From a Weight of Care to a Weight of Glory.

In the midst of Job’s suffering, he remarked, “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1).

We might sometimes lament, “Why does life have to be so hard?”

God didn’t originally create life to be so troublesome in Eden. But sin affected everything, from the people God created to the earth they lived in (Genesis 3). Humans had work to do before sin entered the world (Genesis 2:15). But it would have been something like working at your favorite hobby with nothing going wrong. However, after sin entered the world, part of God’s curse was that thorns and thistles would spring up and labor would cost sweat and pain (Genesis 3:16-19).

Besides daily work becoming hard, personal relationships would suffer because now everyone would have a sin nature. Misunderstandings, anger, selfishness, pride, and more would war in hearts and against others. The very first person born to Adam and Eve murdered his brother.

And human history went downhill from there.

Each of us has experienced the fallenness of the world.

From early childhood we fall and get scraped up, hear taunts, teasing, and put-downs from other children, get into trouble when we do wrong, feel misunderstood and mistreated.

As teenagers we either strive to get into the popular crowd and then not lose our place, or we lament that we’ll always be on the outside. Then there’s acne, puberty, hormones, questions about the future.

As adults we struggle to make a living against increasing prices. Workplace feuds and misunderstandings crowd out enjoyment in our jobs. Someone else gets the promotion we were due. Someone takes the credit for our idea.

We struggle against our own sin nature and lament the continual pull of selfishness.

As we get older, aches and pains take over our bodies. Sight dims, and we can’t do the things we used to.

Along the way, friends and loved ones get sick and die. Innocent little children get cancer. Car crashes maim or kill loved ones. Murders and wars increase.

We try to share our faith, but people mostly don’t want to hear it. Some will actively persecute us. There are countries where sharing Christianity and handing out Bibles is a crime and conversion is punishable by death.

We have needs. Our families have needs. Friends have needs. Our country has needs and opposite opinions about how to deal with them. Our church has needs. The world at large has needs. Orphans, widows, victims, medical research, so many needs that are more than we can even begin to manage.

When we feel the weight of a fallen world, we’re tempted to just crawl into a corner and wait for it to be over.

But thinking of that weight, Paul says, “ For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). In another place he says:

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Once when we came across this passage in a ladies’ Bible study, one of the women had been going through a terrible physical battle. She was a little hurt and angry that the Bible seemed to brush off her heavy affliction as light.

But Paul isn’t minimizing the affliction. He’s saying our glory will be greater than our affliction. Sin, tears, pain, mourning, loss, problems, as weighty as they are, will seem lightweight and short-lived compared to what we’ll experience when Jesus comes for His own. Speaking of that time, Paul tells the Thessalonians, “Therefore encourage [some translations say ‘comfort’] one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:8).

‘Well,” we might be thinking, “that will be great when we get to heaven. But is there no hope and help til then?”

There is.

Just before that section in 2 Corinthians, Paul says, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (4:16).

God gives grace and strength to meet every trial. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

God invites us to cast our care on Him (1 Peter 5:7).

God gives strength in our weakness. “But he 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Jesus sympathizes with our weakness and promises grace to help in time of need. “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Okay, it’s a relief to know we have God’s help to get through this life. But what about joy? Do we just bear with life til it’s over?

No, God gives joy as well. He gives physical blessings: “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart” (Psalm 104:14-15).

He gives comfort in sorrow. “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5b).

Joy is one aspect of the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit in believers (Galatians 5:22-23).

He gives us the joy of His presence: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God” (Psalm 43:4).

When the world is too much, we can’t hide our head in the sand. But neither can we solve the world’s problems. We’re not meant to. We only need to walk in fellowship with “God our exceeding joy,” take everything to Him in prayer, and do what He calls us to within our sphere of influence.

As the hymn says:

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

From “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” by Thomas Obediah Chisholm

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Laudable Linkage

Here’s my latest collection of good reads found online.

