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Archive for the ‘Quotes’ 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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In a book titled “Embracing Obscurity,” the unnamed author (which is appropriate for a book about obscurity) quotes Elisabeth Elliot on the subject of suffering. She says suffering is

Having what you don’t want, or wanting what you don’t have. (A Path Through Suffering, p. 56)

There are some things I have that I don’t want. I want some things that I don’t have. I know, without a doubt, that you do, too. In God’s sovereignty and love, He’s given us precisely what we need, but there are times when it conflicts with our own wants and desires. That causes tension and turmoil in our souls for a simple reason – we’re far too focused on ourselves.

After quoting Elliot, the anonymous author then says

This is the perfect definition of suffering for our discussion about embracing obscurity because it’s in the little “sufferings” of demotions, hard breaks, layoffs, out-of-state moves, and menial jobs that we learn to defer to God our dreams of being well-known, respected, and admired. It’s in these trenches that we realize God is big and we are small, where we exchange our will – our dreams, desires, and plans – for the opportunity to make much of Him and less of ourselves.

God calls us to trust Him, whether our suffering is large or small. He knows what He’s doing.

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Therefore I Have Hope is an excellent book written by Cameron Cole. The subtitle is 12 Truths That Comfort, Sustain & Redeem in Tragedy. For Cole and his wife, this is no theoretical exercise; they lost their very young son in 2013.

In World magazine, Marvin Olasky writes,

The center of the book physically and spiritually is Cole’s sixth truth: God’s providence. Cole relates a story about a woman lamenting her son’s death in a car accident: “Why did God do this to me?” A well-intentioned hospital chaplain replies, “Ma’am, God didn’t have anything to do with your son’s death.” The woman snaps back, “Don’t you take away the only hope I have.”

Cole writes, “Behind the grieving mother’s remark lies the hope that the sovereignty of God enables. If God is not fully sovereign in your suffering, then you cannot trust that He is fully in control of your healing and recovery. If God’s hands are tied when the Worst enters your life, then maybe his powers are also limited in helping you.”

Cole then gets personal: “The idea that God had nothing to do with my son’s death terrifies me…For all of these years I would have falsely believed in a universe with higher  and purpose…If God had nothing to do with my son’s death, then certain pockets of life–the really awful ones in particular–are given over to chance.”

Cole acknowledges that “the matter of God’s sovereignty and goodness invokes tension.” He (and I) knows only one way to reconcile the two: the cross. If Jesus’ suffering was part of God’s goodness, in some hard-to-fathom way ours can be too. As illogical as that seems to atheists, they have failed for 2,000 years to come up with anything better in their own eyes: In their blindness they say light does not exist.”

(World, December 8th, 2018, p. 42)

Don’t ever say to someone God doesn’t have anything to do with tragedy or suffering. When you do, you’re not helping, you’re taking away the only hope they have (and you have).

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In our worship service yesterday, we sang Stuart Townsend and Keith Getty’s song “In Christ Alone.” It’s a song I think is destined to become a classic – the church will be singing it four hundred years from now, in other words. It’s theologically sound and weighty, as well as musically  excellent.

In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
Here in the love of Christ I stand. 

In Christ alone! – who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe.
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied –
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live. 

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious day
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine –
Bought with the precious blood of Christ. 

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand:
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand. 

Stuart Townend & Keith Getty Copyright © 2001 Thankyou Music (Adm. by CapitolCMGPublishing.com excl. UK & Europe, adm. by Integrity Music, part of the David C Cook family, songs@integritymusic.com) 

It’s my anthem because it reflects my thinking as a Christian. It’s who I am based on what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for me and in me. To Him be all the glory!

It’s our anthem as the church of Jesus Christ for the very same reason. It’s who we are based on what He’s done for us and in us. In Him alone we live and stand. To Him be the glory!

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Take Up Your Cross

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(Blogger’s note: I’ve published fewer posts this month due to the start of the school year. I haven’t formally taught two of my classes before – systematic theology and apologetics – and it’s taken awhile to get a good balance. Lord willing, I’ll find that balance soon! By the way, I love what I’m doing, the students I teach, and the school.)

The godly mind, however, must rise even higher – that is, to that place that Christ calls His disciples when He bids every one of them to take up His cross.

“Then Jesus told His disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

For those whom the Lord has chosen and condescended to welcome into fellowship with Him should prepare themselves for a life that is hard, laborious, troubled, and full of many and various kinds of evil. For it’s the will of their heavenly Father to test them in this way so that He might prove them by trials. Having begun this way with Christ, His only-begotten Son, He continues similarly with all His children.

For although Christ the Son, beloved before all others – the one in whom the Father’s soul delights – we nevertheless see how little ease and comfort Christ experienced (Matt. 3:17; 17:5). Indeed, it could be said that He not only had a cross continually placed upon Him when He lived on earth, but even that His life was nothing other than a kind of perpetual cross. Scripture gives the reason for this: It was necessary that Christ “learned obedience through what he suffered” (Heb. 5:8). Why, then, would we exempt ourselves from the same situation to which Christ our head was subjected – particularly since He was subjected to suffering to provide for us a pattern of patience in Himself? On this account the Apostle Paul teaches that all God’s children are appointed to this end – to be made like Christ.

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom. 8:29).

