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Archive for the ‘Dark Providence’ Category

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The anonymous author of Embracing Obscurity writes this about suffering:

There’s a startling trend in Christian thinking about suffering. Though subtle, this misconception is no less dangerous than many other of Satan’s lies. I call it the “Joseph Principle,” and it goes like this:

If I am suffering in obscurity today, God must be preparing me for something greater, better, or more prominent later in life.

You can probably guess why I call it the Joseph Principle. I can only assume this faulty way of thinking gets its roots in a misunderstanding of Joseph’s unlikely story, found in Genesis 37; 39-50. In a nutshell, Joseph is betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of attempted rape, and then endured years of prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Yet – and this is the part that excites our ambition – God used all of Joseph’s suffering to prepare him for greatness (and I mean greatness). In a startling turn of events, Joseph becomes the second most powerful man in Egypt, ultimately saving the family that first betrayed him. In the end he gets it all: fame, power, justice, and even the girl.

Though Joseph’s story is one of my favorites, there are others like it. Abraham waited twenty-five years but in the end had the child he’d been waiting for. Moses had to spend forty years as a shepherd, but he eventually went back to Egypt and was God’s instrument to deliver the Israelites. Hannah put up with years of taunting and disillusionment before God gave her Samuel. David endured fourteen years of wondering, waiting, and dodging Saul, but in the end he became the greatest king Israel ever knew (notwithstanding Christ).

Why do we love these stories? Lots of reasons, to be sure. There’s action, adventure, hidden identities, wrongs made right, God’s faithfulness and fulfilled prophecies – but there’s also something about the underdog making it to the top that resonates within. Maybe because we hope it will be us.

If you’ve ever been fired, come up second (or tenth), been broken up with, or had any hope deferred, you’ve likely heard the well-meaning encouragement: “Don’t worry – God just has something even better in store for you” or “All things work together for good!” or maybe even, “You just keep working hard, and you’ll get whatever you want in the end.” I guess we give one another these platitudes for one of two reasons: (1) we really believe that suffering inevitably leads to bigger and better, or (2) we hate to kick someone when they’re down by telling them the hard truth: sometimes suffering only leads to our greater obscurity, God’s greater glory.

the Bible is wrought with examples of God’s doing things for His own glory. Refining our hearts is no exception: “I have refined you in the furnace of suffering…yes, for my own sake!” (Isa. 48:10-11 NLT). He goes on to say that Isaiah doesn’t want his reputation tarnished by idols; He refuses to let the recognition due Him to go to them. It was true in how we dealt with Israel, and it is true in his He deals with us. God more often allows us to suffer to refine our own hearts and purge us from idols than to prepare us for “greatness.”

This isn’t an easy pill to swallow…

All of God’s ways are good and true. Although His plans may not look like ours, we can trust that God is in fact “for us.”

I’ve had these thoughts many times, and this author (whomever it may be) has expressed and explained them well. Something to think about as we live coram Deo (before the face of God).

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Elisabeth Elliot described suffering as wanting what you don’t have and having what you don’t want.

When that happens (and it will if it hasn’t yet), there are two possible responses. Only two. We can say with Job, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Or we can say with Job’s wife, “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9).

One response is based on submission and obedience to God. The other response is based on rebellion and disobedience to Him. Job sums up his response to suffering in 2:10 as he answers his wife. He says, in part, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” 

The only reasonable and faithful response to suffering is to trust the God who is there, sovereign, loving, just, and the One who knows exactly what He’s doing. The alternative is too horrific to consider.

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saturday

Holy Saturday is the day between the crucifixion and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. For us, it’s a day of waiting We know “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey used to say.

But consider the first disciples of Jesus – those whom He called to follow Him and those who saw Him betrayed, arrested, tried, beaten, mocked, scourged, and finally crucified. They didn’t know what would happen on Sunday morning. Yes, Jesus had told them on at least four occasions, but it’s clear that it didn’t register in their hearts and minds.

Jesus – the One they loved; the One they followed; the One to whom they had dedicated their very lives; the One they knew to be precisely who He claimed to be – was dead. Their beloved was buried in a tomb guarded by sixteen Roman soldiers. The enormous stone which had been rolled in front of the tomb’s entrance was decorated with the seal of the Roman Empire.

As far as these first disciples were concerned, it was over. What was over? Everything. Their Saviour, Lord, and friend was dead and gone. Their mission was over, seemingly before it even got started. The Romans and Jewish leadership had won. What would they do now? Their lives had been forever changed, and now it seemed to be over.

No hope.

No forgiveness of sin.

No reconciliation with God.

No peace.

No salvation.

No meaning.

No justice.

No mercy.

No future.

All of that would be true if Jesus had stayed dead in the tomb. Their faith, and our faith, is vain and useless if it would have ended with the death of Jesus. That’s what the disciples faced from Friday afternoon through Saturday night.

They didn’t know the rest of the story, but we do! Holy Saturday proves the importance of Resurrection Sunday.

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The Christian History Institute published the story of forty Roman soldiers who were martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ on March 9th, 320 A.D.

“Consider—you alone of Caesar’s troops defy him! Think of the disgrace you bring upon your legion. How can you do it?” Governor Agricola was speaking to forty soldiers in the 12th Legion of the Roman army who refused to offer sacrifice to the emperor while they were stationed near Sebaste in modern-day Turkey.

“To disgrace the name of our Lord Jesus Christ is more terrible still,” replied one of the soldiers.

The governor became exasperated. “Give up this stubborn folly. You have no lord but Caesar! In his name, I promise promotion to the first of you who steps forward and does his duty.” 

