31 Aug

Child Math

I don’t know if I’ve confessed this before, but I’m no lover of math.  In fact, I successfully got around my required Calculus credit for my bachelor’s degree by taking Applied Statistics for Social Sciences.  That was surely an answer to prayer!  Now, my friend and church brother Guy Buckner is all about math.  I think he even sees the world in binary code, much like Neo did in the Matrix.  But my mind just doesn’t work that way.

However, there have been two math inequalities that have gripped my attention for some time now.  Do you remember inequalities from math class?  Here’s an example:  5 > 3.  It says that 5 is greater than 3.  Here’s another example: 10 < 15.  It says that 10 is less than 15.  Picture the greater than/less than symbol as the open mouth of an alligator.  The alligator always eats the bigger number.  Pretty simple, right?

Here’s one inequality that has gripped me lately:

Babies are greater than dollars.  It’s absolutely true!  Have you ever thought about it in that way?  Oh sure, you wouldn’t trade the children that you already have for all the money in the world, but have you decided to not have any more children based upon your desire to live in more financial comfort?  Maybe you don’t have children yet, but as you and your spouse talk, is the conversation laced with finances?

I’ll never forget the conversation that my wife and I had with our anesthesiologist right before the birth of our second child.  As she was prepping my wife, she began to ask questions.

“Is this your first child?” she asked.

“No, this is our second child.  We have a two-year-old son as well,” my wife responded.

“Oh, well, I guess this will be it for you two then, huh?”

My wife said with a smile, “No, we’d like to have a few more.  We’ve talked about maybe having four or six kids.”

The anesthesiologist’s eyes got really big with surprise, and she sharply interrogated us, “Do you know how expensive it is to raise a child?”

She went on discussing how she, even on her anesthesiologist’s income, could only afford one child.  “I want her to have every opportunity,” she declared smuggly.

Needless to say, the lady rubbed me the wrong way.  I’m not sure if she was a Christian or not, but that’s certainly not biblical thinking.  I used to think the very same way.   I used to be more of a student of Americanism than Scripture, but when I began to study the Bible, a different worldview suddenly began to emerge as I let my mind be shaped by passages like Psalm 127:3-5, Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth.  How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They will not be ashamed When they speak with their enemies in the gate. It’s clear to me now:  babies are greater than dollars.

Here’s the other inequality that I’ve been meditating on:

Without a doubt, children are often inconvenient.  There’s no more jumping in the car for a road trip on a whim with your spouse because you have to pack half your house to take with you or find a babysitter.  There are plenty of sleep-deprived nights.  There are snotty noses, poopy diapers, vomit, and “Hey, Dad…Hey, Dad…Hey, Dad…Hey, Dad!” a million times.  You are often pushed to your emotional limits.

Sure, children are inconvenient, but were we put on this earth to fulfill our convenience?  The Bible says not.  You have been created with a mission in mind, which is to glorify God throughout the earth.  That’s why God told Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it. Bearing and raising children bring God glory.  Babies are greater than convenience.

Friend, I have to testify that God has really changed my mind and heart over the years concerning children.  Convenience and dollars are lower in value to me now than they used to be.

Please do not hear me say that every couple should be trying to maximize the number of children they can bear.  Neither am I saying that you are more holy if you have more children.  I’m just saying, have the attitude toward children that God has.  Whether by birth or by adoption, they are a great blessing and great reward.  Far greater than dollars or convience!

Thank you, Father, for the gift of my children! Check out an older blog post of mine which points out 25 ways children are gift from God.

22 Aug

How to Handle Grief Biblically

Jesus told us in John 16:33 that in this world, in this lifetime, we will have trouble.  There will be pain, tribulation, and suffering, and in the wake of trouble comes grief.  Grief is a common human experience.  We all know what it is because we’ve all been through it.  Perhaps you are in grief right now.  Maybe you’ve been in grief for an extended time now.  So, the real question is not “Will I experience grief?”  Just live long enough, and you surely will.  The real question is “Will I handle my grief biblically?”

That question is massively important.  As you well know, grief is a heavy burden, and if it’s not handled rightly, it can crush you.  It can lead to depression, despair, and making a shipwreck of your faith.  I pray this article will help you understand grief and battle biblically for joy.

DEFINITION OF GRIEF AND ITS SOURCES
You know what grief feels like and looks like, but you’ve probably put into words what it actually is.  Therefore, a definition here will be helpful.  Grief is deep emotional sorrow and distress over losing some cherished thing or person.  Notice that my definition is broader than how we usually think about grief.  We normally associate grief only with death, but as I’ll demonstrate in just a moment, death is just one of many events associated with grief.

Grief arises from four basic sources.  First, grief can happen with the loss of people. Any situation that ends or hinders a relationship with people we cherish can give rise to grief.  Of course, death is the most obvious and devastating situation in this category, but it’s not the only situation that ends or hinders relationships with people.  Moving can end or hinder relationships, as does divorce, broken friendships, and broken romances.  Another situation that’s not as obvious is marriage.  Remember that according Genesis 2:24, the couple is supposed to leave their birth families and cleave to each other.  Sometimes a mother or father can feel like they are losing their child, which can cause some grief.

Second, grief can happen with the loss of position. We know all too well in the current economic conditions that jobs end, many times after several years of faithful service.  When jobs end, some level of grief often arises.  I still vividly remember my dad coming home from work in the early 1990s and slumping against the wall after telling us that he had been permanently laid off from his Holley Carburetor factory.  He’d been there for over a decade and had been the only job I had ever known him to have.  It certainly brought him grief.  The loss of cherished roles and responsibilities can cause grief as well.

Third, grief can happen with the loss of possessions. Pets, houses, land, heirlooms, money…whatever stuff is valuable to a person can cause grief when it is lost.  In 2006 when I served as Associate Pastor at Crofton Baptist Church, I remember listening to one of the pastors I worked with in Pascagoula, MS.  Some other pastors and I took some folks down to help out in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which had flooded and destroyed much of the city.  It had been a few months since Katrina had hit, and by this point, other volunteer groups had been to help.  The pastor was thankful but said, “I’m getting tired of everybody telling me, ‘Aww, pastor, all you lost was stuff.  Don’t worry about it.’  Yeah, it might have stuff,” he continued, “but it was my stuff!”   Losing “stuff”—possessions—can bring on grief.

Fourth, grief can happen with the loss of health. Injury and disease, both physical and mental, can seriously hinder a person from doing what they would like to.  They often rob a person of their full freedom and certainly can make them long for the way their bodies used to be.  They wish that they could just break out and run again.  Even the simplest tasks are often made painstaking by injury and disease.  So, it’s understandable that loss of health can cause grief.

So, grief actually has a fairly wide scope of sources.  Again, grief is deep emotional sorrow and distress over losing some cherished thing or person.

