When You’re Down, Look Up-Our God Is Faithful

“…for I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12)

How are we to “count it all joy” (James 1:2) when we’re going through trials, “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) even when those circumstances are bad, and how are we to believe that just because we love God “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28)? I believe those are pretty good questions, but I also believe God has even better answers.

It is in the context of some sort of suffering that each of the passages above exist. Suffering is always a potential barrier to worship and to living out one’s faith. Ultimately, as Christians, we manage through these times by drawing strength from the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The reality of our lives lived in the flesh makes it easy see all that happens, whether good or bad, from only a human perspective. God’s perspective must be our goal. It’s easy to thank God for the good times just to turn around and blame Him for the bad times. Our perspective must be centered on His promises. God never promised difficult times wouldn’t come, but He absolutely promised to be with us when they do. We must trust and seek to know Him more each day.

In his devotion Morning and Evening, Charles Spurgeon likens the knowledge of Christ to climbing a mountain. He says at its base, because we can see only a little bit, the mountain appears to be only half as high as it really is. However, as we move up the mountain, we are able see more and more. Spurgeon concludes by talking about how at the end of his life, the Apostle Paul was able to say, “for I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12) and that “each experience had been like climbing a hill, each trial had been like ascending another summit, and his death seemed like gaining the top of the mountain from which he could see the whole panorama of the faithfulness and love of Him to whom he had committed his soul”.

We live in a fallen world and our view is sometimes cloudy. This makes it easy for the circumstances of life to bring us down. But when they do, look up and keep climbing, because our God is faithful.

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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).

Think About These Things

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8) 

Against a lot of opposition, the apostle Paul boldly proclaimed truth. Through three missionary journeys and endless preaching, Paul’s ministry bore much fruit as many came to faith in Jesus Christ. Paul had strong relationships with the churches he founded and pastored. The church at Philippi was one of them. Founded on his second missionary journey, Paul loved this church. They proved to be faithful partners in the ministry of the gospel. He knew they had a strong foundation of faith and that their faith would persevere (Philippians 1:6). But as was always the case with Paul’s letters, once he laid out the theological basis of faith, he always followed with how to live out that faith in day to day life. And that exactly what he’s doing in Philippians 4, exhorting and encouraging them to be mindful of what they allow to influence their thinking. He writes to them saying, “Finally, brothers, whatever is…

  • True – genuine, reliable, trustworthy, valid
  • Honorable – worthy of respect
  • Just – right, righteous or upright. In the New Testament “just” refers to God’s proper standards and actions.
  • Pure – innocent, clean
  • Lovely – pleasing
  • Commendable – admirable, appealing or praiseworthy
  • Excellent – moral, goodness

The gospel changes things. It changes our relationship with God and secures our eternal destiny. However, never does a conversion to faith mean that we’re not to be attentive to what we allow to capture our thoughts. God’s Word must be our filter for determining truth. To live in a way that’s pleasing to God, we must set our minds on things above, not on things of the earth (Colossians 3:2). 1 Timothy 4:7 says “train yourself for godliness”. Proverbs 21:21 tells us that “whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness and honor”. Don’t think as the world thinks. Instead, think about those things that are worthy of our God.

When Heaven Looked Away

And at about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

Scripture records seven statements Jesus made from the cross. All of them speak volumes about the character of Christ. But of the seven, one of the most mind-blowing to me is Jesus’ statement recorded in Matthew 27:46, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” On the cross, God abandoned Jesus as He bore the wrath for sin. Isaiah 53:10 tells us that “it was the will of the LORD to crush him”. Wouldn’t it seem like God the Father might choose a way of salvation different than that? What Father would give His Son for undeserving sinners such as us? What Son would agree to submit to the Father’s will and die for those same people? But that’s what God willed and that’s what Jesus did.

Though it may seem confounding in many ways, the fact that Jesus willingly bore the weight of our sin teaches us a great deal. It teaches us about the holiness of God, the just judgment sin deserves and the payment it requires. It teaches us that our sin runs deep, but that God’s grace runs deeper.

There’s a worship song written and sung by Kari Jobe called Forever. In fact, the title of this devotion was taken from a portion the lyrics. The song’s flow takes the listener from the humiliation of Christ on the cross, to His defeat over sin and death, to the worship that will one day take place in heaven— from the crucifixion and resurrection account recorded in the Gospels to the worship described in Revelation. It’s a great song. We sing it from time to time at church. One of the things I’ve learned being in choir is that whenever there’s a break in our singing during a song, it’s there for a purpose. Its purpose is to allow time to reflect on what we have been singing and to respond accordingly. The times we have sung Forever at church, there has been such a time, a time to reflect on the words of this song and respond to all God has done on our behalf, to respond to the love He has shown us.

Thankfully, Jesus’ abandonment by the Father as He bore the wrath for sin was only temporary. When Jesus said “It is finished” it signified sin’s payment was complete (John 19:30). Three days later the stoned was rolled away from the tomb. Death had been defeated. Jesus was no longer in the grave. He now sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding on our behalf. What a great truth told in a song. The mercy and grace God has shown in order to save us is amazing. And that the Son would willingly pay the price to secure that salvation is a love unparalleled. Our only response, not just today, but one day in an even greater way, is for us to sing “Hallelujah”. “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12).