When that lure did not break their ranks he increased the pressure. “You persist in your rebellion? Then prepare for torture, prison, death!”

The soldiers stood firm. “Nothing you can offer us would replace what we would lose in the next world. As for your threats—we’ve learned to deny our bodies where the welfare of our souls is at stake.”

Agricola ordered them flogged. Guards dragged the men out into the cold where they were stripped and tied to posts. Whips with hooks of iron tore the men’s sides. Unbelievably not one of the forty surrendered. “Chain them in my dungeons!” roared Agricola. He referred their case to Lysias, commander of the 12th Legion, whose coming was soon expected. When Lysias arrived he threatened a sharp penalty if the soldiers continued to disobey.

On this day, 9 March 320, the men remained respectfully defiant. A new torture occurred to Agricola. Nearby was a frozen pond. The March air was sharp. “You will stand naked on the ice until you agree to sacrifice to the gods,” he said.

The rebel soldiers tore off their own clothes and ran toward the pond in the freezing air. “We are soldiers of the Lord and fear no hardship,” shouted one. “What is our death but entrance into eternal life?” Striking up a song, they marched onto the frozen pond. Baffled, Agricola posted guards. He had baths of warm water heated as an incentive to the forty to come off the pond.

As dark closed in, the forty prayed, “Lord, there are forty of us engaged in this battle; grant that forty may be crowned and not one be missing from this sacred number.” It appeared their prayer was doomed to disappointment, however. Babbling, one of the forty crawled away from the ice. Guards helped him into a bath but the heat proved too much of a shock to his frozen system. He immediately went into convulsions and died.

However, one of the guards had seen a vision of angels with crowns hovering over the pond. Impressed by the bravery of the remaining thirty-nine, he shucked off his clothes and ran onto the ice. The martyrs numbered forty again!

When the sun rose, Agricola was told that the forty were dead. He ordered the bodies burned and their ashes dumped into a nearby river so the bones could not be collected and venerated. When the guards began stacking the stiff corpses onto a wagon, they discovered that Melito, the youngest of the soldiers, was still alive. 

Melito was a local boy. The soldiers recognized his mom nearby. “Listen, Mother, take your boy home, save his life if you can. We’ll look the other way,” they said.

“What kind of talk is that?” scolded the woman. “Would you cheat him of his crown? I’ll never let that happen!” As the wagon began to roll away, she hoisted her son in with the others.

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5:10-12).

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declaration

Sunday, December 9th, the Chinese Communist government arrested one hundred members of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, China. Other arrests have taken place since then. Among those arrested were Early Rain’s senior pastor Wang Yi and his wife Jiang Rong. They have not been heard from since their arrests. Wang Yi is a well-known and influential pastor, both inside and outside of China. Since February, the Chinese government has ramped up its crackdown on the Chinese church (yes, even those churches who are registered). Good information can be found at China Partnership, Steve Childers’ website, China Aid, and World magazine. All of these sources have reported that persecution has spread to other churches, pastors, and schools.

Several months ago, Pastor Wang Yi wrote a letter to to his church in the event that he was detained for more than 48 hours. It’s called “My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience,” and you should read it. After you’ve read it, pass it on to others so they can read it. We in the United States need this kind of wisdom and maturity. You can read his declaration here.

The last elder of Early Rain Covenant Church, Li Yingqiang, wrote this letter to the church hours before he was arrested, on the subject of how the church should respond to persecution.

Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ in China, that they would remain faithful, obedient, and bring glory to God.

Please pray also for the the church here in America. We need this kind of wisdom and thinking.

 

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This morning, I had the privilege of hearing Pastor Rick Elzinga preach on Psalm 88. The following is a summary of his sermon in one sentence: God understands our discouragement – if you have any doubt, simply look to the sufferings of Christ on behalf of His people.

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There are other circumstances in which those who are pious should stand firm in peace and patience. Such qualities should extend to every situation that we encounter in this life. No one, then, has properly denied himself except the one who has abandoned himself to the Lord so that every aspect of his life will be governed by his will. The person thus composed in soul will neither judge himself to be miserable, nor will he spitefully complain against God for his lot in life, come what may.

The true necessity of having such a disposition is clear if you consider how many unforeseen events we are exposed to in this life. We are continually harassed by one illness or another; the plague advances; we are cruelly vexed by the calamities of war; frost and hail render the land barren and leave us with little, devouring our expectations for the year’s crop. Wife, parents, children, and close relatives are snatched away by death; homes are consumed by fire. These are events which make men curse their lives, despise the day they were born, hold in contempt heaven and its light, rage against God, and, being fluent in blasphemies, accuse God of unfairness and cruelty. But the believer must in these circumstances consider the mercy and the Fatherly kindness of God. If the believer, then, should see his house made lonely by the loss of those nearest to him, even then he must not stop praising the Lord. Rather, he must turn himself to this thought: “The Lord’s grace continues to dwell in my home and will not leave it desolate.” If the believer should see his crop consumed by drought, disease, or frost, or trampled down by hail and famine threaten him, even then he must not despair within his soul, nor should he become angry toward God. Rather, he must persist with confidence in this truth: “But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever” (Ps. 79:13). God, then, will provide for us, however barren the land. If the believer should be afflicted by illness, he must not be so stung by the severity of his hardship that he erupts in impatience and demands from God an explanation. Rather, he must, considering the justice and gentleness of God’s discipline, recall himself to patience.

Indeed, the believer should accept whatever comes with a gentle and thankful heart, because he knows that it is ordained by the Lord.

(A Little Book on the Christian Life, by John Calvin; translated by Aaron Dendinger an Burk Parsons, Reformation Trust, 2017, pp. 51-53)

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