THE GRIEF PROCESS
I hate going to the dentist.  It’s unnerving, uncomfortable, and often downright hurts, but I certainly appreciate the way my dentist takes the time to explain everything that’s going to happen to me before she ever touches my mouth.  By explaining the process, the experience is made not as bad.  It’s the same way with grief.  If we understand the typical process that a person experiences in grief, we’ll be helped when we ourselves experience grief and be better equipped to help others as they go through the process.

Of course, several factors play into the intensity and duration of these stages I’ll discuss in a moment.  The intensity and duration experienced with the expected death of a sick grandparent will be very different from the surprise death of a little child.  Personality and culture also plays a large determining role.  Honestly, each situation is unique.

As for the grief process, Jay Adams recognizes three stages of the grief process in his book The Big UmbrellaThe first stage is shock. This stage usually endures for the first few hours after getting the bad news.  A person in shock may experience numbness, the feeling of being stunned, hysteria, near or actual paralysis, and bewilderment.  Some take the news coolly, but others will have a very strong reaction.  The Bible provides us with two examples of the devastating effects that shock can have on a person in 1 Samuel 4:12-22:

  • Now a man of Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh the same day with his clothes torn and dust on his head. When he came, behold, Eli was sitting on his seat by the road eagerly watching, because his heart was trembling for the ark of God. So the man came to tell it in the city, and all the city cried out. When Eli heard the noise of the outcry, he said, “What does the noise of this commotion mean?” Then the man came hurriedly and told Eli. Now Eli was ninety-eight years old, and his eyes were set so that he could not see. The man said to Eli, “I am the one who came from the battle line. Indeed, I escaped from the battle line today.” And he said, “How did things go, my son?” Then the one who brought the news replied, “Israel has fled before the Philistines and there has also been a great slaughter among the people, and your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been taken.” When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell off the seat backward beside the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for he was old and heavy. Thus he judged Israel forty years. Now his daughter-in-law, Phinehas’s wife, was pregnant and about to give birth; and when she heard the news that the ark of God was taken and that her father-in-law and her husband had died, she kneeled down and gave birth, for her pains came upon her. And about the time of her death the women who stood by her said to her, “Do not be afraid, for you have given birth to a son.” But she did not answer or pay attention. And she called the boy Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel,” because the ark of God was taken and because of her father-in-law and her husband. She said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God was taken.”

In these extreme examples of shock, both Eli & Phinehas’ wife died.  Of course, most people do not experience the depths of shock recorded in 1 Samuel 4, but the feeling is still very intense and life-shaking.  This stage is usually over when the person finally accepts that who or what they loved is actually gone—that their loved one is really dead or that their job is really over.

The second stage is disorganization. Disorganization characterizes the first few weeks after the shock has worn off.  This period is very difficult to experience and observe because it’s basically when everything falls apart.  A person may experience bodily discomfort such as:

  • General sense of fatigue or weakness
  • Shortness of breath or tightness in your chest
  • Dry mouth
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Loss of appetite

There may also be general emotional discomfort, such as:

  • Deep sighing
  • Emotionally drained
  • Feelings of emptiness
  • Unable to focus mentally
  • Loss of spirit and motivation
  • A desire to withdraw from people
  • Dreams or nightmares
  • Calling out the deceased’s’ name
  • Treasuring or avoiding mementos of the deceased

Along with general emotional discomfort comes big, negative emotions, such as:

  • Sadness – This is the most common emotion and one we are all familiar with to some degree.
  • Anger – You may be angry at God, the doctor, the “system,” or even the person who died (anger at the person is especially prevalent in the wake of suicide deaths)
  • Frustration – Death seems so final. You want your loved one back but can do nothing about it.
  • Guilt – Doubts may come up, “Maybe I should have…” or “If only I had…”
  • Fear – “What am I going to do?” and “How will I survive?”

Again, this disorganization stage is very difficult because it’s when everything sort of falls apart.  People in this stage should be strongly encouraged to not make any major decisions because they’re just not able to think rationally at this point.

The third stage is reorganization. Reorganization is usually experienced for the first few months to a year after disorganization ceases.  This stage involves coping with the loss, picking up the pieces, and forging ahead with life.  Although what was lost will probably never be forgotten, significant healing begins to take place here as the person begins a new chapter of their life, building a new “normal”.

HOW TO PREPARE FOR LOSS
Let’s be honest, there’s really no way to fully prepare yourself for loss and death.  Even King David responded with great grief when his traitorous son Absalom was killed.  David had ordered him to be taken alive, but instead he was killed.  We read of his grief in 2 Samuel 18:33, The king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And thus he said as he walked, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

So, while there’s no way to fully prepare, God has not left without any preparation.  We must prepare as much as we can because when tragedy strikes, it’s too late to prepare.  It’s amazing to hear about how many people here in Middle Tennessee called the insurance company the week after the big flood hit in May wanting to purchase flood insurance.  The only problem is they wanted the insurance company to cover the flood that had just happened.  I’m sure the insurance companies repeatedly told callers, “We’re sorry, but we can’t make policies cover past events, but we’ll be glad to cover you the next time a flood hits.”  It’s too late to prepare after the tragedy strikes.

So, what should you do before tragedy strikes?  I would strongly suggest two things.

1)  Ground yourself in the Word of God.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:24-27 that wise people build their lives upon the rock of Scripture so that when storms come, they will endure.  But what does that mean?

First, it means that you must have a biblical view of God.  The Bible teaches that God is all-good, almighty, all-knowing, all-loving, all-wise, all-just, and completely sovereign.  Everything that comes to pass is either brought about directly by God or at least allowed by God, and if it comes to pass, God has an ultimately good purpose in it.

Second, it means that you need to have a biblical view of life and material goods.  As for life, the Bible teaches that life in this age is a passing gift from God that is here today and gone tomorrow.  James 4:14 tells us, Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. David cried similar truth when he said in Psalm 39:4, LORD, make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; Let me know how transient I am. Life is precious and fleeting indeed, vanishing quickly.  We should always keep this in the forefront of our mind.

We also learn concerning life in the Scripture that the number of days in our life has already been set.  Job 14:5 teaches, Since [man’s] days are determined, the number of his months is with You; and his limits You have set so that he cannot pass. Therefore, the dates of birth and death are part of God’s ultimately good plan.

As for material goods, the Bible teaches that possessions are gifts from God as well and are of secondary importance.  Jesus explains to us in Luke 12:23, For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing, and in Luke 12:31, But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.  Notice that He’s not denying the importance of material goods.  He’s just putting in its proper secondary place.  That’s why Jesus begs us in Matthew 6:19-21, Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Third, it means that you need to have a biblical view of death.  For the Christian, death is actually victory.  We find out in Revelation 20:4 that when Christians die, they come to life and reign with Christ in Heaven:

  • Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

Now, if Revelation 20:4 was sort of mysterious or cryptic, 1 Corinthians 15:50-57 is clear and bold:

  • Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

You see, Jesus Christ triumphed over the grave, and so will all who believe on Him.

