Christianity 201

May 5, 2018

Don’t Ask God for Patience!

Once again we’re back with Elsie Montgomery who, as I mentioned previously, is one of the most faithful devotional writers I’ve encountered online. Click the title below to read this on her blog, Practical Faith.

Be careful what you pray for!

Many of my friends who have small children complain that they need patience. Those who know the Scriptures often say, “Do not pray for patience” because we know how God develops it from this verse:

“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience . . .” (Romans 5:3, KJV)

Praying for patience (or persevering endurance) is asking for trouble! James also wrote that we need to be joyful in trials because this is how we become fully mature — and patient. No wonder I’ve often heard, “Be careful what you pray for!”

From personal experience, I have another example. This one is asking God to reveal what stands in the way of being more like Jesus. I will pray that prayer, but I also know that I need to duck after praying it. He answers quickly and the truth is often painful. This indicates that my heart is not quite as contrite as God wants it to be. Instead of wanting to hide, I need to always be glad that God is dealing with my sin. Not only that, this is the attitude to have. With this willingness to see me sin, I know God is with me . . .

“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15)

Contrite’ comes from an English word that means bruised, feeling and showing sorrow for sin or shortcomings. It means the same in Hebrew and is associated with repentance. At times I’ve identified annoyingly over-confident people as having a need for brokenness. I’m often in that place myself. Unless there is brokenness and a contrite heart, I am in a state of trying to do things myself without relying on God.

Yesterday was filled with examples. Sigh. It was one of those days where I realized God is teaching me to go to Him for help and wisdom for even those tasks that I’ve done all my life without prayer or faith. Even knowing what was going on wasn’t much comfort. I was impatient with me instead of seeking the Lord. Finally, in the late afternoon my prayers of ‘help me’ started to go up and God showed me that this was His intention as I struggled. I just need to trust Him with everything, even the simple stuff.

Tozer writes today of people who only pray for revival when they feel weak and unable, when they deeply desire it. Sometimes those prayers are prompted by corruption in our society, but they ought to be the prayer of those whose hearts are broken over their own sin. I cannot speak for others or motivate them to seek God, only myself. At the same time, I know the cost and challenge of revival. When I pray for it, do I really want it?

Tozer says, “It may be said without qualification that every man is as holy and as full of the Spirit as he wants to be.” That is true, yet I cannot make Him fill me. I can only block Him, turn Him aside, say NO to the voice of God.

What kind of person would I be if I was more cooperative? Perhaps that is the problem. I’ve a notion of how a revived Christian would act, and what changes could happen. Revival seems to involve more change, more unselfishly directed energy, and a deeper trust that I can imagine myself having. This is one more situation where I am careful what I pray for!

^^^^^^^^

Lord Jesus, when You ask me to trust You and I simply forget, or forge ahead thinking I can do things apart from total reliance on You, it reveals my need for a more contrite heart, a lowly spirit, a greater filling by Your Spirit. When I feel weak and unable and still refuse to pray, my need for those things intensifies. When I would rather sleep than pray, waste time than follow Your leading, I learn that I’m not even close to the trusting, revived person that You want me to be.

July 23, 2015

Struck Down, But Not Destroyed

Today we pay a return visit to Charlie Garret at The Superior Word blog. He is working his way through 2 Corinthians; there are a large number of articles which precede this one, and no doubt several to follow in this particular passage. This is actually two posts from two different days. If you click the links and then click the banner, you can bookmark the site to return as he continues through these verses. (That’s okay, we’ll be here in a week when you get back!)

The first time someone handed me a Bible that was open to this passage was at a very pivotal time in my life. I have never forgotten what it was like to read these words in those circumstances.

2 Corinthians 4:8

We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 2 Corinthians 4:8

There is a lot going on in these few words as Paul’s ideas were printed onto the parchment. The previous verse began with “But we have…” The verb was present-indicative. Now this verse has all of the clauses in a present-participle form. Thus, they are in apposition – “we have/we are.” Each of the articles in this verse respects inward conflicts, whereas each in the next verse will deal with external conflicts.

Also, in each of these clauses the idea is building upon the previous verse which noted first the “treasure in earthen vessels” and then “the excellence of the power…of God.” The first deals with the fragility of the created, the second with the power of the Creator. He is showing the superiority of the contents in the vessel despite the weakness of the vessel itself.

His first words “hard-pressed on every side” show their seeming inability to break away from that which is troubling them. And yet because of God’s power, they were “not crushed.” Despite the pressures, they were able to bear up.

