we see a wonderful conclusion to a truly horrible story, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”

By remaining godly Job gives us a breathtaking preview of Jesus Christ who remained faithful while walking a harder road for us.

 

 

Citations:

[6] Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 48.

[7] Ash, page 48.

[8] Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon Study Bible, page 642.

Job’s Rare Pearls – Scene 1

In the Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayer’s, a prayer named Man’s Great End begins with the following words, “Lord of all being, there is one thing that deserves my greatest care, that calls forth my ardent desires, that is, that I may answer the great end for which I am made – to glorify You who have given me my being…truly, life is not worth having if it be not improved for this noble purpose.”[1]In other words, our lives only matter if they serve the great purpose of the glory of God. Therefore it would be right to say that the glory of God is more important than our comfort. Right? Isn’t this a statement one we would all agree with? Of course we would. But, are there not some consequences to this statement that make us a bit uncomfortable? Yes the glory of God is the most important reality in all of life, but would we still believe that if God saw fit to glorify Himself by allowing suffering to come into our lives? We want to say “Yes!” but an honest assessment of our hearts may reveal a different answer and bring us to our knees in repentance.

In Job 1:1-5 we we’re introduced to a world where everything has a shiny veneer, a world where everything runs as it ought to run, where the great are also the godly and the good. But as v6 begins we see that this well ordered world is about to given to a very real and uncomfortable level of disorder. But in the disorder we’ll see one thing clearly. In God’s world there is a godly man who is great and, wonder upon wonder, when all of his greatness is taken away he continues to be a godly man.[2]This shows us that, to Job, God is worthy of worship because of who He is apart from anything He’s done for us. By remaining to be godly Job gives us a breathtaking preview of another man who would walk this road of suffering for us, Jesus Christ.

In 1:6-2:13 there are four scenes to witness:

Scene 1: Heaven (1:6-12)

v6 begins “Now there was a day…” and what a day it was! The events of this day would change Job’s life forever, and the ironic thing about it is that throughout the book of Job we never read of Job being made aware of the events of this day (which is itself a reason why Job couldn’t have written this book himself). We read that the sons of God, meaning the heavenly court or the divine council, came to stand before God. That they came to present themselves before God and stood before God shows us that these supernatural beings, though higher than men, are lower than God. Only God is on the throne and that these beings come when summoned shows us as much. It also prohibits us from believing this scene is something similar to a sort of Mt. Olympus scene where gods of equal power converse about how to run this world. This scene is nothing like that. Here only God is God, only God is in rules, and only God wields authoritative power in this gathering. All those present are the ones through whom God governs the world. No doubt, this is a meeting that makes any earthly governing body look puny in comparison.

Now, we do not know the guest list for this meeting but we are told in v6 of one individual who was present, Satan. We also do not know if he was a regular attender at these meetings or a regular member of the divine council, or if he was something of an uninvited guest or a kind of meeting crasher here. Whatever the case is, God speaks to him saying in v7, “From where have you come?” Remember God is God. He will not learn anything that He does not already know in Satan’s answer. In this sense God’s question to Satan here is similar to God’s question to Adam in Genesis 3:9 where God called out to Adam, “Where are you?” This was meant to reveal to Adam the weight of his own folly and sin, that he was hiding from the God who made him. The question was not meant to tell God something that he didn’t already know. So, that God asks Satan this question shows us that God already knows his reply and already knows that Satan is up to no good.

Satan’s response confirms this, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” This is a slippery answer, similar to the answer a teenager would give his parents when they ask what they’ve been doing all day. “Nothing, just stuff.”[3]The answer reveals that there’s more to the story that the individual in question doesn’t want to share. Clearly then Satan is up to something but God is aware his slipperiness and aware of his plans to attack one of His own. So He states in v8, “Have you considered My servant Job?” God then repeats in v8 what we’ve already seen in v1. He is blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning from evil. Commenting on v8 Christopher Ash says, “These fateful words, singling out Job as conspicuously genuine and godly, are to prove devastating in their consequences for Job.” Just as Jesus heard about His friend Lazarus being sick and waited two days for him to die before coming to help, so too, God, being very pleased by the life of Job, is the One who points Satan in the direction of Job.

But Satan believes something different about Job. That he’s not as holy as he may appear to be. In v9-10 Satan accuses Job before God saying he’s godly and upright because God has hedged him in so tightly, blessed the work of his hands so greatly, and increased his possessions so vastly. This is why Job is really godly, not because of who God is but because of what Job can get from God in return.[4]More so, Satan says in v11 that the only way to publicly establish if Job truly loves God or not is to take away this hedge, remove his greatness, and eliminate all his prosperity. Satan’s intentions here are horrible for sure, but do not miss that they’re correct. Now, God already knows what Job would do if all he has were removed, but no one else does. So its true that the only way to publicly prove to the watching world that Job loves God for God and not just for what he can get from God is to take away all he has. Flip the story around for a moment. If Job were a holy poor man, wouldn’t it be similar logic to give him riches to be sure that his holiness wasn’t just the result of his poverty? Indeed it would.[5]Either way, rich Job becoming poor Job or poor Job becoming rich Job, the root of Job’s love toward God will be exposed and all will see if it’s genuine. So, in v12 God gives the terrible instruction and permission, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.”