Finally, it means that you need to have a biblical view of the future.  The Bible teaches that death only separates Christians for a relatively short period of time.  There will be a reunion, which adds even more expectation and excitement to Heaven.  God Himself is the prize, but it’ll be joyous to see loved ones again as well.  We’re promised that when Jesus returns, all of those who are in Christ throughout history will experience resurrected bodies in a resurrected universe.

If you will ground yourself in these biblical truths, you will be better prepared to stand faithfully in the face of tragedy.

2)  Ground yourself in the fellowship of the church.
You’ll need a strong connection to your church family so that they’ll be able to help you through whatever tragedy you face in a godly way, and these friendships take time to build.  I’m sure worldly friends and family will show love to you as you suffer, but you don’t want their wisdom and their ways coping.  You’ll need the people of God to help you stand strong in God.

HOW TO GRIEVE BIBLICALLY
Now that I’ve defined grief, identified its sources, overviewed the grief process, and pointed out things to do before you experience grief, let’s now turn to the ultimate question of this article.  How does a person handle grief biblically?  Certainly there are a number of ways to handle grief, but our Creator has given us in the Scripture the best way to handle it, and as Christians, who should be people of the Bible, we certainly want to handle everything biblically, even grief.

Paul David Tripp has written a very helpful booklet entitled Grief:  Finding Hope Again.  In it, he points out eight actions that characterize a person who handles grief biblically.

First, speak with honest emotion. God has not designed you to just stuff all of your emotions down inside.  Tragedy hurts.  We’ve already seen David’s honest emotional response to the news that his son Absalom had died.  We also see David pointing out the many tears he had cried in Psalm 6:8, Depart from me, all you who do iniquity, For the LORD has heard the voice of my weeping. The Bible is honest about the sorrows of life, and God expects you to be honest as well.  Psalms 13, 22, 38, 42, 55, 59, 61, 73, and 88 all record God’s people bringing their honest grief, questions, and complaints to the Lord.  You should too.  If you are confused, let God know.  If you are angry, let God know.  If you are sad, let God know.  Your faith shouldn’t silence you in the midst of your grief but should be the catalyst for a conversation with your heavenly Father, the very lover of your soul.  It’s in the honest moments that you’ll begin to understand the depths of God’s wisdom and love.  You see, God doesn’t just listen.  He also answers.  Pour out your grief to Him and be honest.

Second, run to where comfort can be found. There are myriads of ways you can try to find comfort in the midst of grief, but true comfort is only found in the Lord.  Second Corinthians 1:3-4 speaks of that real and lasting comfort, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. There will be plenty of things that can distract you, and they will bring you some temporary comfort, but they will not heal your broken heart.  Only God can do that.  Jesus Christ himself is committed to comforting you.  That’s one of the reasons why He told us in Matthew 11:28, Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Run to God and the things of God.  That’s where real comfort is found.

Third, resist grief’s temptations. In the wake of tragedy, you will be tempted greatly to sin against God.  You’ll be tempted to doubt.  As you probably already know, when you lose something or somebody you love, it’s very tempting to doubt God’s goodness, mercy, faithfulness, and love.  Don’t give into this temptation.  Stand on the rock of Scripture, and you’ll weather the storm.  Actually, holding onto your belief in God’s love and mercy will be a great help to you as you grieve.

Also, you’ll be tempted to be filled with anger.  Death should make us angry that the effects of sin still touch us, but you must be careful to see that your anger at death doesn’t degenerate into anger with God.  It’s sin to bring God into your courtroom and charge Him with wrongdoing.

Envy will be another one of grief’s temptations.  You’ll often feel like you’ve been singled out for suffering and may wish to switch lives with somebody.  That’s dangerous!  Envy is rooted in disappointment with God because He didn’t give you what you wanted, and that attitude is sinful.

There will also be the temptation of self-pity.  In your pain, it’s easy to move God out of the center of your life and make it all about you.  You might become consumed with thinking how you’ve been wronged by this tragedy and how you’ve got it worse than everybody else.  You might think that no one’s loss or pain is as great as yours.  Self-pity usually leads to self-absorption, which is sin.  God has told us to be others-focused, And [Jesus] said to [the lawyer], ” ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).  Turn outward instead of inward.

Fourth, seek God’s resources. God has given you an indispensable and priceless grace in the church, and you’ll need it in the midst of tragedy.  You see, Satan will try to isolate you from the people of God.  I’ve seen it happen time and time again.  Fight against isolation.  Let the body of Christ minister to you.  In the church, there are people who’ll walk with you, cry with you, share personal insight, and give advice.  In short, they’ll be compassionate, which literally means they’ll suffer with you and help bear your burden.

Fifth, look for blessings in grief. What?  Blessings?  That’s right.  Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  The old preacher joke goes like this, “I’ve looked up the word everything in the Greek, and it means everything!”  Yes, Paul is telling us that it’s always God’s will for us in all situations to give thanks, even in the dark days of grief.  Don’t let grief rob you of a moment to worship God.  Job didn’t.  When he found out that he’d lost everything he arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:20-21).  Don’t replace a thankful heart with a complaining heart either.  The prophecy concerning the death of Jesus implies that He didn’t complain, He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth (Isaiah 53:7).  God doesn’t expect you to jump for joy, but He’s promised to never leave you, to conform to Christ, and to work all things together for our good.  Look for blessings in grief.

Sixth, rely on your spiritual habits. Sometimes grief is so powerful that you feel like you died too.  But you didn’t.  You live on because God has chosen for you to live on, which means that He still has meaning and purpose for you ahead.  With that said, spiritual habits or disciplines will help you carry on in the darkness of grief.  Prayer, Bible study, fellowship, ministry, journaling, etc. will keep you going and serving God.  Even though you might be in grief, you are still commanded to actively love God and love people.

Seventh, celebrate the promise of Heaven. I love to read what’s promised to us in Revelation 21:1-8:

  • Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

That’s what’s store for us at the consummation of the age.  Until then, allow your tears to sharpen your hunger for the day when tears will be no more in the New Heaven and Earth.  And for your loved one who has died in Christ, you should actually rejoice for them.  Although they aren’t yet experiencing everything promised to us here in Revelation 21, they are certainly experiencing the blessedness of the present Heaven and are in the presence of the Lord.  We often say to people who have lost a loved one, “She is in a much better place.”  It’s true!

Eighth and finally, give away the comfort you have been given. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. God is actually equipping you through your tragedy and grief and desires to use you as an instrument of comfort.  Those of you who have lost a spouse are specially equipped to minister to those who will lose a spouse.  Those of you who have miscarried a child are specially equipped to minister to those who will miscarry a child.  Those of you who have gone through a divorce are specially equipped to minister to those who will go through a divorce.  Those of you who have endured some disease are specially equipped to minister to those who will face disease.  Amy Carmichael, one of the great missionaries in church history, said, “God never wastes His children’s pain.”  Handled biblically, your pain will actually equip you to comfort others as they go through grief.