A Better Love Song: Suffering and God’s Great Love For Us, HT to the Story Warren. “Do you pluck from the circumstances sent by our heavenly Father to determine whether he loves you? Some circumstances feel loving, others don’t. When he makes you lie down in green pastures and leads you beside still waters (Ps. 23:2), do you sing, ‘he loves me!’? When he calls you to walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Ps. 23:4), does your heart whisper, ‘he loves me not’?”

How Do I Know I’m Really Repentant? HT to Challies. “What does a repentant heart look like? Does it just look sad? Timid? Is it simply agreeable? How would we discern the difference in ourselves between a heart turning from sin and one seeking simply to manage or alleviate the consequences of it?”

Bible Interpretation Is More Than Stacking Verses, HT to Knowable Word. “We cannot merely stack up Bible verses, making biblical claims based on a handful of verses that are isolated from their immediate and broader biblical contexts. We must interpret the Bible rightly. . . Satan shows us that quoting out-of-context phrases and sentences that seem handy in the moment can be a dangerous game.”

Context Matters: The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things. “This is no inspirational teaching, so you won’t spot it on posters or mugs. But I see this verse dashed into arguments like salt in soup. Are we using using this verse properly? When we learn to read the Bible like a book and not as isolated bullet points, we’ll see that some familiar phrases don’t mean all that we’ve always assumed.”

Your Suffering Is Valid Even When Others Have It Worse, HT to Maree. “I understand what we are trying to do when we play down our troubles because they are small in comparison to what others are experiencing. We’re trying to put things in perspective so we can be grateful, avoid feeling sorry for ourselves, and be compassionate to others. However, I think minimizing our troubles can sometimes be harmful. It leads us to ignore our feelings, which can increase our stress, cause feelings of self-doubt, harm our self-esteem, and heighten our anxiety.”

Did We Kiss Purity Good-Bye? HT to Challies. “Calls for sexual purity were (and are) biblical and needed. Even in the midst of the good that was done through lots of preaching and discipleship during those years, several lies seemed to spread in the renewed emphasis on purity — each laced with enough truth to be taken seriously and yet with enough deceit to lead some astray.”

4 Traits of an Emotionally Healthy Ministry Worker, HT to Challies. “If you’re serving in ministry, you have likely been encouraged to prioritize your spiritual health. You may have been exhorted to pay attention to spiritual disciplines that will shape you into the best possible leader, teacher, or minister. All of this is good. The Bible implores us to pay careful attention to ourselves (1 Tim. 4:12–16). But spiritual vitality is not the only area of health ministry workers need to pursue. Your emotional health is also essential.”

Can Christians “Do Business” With the World? HT to Challies. “People on both sides of this issue believe that we may not compromise the holy standards of God. We all agree that we must not capitulate to our culture’s definition of right and wrong, and that we must resist calls for Christians to redefine biblical ethics. However, it is one thing to stand strong on what God defines as sin, but it is another to say this requires us to boycott any business that is involved tangentially with sin.”

How to Avoid Misinformation and Disinformation Online, HT to Proclaim and Defend. “God’s ninth commandment—do not bear false witness—is being obliterated by social media (Ex. 20:16). Where untruth takes root, social trust declines. Friends begin doubting friends because we increasingly agree, ‘I can’t tell what’s true anymore.’”

The Surprising Value of Reading Fewer Books, HT to the Story Warren. “Reading more books doesn’t make us (or our kids) a more well-read person. You’re not more well-read than someone who read three books carefully and well if you speed-read ten in the same amount of time. You’re not getting more out of your books simply because you’ve read a taller stack of them. The number of books that our kids read and that we read matters a lot less than the quality of our reading.”

Finally, this adorable kitten reminds me that even though we might not reach a goal on the first effort, each try strengthens us, and one day we’ll get there.

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

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Here are a few posts that especially caught my eye this week. Maybe some with catch yours, too.