Further, he says they were “perplexed.” The word indicates an inability to find a way out of something. And yet, at the same time, they were “not in despair.” In these last two words a paronomasia results. They are aporoumenoi and exaporoumenoi. It is as if Paul was temporarily tempted by a tasty treat of targeted tones in order to tantalize the ears of his readers. In an attempt to reproduce the original, one translator says “pressed, but not oppressed.”

Paul is showing that by living through the power of God, they were (and thus we are) able to bear up under the turmoil and trouble that constantly came their way. If we rely on our own physical make-up, we will surely see only defeat. But when we rely on the strength that is given by God, we will be able to bear up as the attacks come our way. As Paul says it elsewhere, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Life application: It is easy to read words such as Philippians 4:13 and say, “I will hold to this and trust in it.” However, it is much harder to continue to trust those words when the difficulties come. This is why we must memorize them and repeat them to ourselves again and again. We do this so that when the difficulties arrive, we will be prepared mentally to allow the strength of the Lord to take the lead.

Heavenly Father, help me to not just memorize catchy verses from the Bible, but to sincerely take them to heart in order to prepare me for the day of battle. When the trials arrive, grant me that sure confidence that what Your word says really does apply, even in the most difficult or darkest moments. Help me in this Lord. Grant me the surest confidence in Your wonderful word at all times. Amen.

2 Corinthians 4:9

…persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—  2 Corinthians 4:9

Paul continues with his contrasts which began in the previous verse. Those previous contrasts were from internal struggles; these are from external ones. His imagery is as if a soldier in combat who is first “persecuted, but not forsaken.” The words have the intent of “pursued, but not abandoned” (Ellicott). As if they were soldiers being pursued by an enemy, Paul says that even in such a state the Lord is with them. This follows along with the wording of Hebrews –

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say:
‘The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?’” Hebrews 13:5, 6

And surely this imagery is appropriate because the state which Christians find themselves in is a true battle. Paul discusses this in detail in Ephesians 6. His description includes this thought –

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12

The second contrast is that they are “struck down, but not destroyed.” This again is the imagery of a soldier whose life is spared despite being wounded. It could even be of wrestlers in a bout of mortal combat. When Jacob wrestled with the Lord in Genesis 32, the match continued without either letting up, and so in order to end the match, we read these words –

“Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him.” Genesis 32:25

Jacob was struck down, but he was not destroyed in the process. The Lord could have done so, but instead He humbled him and yet spared him. Paul shows that this is the state of the apostles as they strived to share the message of Christ. With their many struggles, both internal and external, they were able to press on because the Lord was there with them to ensure they would never falter or fail.

Life application: The Bible sys that the Lord will never leave His people and He will never forsake them. Paul was eventually martyred for his faith, as were almost every one of the apostles. Did the Lord break His promise? No! They have something that those who persecuted and killed them don’t have. They have the assurance of eternal life because of their trust in Christ. Truly, what can man do to one who is saved by the blood of Christ!

Heavenly Father, You have promised to never leave nor forsake Your people, and yet millions of faithful Christians have been martyred over the ages. Should we lose hope? Should we despair? No! We should rejoice that they were saved by You and they are saved by You. As followers of Christ, we have the absolute assurance that the blood has saved us. No fear here! Whatever happens to this earthly body is temporary, but an eternal glory awaits. Hallelujah and Amen!

 

December 16, 2014

The Gospel Speaks to Suffering

Gospel Centered CounselingThis is the second of two Zondervan book excerpts we’re doing here. This one is from Robert W. Kellemen’s new book, Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives

Applying the Gospel to Suffering
by Robert W. Kellemen, Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives
 

The Gospel of Christ’s grace deals thoroughly both with the sins we have committed and with the evils we have suffered. Somewhere along the way, some of us may have gained the mistaken notion that to address suffering means minimizing sin and capitulating to a secular psychology perspective on victimization. While I understand that concern, biblically it is unwarranted.

In fact, biblical counseling that deals only with the sins we have committed is half-biblical counseling. This means that it is also “half-gospel-centered” counseling. Unlike the Bible, we sometimes tend to make Christ’s victory over sin predominantly individual and personal, rather than also corporate and cosmic. Christ died to dethrone sin and defeat every vestige of sin. Christ died to obliterate every effect of sin — individual, personal, corporate, and cosmic — including death and suffering, tears and sorrows, mourning, crying, and pain.

That’s why twice in Revelation, John sees the culmination of the Gospel narrative as the end of suffering and sorrow:

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. – Revelation 21:4

Question 52 in the New City Catechism asks, “What hope does everlasting life hold for us?” John in Revelation answers, “All our greatest sorrows will be swallowed up!” Christ died to defeat every enemy, every evil, including the Devil, who holds the power of death (Hebrews 2:14-15), and the last enemy — suffering and death (1 Corinthians 15:25; Isaiah 53:4).

