Do Not Be Moved

“[Let no one] be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this” (1 Thessalonians 3:3)

In his book Desiring God, John Piper uses an analogy of a camera to help explain the idea in which God sees our suffering. He says that on one hand, God uses a narrow lens in which He looks and grieves with us as we undergo suffering. This is often the only lens you and I see through. But according to Piper, God also uses another lens, a wide-angle lens in which He sees beyond the immediate situation. This is the lens that sees what has occurred before and what will result from this moment, ultimately working for our good and God’s glory. This “good” may be realized in our lives as God works out the circumstances, or it may only be realized in death.

Paul knew about suffering. It was a topic he wrote about in almost all of his letters. He knew its purpose and the importance of teaching that purpose to others. He also demonstrated the proper response to it. Through his suffering, Paul knew his strength came from the Lord. Jesus was Paul’s reason for living. To see Him magnified was his passion. But Paul also knew that to die was gain (Philippians 1:21). As he wrote his final words in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, he was comforted knowing he had fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith. He also knew what awaited him—a crown of righteousness. That was worth everything Paul had endured in his life and it will be worth everything suffering may cost you in your life as well.

So how do we respond in times of suffering? We trust God. He is sovereign. We allow His Word and His Spirit to penetrate our shaken and shattered lives. We live each day in view of eternity knowing that no amount of suffering can compare to glory (Romans 8:18). And we trust that His grace is sufficient to see us through (2 Corinthians 12:9).

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God Knew Me When

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…’” (Genesis 1:26). Is there really anything left to be said? As Christians, I don’t suppose we should expect those who do not believe in God or the creation account to accept the authority of Genesis 1:26, but we should expect more from ourselves. Psalm 139 is a powerful passage of Scripture that speaks to the issue of human life. Specifically, verse 13 speaks of God’s involvement in the development of an unborn child. “In the beginning…” Humanity began because of God, and of all that He created, His creation of man was the crowning jewel. Because God created everything, including humans, everything belongs and is subject to Him. But of all that God created, His relationship to humans is a special one, as it is only human beings that bear His image.

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb” David recognized that God’s interest in him came even before he was born. Psalm 139:13 is certainly not the only verse of Scripture that recognizes the personhood of a fetus. David also wrote, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). Luke records that John the Baptist, while still in his mother, Elizabeth’s womb, “leaped for joy” when Mary greeted her (Luke 1:44). God said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).

God’s activities in our lives don’t just begin at birth. I know as Christians, most of us realize that, but consider where the abortion debate has gone in recent years. While there are certainly Christians who have spoken out and held firmly to God’s Word regarding this issue, others have not, allowing this debate to be parsed around the issue of rape or incest. Admittedly, these are difficult circumstances, but far more often, convenience is what dictates the decision to have an abortion. Since when does rape or incest change the authority and the truth of Genesis 1:26? It doesn’t. Just because a child is conceived in sin doesn’t change whether or not that child is made in the image of God. The unborn child deserves the same right to life as anyone else. Believe that God can bring about “good” even in those things that we’re incapable of seeing how anything “good” might come. God will bless our honoring Him on the matter of abortion. We just have to be willing to stand up and testify to the truth of His Word. If we as Christians refuse to, then who will? Our belief in the absolute authority of Scripture is a must. Not doing so only widens the divide between our will and God’s. For those who have thought or think differently on this matter, like all sin, God’s grace covers this one. Look to God’s Word for clarity, open your heart to His. His will is clear. And then ask yourself, “Do I want to be at odds with that”? I pray you’ll answer, “No”.

I Guess the Kitchen Got a Little Too Hot

“For Demas, in love with the present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica…” (2 Timothy 4:10)

We don’t hear much about Demas in Scripture except to know that he ministered with the Apostle Paul for some period of time. He must have been a close associate of the apostle’s because Paul refers to him as a “fellow worker” in his letter to Philemon, and in his letter to the Colossians, he is included as one who sends greetings (Philemon 24, Colossians 4:14). But at the end of his life, as Paul sat in prison in Rome penning what he knew would be his last letter, he mentioned Demas again.

The Apostle Paul’s last letter was written to Timothy. Timothy was most likely Paul’s closest partner in ministry. He wrote to Timothy for several reasons. First, Paul wanted Timothy to bring him some of his personal items. Secondly, he wanted to encourage Timothy to carry on faithfully in his ministry ahead. Lastly, but in fact the primary attention of Paul’s letter was the gospel. Paul’s greatest concern was the glory of Christ and the preservation of the gospel as Jesus had revealed to him. In this letter, Paul also took the opportunity to update Timothy about those in which they had ministered together. One of those he spoke of was Demas.