What to Do When Your Resolutions Start Dissolving. “We’re officially two weeks into 2022. And two weeks also happens to be the average life span of a new year’s resolution. So, even if you’re finding your big plans for “new year, new me” are already floundering, I’d like to offer you a few notes of encouragement.”

Spiritual Covid and Losing Your Taste for God, HT to Challies. “Through the pain of suffering or the false promises of sin, we can come down with a case of Spiritual COVID. We’re fatigued and grumpy, and even worse, we can’t taste anything anymore. We eat to survive, not because the food has any taste. We become sluggish in our service, bored with the Bible, less committed to the church.”

Everywhere Spoken Against, HT to Challies. “There may be a time to leave the local congregation but never a time to leave the church. I’ve compared her to an ugly bride, stumbling down the aisle toward glorification. That’s me, and that’s you.”

Our Escape Room, HT to Challies. “Finding out that you’re not the cream rising to the top is only traumatic if you thought you should be. And who are you to think you should be? A friend once told me, ‘Your problem is not that you think you’re not as good as other people; your problem is you want to be better than other people.’ Ouch.”

3 Simple Ways to Flatten Your Neighbor, HT to Challies. “Unfortunately, many in our society seem to be reverting to fourth-grade categorizations for just about everyone, and often doing so with the zeal of a crusader for a righteous cause.”

When Aslan Wept, HT to Challies. “While it is within God’s power to remove our suffering and make us feel better again, sometimes He does not. We can only trust that He’s grieving alongside us while working things out behind the scenes for our good and His glory.”

Whose Purpose Will Prevail in Your Suffering? HT to Challies. “Satan intends your suffering for evil; God intends it for good. Whose purpose in your suffering will prevail? Whose purpose are you furthering? Satan attempts to destroy your faith, while God invites you to draw near to Him and draw upon His sovereign grace to sustain you.”

Discipline: What If Scripture Isn’t Politically Correct? “Scripture has always been countercultural and while the world remains in its sinful state it always will be. This also means that faithfulness to the Biblical text will lead to cultural conflict. If some texts are ‘troubling to modern readers,’ we shouldn’t be surprised.” Beyond the subject of discipline, this article shows the problem with wrongly interpenetrating Scripture.

End of Year 2021 Book Lists. If you like adding to your ever-growing TBR list, Sherry looked through a lot of end-of-year book lists to get some great ideas.

Temperance and Play: The Weird and Wonderful Word of Wordle, HT to The Story Warren. If you’ve seen those tri-colored grids of cubes on social media and wondered what they were all about, this article explains.

And to end with a smile:

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

Here’s another list of good online reads:

Biblical Literacy: Jen Wilkin on the Importance of Bible Study, HT to Knowable Word. “By her twenties, Wilkin understood it was possible to drown in waves of opinion. If she was going to learn to swim, she would have to learn to read the Bible for herself.”

On Basketball, Spiritual Disciplines, and Sanctification. “I had in mind a list of characteristics that I felt were necessary for me to sanctified—to be holy. Most of them had something to do with keeping a list of rules or living by a certain standard in my life.” I did, too. I appreciate this testimony of learning that “Sanctification comes through relationship.”

You Will Fail Sometimes. Don’t Quit. “I used to think that there is some point in the Christian life when you arrive, when you finally see that your heart and head and spirit align in some sort of beautiful sphere of sincerity and goodness and true devotion to Christ. But the older I get and the more I have begun to understand why the Bible teaches that we need armor.”

Does Your Prayer Life Need to Change? Sometimes we don’t know where to start–sometimes our routines have turned into ruts. There are helps here for either problem.

Moms and Dads: Show Your Need, HT to Challies. “I wish I would’ve shown my kids my need for Christ more. I worked so hard to show them my godliness that I didn’t show them my need. I should have been more transparent. I should have shown them just how much I needed Jesus.”