Certainly the Gospel is about payment for and forgiveness of personal sin. Equally certain is the Gospel’s eternal overthrow of the curse of sin — including suffering. That overthrow has already begun! Christ invites us to share with one another his healing hope in the midst of suffering today.

It is only through the hope of the Gospel that we can truly face suffering and find hope in suffering.

Kevin Vanhoozer, in pondering the drama of redemption, explains that tragedies deal with catastrophes. The Gospel, while never denying the catastrophe of sin, deals with what he calls eucatastrophe — Christ has accomplished something extraordinarily amazing out of something horribly evil.

This insight helps us to develop a biblical sufferology — a Gospel-centered theology of suffering.

We’ll see that the Gospel way to address suffering follows the twin paths of brutal honesty — it’s normal to hurt; and radical reliance — it is possible to hope.

The Pathway to Hope Straddles the Precipice of Despair

Olaudah Equiano, a Christian and an enslaved African American, began his life story with these words, “I acknowledge the mercies of Providence in every occurrence of my life.” His words might sound trite until we realize that they introduce the narrative of his harrowing kidnapping and enslavement.

Equiano was born a free man in 1745 in the kingdom of Benin on the coast of Africa. The youngest of seven children, his loving parents gave him the name Olaudah, signifying favored one. Indeed, he lived a favored life in his idyllic upbringing in a simple and quiet village, where his father served as the “chief man” who decided disputes, and where his mother adored him.

At age ten, it all came crashing down:

One day, when all our people were gone out to their works as usual, and only I and my dear sister were left to mind the house, two men and a woman got over our walls, and in a moment seized us both; and, without giving us time to cry out, or make resistance, they stopped our mouths, tied our hands, and ran off with us into the nearest woods: and continued to carry us as far as they could, till night came on, when we reached a small house, where the robbers halted for refreshment, and spent the night.

His kidnappers then unbound Equiano and his sister. Overpowered by fatigue and grief, they had just one source of relief. “The only comfort we had was in being in one another’s arms all that night, and bathing each other with our tears.”

Equiano and his sister were soon deprived of even this comfort of weeping together:

The next day proved a day of greater sorrow than I had yet experienced; for my sister and I were then separated, while we lay clasped in each other’s arms; it was in vain that we besought them not to part us: she was torn from me, and immediately carried away, while I was left in a state of distraction not to be described. I cried and grieved continually; and for several days did not eat anything but what they forced into my mouth.

It was during these evil circumstances, and many more to come, that Equiano acknowledged his heavenly Father’s good heart and Christ’s merciful providence in every occurrence of his life.

In his autobiography he makes the sweeping affirmation that even in the face of human evil, God is friendly and benevolent, able and willing to turn into good ends whatever may occur.

Equiano believed that God squeezes from evil itself a literal blessing:

I early accustomed myself to look at the hand of God in the minutest occurrence, and to learn from it a lesson of morality and religion; and in this light every circumstance I have related was to me of importance. After all, what makes any event important, unless by its observation we become better and wiser, and learn “to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before God!”

Olaudah Equiano moved beyond the suffering. He faced his suffering candidly, reminding us that it’s normal to hurt. He suffered face-to-face with God, recognizing that it’s possible to hope. His story reminds us of Paul’s story in 2 Corinthians 1:8–9:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.

Like Equiano and Paul, we’ve all endured hurt that has driven us to the precipice of despair. Unfortunately, we’ve likely been sent subtle messages:

“Christians don’t hurt.” “Spiritual Christians don’t talk about their struggles.”

Paul, inspired by God, tells us that’s a lie.

In fact, he shows us that when we deny our hurt, we deny our need for God.

And he demonstrates that the pathway to hope often straddles the precipice of despair.

Moving beyond the suffering first requires moving into the suffering.


Excerpted from Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives by Robert W. Kellemen, copyright Zondervan 2014

May 6, 2014

When You’re Surrounded by Darkness

Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous. (PS 112.4)

I know how it feels to be in the darkness. Literally and spiritually. I remember touring Onandaga Cave in Missouri as a kid. At one point the tour guide turned out the lights. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I also remember when I walked in spiritual darkness and the Lord shone his light into my darkened heart. And I remember many times since believing that Jesus has taken me through dark and dismal valleys where all I could do is trust him until his light broke through.

When we’re in the darkness of affliction, our temptation is to circle the wagons and turn inward. We’re tempted to self-pity and self-focus. To withdraw. We don’t feel like being around others. But God tells us to do the opposite. When we’re in the darkness we should seek his grace to be others-oriented. To be gracious, merciful, generous. And Psalm 112 emphasizes being generous to the poor.