CONCLUSION
Charlie Brown always used to say, “Good grief!”  I’m not sure there’s such a thing as “good” grief.  Those two words together seem oxymoronic because grief is such a life-shaking, terrible thing to go through.  However, there is such a thing as biblically-handled grief.  Whenever tragedy strikes and my heart begins to break, that’s what I pray I’ll experience, and I’m praying that for you too.

19 Aug

My Email to Glenn Beck

In response to Glenn Beck’s TV show, which aired Wednesday, August 18, I decided to voice some concern to him.  Maybe you’re not aware that Mr. Beck is a Mormon.  Spiritually, that’s troublesome to me because Mormonism is a false religion, but I still listen often to Glenn Beck for his political insight.  His Mormonism doesn’t really come to bear, with the exemption of last night.  Last night, Mr. Beck spent a great part of his TV show on FoxNews talking about how the Native Americans have Hebrew ancestry and Egyptian ties.  This belief, of course, is one of many fallacies espoused by the Church of Jesus of Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons).  Although the Mormons have cleverly inserted the name of Jesus Christ into the official name of their church, they have very little to do with actually Christianity.  They are in fact a cult and false religion.

Here is what I said to Glenn Beck:

Glenn, I am usually a fan.  I listen almost every day to segments of your radio show.  I DVR your TV show every day and watch most of them.  I love your big-picture insight, wit, and charisma.  However, your TV show last night has not sat well with me.  As you were trying to show that the Native Americans were Egyptian or Hebrew in lineage, you mentioned Jefferson and Jackson and several founders but conveniently forgot to mention the “great ethnographers and archaeologists” Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (you are a master of sarcasm, so please read my phrase in quotation marks with much sarcasm), who both made this belief a doctrinal aspect of their cult.  I’m sure the folks in Salt Lake City were proud last night.

When I first started listening to you a few years back, I thought you were a Christian, but after doing some background reading on you, I understand that you’re not a Christian but a Mormon.  To be honest, it didn’t really bother me that you’re a Mormon because I’m not listening to you for spiritual insight, but last night you subtly crossed a line propagating Mormon fallacies.  Most folks probably didn’t catch where you were coming from, but it clicked with me about 2/3 of the way into the show.

I commend you for your walk through history, especially with the presidents.  It’s very helpful.  I loved the “Revolutionary” documentary.  I’ve learned a lot from you, but last night was no good.  Your Mormonism got the best of you.  Your friend O’Reilly often talks about how Obama’s advisors are surely telling him not do some things, but Obama isn’t listening and does them any way.  Surely your advisors are telling you the same thing when it comes to putting your Mormonism into your program.  Listen to them.  But then again, maybe they didn’t realize the connection last night either since you planned to do it so subtly.

By the way, since you are taking a romp through history, may I point you to something that a man said around A.D. 49.  He said, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!”  That was the Apostle Paul as recorded in the Bible, Galatians 1:8.  I hope that since you seem to really be a man of history, let A.D. 49 shed some much needed light into your mind concerning A.D. 1823, which is the year that the angel Moroni supposedly charged Joseph Smith to start a new church.  Paul said to deviate from the faith he had delivered to the church is to be accursed, even if an angel told you to do so.

Glenn, by and large, thank you for what you are doing, but I plead with you to at least leave your Mormonism out of your show.  Ultimately though, I’m praying that you’ll renounce the false religion of Mormonism and embrace the true Jesus Christ and the true Christian faith.  Then you’ll know salvation and truth.  Then you’ll really be able to stand for faith, hope, and charity.

Sincerely,

Ben

16 Aug

MythBusters: Hell Edition

I ran across this interesting piece of insight into hell by Pastor Joe Thorn.  Hell is one of the most misunderstood realities by the general population.  Myths abound about it, but after reading this article, I consider the myths busted!

Joe writes the following:

Over the years I have encountered a number of myths about hell attached to people’s theology. Some are taken more seriously than others, but they are all active myths that bear bad fruit in people’s lives. This is a brief, five part corrective.

 

Myth #1: Hell is a Place Where Satan Reigns

Many people think of hell as the place where the Devil reigns. It is viewed as his home, or castle, or fiery Bat Cave where he devises plans to destroy the church and rule the world. If it’s not a war room, then it’s some kind of dungeon where the Devil inflicts misery on those who have been sent there to suffer (think, Farside comics).

But hell is not the devil’s castle, and he occupies no position of authority there. Hell is the devil’s ruin. It is his future, everlasting prison and place of judgement (Rev 20:10).

I think one of the reasons people hold onto this idea of the devil ruling in hell is because, if he is in hell he isn’t anywhere near us. So, at least in their mind, it removes him from any place of influence or danger. He isn’t here, he’s there, so we don’t have to give him much thought at all. But the devil is here. He is a very real, and present danger. Peter says that the Devil prowls our cities, suburbs and countryside looking for people to devour (1 Pet 5:8). He does not reign in hell, but he does seek to reign over you and ruin you.

In all of this our gospel hope and confidence is that the devil has been cast down and bound through the ministry Jesus, is destroyed by Christ’s work on the cross, and that the church has been set free from the bondage and deceit of the Devil and will eventually trample the deceiver underfoot. The devil has been beat, but is awaiting his final judgment. Hell is his end, not his stronghold.

 

Myth #2 Hell is Where Sinners Party

Last year Ed Stetzer showed us that most people today aren’t concerned about the afterlife. They aren’t asking the question earlier generations used to ask, “Where will I go when I die?” But that doesn’t make the reality of our immortality and the eternal state any less important. In fact that culture shift makes developing a biblical theology of the afterlife and the ability to communicate it that much more important. Some will balk at such doctrine and flippantly dismiss it. This leads us to the second myth about hell.

I have actually heard this myth quite a bit. When discussing salvation from sin, death and hell with those outside of the Kingdom some have said, “Man, I’d rather party in hell with all my friends than hang out in heaven in white robes with a bunch of uptight religious people.”

Of course, I don’t believe that this reflects anyone’s real theology of the heaven and hell. It’s simply a retort that reveals more about how they view themselves and religious people than it does their view of the afterlife. It is often a way of dismissing the claims and promises of Jesus. But it comes up enough to warrant dealing with it here.

Hell is not a dark, comfortable pub where you can hang out with friends and talk about the meaning of life (or hell) throughout the ages. Nor is hell some kind of everlasting rave thumping with house music and lit with glow sticks. Hell is no party. Hell is not what you make it. Jesus describes hell as a place “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” It is a dark, endless, joyless, place of judgement.

