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Archive for March, 2010

 

Why?

Many of us ask that question, especially when we’re suffering. We want to know why something has happened (or hasn’t happened). We yearn to discover the reason God ordained – caused or allowed – something.
We want to know why.

It’s a good and honest question, but it’s unwise to spend too much time dwelling on it. Why? Because God doesn’t always give us the answer to that question. In fact, He rarely does.

Elisabeth Elliot’s husband Jim was murdered by the Auca Indians along with four other missionaries in the early 1950’s. Left with a young daughter to raise by herself, Elisabeth asked God why. After searching the Scriptures, she came up with five “answers.”

God reveals His glory through suffering and trials. “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13).

Suffering and trials produce positive qualities in our life. Romans 5:3-4 says, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Suffering and trials drive us to fully depend upon God. “But he (God) said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

In the life of a Christian, suffering and trials confirm that we actually belong to the Lord. “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may share in his glory” (Romans 8:17).

The church is benefited by the trials and sufferings of its members. Colossians 1:24 says, “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I will fill up in my flesh what is lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”

In addition to Elliot’s findings, let me add one more: trials and suffering are part of God’s eternal plan and purpose. “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,” according to Ephesians 1:11.

All of these passages give us general “answers” to the “why?” question. None of them, however, provide us with a specific answer. We can take comfort, however, in knowing that God has a plan, is in control, and is using it for His purposes.

When we face difficult things (and we all will!), the most important question to ask is not “why?” but “what?” We should ask what we should be doing, thinking, and saying next. We should also be asking what would glorify God in our situation rather than camping on the “why” of the situation.

Elisabeth Elliot had a proper perspective and we can too by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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“Whether then you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism reads, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer reads, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Once we really understand that and get a hold of it, we’ll experience a radical change in the way we look at things. In his book The Pursuit of God, AW Tozer wrote:

The moment we make up our minds that we are going on with this determination to exalt God over all we step out of the world’s parade. We find ourselves out of adjustment to the ways of the world, and increasingly so as we make progress in the holy way. Our break with the world will be the direct outcome of our changed relation to God. For the world of fallen men does not honor God. Millions call themselves by his name, it is true, and pay some token respect to him, but a simple test will show how little he is really honored among them. Let the average man be put to the proof on the question of who is above, and his true position will be exposed. Let me be forced into making a choice between God and money, between God and men, between God and personal ambition, God and self, God and human love, and God will take second place every time. Those other things will be exalted above. However the man may protest, the proof is in the choices he makes day after day throughout life. “Be Thou Exalted” is the language of victorious spiritual experience. It is the little key to unlock the door to great treasures of grace. (pp. 102-103, emphasis in the original)

Everything changes when we realize that our purpose in life is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. He must be exalted above all. When He is, our world isn’t turned upside down, it’s turned right-side up.

 

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Deuteronomy 2 is part of Moses’ sermon to the people of Israel before they entered the promised land. In verses 1 through 23, he recounts the history of Israel’s “wandering in tears for forty years.”

Why did they wander? Because they disobeyed the Lord by not going in to conquer the land God had promised them. God’s people feared the “giants in the land,” which resulted in an entire generation – with the exception of Joshua and Caleb who urged the rest of the people to believe God and obey Him – dying out in the wilderness. An eleven-day journey took them forty years. They literally went in circles for all that time.

In the midst of discipline – God’s judgment on His children – there is mercy. Deuteronomy 2:7 says, “For the LORD your God has blessed you in all that you have done. He has known your wanderings through this great wilderness. These forty years the LORD your God has been with you; you have not lacked a thing.” Even though they were being disciplined by God, His children lacked nothing. Food, water, clothing, protection, and guidance were all provided by God in His mercy. They didn’t deserve it, but it was given to them by God.

We don’t deserve anything the Lord gives us, either. Even under His discipline, we lack nothing. Praise God for His grace and mercy!

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I have a confession to make. For months and months – maybe even years – I’ve listened to Alistair Begg’s podcasted sermons and misunderstood a word he uses quite often.

I would hear him make mention of something called a “sermony” – that’s the way it sounded to me. I didn’t know what the word meant, but taking into consideration the context and the fact that I know what a “sermon” is, I was fairly confident that it had something to do with that. Maybe it was a short sermon, or charge, because Alistair brought it up when he talked about weddings, funerals, baptisms, and dedications. Or, I thought, it could be a Scottish word I wasn’t familiar with.