Pause here. We do not like the idea of God permitting Satan to attack Job, but that is what happens. For all his hatred Satan is doing something here for the glory of God.

Do you see it?

In a deep way it is necessary for it to be publicly seen by the watching world that God is worthy of worship apart from His gifts and blessings given to men. So ironically God uses Satan to play a role in this. It’s a role of opposition to be sure, hostile and hateful, but a role nonetheless that God wields for His own glory. Do not think Satan is God’s equal and the two of them are now locked in an epic chess game over the true affections of Job. No, God is God. He knows the end from beginning, and more so, He ordains all things that come to pass.

All of this teaches us that Satan is nothing more than ‘God’s Satan’ as Martin Luther was fond of saying. He’s only able to go where God allows him to go. So when, in the governance of all things, God sees fit to glorify Himself through the devil, He does so, and we perhaps remember our first thought again – God’s glory is more important than our comfort. Job got a first hand lesson in this, Christ got a first hand lesson in this, and we ourselves (though I’d say in a vastly lesser manner) must remember this every time we suffer in any way, shape, or form. That more is happening than meets the eye, and that God is always leading us well.

 

Citations:

[1]Valley of Vision, page 13.

[2]Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 37.

[3]Ash, page 42.

[4]Ash, page 43.

[5]Ash, page 44.

When Gunmen Enter Churches

Chills. Shock. Terror. Anger.

These feelings partnered with a hosts of others coursed through my body this past week. I sat before my laptop aghast at the barbarism and treachery so evidently displayed in the mass shooting at a church in Texas. I could barely stomach the reports. Twenty-six dead, among them an 18-month old child. I could only clutch my family ever more tightly and plead with the God of all comfort.

Within an hour texts and emails began to stream across my phone. Friends were rightfully outraged. Parents were understandably shaken. Questions flooded my mind and were echoed by our churchgoers. Why does this continue to occur in our country? Where is God during these attacks? Is it safe to come to church anymore? What steps should we take now…?

The famed Prince of Preachers once declared, “Half our fears arise from neglect of the Word.” He was not stating that every terror is produced from failing to live in Scripture, but rather that proper doctrinal instruction and the testimony of the Holy Spirit calms our souls during seasons of grief and moments of tragedy. Paul declares to Timothy that God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7). In the face of extreme loss and horrific violence the apostle is ensuring us that the Spirit of God does not lead us to play into trepidation, but rather to face fear in the strength Christ has provided, with loving action and godly wisdom. Of course, the prospect of something like what happened in Sutherland Springs happening in our own church is beyond frightening, but godly concern should never give way to non-sensical, God-doubting terror. As feeble servants of a steadfast Sovereign, we should remind ourselves of the Spirit-inspired words of Paul and seek to walk in what the Spirit provides.

Power

As Christ followers clinging to the truth of Scripture, the sovereignty of God, and the reality of His sweet providential working through suffering, we have a very unique position and perspective in this world. We understand these truths, can rest in them, and can encourage others to do the same because of the power of the Holy Spirit residing within. During moments of devastating loss and crippling fear, we should, armed with the Word and filled with the Spirit, speak the truth to troubled hearts (including our own).

Love

This is not the time to press forward our political position concerning firearms on social media. Twenty-six individuals were murdered. Twenty others lie in hospital beds. Families are mourning. A town is reeling. What these victims, these families, and this community needs is love. We exercise Gospel-affection for them through prayer. Don’t simply nod your head and agree with this sentiment. Instead, stop right now and pray. We don’t need more Christians who “believe” in the power of prayer; rather we need Christians who pray.

Self-discipline

This is not the time to freak out. However, neither should we just ignore the alarming events and senseless violence that continues to plague our world. We live in a fractured, sin-riddled, self-serving society and until Jesus returns we will continue to see rampant wickedness – at times in the form of violent outbursts. Therefore, we as believers can ill-afford to bury our heads in the warm suburban sand while the world around burns. Instead, we should, with the Spirit gifted self-discipline we possess, prepare. Prepare in the Word for the legitimate questions that will undoubtedly come from believers, unbelievers, and even our own fledging hearts when pain assaults. Prepare to protect our families and our churches from senseless acts of violence. Prepare to serve those who will suffer under the injustice of a sin-filled world. Self-discipline means that we will not be reactive to atrocities and loss, but proactive in speaking out against injustice and intentionally pursuing Gospel peace.