Scripture tells us that it is appointed to us all to die, and after that face judgment. As sinners who have broken God’s law we can expect the Judge to find us guilty and sentence us to that place of “outer darkness.” Our hope is not that we can persuade the judge to see things our way, or just give us a pass. There is no probation or work release program that we can hope for after death. Our only hope before God is that he will look to our advocate, Jesus Christ, who alone provides the forgiveness of sins and the righteousness we lack. Though guilty, we are judged to be righteous in Jesus, and are rescued from the judgement of hell and ushered into the presence of God and his people.

 

Myth #3 Hell is Temporary

Among those who take hell a bit more seriously we sometimes find the myth that hell is temporal, and not everlasting. The reasoning is often that hell is punishment for sins committed during at the most several decades, and that justice would prohibit everlasting punishment for crimes committed over the course of an earthly lifetime. After punishment has been met, whatever divine punishment demands, a person is either welcomed into heaven, or simply annihilated.

But, Scripture is pretty clear on the everlasting nature of hell. It is a place of eternal destructionpunishment, and fire. There is no work release program or hope of probation in hell.

We are created as immortal beings and will go on living after death in the presence of God and his grace, or experiencing his just and righteous anger. As incurable, habitual sinners we continue in our sin, lawlessness and idolatry even in hell– and so judgment continues.

Hell is an everlasting judgment, and our only hope of escaping such a curse is by trusting in the One who became a curse for us. Those who are united to Jesus are set free from condemnation and find everlasting life.

 

Myth #4 Hell is the Absence of God

You’ve probably heard this myth as well. The worst part about hell, some people reason, is that you are alone. Hell is isolation, and since we are made for fellowship (with God and others) this is what makes hell such a terrifying judgment.

Of course, the truth is that there is no place our omnipresent God isn’t. It isn’t the absence of God that makes hell terrifying, it is his nearness that makes it so. Hell is not the absence of God, but the absence of his mercy and grace. Oh yes, God is present in hell to exercize perfect justice and judgment.

Our gospel confidence is that in Christ our sins have been atoned for, and we are at peace with God. In Christ we have the true and lasting intimacy with God we were created for. Therefore, the nearness of God is our good, and we can draw near to God as he sits upon a throne of grace and expect grace, not judgement.

 

Myth #5 Hell is for Bad People

This is the most dangerous of all the myths about hell. “Hell is for bad people.” Of course, this is a tricky one, and it depends on what we mean when we say “bad people.” In my experience “bad people” simply means “other people.” People who have done worse than us, at least in our own estimation. Hell is for the bad, the worse, the worst. Hell is for Hitler and Hussain, John Wayne Gacey or Kim Jong-il. It’s not for us regular people. Good people. The one point of agreement we should have with this myth is that hell is for bad people. And we are all “bad.”

Jesus said no one is good, but God. The Apostle Paul wrote that no one is righteous, all have turned away from God and become worthless. Yes, we are all bad and worthy of eternal condemnation. While one woman might be practically worse than another, or one man’s sin might be more heinous than another’s, we are all equally sinners and in desperate need of God’s mercy.

Hell is for bad people, if by bad people we mean people like us. Our hope is not that we will become good people, or even better people. Our confidence before God is not that we will somehow stand out among the evil people in the world. Our hope and confidence before God is the gospel– the good news that everyone who believes in Jesus is united with him, counted righteous in him, and forgiven through him of all sin.

So, in one sense hell is for bad people, but in another sense so is heaven. The former receives those who have rejected the truth of God, while the latter receives those who have received Jesus.

 

I appreciate Joe’s insight!  Although Joe originally published these myths as five separate blog posts, I decided to put them together here for you.  You can read the original posts here:

  1. Hell is a place where Satan reigns.
  2. Hell is where sinners party.
  3. Hell is temporary.
  4. Hell is the absence of God.
  5. Hell is for bad people.
15 Aug

Through the Fire: 10 Truths to Help in the Face of Persecution

Ben Franklin once said, “In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes.”  While I appreciate his wit and agree that those two things are an unfortunate mainstay, there are, of course, many more certainties we can expect in this age.  For the Christian, one certainty, I’m sad to say, is persecution.  Suffering of this type is particularly commonplace for Christians in this fallen world.  The Bible declares that we’ll face it, and experience has shown the Bible to be true.

Fortunately, Scripture has provided for us in 1 Peter 4 a wonderful primer aimed at helping us when the inevitable persecution comes.  Peter lays out for us 10 truths to help us endure.

#1 – You should expect to suffer because Jesus did.
Peter tells us, Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose (1 Pet 4:1).  Undoubtedly, Jesus suffered greatly, and if they treated Him in that way, you can surely expect the same.  That’s why Peter tells us to “arm yourselves also with the same purpose.”  That doesn’t mean that we go looking for ways to be persecuted and martyred like some did in the early church.  Caught up in the zeal of watching faithful brothers like Polycarp and Ignatius refuse to deny Christ even in the face of torturous death, some Christians actually turned themselves in to the authorities to be put to death.  These men were looking for trouble, but that’s not the spirit in which Peter is writing.  When he tells us to “arm yourselves also with the same purpose,” he means for us to prepare ourselves to be persecuted.

To be a Christian is to be persecuted.  It’s been that way from the beginning.  Just look at the disciples.  After Jesus was crucified, nearly all of His disciples suffered martyrdom for His sake during the first century.  Fox’s Book of Martyrs tells us that:

  • James the son of Zebedee was beheaded in approximately A.D. 44
  • Philip was crucified in A.D. 54
  • Matthew was killed with a halberd, an ax-like weapon
  • James, who is thought to be the brother of Jesus, was beaten to death in A.D. 60
  • Matthias (who replaced Judas) was beheaded
  • Andrew was crucified
  • Mark was torn to pieces
  • Peter was crucified upside down
  • Jude, Bartholomew, and Thomas were also martyred
  • Paul suffered martyrdom in Rome where he was beheaded
  • Luke, Barnabas, Timothy, and Simon were also killed for the sake of Christ
  • John was the only apostle to escape a violent death, but even he was put in exile on the Isle of Patmos.

Every generation from Christ until now has seen great persecution.  By and large over the centuries, the persecution has come at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church, which put to death many Christians.  Fortunately, that’s no longer the case, but in the last century, we’ve seen a rise in Christians being persecuted by Communist and Socialist regimes and by people of other religions such as Islam and Hinduism.

As for the world today, North Korea is the worst perpetrator of persecution against Christians in the world, according to The Voice of the Martyrs website.  There, Christians must practice their faith in deep secrecy and are in constant danger, but many continue to stand strong under relentless persecution.  Because the government considers Christians to be a stability threat, they are hunted all over the country, and if caught, being a Christian carries a more severe punishment than being a spy.  Sadly, the largest number of Christian worshipers in North Korea exists in concentration camps, and one out of four Christian prisoners are sent to political prison camps where prisoners almost never leave.