Far From Home, HT to Challies. “Some of us include in our spaces only those who support our biases or our preferences; or those who have been born into our circle or have earned membership there. But the Bible is filled with admonitions to welcome and care for the widow, the orphan and the foreigner. It doesn’t say anything about first determining whether or not they deserve it, or how well they live up to our cultural ideals.”

The Scenes They Leave Out, HT to Challies. “This steady diet of films and books and TV full of action, adventure, and high drama is stimulating. But are we inadvertently teaching ourselves that normal life is not? When the ordinary stuff of daily living is at best a quick montage to set up the real action, aren’t we in danger of losing sight of the fact that the ordinary stuff of daily living is actually most of the real action of real life?”

It‘s Not Martyrdom if You’re Being Obnoxious. “When Christians suffer, there are more possible reasons than just ‘suffering for Jesus.’ Christians, individually or corporately, might be suffering because they’ve said or done stupid things, placing themselves under the divinely designed cosmic order, whereby life is tougher if you’re stupid (as John Wayne allegedly said).”

It Is All a Snare to Me. I don’t always get a lot out of reading other people’s prayers. But this touched home in many areas, reminding me “my greatest snare is myself.”

Should Christians Cuss? HT to Challies. “It is true that Jesus often used sharp, confrontational words, but that is not the same thing as using obscenities.”

2021 Audubon Photography Awards, HT to Challies. Stunning photos of God’s creation.

This is a cute excerpt from a BBC special about “Snow Bears” (which I have not seen):

“But it’s the wrong hole.” Not for the seal! 🙂

Happy Saturday!

The Struggle Is Real

God's purpose in our strugglesDid you know that if you help a butterfly out of its chrysalis, it will probably not be able to fly and might die? There’s something in the process of breaking out of the chrysalis that exercises and strengthens wings and gets fluids where they need to be.

Similarly, a baby chick pecks its own way out of a shell. It can sometimes be aided if it’s stuck, but it’s risky. A baby joey climbs from its mother’s uterus to her pouch even though it can’t see yet.

Even a human baby’s struggle to crawl and then walk comes about with many fits and starts until he or she develops the strength to progress.

I’m not sure why so much of life involves struggle. Maybe struggle is one result of the fall of man into sin in Genesis 3. But God uses struggle in our lives for good.

Yet, we don’t like struggle. We do everything to escape it if we can. Labor-saving devices created more time but took the natural exercise out of our lives. I’m not ready to go back to toting my water from a creek or beating my laundry with rocks. But I’d probably be more fit if I did.

Trials act in the same way spiritually. We try to reduce them or get out of them as soon as possible. But if we don’t exercise our faith, it won’t grow strong.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

Just like any other struggle, our “faith muscles” may grow weary. But God has promised to be with us, strengthen us, and help us. And people see that the grace and strength to endure come not from us, but from God.

 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:7-11)

Trials test the genuineness of our faith plus result in praise to God.

 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

God watches over our trials in love. He won’t let them last any longer than necessary.

Though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men. (Lamentations 3:32-33)

Meanwhile, just as Jesus, who “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross,” so we keep our eyes on the future ahead of us.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

A man in one of our former churches had an awful disease called Von Hippel-Lindau Syndrome which caused multiple tumors to grow throughout his body. He said once that he could endure it if he knew God had a purpose in it.

He does.

Our suffering and trials may be physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, relational, financial, or something else. It’s normal and acceptable to pray for quick relief. We may not know all the reasons why God allows our particular suffering. But we know He is using it in our lives and that of others. Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 says sorrow teaches our hearts things that could not be learned by feasting and laughter. God is producing something in us that wouldn’t come about any other way. Without those trials, we might end up as weak and helpless as a flightless butterfly.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Hearth and Soul, Senior Salon,
Remember Me Monday, Purposeful Faith, Tell His Story,
InstaEncouragement, Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies,
Share a Link Wednesday, Welcome Heart, Heart Encouragement,
Faith on Fire,Grace and Truth, Blogger Voices Network.
Links do not imply 100% agreement)

When the Answer to Prayer Is Bad News

IMG_0646?ver2I love the little book of Habakkuk. It’s just three chapters long in what’s called the minor prophets of the Old Testament—minor not because they are less important, but just because these books are shorter than the five books called major prophets.