As the blood-bought bride of the resurrected and sovereign King, eternally loved by His Father, and infused by His Spirit with power, love, and self-discipline, let’s resolve, in the face of darkness, to live as people of hope.

Semper Reformanda.

When Tragedy Strikes

On Sunday night, the most deadly shooting in American history by a single gunman occurred in Las Vegas, Nevada. As of now, the death toll is nearing 60, with over 500 others injured. Before I begin addressing this tragedy from God’s Word, I must share that our prayers are with those affected by this horrific event. God’s grace be with you all.

The question on many people’s minds after Sunday night’s shooting is, “Why?”

Scripture warns us against putting our own interpretation on tragic events like this and attempting to fill in the blanks that only God knows. But Scripture does not leave us totally in the dark during times like this. While we may never have Christ’s perfect knowledge and know the infinite number of reasons any one event occurs, we can have a biblical worldview with which to make sense of these things.

Why would someone commit such acts of evil?

One of the first things investigators delve into after a shooting tragedy is the issue of the gunman’s motive. Ironically, we cannot even discern at times the motives for why we do the things we do, let alone someone else. The world is full of people who often do the right things for the wrong reasons.

Yet Scripture does tell us that our sinful actions stem from a sinful nature. James says it this way: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1). Scripture doesn’t even stop at that, but gives us a deeper reason into the insanity of our own sinful actions. This sin nature, which we have from birth, is an inherited one. Adam and Eve freely chose to doubt God’s goodness in the garden and believe the lie of the devil over the truth of God’s Word. God’s just curse on His good creation would touch every facet of life, from the microscopic viruses that attack us, to the life destroying storms of nature, to the ferocity of wild animals, even down to the twisted cravings that cause a toddler to yell, “Mine!”

I’ve heard it put this way: “We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners.” Yet we can in no way blame God for our sinful desires anymore than a child can blame his parents for leaving the cookies out on the table and making him eat them. James says elsewhere, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he Himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). Were there no God to stop us, there would be no limit to the evil our hearts could create. This is why it was good for God to interrupt the plans of the people building the Tower of Babel, and this is why it is good God has given us the common grace of conscience, law enforcement, and fellow citizens who know some things are truly evil and aim to stop them.

Why would God allow such evil to occur?

When asked His thoughts on a terrible evil of His day, Jesus gave a surprising response in Luke 13 that we would do well to consider. “There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk. 13:1-5). 

Jesus basically says what we should take away from tragic events such as this is the awareness that our lives are a vapor, we will soon face God’s judgment, and therefore we must repent before our lives are cut short. It is not our place to draw false assumptions. It is our place to pray and check our spiritual pulse to make sure we’re ready to stand before God’s judgment throne.

Someone once said, “If God is God, He can’t be good and if God is good, He can’t be God.” But this leaves the definition of “good” in the creature’s hands instead of in God’s. The presence of evil does not negate the presence of God or prove God’s guilt. Rather, the presence of evil exposes our belief in ultimate “right” and “wrong”, in something called justice and righteousness, and clues us into the fact that God’s “ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Or listen to the way the psalmist lays it out: “Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). We cannot know why God allows evil, but we can know that God does all things for the glory and honor of His name. In the midst of the plagues God sent on Egypt, He told the evil Pharoah, “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). Even Satan himself is just another creature which God will bring into judgment. Martin Luther once said, “The devil is God’s devil” and another quote attributed to him has him say, “Satan is on a leash, whose length is determined by God.” This should reassure us all that no evil will finally stand a chance to God’s righteous wrath.

Why didn’t we see this coming?

The Las Vegas gunman’s brother was reported as saying, he never saw this coming. He said his brother had no history of mental illness whatsoever and said it was like an asteroid that came out of nowhere.

We cannot see the depths of evil that lie deep in our hearts sometimes until they are exposed by our sinful actions. Everyone of us have been surprised by our own evil choices at times. We think or say or do something that shocks even us, and all we can do is honestly repent before God and those we’ve offended. For those who resist the guide of their conscience continually, it becomes incapable of pricking and is so hardened that more intensified acts of evil carry less and less guilt (1 Tim. 4:2). Serial killer Ted Bundy confessed this of himself when interviewed about his actions. Bundy said his sinful trajectory began with lust, was fed by more and more aggressive pornography, and eventually led him to feel little guilt over the horrible murders of his victims. There are many more evil perpetrators out there who have yet to act out their intentions. We may never see them before it is too late, for they look just like us. As we look ourselves in the mirror, we must not think to highly of our own goodness to think we’re beyond evil ourselves.

What hope is there for our broken world?