While you may never face that sort of persecution in your lifetime, you will nevertheless face persecution.  You see, persecution isn’t just physical.  It can come in the form of insult, false accusation, or slander.  You might be passed over for a promotion or demoted to a lesser position.  You can certainly bet that the world is going to think that you are stupid and idiotic and make fun of you.  So, you should be ready.  But you should also know that suffering does have a silver lining, in that…

#2 – Suffering cleanses us of sin.
God has a purpose for the fiery trial that is coming upon us.  Peter tells us that we should arm ourselves to suffer persecution because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God (1 Pet 4:1-2).  You see, suffering is one of the ways that God cleanses us from sin.  When believers are willing to suffer, the nerve center of sin is severed in their lives. Although believers will never be totally free from sin in this life, when believers endure suffering for the sake of Christ, they show that their purpose in life is not to live for their own pleasures but according to the will of God and for his glory.

You see, the new, born-again you wants to live for God.  Peter underlines this reality when he says, For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries (1 Pet 4:3). The old, unregenerate you wanted to live for the pleasures of the flesh, but that’s who you used to be.  You used to like to do whatever you flesh wanted to do, but you’re changing, and one of the ways that God changes us is by taking us through persecution.

This change is a good thing, but the world won’t agree.  Instead…

#3 – The world will hate you because you’re being cleansed.
Your buddies won’t really understand what’s happened to you.  In fact, they’ll be amazed that you don’t do the things you used to do.  Peter says it this way, In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation (1 Pet 4:4).  A drunk hates to drink alone, but their surprise soon turns to anger, and they malign you (1 Pet 4:4).  The Bible is clear that darkness hates the light (John 3:20).  Your very life is an attack on sin, and so people have only two options:  convert or persecute.  In their wickedness, they usually persecute.  John Piper puts it this way,

  • “If you cherish chastity, your life will be an attack on people’s love for free sex.
  • If you embrace temperance, your life will be a statement against the love of alcohol.
  • If you pursue self-control, your life will indict excess eating.
  • If you live simply and happily, you will show the folly of luxury.
  • If you walk humbly with your God, you will expose the evil of pride.
  • If you are punctual and thorough in your dealings, you will lay open the inferiority of laziness and negligence.
  • If you speak with compassion, you will throw callousness into sharp relief.
  • If you are earnest, you will make the flippant look flippant instead of clever.
  • And if you are spiritually minded, you will expose the worldly-mindedness of those around you.”

Your increasing righteousness will cause the world around you to increasingly malign you, but take heart because…

#4 – God will deal with persecutors.
Peter is very clear, but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead (1 Pet 4:5).  When we are maligned and persecuted, we don’t have to take matters into our own hands.  As the old saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right.  Revenge is sin, no matter how much they deserve it.  Therefore, we must keep in mind that God has not turned a blind eye to what’s going on.  In fact, God promises that vengeance is His and that He will repay evildoers for their deeds (Heb 10:30).

But even more important than vengeance being meted out in their lives, we should be hoping that mercy is poured out.  In the spirit of Christ, we should pray for our persecutors (Luke 23:34) and hope that they repent and trust Christ.  Even in the midst of persecution, we preach the gospel, For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God (1 Pet 4:6).  Our hope is that God’s wrath meant for them will have actually been poured out on Jesus instead of being poured out them someday.  We’ll know this to be the case when they repent of their sin and trust Christ.

Nevertheless, we can rest in knowing that either through vengeance or redemption, God will deal with persecutors.  Of course, this news is great comfort, but Peter gives us more by pointing out that…

#5 – The end of the age is near.
Peter is very clear, The end of all things is near (1 Pet 4:7).  Friend, it won’t be long before our Lord and Savior returns to set up His earthly Kingdom, bringing along with Him the end of the age and the New Heaven and New Earth.  This news is especially good to those in the midst of persecution.  And so, Peter gives instructions to us in light of the imminence of Jesus’ return:

  • therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Pet 4:7-11)

Christian, God has graced you beyond measure in the face of persecution by giving you a church family to lean on.  We’ve got enough problems outside of the church.  Therefore, Peter encourages us to fervently love one another inside the church.  What a blessed refuge indeed!

In light of all of this,…

#6 – You shouldn’t be surprised by persecution.
For those of us in the Bible Belt, we have become accustomed to a majority Christian population, but the demographics and ideologies are changing.  Even so, if serious persecution were to break out today in Alexandria, I have to admit that I’d probably be stupefied.  But according to Peter, I shouldn’t be, Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you…as though some strange thing were happening to you (1 Pet 4:12).  Every generation before me has endured such things, and brothers and sisters in Christ are at this very moment enduring such things.  What’s more, Satan would love for me to face serious persecution right now.  I guess what Peter is trying to say is that it’s actually strange or weird to not experience persecution.  So, instead of being surprised, Peter says…

#7 – You should rejoice in the face of persecution.
That seems to be naturally antithetical, but we’re not naturally minded.  We are a people of biblical revelation and not of natural theology.  With that said, God has revealed to us that He allows us to be persecuted for two purposes.  First, persecution tests us (1 Pet 4:12).  He desires to see where we really stand.  Is He really more valuable to us than anything else?  And if He’s not, the test will show our faults and impurities.  This test sounds bad, but God means it for good.  Think of how Peter was galvanized for Christ after he failed Christ and denied Him three times (Matt 26:69-75).  Satan meant that for evil, but God meant it for good, and God is always triumphant.  It’s the same in our testing.  God means it for good, and ultimately it is good.  Therefore, testing is for our good and should cause us to rejoice.

Second, persecution intensifies our rejoicing.  Peter tells us, but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation (1 Pet 4:13).  In other words, rejoice because persecution will increase your rejoicing.  And that’s true!  When life is easy, we don’t really long for the return of Christ and heaven, but when even slight persecution breaks out, we quickly cry, “Maranatha!” and long for heaven.  Therefore, persecution increases our rejoicing, and when Jesus splits that eastern sky, you won’t just rejoice.  You’ll rejoice with exultation because your Deliverer has come!

In fact, Peter says that those who are persecuted are blessed, If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (1 Pet 4:14).  Jesus said the same thing, Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:10).  To be blessed is to be in God’s favor, and that’s especially shown in the face of persecution.  I’d say that’s plenty reason to rejoice!

However, we should keep in mind that…

#8 – Not all suffering is blessed.
Peter takes a moment to offer some clarity.  Certainly suffering abounds in the world, but not all of it is for the sake of Christ.  Some of it is just punishment for sin.  Therefore, Peter warns us, Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler (1 Pet 4:15).  We should avoid this sort of sin and its consequences at all cost because there is great public shame in it, but…

#9 – There’s no shame in suffering for Christ.
Peter is emphatic, but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name (1 Pet 4:16).  The world will often punish criminals and the righteous in the same way, but there’s a difference.  If you go to prison for the sake of Christ, you can hold your head high.  If you are insulted and mocked for the sake of Christ, you can hold your head high.  If you are tortured and disfigured for the sake of Christ, you can hold your head high.  Don’t you dare be ashamed because it’s actually the glory of God on you!