Habakkuk was a prophet who prayed—or complained or lamented—about what was going on in his country: violence, iniquity, destruction, strife, contention, perverted justice (sound familiar?) (verses 1:1-4). He sounds exasperated when he begins:

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? (verse 1:2).

God responds:

Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told (verse 5).

That sounds good! But God continues:

For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans … (verse 6).

Wait. What?

The ESV Study Bible notes that the Chaldeans were technically a particular tribe in Babylon which grew to prominence, but eventually Chaldeans and Babylonians became almost interchangeable names. God goes on to describe them. Bitter, hasty, seizing dwellings not their own, dreaded and fearsome … more fierce than evening wolves … they fly like an eagle swift to devour … violent … their own might is their god (verses 6-11).

Habakkuk surely didn’t expect his prayer to be answered by the violence of an invading army. He understands God has “ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof” (verse 12). But, he asks, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” (verse 13). The age old question: how can a holy God (verse 12) look on and allow evil to flourish? After expanding on this a while (verse 14-17), Habakkuk awaits God’s response (2:1).

God answers in 2:2-20. He doesn’t give a direct answer to Habakkuk’s complaints, just as He didn’t to Job. But He assures Habakkuk He knows what He is doing, He will take care of the Chaldeans in good time, and “the righteous shall live by his faith” (2:4). The ESV Study Bible says:

It will take faith to wait patiently for God’s plan to unfold, but the righteous believe that God will accomplish it. The phrase but the righteous shall live by his faith is quoted in the NT to emphasize that people are saved by grace through faith (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; cf Eph. 2:8) and that Christians should live by faith (Heb. 10:38-39). The kind of faith that Habakkuk describes, and that the NT authors promote, is continuing trust in God and clinging to God’s promises, even in the darkest days (p. 1724).

The book ends with a final prayer of Habakkuk, changed in attitude from his first. He reverences God. He goes on for several verses about God’s holiness, power, and majesty. He asks:

O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy (3:2).

After stating he will quietly wait for God’s timing, Habakkuk ends his prayer in faith and worship:

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer’s;
    he makes me tread on my high places (3:17-19).

These statements are remarkable in themselves, but even more so in context. Not only did Habakkuk not get the answer to prayer he was hoping for: he got news of impending disaster. He didn’t get an explanation, but he got an encounter with God. Afterward, he was humbled and hopeful. Though even hard times were coming, he rejoiced in the God of his salvation and acknowledged God as his strength.

I don’t think this means he pasted on a smile to face an invading army and loss of resources. What he describes in his prayer in chapter three is horrible. Other prophetic books concur. The Babylonian invasion and captivity were devastating and costly. It’s okay to be sad, to grieve losses, as my friend, Lisa, wrote. Lamentations is Jeremiah’s hope-filled sadness over the same invasion. But Habakkuk had faith, prayed for mercy, and rested in God as his strength for what was coming.

I can’t help but see parallels to our current situation. No one can say exactly why God allowed a pandemic to occur. No one would have asked for it. We hope it will all last as short a time as possible. It might get worse before it gets better.

The same could be said of other bad news situations: a lost job, a scary diagnosis, a failed relationship, and upending of normal way of life. In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were threatened with being thrown in a fiery furnace if they did not bow down and worship the king’s golden image. They refused and replied, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.  But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (verses 17-18). Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane the night before He was crucified, prayed, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). In both of those situations, the immediate deliverance was not granted. But God worked mightily for His glory and the benefit of others and delivered in His own time and way.