Thankfully God has inserted Himself into the picture. Astoundingly God didn’t come here and remain untouched by our evil. He didn’t create a bubble around Himself and come to teach a bunch of pithy platitudes. He personally allowed the evil and brokenness of this world to kiss Him in the face as it were. To punch Him in the face. To spit on Him. To mock Him. To beat Him to a bloody pulp. And to pin His naked body to a cross. Jesus asked, “Why?” from the cross, though He knew the answer. God was punishing our sins on His own beloved Son so that all who turn in faith to Him can have life. At the resurrection, the work of Christ was proven successful and His victory over the grave was obvious. But the gospel isn’t just about our personal beliefs. It is also about cosmic redemption (Romans 8:19-25). By taking the curse on Himself, Jesus was reversing the curse and promised that this ultimate reversal would come at His return (Gal. 3:13). All the marred results of life in this world will be burned away when Jesus returns and the creation will once again sing and dance before Him (Isaiah 55:12). After the consummation, there will be no more hurricanes or hospitals, no more shootings or shots, no more wars or wild animals. All will once again be at peace. Christ’s church must continually say, “Come, Lord Jesus!” But for those who aren’t ready for His return, this is a call for repentance and faith in Christ. 

One day, we will all know the answer to the question, “Why?”, but until then, we must only remember who is truly in control of this chaos.

Refuge

In a fallen world, tragedy visits us all.

Tragedy may manifest itself in natural disasters, a broken home, betrayal of a friend, loss of a job, or death of a loved one. For some, the incomprehensible strikes, questions rage, doubts swirl, and we cry out to God in desperation! Our tragedy drives us to the only Refuge and He protects us within His walls and provides for us in His love. Such was the case with the passing of Job.

Job Allen Peterson, my nephew, lived an hour and twenty-four minutes on July 8, 2017. Tragedy. Death is a tragedy. It is not our friend; in fact, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:26, says that it is our enemy. Death is an enemy of God, the Author and Giver of life. Death, too, is an enemy of ours as it steals that which God gave the unique of all creation; namely, his breath in our lungs. But this tragedy is not like any other I’ve ever been a part of.

It was truly a day of thanksgiving when, on Thursday, November 24, my brother-in-law quietly shared with me that he was expecting his second child. I can remember the joy that filled my heart for him as we sat on the porch swing and praised God. I was like a seven-year-old boy bursting with excitement over new news when only weeks later I clued our congregation in on our upcoming blessing when I accidentally let the cat out of the bag while preaching. Children are a blessing from the Lord (Psalm 127:3-5) and our family celebrated and praised the Giver of Good Gifts.

While we, the family, were awaiting the phone call following the first sonogram, Job’s parents were receiving news that would change their lives forever. There was something wrong. There were tests and phone calls and doctor visits and more tests and waiting and waiting and waiting…praying and praying and praying.

The baby that we would come to know as Job didn’t have kidneys, a bladder, or lungs. No kidneys meant little-to-no amniotic fluid and no amniotic fluid meant his lungs wouldn’t develop. Who knew that a kidney transplant was possible on an infant or other means were possible remedy the bladder issue? But no lungs? How could this happen? Would God intervene? Certainly, He is capable. But is He willing? A miracle is what was needed. So, we prayed. We dove into the Word. We trusted. We cried. We struggled. We rested. We prayed. We praised. We cried. We trusted. We prayed. As long as he was in the womb, there was still a chance; there was still time. But that day came and Job never developed lungs.

The incomprehensible had struck but the incomprehensible wasn’t the passing of Job; it was the comfort, peace, strength, and supernatural faith that God gave his parents and the rest of Job’s family. I’ve been processing this for a while now and I’ve had to change my use of adjectives. It became clearer and clearer that my description of God’s grace as “unbelievable” was a poor representation of the God who is not unbelievable but is incomprehensible.

Let me explain.

(1) Just days before receiving the news that his baby would likely not survive, God reveals himself to my brother-in-law, graciously gives him new life in Christ and ignites a flame of passion for knowing the Lord that could not be extinguished by even this tragedy of tragedies.

(2) Amidst the struggle and the pain, Job’s parents consistently rested in the sovereignty and goodness of God and committed to praising God if He chose to save Job and to praise God if He chose not to. Which was not mere lip-service but is a reality of life for them.

(3) On Saturday, July 8, the Lord delivered Job safely into the arms of his mommy who carried him, protected him, provided for him, and nurtured him. In spite of the odds, and in spite of the doctor’s best guess that Job would not survive the delivery, our Gracious God gave Job’s mommy and daddy an hour and twenty-four minutes together.

(4) As Job passed from this life to the next, together, we praised, we prayed, we cried, we held his little hands, and stroked his beautiful hair, and we felt the presence of God like never before.

(5) As Job’s mommy held him tight to her breasts, as tears of joy and pain rolled down her cheeks from deep within, you could hear the faint sound of worship in song coming from his mother who had only minutes to share the most important message Job could ever hear; God’s glory & goodness in Jesus Christ.