At the time of this letter, everyone with the exception of Luke had pretty much deserted Paul. Specifically, Paul said Demas had deserted him because he was “in love with the present world.” The “present world” that Paul spoke about was the world apart from Christ, the world dominated by Satan. In Paul’s mind, Demas had proven, at least for the time being that he was unwilling to count the cost of a genuine commitment to Christ. Persecution of Christians had intensified. Ministry was tough, and evidently, Demas had had enough. Scripture doesn’t tell us how Demas’ story ends and we shouldn’t suppose his denial of Christ was permanent, only that in this particular moment, his own safety, convenience and love for the world overtook his commitment, not only to Paul, but also to Christ.

It’s easy for us to be so in love with the world that we become ashamed of the gospel of Christ, particularly when there’s a risk we might suffer for it. The truth is, comfort, convenience and acceptance appeals to us all. If we are to minister in difficult times to an unbelieving and often hostile world, we must be willing to count the cost. The kitchen can get pretty hot. Therefore, we need to pray for the Lord’s presence and power each day, always remembering the promise of His Word as we go, confident in that promise because we know that God keeps all His promises. “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Cassie: A Good Gift from God

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above…” (James 1:17)

IMG_0642On November 3rd a “Facebook memory” appeared on my profile page. It was from 2 years ago and was a picture of our dog Cassie. November 3rd is her birthday. Cassie died on January 11th of this year. She was such a part of our daily lives. I realized that more fully when I set off the alarm a few times in the morning that first week because she wasn’t there to remind me to turn it off so I could let her out. It was also strange not having her occasionally greet me on the driveway when I pulled up, beg by the dinner table, or if not outright begging, stare me down when I ate, waiting for me to give her a sign that it was okay to come get a bite. All of a sudden, things you took for granted, you wish you could have back.

God’s word tells us that every good and perfect gift is from God (James 1:7). I think it’s pretty easy to over spiritualize certain things that happen. I try hard not to do that. I guess that’s why it’s taken me so long to put into words what’s been on my mind for quite some time. I even had a few conversations with friends to get their opinion about whether, if in the case of Cassie, I was doing what I try and guard against. I’ve also hesitated in writing this because I know some who have lost much more. However, the more I’ve thought about it, I don’t think it’s an over spiritualization at all. Cassie was a source of joy and a blessing to our family. She taught us a lot about love and loyalty. She was a gift. God was the giver. Sometimes I think it’s easy to forget from whom it is ultimately that the joys and blessings in life come.

There is a theological term called “common grace”. Common grace is “the grace of God by which He gives people innumerable blessings that are not part of salvation”. It is grace given to both believers and unbelievers. I don’t know if Cassie’s death made me more sensitive to it or not, but I’ve noticed many postings from people who have also had to say goodbye to their pets this year. I remember experiencing personally in the case of our losing Cassie, and reading in other cases, the many kind expressions of sorrow from others. Some of these expressions came from people who believe differently than me on a whole host of issues. Fortunately or unfortunately, you learn those things from Facebook too. But in some things, our differences don’t seem to matter and we see God’s common grace shine through. I think these expressions of sorrow and encouragement that our family experienced and the expressions I read in other cases are just that, a display of God’s common grace.

As 2015 comes to a close, it will soon be a year since Cassie has been gone. We miss our little Cassie, but will always cherish the 13 years we had with her. In many ways, I think she taught us more than we taught her. I’m sure we are not alone in either our missing or our learning. I am reminded of one of the conversations I had with a friend where he told me they used to have a ceramic piece that hung in their kitchen above the sink. It was a silhouette of a dog. Painted on it was a prayer that read, “Lord, make me the person my dog thinks I am”. We would do well to let that be our prayer even now

The Model Prayer

“Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven…” (Matthew 6:9) 

Throughout His ministry, Jesus taught his disciples many things, among them, how to pray. He also modeled for them a life devoted to prayer. As the disciples forged forward in their Christian faith and stewardship over the early church, prayer was an essential element. In Matthew 6:5-15, contained in what is known as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught on the issue of prayer. In verses 9-13, He offered a model for prayer. This prayer, with six specific petitions helps put the proper perspective on what prayer should be. As Jesus began, He began by saying, “Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven…  Continue reading