Our hopes and prayers aren’t always answered as we would like. But in the face of an invading virus, shortages, or any other bad news, what we most need is an encounter with God. We can trust His wisdom, purposes, and love. We can rejoice because He is with us and is our strength. He will give us grace to go through hard things.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Home,
Purposeful Faith, Tell His Story, Happy Now, InstaEncouragement,
Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies, Anchored Abode,
Share a Link Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Heart Encouragement,
Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth, Blogger Voices Network.
Links do not imply complete endorsement.)

Laudable Linkage

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I don’t want to “laud” my own writing, but I wanted to let you know The Perennial Gen published a piece I wrote titled “Limitations Don’t Limit Your Ministry.”

Here are some great reads discovered this week:

How to Study Your Bible in 2020.

How a “You do You” Culture Has Made Us Vulnerable to the Coronavirus, HT to Challies. “We can only stop the virus by doing what is best for others not just for ourselves.”

A Life That Points Others to Christ. “My most earnest prayer is that when someone hears my testimony, they would be compelled to go find Jesus and His Word for themselves.”

God Is Always Good. “We evaluate God’s character based on our circumstances, when we should evaluate our circumstances based on God’s unchanging character.”

Safe, HT to Challies. A poem by Paul Tripp.

‘Progressive’ Christianity: Even Shallower Than the Evangelical Faith I Left, HT to Challies. “I’ve walked in both shoes: the shoes of those who deserted and the shoes of Peter who couldn’t leave, no matter how hard it seemed to stay. I was an #exvangelical who left the faith of my youth for ‘progressive Christianity.’ Then I returned. Here’s my #revangelical story.”

Was Jesus Married to Mary Magdalene? Revisiting a Stubborn Conspiracy Theory, HT to Challies. In a word, no. This post debunks some of the false claims.

Surrendering Control When Facing Coronavirus, or any other situation where we don’t have control. “I’ve found it helpful, when facing out-of-control situations that cause me anxiety, to sort my concerns into two categories: 1. What I Can Control; 2. What I Cannot Control.”

3 Ways of Confronting the Problem of Diminishing Attention Spans Through the Great Books, HT to Challies. Good reasons to read the classics.

Guides for Kids and Middle-Schoolers to Take Notes During the Sermon, HT to Challies.

The Story Warren has a round-up of “awesome good-priced, free, discounted, livestreamed, giveaway, etc., stuff” being offered online during our “sheltering at home.”

Finally this video shows How Soap Kills the Coronavirus, HT to Challies.

Have a good Saturday, and stay safe.

Let Trouble Draw You Nearer

Let troubles draw you to God

When loved ones go through hard things, I pray that they may be drawn closer to God in all that is happening to them. I know that trials have the potential to turn people away from rather than to God.

In thinking through some of the reasons God allows suffering recently, part of me marveled that God would risk the negative reactions some people would have. Some get angry and rail against God or the universe or their loved ones. Some fear and panic.

But faith is strengthened by testing. And some people won’t turn to God until they are put in a position where there is no other choice.

Thankfully, as the psalms indicate, many work through the bad reactions, remind ourselves of what we know to be true about God, and rest in Him

As we experience this current pandemic, I’ve seen a variety of reactions already. Many are tense and on edge in the face of uncertainties: health of self and loved ones, possible lost time from work, shortage of supplies.

Hudson Taylor once said, “It does not matter how great the pressure is. What really matters is where the pressure lies — whether it comes between you and God, or whether it presses you nearer His heart.”

Let these current trials and pressures draw you to Him. Don’t let them come between you. He knows what’s going on in the world. He is wise, kind, loving, and good. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). He has promised to supply all our needs.

Do the practical things: wash hands, disinfect, avoid crowds. etc. But in faith. And, as Laura said, watch out for others who night need extra help in times like this.