Even more, there’s no shame because God means the fiery ordeal for your good.  Peter tells us, For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God (1 Pet 4:17).  The judgment of persecution that a Christian faces isn’t condemnation from God but is actually discipline.  The Bible clearly tells us that those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives (Heb 12:6).  Jesus himself tells us, Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline (Rev 3:19).  There’s no shame in discipline because it’s done for your good and out of love.  Yes, it still hurts, but all discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Heb 12:11).

But for those who are rebels against God, for those who persecute Christ and His body (Acts 9:4), it’s going to be much more severe.  Peter goes on to tell us:

  • and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER? (1 Pet 4:17-18).

Figuratively speaking, we’re just getting a spanking, but they’ll be getting eternal destruction.  Therefore, child of God, hold your head high because your Daddy loves you, and…

#10 – You can trust your most excellent God.
After everything that Peter has said in this chapter, he applies it in this way, Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right (1 Pet 4:19).  Friend, God is going to take care of you.  He’s your loving Creator who knit you together in your mother’s womb (Ps 139:13).  He’ll never leave you or forsake you (Heb 13:5).  In fact, He’s going to see you through to the end and bring you into perfect conformity to Christ (Phil 1:6).  Therefore, if it is God’s will that you suffer persecution, you can safely put your life in His secure hands.  He always does what is ultimately right, loving, and wise.  Hallelujah!

08 Aug

Super-Conqueror

One of the great testimonial songs in the hymnal begins this way:

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!

In the midst of life’s storms, assurance that God will never let you go is a wonderful comfort.  The fact that you, no matter the situation, will be victorious in the end through Christ is a soothing balm to a stinging sore.  Friend, through God, you are not just a conqueror, but a super-conqueror!  Romans 8:31-38 promises this to be so.

Christian, you can rest in knowing that God’s love is fixed on us.  In Romans 8:31, Paul asks a critical question:  What then shall we say to these things? When Paul says “these things,” he’s talking about the massively good promises made to Christians contained in Romans 8:

  • There’s now no condemnation for us (Rom 8:1)
  • The Holy Spirit has indwelt us (Rom 8:9)
  • God has made us sons and heirs (Rom 8:16-17)
  • The Holy Spirit intercedes for us (Rom 8:26)
  • God is working for our good (Rom 8:28)
  • God has foreknown us and predestined us to conformity to Christ (Rom 8:29)
  • God has called us, justified us, and glorified us (Rom 8:30)

What amazing promises from God to all who believe on Christ!  And so again, Paul asks in Romans 8:31, What then shall we say to these things? Actually, he answers his question with more questions.

If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom 8:31)
The answer to this rhetorical question is:  absolutely nobody.  Nobody can be against us if Christ is for us.  Now, Paul is not saying that we won’t have opposition, but rather that any opposition to us will not be victorious.  We are on God’s side through Christ Jesus, and God always wins.

Having God on your side is way better than having Kobe Bryant on your basketball team, Peyton Manning on your football team, or even our great American armed forces in your military.  They’re all great, but even they aim and miss from time to time.  But God…God cannot miss.  His sovereign power linked up with His sovereign grace has already undeniably won the victory.

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Rom 8:32)
Paul is astounded by the gift that we’ve been given in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  You see, the Son is the ultimate gift from God.  The rest is lesser and easier to give.  God’s already shown the depth of His charity in Christ.  Therefore, anything else you need, God will surely give you.

Now, some take this phrase “all things” here in this verse and pervert to mean that God will give you just anything you ask for.  They say things like, “If God’s given you Christ, He’ll give you a new car or that dream home or exceedingly good health or surpassing material riches.”  That sort of teaching is called the Prosperity Gospel and is a terrible perversion of Scripture.  You can read my critique of the Prosperity Gospel here.  In truth, when Paul says that God will freely give us “all things,” that phrase has the scope of all things that are necessary to complete God’s purpose of conforming you to Christ.  That’s the good for which God is working in your life (Rom 8:28-29).  It very well could be material things that He’ll use to conform you to Christ, but most likely it will be spiritual things.

Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? (Rom 8:33)
Again, the direct answer to this rhetorical question is:  nobody.  In the end, God’s elect are completely innocent through the blood of Christ.  You see, God’s elect are those individuals whom God has foreknown, predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ, called, justified, and glorified (Rom 8:29-30).  That’s why Paul indirectly answers his question here by saying in Romans 8:33, It is God who justifies.  In other words, God has made His elect righteous.  Their scarlet sins have been washed white as snow through the blood of the Lamb.   By grace through faith in Jesus, we are in the end as righteous as Jesus because we’ve been given Jesus’ righteousness.  Any charges brought against those of us in Christ will be false.

Who is the one who condemns? (Rom 8:34)
Again, nobody can condemn those who are in Christ.  Why?  Paul basically says in v34 that Christ has already been condemned for us—Christ Jesus is He who died.  But he goes on to say that Christ didn’t just die.  Christ was also resurrected, is seated at the right hand of God the Father, and intercedes for us—yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.

You see, our debt has already been paid by Christ.  He was our substitute on the cross.  We deserved it, but He took it for us, leaving no condemnation for those who are in Christ.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? (Rom 8:35)
Paul breaks this question down into different scenarios:

  • Will tribulation separate us from the love of Christ?
  • Will distress separate us from the love of Christ?
  • Will persecution separate us from the love of Christ?
  • Will famine separate us from the love of Christ?
  • Will nakedness separate us from the love of Christ?
  • Will peril separate us from the love of Christ?
  • Will sword separate us from the love of Christ?

To illustrate what Paul is talking about here, he alludes to Psalm 44:22, saying, Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED” (Rom 8:36).  Indeed, there is often great hardship in the lives of those who follow Christ.  But will these difficulties separate us from the love of Christ?  Paul basically says, “No way!  We are victorious!”  That’s what he means when he says, But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us (Rom 8:37).  The KJV says that we are “more than conquerors.”  We are super-conquerors!

Paul is talking about a landslide victory.  To apply what Paul is talking about to basketball, the score would be 100-0.  To football, the score would be 49-0.  To baseball, the score would be 15-0.  To war, it would be zero soldiers killed, while the opposing army experiences complete obliteration.  Keep in mind that Paul makes it clear that the landslide victory is because of Christ.  He is our champion, and without His alliance, we are lost.

Paul finally gives us a direct answer to his question—who will separate us from the love of Christ?—in v38-39, For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Simply nothing will separate us from the love of Christ.  The Lord Jesus himself promised this assurance to us in John 10:27-29:  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

Friend, even in the valley, God loves you.  Even though He’s brought you into the valley, He’s doing it because He loves you.  God loves you more than you can even imagine.  His love is fixed on you.  This truth is good news and is reason for celebration.  The victory is ours!  I tell you the truth, church should sometimes be like Rupp Arena (for us Wildcat fans) or like Memorial Gymnasium (for you Commodore fans) or like Neyland Stadium (for you Volunteer fans).  God has worked miracles in our lives by saving us through Christ, and we should celebrate the victory!  Christ is the super-conqueror, and so are we along with Him!  Won’t you praise Him?