Then, while I was in my study at church sometime last week, I was listening to him and he said the word again. This time, though, was different. Immediately the thought popped into my head, “he’s saying “ceremony”! “Ceremony”! So that’s what he’s been talking about all along, a ceremony. That makes a whole lot more sense than what I thought before. I thought to myself, “How could I have missed that?”

It took Alistair saying the word “ceremony” hundreds of times – literally – before I figured out what he meant. The next time I hear him say it, it’ll make perfect sense.

Here’s a thought: maybe the gospel is heard the same way. People can hear the good news that Jesus Christ died for their sins and was buried; that He rose from the dead on the third day and was seen by many; hundreds, if not thousands of times, and it makes no sense. Then suddenly, because God the Holy Spirit has given them ears to hear and eyes to see, it makes sense. In other words, they have an “Oh, I get it!” moment.

My misunderstanding of Alistair Begg may have given an insight into how Ephesians 1:13 might take place: “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.”

Just a thought.

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We come to church to worship God – there’s no question about that. But we also come to church to work.

We come to work in the sense of serving others and helping them grow in maturity as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. As it says in the book of Hebrews, “let us spur one another on to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24-25). We do this by being intentional and deliberate when we’re at church. We look for those who need prayer or a word of encouragement or a listening ear or a well-chosen word from God’s Word, and then step up and meet the need.

The cry of a worshipping worker is “What can I give?” and not “What can I get?” While it’s true that a worship service is all about God, it’s also true that He uses us to strengthen and encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ at the same time and in the same place.

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When we believe in Jesus Christ – that is, repent of our sin and put our faith and trust in who Jesus is and what He’s done – the Bible says we have “died to sin” (Rom. 6:2) and that we are to consider ourselves “dead to sin” (Rom. 6:11).

Why is it, then, that we still commit sin? In his classic book The Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry Bridges gives the answer:

But if we have been delivered from this realm, why do we still sin? Though God has delivered us from the realm of sin, our sinful natures still reside in us. Even though sin’s dominion and rule are broken, the remaining sin that dwells in believers exerts a tremendous power, constantly working toward evil.

An illustration from warfare can help us to see how this is true. In a particular nation two competing factions were fighting for control of the country. Eventually, with the help of an outside army, one faction won the war and assumed control of the nation’s government. But the losing side did not stop fighting. They simply changed their tactics to guerrilla warfare and continued to fight. In fact, they were so successful that the country supplying the outside help could not withdraw its troops.

So it is with the Christian. Satan has been defeated and the reign of sin overthrown. But our sinful natures resort to a sort of guerrilla warfare to lead us into sin. This results in the struggle between the Spirit  and our sinful natures which Paul wrote about: “For the sinful nature desires what it is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. they are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Galatians 5:17).

Even though the reign and rule of sin has been defeated, it has yet to be destroyed, is still present within us, and will be until we are in the presence of the Lord.

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“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves,” says James 1:22. We’re commanded to do two things: first, hear the Word of God; second, do what it says. In order to do what it says – put it into practice – we not only need to know the text of Scripture, we also need to know ourselves.

Here are some questions we can ask ourselves which will give us a personal inventory – an audit of sorts.

  1. What are my strengths?
  2. What are my weaknesses?
  3. What is my greatest hindrance to spiritual growth?
  4. What is the status of my participation in the spiritual disciplines?
  5. Physically, do I have balance in my eating, sleeping, exercise, and rest?
  6. What behaviours do I especially want to overcome?
  7. What behaviours or habits do I want to establish?
  8. Am I upholding my responsibilities at home?
  9. How am I relating to my family?
  10. How often do I attend church?
  11. Am I giving my time and money to the work of the Lord?
  12. Do I pray regularly for my pastor and church leaders?
  13. Do I know what my spiritual gift is and am I using it?
  14. Am I diligent in my work?
  15. Am I a hard worker or lazy?
  16. Do I keep my commitments and promises?
  17. How do I handle money?
  18. AmI active in my community?
  19. How is my driving?
  20. What is my attitude toward people in need?
  21. How do I treat my friends?

What’s the point of all these questions? the Bible speaks to every one of these issues and more. We probably don’t think about them very often, but we should. If you have a clear-headed, honest view of ourself, it will be easier to apply God’s Word because we’ll know what to look for and hear God more clearly when He speaks to us from His Word.

It might be scary, but give it a try for your spiritual good.

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