(John Calvin, A Little Book on the Christian Life, translated by Aaron Denlinger and Burk Parsons, pp. 57-58

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Burk Parsons, Senior Pastor of St. Andrews Chapel and a Teaching Fellow at Ligonier Ministries, wrote this about the gospel:

The nineteenth-century Princeton theologian Charles Hodge said, “The gospel is so simple that small children can understand it, and it is so profound that studies by the wisest theologians will never exhaust its riches.” The gospel is absolutely fundamental to everything we believe, and it is at the very core of who we are as Christians. However, many professing Christians struggle to answer the simple question: What is the gospel? When I teach, I am astounded by how many of my students are unable to provide a biblically accurate explanation of what the gospel is, and, what’s more, what the gospel is not. If we don’t know what the gospel is, we are of all people the most to be pitied. For, if we can’t explain the gospel, then we can’t proclaim the gospel in evangelism so that sinners might be saved, and we in fact may not be saved ourselves. In our day, there are countless counterfeit gospels, both inside and outside the church. Much of what is on Christian television and on the shelves of Christian bookstores completely obscures the gospel, thereby making it another gospel, which is no gospel at all. Since Satan cannot destroy the gospel, as J.C. Ryle wrote, “he has too often neutralized its usefulness by addition, subtraction, or substitution.” It is vital we understand that just because a preacher talks about Jesus, the cross, and heaven, that does not mean he is preaching the gospel. And just because there is a church building on every corner does not mean the gospel is preached on every corner.

Fundamentally, the gospel is news. It’s good news—the good news about what our triune God has graciously accomplished for His people: The Father’s sending the Son, Jesus Christ, God incarnate, to live perfectly, fulfill the law, and die sacrificially, atoning for our sins, satisfying God’s wrath against us that we might not face an eternal hell, and raising Him from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the victorious announcement that God saves sinners. And even though the call of Jesus to “take up your cross and follow me,” “repent and believe,” “deny yourself,” and “keep my commandments” are necessary commands that directly follow the proclamation of the gospel, they are not in themselves the good news of what Jesus has accomplished. The gospel is not a summons to work harder to reach God— it’s the grand message of how God worked all things together for good to reach us. The gospel is good news, not good advice, just as J. Gresham Machen wrote: “What I need first of all is not exhortation, but a gospel, not directions for saving myself but knowledge of how God has saved me. Have you any good news? That is the question that I ask of you.”

(Table talk, January 1, 1989)

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God Needs No Defense?

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A surge of pious agreement overcame me the first time I heard someone confidently assert that “The word of God no more needs defense than does a lion in a cage. Just let the lion loose, and it will take care of itself!” There seemed something very right about that sentiment. It almost appeared irreverent to disagree with it.

Well, something about that assertion is indeed right. God is certainly not in need of anything – much less the puny efforts of any particular man or woman to defend His word. He is the Creator of heaven and earth, almighty in power, and sovereign in controlling all things. The Apostle Paul, when reasoning with the Athenian philosophers, made that very point: he declared that God is not worshiped with men’s hands “as though He needed any thing, seeing that He gives to all life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:24). If God were ever to hunger, for instance, He would not need to tell us since the fullness of all creation is His (Ps. 50:12)! He depends upon nothing outside Himself, and everything outside of Him depends upon Him for its existence, qualities, abilities, accomplishments, and blessings. “In Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

So it is obvious that God does not need our inadequate reasoning and our feeble attempts to defend His word. Nevertheless, the pious-sounding remark with which we began is still mistaken. It suggests that we should not concern ourselves with efforts at apologetics because God will directly take care of such matters Himself. The remark is just as mistaken as saying that God does not need us as evangelists (He could even make the stones to cry out, couldn’t He?) — and therefore efforts at evangelistic witness are unimportant. Or, a person might misguidedly think that, because God has the power and ability to provide his family with food and clothing without “help from us,” he does not need to go to work tomorrow.

Thinking like this is unbiblical. It confuses what God Himself needs from us and what God requires of us. It assumes that God ordains ends, but not means to those ends (or at least not the instrumentality of created means). There is no need for God to use our evangelistic witness, our daily work for a paycheck, or our defense of the faith — but He chooses to do so, and He calls us to apply ourselves to them. The Bible directs us to work, although God could provide for our families in other ways. The Bible directs us to evangelize, even though God could use other means to call sinners to Himself. And the Bible also directs us to defend the faith — not because God would be helpless without us, but because this is one of His ordained means of glorifying Himself and vindicating His truth.

Christ speaks to the church as a whole through Jude, commanding us to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). False and heretical teaching was threatening the church and its grasp of gospel truth. Jude very well knew that God was in sovereign control, and indeed that God would in time directly deal with wicked teachers, consigning them to everlasting condemnation. Still Jude also urged his readers themselves to contend with the error of false teaching, not sitting back and expecting that God would simply take care of it Himself.

Paul wrote to Titus that overseers (pastors and elders) in the church are required to be especially adept at refuting those who oppose the truth of God (Titus 1:9). However this is not merely the assigned task of ordained men. All believers are commanded to engage in it as well. Addressing himself to all members of the congregation, Peter penned the following command: “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to give an answer to anyone who asks from you a reason for the hope that is within you, yet with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). It is God Himself, speaking through Peter’s inspired words, who calls upon us as believers — each and every one of us — to be prepared to defend the faith in the face of challenges and questions which come from unbelievers — any one of them.

The necessity of apologetics is not a divine necessity: God can surely do His work without us. The necessity of apologetics is a moral necessity: God has chosen to do His work through us and called us to it. Apologetics is the special talent of some believers, and the interested hobby of others. But it is the God-ordained responsibility of all believers.

Greg Bahnsen, Ready to Reason

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