(6) Four days later, we gathered around a tiny casket and praised the God who gives life. There were a few tears and our hearts were saddened but that was not the focus of that day. The “God of all comfort who comforts us in our affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) was present. The God who provides “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) was present. The God who “is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1) was present. The focus of Job’s funeral was on the supernatural comfort, peace, & strength that is promised to those who belong to Lord of Hosts and was provided by God through this storm.

Who is this God who gives such good gifts? Who is this God who strengthens the weak, comforts the afflicted, and can put a song on praise on our lips amidst the pain of such loss? He is Jehovah Jireh, the Lord who provides (Genesis 22:14). He is Jehovah Rapha, the Lord who heals (Exodus 15:26). He is God and He is Good and all that he does is good (Psalm 119:68).

“I love you, O Jehovah, my strength. Jehovah is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I will call upon Jehovah, who is worthy to praised and I am saved from my enemies” (Psalm 18:1-3).

Words are not enough. Blogs are insufficient. But it is our privilege and honor to give what we can as an offering of praise…“Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom” (Psalm 145:3).

The Gospel Never Retreats

There sat the world’s most outspoken Christian evangelist, chained to two Roman guards behind a locked jail cell. If most of us found ourselves in Paul’s shoes, we’d have thought for sure this was a sad day for the Gospel. “Poor Gospel”, we’d think. “Your days of victorious spreading have now come to a screeching halt. I guess I might as well just retreat to the cold recesses of this cell and silently go over some memory verses to reassure me. There’s no point trying to preach now.” Yet the Apostle Paul knew better than all this. He wrote to the church of Philippi, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Php. 1:12-14).

We may be tempted to see such circumstances as hindrances to the gospel spreading, but Paul saw them as opportunities which served to advance the Gospel. Paul knew that God often allows the troubling trials into our lives for His own divine purposes. Paul knew after watching Stephen’s martyrdom that persecution has a way of lighting a fire under God’s people to spread the Gospel elsewhere. It was Paul’s travel companion Luke, who wrote, “And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles…Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:1b, 4). So God could even use the terrible stoning of one of His own children to get the gospel beyond the confines of Jerusalem. An early Christian named Tertullian was right when he stated, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

What does this have to do with me, you may wonder. While you may not face much persecution for your faith at the moment, you probably do encounter “trials of various kinds.” In order for us to “rejoice” with Paul or “count it all joy” with James, we must understand that God allows all this to advance His Gospel, not send it in retreat. His Gospel knows no such thing as retreat. We must see every screaming toddler, every financial burden, every unexpected doctor’s call, and every natural disaster as events guided by the hand of our sovereign God to advance His Gospel. We must learn to behold the invisible King of glory as He sits on the throne of heaven, guiding all things according to His perfect counsel. All human authorities from ages past to today and into the future cannot stop or silence His gospel. North Korea’s emperor says, “No evangelism allowed!”, and South Koreans send thousands of Bibles into their territory via giant balloons. China says, “No other churches authorized!”, and hundreds of millions of Christians gather with greater earnestness in underground churches and in houses. As Paul said to young Timothy, “I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” (2 Tim. 2:9). No chains can hold back the gospel from going forth.

What should this mean for us?

Rejoice when you encounter obstacles that seem to stand in the way of Gospel advancement.

Rejoice not in the obstacles themselves, but in the God who secretly works through them and despite them to accomplish His purpose of spreading His glory.

Rejoice as you consider that God is currently making a way in your personal life and in the Church universal to extend His Gospel to those He will redeem.

Rejoice as you consider the words of Christ when he said, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd…My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:16, 27-28). Rejoice as you believe the promise, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).

May we keep our mind’s eye on the multitudes John saw around the throne praising the Lamb who purchased them with His blood (Revelation 7:9). Then, let us put on the armor of God and commit to advance Christ’s Gospel, come what may. Since the Gospel never retreats, may we never retreat in declaring it until the trumpet sounds and our King comes to rescue us. 

 

What That Verse Really Means – Philippians 4:13

Growing up, one of the only verses I had memorized was Philippians 4:13, which states, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” What boy doesn’t want to feel like he can do “all things”? Its a big world out there and there are lots of things which can intimidate us. Knowing that Christ helps us do anything we set out to do makes us feel good. Its almost like Jesus is our life cheerleader, standing on the sidelines shouting, “Way to go! You can do it! You got this!”

What It Doesn’t Mean

One famous UFC wrestler ran out to the ring under Philippians 4:13, on his way to beat someone to a bloody pulp. Defensive linemen in football write Phil. 4:13 in white letters under their eyes to motivate them to tackle the other team’s quarterback. But the Apostle Paul never intended his words in Philippians 4:13 to motivate us in these ways. Paul’s words weren’t meant as a pep talk for those going out into the world to achieve great feats. Rather, his words were meant to motivate us in a much deeper and long-lasting way.

