Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tuesday Morning Prayer

From time to time I like to post a quote from a particular author. This morning, though, as I read through a prayer from The Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers, there wasn't one particular quote I could share. So I decided to post the whole thing. Read, pray and enjoy.

Most High God, the universe with all its myriad creatures is thine,
made by thy word, upheld by thy power, governed by thy will.
But thou art also the Father of mercies,
           the God of all grace,
           the bestower of all comfort,
          the protector of the saved.
Thou hast been mindful of us, hast visited us,
preserved us, given us a goodly heritage--
          the Holy Scriptures, 
          the joyful gospel,
          the Savior of souls,
We come to thee in Jesus' name,
     make mention of his righteousness only,
     plead his obedience and sufferings
       who magnified the law both in its precepts and penalty,
          and made it honourable.
May we be justifed by his blood,
          saved by his life
          joined to his Spirit.
Let us take up his cross and follow him.
May the agency of thy grace prepare us for thy dispensations.
Make us willing that thou shouldest choose our inheritance
  and determine what we shall retain or lose, suffer or enjoy;
If blessed with prosperity may we be free from its snares,
     and use, not abuse, its advantages;
May we patiently and cheerfully submit to those whose afflictions which are 
When we are tempted to wander, hedge up our way,
                                                          excite in us abhorrence of sin,
                                                          wean us from the present evil world,
Assure us that we shall at last enter Immanuel's land
     where none is ever sick,
          and the sun will always shine.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Why God Allows Suffering

One of the great privileges of ministry is when people share their struggles with you. It's heartbreaking to see someone battling through a hard time but it's also an unspeakably high honor for them to ask you to help carry that burden. It also brings up the question of why God allows them (and anyone else) to go through hard times.
That's a tough one, and one that has been kicked around as long as people have been on the earth. Why does God allow suffering? Epicurus is credited with the following postulation: I
f God is unable to prevent evil, he is not omnipotent; if God is not willing to prevent evil, he is not good; God is willing and able to prevent evil, then why is there evil? The implied answer, which is stated by many, is that God is either not good or doesn't exist. Followers of Jesus wrestle with this question as well. Why does God, who loves us and wants to bless us, who has all power is able to do whatever pleases Himself, why does He allow evil? Why are we sometimes made to walk through the valley of the shadow of death? There are no easy answers to these questions, and to be perfectly frank, scripture doesn't give us a definitive answer. But the Bible does give us some insight into this difficult question.
1. Because of Sin. God allows suffering because of sin. I don't mean in a disciplinary way--although that's certainly a possibility, and we'll consider that in just a moment. But we have to understand that since we live in a sinful world, sinful things will happen. Or said another way, bad things happen in a bad place. And this world is a bad place. Sin has ruined everything. Death entered the world through sin. Disease entered the world through sin. Sadness entered the world through sin. Everything bad that happens is ultimately a result of sin. So living in a sinful, cursed world we must naturally expect sinful, cursed things to happen. God is gracious and restrains much of that from people, whether they follow Him or not. But He doesn't always restrain the effects of sin. Romans 8 tells us that creation is groaning for the revelation of the sons of God; the whole earth is cursed and as a result, suffering will sometimes result.
2. To Discipline. Hardship isn't always a sign of God's discipline. But it sometimes is. In I Corinthians 11 Paul is instructing the church regarding a proper observance of the Lord's Supper. And he say that because of their flippant observance and sinful behavior God was visiting that church with sickness and even death. I Jon 5:16 speaks of a sin unto death. Now we don't know what that sin is--and by the way, never assume you know why someone is facing a hard time. Don't tell them they must have some secret sin they need to repent of. You don't know that because God hasn't told you that. To make that claim is to align yourself with Job's friends. Remember those guys? "Job, you must have some wickedness because God won't allow bad things to happen to good people." That was bad theology then and it's bad theology now. God does sometimes allow suffering in our lives to discipline us.
3. To Grow Us. Michelangelo was asked how he sculpted his incredible statue of David. He said that he took a chisel and removed everything that didn't look like David. Scripture tells us that we are being conformed to the image of Christ; the point of your salvation is to make you like Jesus. What that means in very practical terms is that sometimes the suffering we face is God taking the chisel of suffering and removing everything that doesn't look like Jesus. 

4. For the sake of others. This is one that I've wrestled with because it just doesn't seem fair. Why would God allow me to go through hardship for the sake of others? An example of this is found in Ezekiel 24. God tells the prophet that He's going to take away his wife, who God calls 'the delight of your eyes'; even more, Ezekiel wasn't to mourn her. The reason? So that Ezekiel could model to the people of Israel how to deal with the coming judgment of God. Now why would God do that? Why would He use Ezekiel in this way? Why does He use me in this way? Scripture doesn't specify but I think part of it is to cause to look to Jesus who is the ultimate example of one who suffered for the sake of others. It's by His stripes that we are healed. So when I suffer for the sake of others I can glory in the fact that God is pleased to allow me to share in the image of His Son!
5. We Don't Know. Finally, we must remember that no matter what ideas we have, we ultimately don't know why God allows suffering. We don't know every reason and every possible explanation. The story of Job reminds us of this, in that he was never told why he suffered like he did. God never explained to him why he lost his wealth and his family. But Job's faith never wavered--he held steadfastly to God, affirming that even if God took his life, he would trust Him.
When we face hardship, may our faith be like that of Job. May we hold fast to our Great King, and rest in the promise that He can take everything we face, even the most intense suffering, and use it for His glory.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Sink Full of Bubbles