While we wait for God’s light to dawn in our darkness, we should:

Fear the Lord and delight in his commands (PS 112:1)
Be gracious and merciful (4)
“Deal generously” and lend (5)
Continue to steadfastly trust the Lord (7-8)
“Distribute freely” and give to the poor (9)

So as you pray and wait for God to save a loved one or break through in your own night, keep trusting in the Lord. Give to the poor. Give to Compassion or Samaritan’s Purse. Wire some money to a pastor in a poor nation. Bless someone in need in your church.

And remember, Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, hung in the darkness of God’s wrath for 3 hours for you, so that his light could pierce the darkness of your sin and lostness. If he did the greater thing – opening your blind eyes and bringing you into his glorious light – then surely he will do the lesser thing now that you are his beloved child – to answer your prayers for your loved one or meet your need.

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. (PR 4:18)

Trust in the LORD, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday. PS 37:3-6

Keep trusting Jesus. He has not abandoned you. He is just waiting for the perfect moment for his light to dawn in your darkness.

March 22, 2014

On Asking God, “Why?”

There are always new readers here, so I want to again recommend the devotional website that is regularly the place where I begin my day. I try to make it my ‘first click’ once the computer is fully booted up, but often there are distractions. The site is Daily Encouragement and the authors are Stephen and Brooksyne Weber.

Normally we don’t do a lot of stories or illustrations here. There are devotional writers who do that, but I try to either find or write pieces which go straight to exposition of the text. But sometimes a contemporary example of an individual, couple, family or church working through the principle that the text teaches us can bring the text to life. Sometimes we need to see the text being lived out. This article appeared at Daily Encouragement as Why Me Lord?

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter” (Ruth 1:20).

“See to it that …no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15).

…We all bear burdens, some large and some small. Last fall an Amish family in our area was traveling along in their horse and buggy when they heard what sounded like a firecracker. They made it home but found out the sound they thought a firecracker was a gun shot fired at their horse. Somehow they made it home but the horse died before the vet arrived. The shooter did it because he thought it was funny. I suppose since I have given a lot of consideration in the last several weeks to the Romans 1 portion of Scripture I consider the phrase, “They invent ways of doing evil” (Romans 1:30). His trial here in Lancaster County will be held in April. Of course such a reckless act could have very easily physically harmed any member of the family as well.

As a pastor, situations like this are among the greatest challenges we have when attempting to minister to the family and loved ones. Many of us have had situations in our lives where we have uttered a deeply felt “Why me Lord?” I’m not speaking of the many trite situations where we are inconvenienced in some manner or things just aren’t going our way. Really, these situations amount to mere grumbling if we honestly examine our hearts!

We want to draw your attention to a song…provided after our message today that speaks of God’s faithfulness in the deepest of trials. Brian Doerkson sings a stirring song he wrote after the birth of his son born with special needs. He and his wife have six children and both of his sons were born with a severe form of autism.

In our previous church in New England we had a member whose little daughter was backed over by a service truck in her own driveway and died. These are the “Why me Lord?” experiences that test the very limits of our faith in God who is good. I myself have had to deal with a few situations like this in my own life and so have many of you.

The severity of the testing may vary among Christians but the grace of God is all-sufficient to meet every affliction we have. Annie Johnson, a woman orphaned at a very young age and severely crippled by rheumatoid arthritis by the time she was a teen-ager, wrote the following poem set to music:

“He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
to added affliction He addeth His mercy,
to multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.”

Simply put, the grace of God more than matches the depth of our need.

The best step I have found in dealing with these troubling situations is to humbly acknowledge, “I don’t know why,” get my focus off the situation (which will eventually lead to bitterness), and focus on the character of God. He can turn the situation around or He may be shaping my character in ways that can only come about in times of difficulty.

Naomi had great loss. Her husband and two sons had died. She expresses her deep hurt and confusion in our daily text with these heart-felt words, “The Almighty has made my life very bitter.” But the little book of Ruth ends with a contented grandma holding an ancestor to Jesus. As people of faith we believe that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Today if you are dealing with a situation that prompts bitterness may you recall Naomi’s story and remember the powerful truth in our second daily text, “See to it that …no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

Father, when burdens increase and answers don’t come I have a choice to let a bitter root grow up or to remain firmly rooted in You. Focusing solely on my troubles is sure to germinate doubt, fear and unbelief. But when I clothe myself in the spiritual armor You provide I have a powerful defense against the enemy; I can stand firm against his evil schemes. Though he plots evil You plan my eternal good. We are cautioned repeatedly in Scripture that we will have many troubles, but that we should take heart because You help us to overcome them. Father, though You’ve proven Yourself over and over I ask for grace to trust You even more.  Amen.