What It Does Mean

Lets take a look at Philippians 4:11b-13, which read, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Here was the apostle Paul sitting in chains in a prison cell for preaching the gospel of Christ, probably chained to a guard on his left and right. He was no ivory tower theologian who enjoyed writing treatises from the comfort of his own home. He was a battle-worn soldier of Christ who had endured much persecution and hardship for the sake of the Gospel. We only need to read of Paul’s persecutions and sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11 to find out that the apostle Paul had suffered much for Christ. Yet in spite of all this, he had come to discover “the secret” of true contentment in any and every circumstance in life. He had gone without food, without sleep, and in fear of death often; and now here he sits in prison writing of his contentment. So when he comes to verse 13 and says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, what he meant was: “I can endure any hardships necessary as I live for Christ, because Christ lives in me.”

In his book Spiritual Depression, Martyn Lloyd-Jones has pointed out, “The Christian is not just a moral man; the life of God has entered into him, there is an energy, a power, a life in him and it is that that makes him peculiarly and specifically Christian, and that is exactly what Paul is telling us here…the Christian life is not a life that I live myself and by my own power; neither is it a life in which I am obliterated and Christ does all. No, ‘I can do all through Christ.'”

What it means for us

Instead of giving us an ego boost or a peptalk to go on to do great things in our own power and for our own name, Philippians 4:13 assures us that Christ will empower us for every trial we must face.

This means the worst of life circumstances are not too much for the child of God because Christ gives them strength. Just imagine the worst thing that could possibly happen in your life: the death of a child, the loss of a spouse, a diagnosis of cancer, financial bankruptcy, a debilitating illness; If you are in Christ and Christ is in you, He will give you the strength to endure all of these.

I often hear people say, “God will never put on you more than you can handle”, but that just is not true. I agree with another friend who has said: God will put on you more than you can handle, but not more than He can handle through you. In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, Paul describes one particular instance of this in his own life. He and his team were, “so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”

So the next time you face a trial that seems too much for you to handle, remember Philippians 4:13 and know that Christ will give you the strength to get through this so long as you rely on Him and not yourself. If you seek contentment in your personal comforts, you are doomed to a life of disappointment and discontentment. But if you seek your contentment in Christ alone, nothing will be able to truly disappoint you and no trial will destroy your joy in Christ. You can endure it all, so long as you remember that the strength is found not in you, but in your union with Christ.

What We Can Learn from J.C. Ryle

“The world will let a man go to hell quietly, and never try to stop him. The world will never let a man go to heaven quietly—they will do all they can to turn him back…let him begin to read his Bible and be diligent in prayers, let him decline worldly amusement and be particular in his employment of time, let him seek an evangelical ministry and live as if he had an immortal soul-let him do this, and the probability is all his relations and friends will be up in arms…if a man will become a decided evangelical Christian he must make up his mind to lose the world’s favours; he must be content to be thought by many a perfect fool” (Iain Murray).

The name J.C. Ryle seemed to be forgotten by the winds of time after his death. For fifty years, Ryle’s work would be left in the dustbin of history. But when the battle for the Bible began raging on and the conservative resurgence took shape, Ryle’s works once again grew in popularity. Now that a new wave of “young, restless, and reformed” have swept on the scene to retreat from the shallow theology of easy-believism, there is a renewed interest in J.C. Ryle, and for that we should all be grateful.

J.C. Ryle served as the first bishop of Liverpool and his life spanned most of the 19th Century. He has authored a number of works including Holiness, Simplicity in Preaching, and Expository Thoughts on the Gospels. Everything I quote regarding his life in this blog comes from Iain Murray’s book entitled J.C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone.

John Charles (J.C.) Ryle was born just over two hundred years ago, on May 10, 1816. Although he was born into a very wealthy family with his father running a bank, his promise of fortune ended when the bank went belly up and he was left to pay off large amounts of his father’s debts for years to come. He recalls from his childhood that he, his brother, and his four sisters, “were brought up in the greatest comfort and luxury, and had everything that money could get” (pg. 4). Ryle later comments on the crash of his father’s bank: “I was going to leave my father’s house without the least idea what was going to happen, where I was going to live, or what I was going to do…an eldest son, 25, with all the world before me, lost everything, and saw the whole future of my life turned upside down, and thrown into confusion. In short, if I had not been a Christian at this time, I do not know if I should not have committed suicide” (pg. 49).

Although J.C. grew up in a church-going family, his was not a truly Christian church or home. He remarks, “The plain truth is, that for the first 16 or 17 years of my life, there was no ministry of the gospel at the churches we attended…we had no religious friends or relatives and no real Christian ever visited our house…neither at home, nor school, nor college, nor among my relatives or friends, had I anything to do good to my soul, or to teach me anything about Jesus Christ” (pg. 18).