As Christ Loved the Church

IMG_1078 (3)“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25) 

Today, Karen and I celebrate 25 years of marriage. I first met Karen in high school. She was a junior and I was a senior. We dated for a few months before going our separate ways. Who would’ve known that 10 years later we would be married? I can say with certainty that at the point in which we were married, both personally and in marriage, I had a different set of priorities than I do now. It’s not that those priorities were necessarily bad. They just weren’t the best because they weren’t centered on a relationship with Christ. In fact, I didn’t have a saving relationship with Christ and for a long time my priorities remained elsewhere. It is impossible for a man to lead his family in the way God would have him when his own life is not centered on Jesus Christ. Thankfully, in God’s perfect timing and only by His grace, our marriage has a different center. My prayer is that it will always remain that way.

There’s no human covenant more important than the covenant of marriage. It is also a covenant in need of an extra measure of God’s grace. Outside of grace that comes in salvation, I don’t know where it’s needed more. This is true for several of reasons: First, marriage is constantly under attack because of what it pictures. The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:32 that marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. Secondly, marriage is made more difficult due to the closeness of the relationship. Is there anyone more uniquely qualified to point out your faults than your spouse? I doubt it! No matter where any of us may be in our walk with Christ, marriage is tough. It’s not tough because it’s marriage, it’s tough because marriage involves two imperfect people prone to sin. As humans, we often take God’s Word and remind others what they should be doing, all the while ignoring what God may be speaking to us about. I believe this tendency is even greater when it comes to our spouses. Husbands, God’s command is clear. Our wives needs, as He defines them are to be our goal. We are to love her sacrificially, just as Christ loved the church. This command is not conditional on her response.

I know it’s impossible to love Karen, my bride, as Christ loves His. But that doesn’t lessen His expectation that I do so. Therefore, it shouldn’t lessen mine. This means I’m left to rely on God’s strength instead of my own, because in my own I will fail. I have failed. For any marriage to be as God designed it to be requires that our relationship with Him be the one we treasure most. A relationship with Christ has the power to change all others.

I’m thankful for God’s grace for my past failures in loving Karen as He would have me love her. I know I’ll need more grace along the way. I thank God for Karen. The years have gone fast. Like all marriages, ours has been far from perfect, but I am so thankful she’s my wife. After 25 years, she’s more beautiful than ever. I can’t imagine life without her and wouldn’t want to try. Happy anniversary sweetie! I love you!

Old to New

“…seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9-10)

Paul’s letters always contained both a theological and practical component to them. After correcting their misplaced theology about Christ, Paul dealt in a very practical manner with those in the church at Colossae. For some, the practices of their lives before they were saved were still present. Paul challenged them to bring these practices in line with their new identity in Christ.

As we prepare for the New Year and look forward to what lies ahead, I guess it’s only natural to think back on the one that’s ending. Doing so may bring joy, perhaps sadness, or maybe a little bit of both. I imagine it also comes with a certain amount of regret. There are always things we wish we had done and said that we didn’t, and things we did and said that we wish we hadn’t. The truth is, we are all sinners and from year to year, sin will be a constant companion. But in His grace and mercy, through Jesus, God has dealt with our sin.

The Christian life is a process, not a process in the sense that we are progressively being saved over time. We are saved the moment we place our faith in Jesus Christ. The Christian life is a process in the sense that over time, we become more and more like Christ. This is known as progressive sanctification.

In this life we will always be less than perfect, but we have a Savior who is perfect. And although our conformity to the image of Christ will not end until we go to be with the Lord, our guilt does. This doesn’t mean we are to make light of sin. Paul didn’t in writing to the Colossians or anyone else. All sin matters to God. He is a holy God and He calls us to be holy as well (1 Peter 1:15). But often is the case that instead of letting our failures of the past instruct us moving forward, we end up consumed with guilt. This is not God’s intention, as it denies the perfect sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. Though we live the consequences of our sin, its penalty was paid at the cross.

So, when you look to this upcoming year, look to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Thank Him for His forgiveness. Thank Him for His faithfulness. Thank Him for His grace. Thank Him for His mercy. Embrace all He has for your life. Realize that He’s more interested in your present and future than He is your past. But most of all, remember, there’s no one who loves you like He loves you.

Sovereign, Good and Faithful

Oswald Chambers once wrote “It is only a faithful person who truly believes that God sovereignly controls his circumstances. We take our circumstances for granted, saying God is in control, but not really believing it. We act as if things that happen were completely controlled by people. God may cause our circumstances to suddenly fall apart, which may bring the realization of our unfaithfulness to Him for not recognizing that He had ordained the situation. We never saw what He was trying to accomplish, and the exact event will never be repeated in our life. This is where the test of faithfulness comes. If we will just learn to worship God even during the difficult circumstances, He will change them for the better very quickly if He so chooses.” This quote is found in the December 18th devotion entitled Test of Faithfulness from his devotional My Utmost for His Highest. The key passage for this devotion is Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose”.

If you’ve never read Oswald Chamber’s, you should. You’ll be blessed by his writing. It was ten years ago today that I got up that morning and read this devotion. Later that same day, I waited by the phone for a call to find out whether or not I still had a job with the company I had worked for sixteen years. When the call came, I found out I didn’t. I’ve always been struck by God’s graciousness in providing these words to me that morning. I needed them. I still need them. More and more, I realize it has always been about God’s faithfulness and not my own. In fact, in spite of my unfaithfulness, His still remains. I’m encouraged by that. I hope you are as well.

God’s sovereignty doesn’t always play out the way we had hoped for, but His faithfulness during difficult times is everything we could hope for. God is good. And every situation He ordains in our lives is ultimately for our good. Although that good might look a little different than what we might have envisioned, we can always trust His ways. The question is, will we? Will we be faithful and worship Him even during the difficult times?

  • “He who calls you is faithful” (1 Thessalonians 5:24)
  • “But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3)
  • “…if we are faithless, He remains faithful” (2 Timothy 2:13)
  • “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9)
  • “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23)