This is my story, this is my song!
Praising my Savior all the day long!

01 Aug

The Innocent Sufferer

As one looks at the life of Job (pronounced Jōb) in Scripture, nobody can deny the fact that Job suffered greatly.  In one day through major catastrophic events, he lost his great number of livestock, his many servants, and all ten of his children.  Soon thereafter, he was smitten with a terrible disease, causing black, burning boils to break out on his body from the soles of his feet to the top of his head.  His possessions, his children, and his health were all taken away.  Job was a sufferer indeed.

Nevertheless, Job continued to bless the name of God even though he realized that it was ultimately God who brought these calamities into his life.  After getting the news of the loss of his livestock, servants, and children, Job fell to the ground and began to worship God.  He said, Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD, (Job 1:21).  After his health had been stricken, his wife begged him to go ahead and curse God so that God would kill him, but Job’s devotion remained steadfastly to God.  He told her, You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity? (Job 2:10).  In neither situation did Job sin by charging God with any wrongdoing.

The fact that Job didn’t sin even in the midst of great calamity is probably due to the fact that he was a righteous man—at least he was more righteous than other men.  God himself declared that Job was righteous (Job 1:8; 2:3), and the devil never denied it.  So, in a general sense, Job was innocent.  He was an innocent sufferer, but even Job was captured by the truth of Romans 3:23, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  Job might have been less of a sinner, but he was still a sinner in need of a Savior.  Job himself seemed to recognize this by his famous declaration, As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth (Job 19:25).

So, how would Job’s Redeemer redeem?  He would do so in two ways:

  1. by living more righteously and perfectly than Job ever could
  2. by taking upon himself more suffering than Job ever knew

Of course, Job’s Redeemer is none other than the Redeemer of the entire world, Jesus Christ.  Therefore, I pray that you would let Job point you to Jesus because Jesus is the ultimate example of an innocent sufferer.

Jesus Lived More Righteously and Perfectly
Than Job Ever Could

The Bible openly demonstrates that Jesus lived a sinless life.  By narrative, from the moment of His birth until the moment of His ascension, no sin is ever recorded.  Everywhere He went, He not only taught righteousness but lived righteously.  Now critics of the Bible would say that Jesus’ recorded sinlessness is just good editing and wishful thinking, but God has given us irrefutable proof concerning Jesus’ sinlessness in the Resurrection.

Remember, the Resurrection is not just God’s way of showing us that there’s victory over the grave.  It is that, but even more than that, the Resurrection is God’s promise that the life and death of Jesus were accepted in the place of all who will believe on Him.  Since the life and death of Jesus “pays” for our sin, the Resurrection is basically our receipt that we have actually been atoned for.  If God raised Jesus from the dead (which He did), that proves that He accepted the sacrifice of Jesus for our sin.  And if He accepted the sacrifice of Jesus for our sin, then Jesus must have been sinless.  The very idea of the atonement is based upon Jesus’ sinlessness.

But the Bible doesn’t just demonstrate that Jesus was sinless.  It also declares that Jesus lived a sinless life.  The following New Testament texts declare it to be so:

  • Luke 23:47, Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he began praising God, saying, “Certainly this man [Jesus] was innocent.”
  • John 8:45-46, But because I [Jesus] speak the truth, you do not believe Me. 46 Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me?
  • 2 Corinthians 5:21, [God] made [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
  • 1 Peter 2:21-25, For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.
  • 1 John 3:1-5, See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. 4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.

Even more, the sinlessness of Jesus was prophesied in the Old Testament:

  • Isaiah 53:9, His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.

Jesus lived the only truly righteous and perfect life.  He is the only who is truly innocent.

Now that we’ve established Jesus’ innocence, let’s turn to His suffering.

Jesus Took Upon Himself More Suffering
Than Job Ever Knew

Job’s suffering was great, no doubt, but the suffering of Jesus surpasses it by a long shot.  Job never endured the cross or bore the sins of humanity or suffered the wrath of God like Jesus did at Calvary.

Isaiah 53:1-12 foretold of Jesus’ suffering in this way.  Let these verses wash over you, and feel the depth of Jesus’ suffering.

  • 1 Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. 3 He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. 6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. 7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? 9 His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth. 10 But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. 11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.

Of course, Isaiah 53 is prophecy and not narrative.  However, we see the actual fulfillment of that prophecy in the narrative of the gospels.  We’ll look at Matthew 27:24-50.  Again, let these verses wash over you, and feel the depth of Jesus’ suffering.

  • 24When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.” 25 And all the people said, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified. 27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. 28 They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. 29 And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. 31 After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him. 32 As they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross. 33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull, 34 they gave Him wine to drink mixed with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink. 35 And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots. 36 And sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there. 37 And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” 38 At that time two robbers *were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left. 39 And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, 42 “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. 43 “HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE Him now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” 44 The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words. 45 Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. 46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” 47 And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 Immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. 49 But the rest of them said, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.

Jesus suffered immensely.  Physically, crucifixion is a terrible way to die.  It makes the electric chair look humane.  Emotionally, can you imagine for a moment the betrayal that Jesus felt?  These weren’t just his friends, neighbors, and countrymen who were putting Him to death.  These were His creatures.  The Bible says that all of creation was made through Jesus (John 1:3).  Therefore, the creature was mocking and torturing and murdering the Creator.  No doubt, this reality was horrible emotionally.  But in my opinion, the physical and emotional aspects paled in comparison to the spiritual aspects.  He, who truly never sinned and truly never deserved punishment, took our sin and its punishment on Himself.  He who knew no sin was made to be sin on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Matthew 27:46 is the key verse in understanding the spiritual suffering of Jesus because here is where the wrath of God for our sin was poured out on Jesus.  Jesus was literally experiencing Hell on earth.  And when the last drop of wrath had been poured out, Jesus gave up His spirit and died.

My goodness, how Jesus suffered!  He is the only true sufferer.  He is the one and only Innocent Sufferer.

I pray that when you face calamities and trials, whether you feel they are deserved or not, remember the life and death of Jesus.  His innocence was perfect, far surpassing ours.  His suffering was intense, far exceeding ours.  Let His life and death put what you are experiencing into perspective, and know that Jesus the Innocent suffered so that your suffering wouldn’t be eternal.  Jesus lived and died so that you can escape the never-ending suffering of Hell and enjoy life everlasting in Heaven.  It’s through the cross of Christ that we’ll see the promises of Revelation 21:1-4:

  • 1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

In the midst of your suffering, may you run to Jesus and cling to the cross of Christ!