At about the age of 21, J.C. Ryle began sporadically attending a new Church of England congregation in his home town of Macclesfield, which was unlike the other two churches in the area, “where you might have slept as comfortably in those churches under the sermons of their ministers as you might in your own armchairs with nothing to wake you up.” It was here, under the ministry of John Burnet that Ryle saw, “a kind of stir among dry bones.” He speaks later of his conversion, “Nothing I remember to this day, appeared to me so clear and distinct as my own sinfulness, Christ’s preciousness, the value of the Bible, the absolute necessity of coming out from the world, the need of being born again…all these things…seemed to flash upon me like a sunbeam in the winter of 1837, and have stuck in my mind from that time down to this” (pg. 23).

Ryle’s later call into the ministry came after failed attempts at other things and seemed to be forced upon him. Although he didn’t want to be a clergyman and was fairly skilled in law, he would later say, “God ordered it differently, and would not allow me to be a lawyer.” He even said, “every avenue seemed shut against me.” He also remarked, “If my father’s affairs had prospered, and I had never been ruined, my life of course would have been a very different one. I should probably have gone into Parliament very soon, and it is impossible to say what the effect of this might have been upon my soul.” He served churches in Exbury, Winchester, Helmingham, rural Suffolk, and Stradbroke before being asked to become the first bishop of Liverpool. He was regularly in the houses of his parishioners, even visiting every family once a month. His commitment to visit his members so frequently came from a desire to preach the Gospel to them in their kitchens and living rooms as much as from the pulpit. His heart beat for discipling his people with the Word. Ryle saw it as his life’s work to preach the Gospel in the Church of England so as to keep it from drifting away into ritualism and Roman Catholic influences, a serious threat which we see now in our day. Having grown up in the Church of England, Ryle had studied the 39 Articles and loved the legacy of the Reformers, so he was intent to do his part to keep the Church of England on solid ground. Many would have abandoned such a hard road for another denomination with a brighter future, but not Ryle.

As a preacher, Ryle often preached from short, pithy texts and filled his sermons with no-nonsense straight talk about the real issues of life. He always spoke to his congregants like he believed he would one day have to give an account for their souls. J.C. Ryle was once referred to as, “that man of granite with the heart of a child.” Ryle earned the title of a “man of granite” by his rock-solid stance on the truthfulness of God’s Word against a host of Roman Catholic sympathizers wreaking havoc in the Church of England. He also took a bold stand in his preaching and was unashamed who was offended by the message of the cross. He did not cower before the opinions of others, even when those others were in the majority. He once told a group of ministers, “Stand fast, both in public and in private, even if you stand alone…Stand fast in the old belief that the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation was given by inspiration of God, and that the historical facts recorded in the Old Testament are all credible and true” (Murray, pg. 194). On the other hand, Ryle was said to have, “the heart of a child” because of his sincere love for all people. Some men take themselves so seriously that they turn people away from the truths they preach, but Ryle was not this way. On his daily walks, he would often be seen speaking to a group of young boys playing a game on the road and giving them a piece of sharp and witty advice. The children also knew that whenever they saw Mr. Ryle coming he had plenty of candy in his pockets.

Ryle’s ministry included suffering, as his first and second wife both died prematurely and left him with five children to care for all on his own. He eventually married Henrietta, who more than made up for all his suffering. Henrietta was more than a good wife to J.C.; she was also the perfect partner for him in the stresses of ministry. A good help-mate can make or break a man’s ministry, and she certainly made his thrive.

Perhaps one of the saddest events in J.C. Ryle’s life involved his son Herbert. Herbert studied and began preaching liberal theology to the dismay of his aging father. It is one thing for a preacher’s son to be lost and yet a whole other thing for that son to be a popular false teacher rising among the ranks. J.C. went to be with Jesus in 1900 and his son Herbert seemed intent on removing his father’s evangelical heritage. All that J.C. Ryle stood for theologically, his son Herbert stood against. The new era of liberal theology seemed to cast a dark shadow over all Ryle’s efforts and his son Herbert rejoiced to see evangelical theology dissipating into the dark recesses of the history books. Little did Herbert and his liberal contemporaries know, the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” can never be truly extinguished, but will shine ever brighter until Christ’s return. Liberal theology only served to close church doors as J.C. had foretold, but evangelical truth, which J.C. Ryle had stood for, would face another resurgence decades later.

Praise God for the life and ministry of His servant J.C. Ryle in a day where his memory is once again celebrated. Ryle teaches ministers today to have a thick skin and a soft heart. He also teaches us to be dead earnest about the Gospel and yet not take ourselves too seriously either. We would do well to learn these lessons from a dear brother gone before.