The other day I asked Emma, my precious 7 year old if she had washed her hands. She told me that she had. Being a professional father, though, I knew I'd better pry a little deeper. I asked had she washed her hands thoroughly and had she used soap. She said, "Oh yeah. The sink was full of bubbles." In her mind if the sink was full of bubbles then it followed that her hands just had to be clean.
Of course, a sink full of bubbles doesn't necessarily equal clean hands. You can do a lot of things that fill the sink with bubbles and never get around to cleaning your hands. The issue is not whether the soap got in the sink; the issue is whether the soap got on your hands.
I've noticed in my own life that spiritually speaking, it's easier to fill the sink with bubbles than it is to truly and honestly walk with Jesus. I can do lots of religious looking things. I can get on my knees when I pray. I can go to church. I can say the right words. But what do all these things have in common? They are all things I can do outwardly. And if the gospel shows us anything it's that Jesus is more concerned with who we are on the inside that with what we do on the outside. It's not that what we do doesn't matter, it's that what we do must flow out of who we are. Jesus hasn't come to give us greater willpower. He has come to recreate us into His image. He hasn't come to encourage us to obey, He had come to give us hearts that want to obey. If If my focus is only on the outside then I'm just filling the sink up with bubbles, i.e. it may look like I'm doing what Jesus wants of me but I'm just putting on a show.
My prayer is that God would continually break me of my religious habits and daily conform me to His image; that I wouldn't be content with the outward form of religion but that I would love Him--really love Him, not just talk about it--more and more each day; that I would continually be swept away by the greatness of King Jesus and follow hard after Him and fight viciously against everything that hinders that walk.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A couple weeks ago I was privileged to speak at chapel services at Central Baptist College in Conway, Arkansas. I graduated from CBC in 2001 and I'm so grateful for the time I spent there. You can click the link to hear the sermon I preached, if you're so inclined.
Thanks again, CBC, for having me back!


Monday, February 4, 2013

Lessons from Job

As followers of Jesus we're often eager to give God credit for good things that happen in our lives. But when tragedy strikes we tend to view it differently. God is in control of the good things that happen but the bad things? Well, He just sort of allows those things. Or maybe we say that the devil did that instead of God.
Does God need us to make excuses for Him? Does He need us to try and defend Him, to give Him an out? Does God need to be let off the hook for the calamities and disasters that befall us?
In the book of Job we find an answer to that question. Job's story is familiar to us--wealthy man, large family, loved God--but in an instant he lost it all. Through the loss though he maintained his faith in God and continued to worship. But when he is struck with what the Bible calls loathsome sores, that was the final straw for his wife. In 2:9 she says, "Do you still hold fast you integrity? Curse God and die." It's as though she is telling Job, "If this is how God treats His servants, why serve Him?" Job answers her with a staggering question: vs10, "Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" In asking this question Job makes a statement about the source of the tragedies that have befallen he and his wife. He acknowledges that the good things they had--the riches, the family, his standing as greatest man of the east--all came from God. But he further acknowledges that the evil, the disaster that they now face--loss of his family, his wealth and health--are also from God. Job didn't try to make excuses for God or explain away what happened. He acknowledged the absolute sovereignty of God in every circumstance in his life. Good or bad, blessing or curse, joy or sorrow, God was ultimately behind it. What can we learn from Job's statement?
1, God Gives Good Things. We can all agree on this. We acknowledge God as the source of good things in our lives. And this is right to do. It's a scriptural understanding. James 1:17, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights..." Got something good in your life? Blame God. He is ultimately responsible for it. Jesus said in Matthew 5:45, "For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." The sun didn't rise this morning because you bid it do so. Rains do not fall at our whim. God is behind these blessings. Every grace in our lives, from the beauty of a sunset to the joy of a kiss from your child, comes from the gracious hand of God.
2, God Gives Bad Things. The 2nd lesson Job teaches us is by far the most difficult. His question about receiving from God underscores the truth that just as God gives what we call good things, God gives what we call bad things as well. And it's not just Job who says this. In 2:3 God says to Satan, "Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast His integrity, though you incited Me against Him to destroy Him without reason?" When we recount the story of Job we speak of the devil taking away all he had. But what does God say? That He destroyed Job, not the devil.
Sometimes God brings calamity into our lives. God will bless us, but there are times when God will break us as well. And that's not just something we're comfortable with. When a hurricane makes landfall it sounds bad to say, "God sent that." But scripture demonstrates that He did. Now we certainly must be careful about attributing a reason for why God sends what He does, simply because we don't know. Just as Job never knew why God struck him, we too don't know the reason why God does what He does. But the point is, God does indeed send calamity.
Now our understanding is usually something along the lines of  "Well God allows it but He doesn't cause it." We could say that about Job's situation couldn't we? But remember 2:3? God says He did it, not just that He allowed it. And that's precisely what Job. The challenge for us, then, is to come to the place where our faith is big enough to accept that God can and does send bad things. To recognize that it's not just the devil who brings hardship into our lives. Sometimes it is--but even then our enemy can not act apart from God's permission. Our theology must recognize that God has the right, as creator, to do whatever He wants.
So how do we respond? When disaster strikes, when calamity comes what's the proper response? Again, we look to Job. When Job first hears the news of the loss of his family and wealth he mourns and grieves. And then he worships. The only appropriate response to what God does--good or bad--is worship. If we can only worship God when good things happen then we're not really worshipping God. True worship acknowledges the worth of God and the greatness of His character. And those things do not change, regardless of our circumstances. The key is to learn to look at Christ rather than at what is happening around us. We trust in the promises of Romans 8, that our God is so great and good and glorious and powerful that He is able to take all things, even the things that don't make sense to us, and work them out for His good. God sends good, and God sends bad. But no matter what He sends, we worship.