God Meant It for Good

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20a)

Perhaps the biggest issue people have with Christianity is how a good God can coexist with the evil and suffering of this world. More ink has been spilt trying to give a sufficient answer to the question of God’s goodness in an evil world than I could write in ten lifetimes, but in this one verse we find perhaps the best concise explanation. 

Let’s at least get one thing out of the way before we break down what is going on in this text: the problem of evil cannot really be a problem to God. Were God to face a real dilemma He cannot solve, such as the presence of evil, He would cease to be the sovereign authority of all creation. The problem of evil then is really only a problem from our human perspective. The old saying, “If God is God, He is not good. If God is good He is not God”, from a play by Archibald MacLeish, sums up the belief of many regarding this issue. Yet in the life of Joseph, we encounter a God who is God and He is also good. On the one hand, He is in total sovereign control of all things (including evil and suffering), while on the other hand, He is altogether good and loving. Isn’t that the kind of God we all know exists anyway? One who is truly God and is truly good?

The story of Joseph’s life is quite remarkable. A dearly loved and favored son, Joseph dreams a strange dream of his family bowing before him only to be sold into slavery by his own brothers for even mentioning it to them. He is then falsely accused by an evil seductress and imprisoned, only to later be released by Pharaoh for interpreting dreams, and ends up becoming second in command over all Egypt and saving multitudes from a dreadful famine. 

Joseph’s story has traces of evil and suffering all over it: favoritism, envy, hatred, slave-trading, betrayal, lies, temptation, false accusations, prison, and famine. Yet at every turn in Joseph’s story, the reader is reminded of God’s good purposes and presence. In his slavery, imprisonment, and rise to power, we are told, “God was with Joseph.” Apparently a good and sovereign God can coexist with evil and suffering in this world. But how?

Later in his life, Joseph’s dreams have been fulfilled. He stands as second in command to Pharaoh and his brothers finally come bowing before him. The very plot meant to destroy Joseph’s dreams actually was the instrument by which those dreams were fulfilled. Had Joseph never been sold into slavery, he would have never been falsely accused, and had he never been falsely accused, he would have never been imprisoned, and had he never been imprisoned, he would have never been released to become Pharaoh’s right hand man, and had he never become Pharaoh’s right hand man, multitudes would have perished in a severe famine.

In Genesis 45:5-8 Joseph tells his brothers, “do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life…God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth…so it was not you who sent me here, but God.” The psalmist, in Psalm 105, is so bold as to add that God, “summoned a famine on the land” and “sent a man ahead of them, Joseph.” How do we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory statements? You sold me…God sent me. You meant evil…God meant it for good. Famines are bad…but God summoned it. 

First we must realize that what often seem like contradictions in our Bibles are actually not contradictions at all, but paradoxes. A paradox is the coming together of two parallel truths that don’t seem to be reconcilable. When 19th Century Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon was asked to reconcile God’s sovereignty with man’s responsibility, he said, “I wouldn’t try…I never reconcile friends.”

The glorious truth obvious to Joseph and to all God’s suffering saints throughout the ages and needs to be understood by us as well is: behind every drop of suffering and behind every dark spot of evil, God is sovereignly working out His good and perfect plan. This truth is one some believers foolishly run from, yet which is given by God as a support for them in the trials of life. Instead of embracing God’s sovereignty and goodness behind our suffering and behind the evil of our world, many believers choose to attribute all supposed “bad” events to Satan and all supposedly “good” events to God. I was in a Bible study once with a godly Christian woman who said her father’s death was all the work of Satan and refused the thought that God could have been sovereign behind it. After a time of her own prayerful reflection and study, she told the group that she now understood that God was sovereign and did allow her father to die for His own good purposes.

Think of the most ungodly and heinous act in human history. Now, can you confidently say, “The perpetrators meant it for evil, but God meant it for good”? Perhaps you were thinking of the Holocaust or September 11th. But these crimes pale in comparison to an even more despicable crime: the crucifixion of God’s only Son. The early church understood the cross to be both the most heinous crime ever committed and an offense God predestined to occur for His own good purposes in redemption. In Acts 2:23 we read, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” So on the one hand, there are “lawless men” who “killed” Jesus and on the other hand, Jesus’ death was “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” Then again in Acts 4:28 the church prays that all the evil perpetrators (Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and Jews) did, “whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” 

If God is sovereign over a famine in Joseph’s day and all the sin leading up to that event in his life and the horror of Christ’s crucifixion, then He is sovereign over every evil event and amount of suffering in this world. Yet God always has a good purpose which He brings out of evil and suffering. The ultimate good purpose of all evil and suffering in this world will be realized in the new heavens and new earth when the bride of Christ will finally be redeemed out of this sin-cursed world and all will be renewed. Until then, may we learn to rest in God’s sovereign care over our lives even as we live in a world full of sin and suffering. 

After all, what hope would there be if there were no sovereign and good God behind the helm of this world and behind the wheel of our own lives?