A stanza in Henry Lyte’s hymn, “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken,” says:

Man may trouble and distress me, ‘twill but drive me to Thy breast.
Life with trials hard may press me; heaven will bring me sweeter rest.
Oh, ’tis not in grief to harm me while Thy love is left to me;
Oh, ’twere not in joy to charm me, were that joy unmixed with Thee.

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Biblical Reasons for Suffering

Biblical reasons for sufferingA little boy falls and scrapes his knee. His father runs to him and . . . gives him a science lesson about velocity and gravity and a lecture on safety. Right?

No, of course not. The father comforts his child and tends his wounds.

I’ve heard some people say that’s all they want when they’re suffering. They don’t need to know the why behind it: they just want their heavenly Father’s comfort and assurance of His love.

But some of us do want to know why. The question of why God allows suffering is one of the biggest issues people wrestle with.

Some think it’s wrong to ask God “Why?” Elisabeth Elliot said in her book, On Asking God Why:

I seek the lessons God wants to teach me, and that means that I ask why. There are those who insist that it is a very bad thing to question God. To them, “why?” is a rude question. That depends, I believe, on whether it is an honest search, in faith, for his meaning, or whether it is a challenge of unbelief and rebellion. The psalmist often questioned God and so did Job. God did not answer the questions, but he answered the man–with the mystery of himself.

When we lived in GA, a man in our church had Von Hippel-Lindau disease, which caused tumors to grow throughout his body. The tumors weren’t cancerous, but their growth caused multiple problems, especially when they began in his spine and brain. He once said, “I could bear this if I knew God had a reason for it.”

We may never know exactly why God allows hard things to happen in our particular cases. But the Bible gives some general reasons why God allows suffering and how He uses it.

Sin

No, suffering doesn’t mean the person experiencing it is being punished for sin. Job’s friends mistakenly thought that of him and God soundly rebuked them. When Jesus’ disciples asked him whether a certain man was blind due to his own or his parents’ sin, Jesus said neither (John 9:1-3).

But sin and suffering entered the world when sin did. Man’s inhumanity to man falls here. Sin, sorrow, sickness, etc., will be eliminated for believers when they get to heaven (Rev. 21:4), but not before. So some degree of suffering is just due to living in a fallen world. That doesn’t mean it’s random: God still is in control over what He allows.

Yet sometimes God does chasten His children, and He may use suffering to do it. Proverbs has a lot of corollaries about the consequences of certain actions. Discipline is actually a proof of our sonship. The psalmist said affliction helped him learn and obey God’s Word. Hebrews 12:1-12 says: “all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

In Revelation, God brings calamities to get people’s attention and accuses, “yet you still did not repent.” At least one purpose behind the events was an attempt to bring them to repentance.

Growth

One of the most meaningful metaphors concerning suffering for me is described in John 15. Jesus said He is the true vine, His Father is the vinedresser, and we’re branches in Him. “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (verse 2).

I’m not good with plants. But even in my limited experience, I’ve learned that some plants grow fuller when they are cut back. I’m told that expert rose pruners don’t just cut off the dead blooms: they remove perfectly good blossoms as well. Energy and nutrients are redirected to where they are most needful.

Somehow, when God “prunes” something in our lives, we grow in ways we would not have otherwise. Romans 15:3-4 says our suffering produces endurance, character, and hope. Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 says sorrow teaches our hearts things that could not be learned by feasting and laughter.

Refining

James 1:3-4 says, “The testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Malachi 3:2-3 speaks of God refining and purifying the sons of Levi. The Hebrew word for “refine” there means to smelt, to apply heat to separate impurities from the ore. Hebrews 12:25-29 speak of God shaking the earth “in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain” (Spurgeon has a wonderful devotional on this here). Trials and suffering have a way of clarifying what’s important, of burning off any excess in our lives. 

That we may learn who God is

Nebuchadnezzar went through an extensive trial through which he learned that God was God and Nebuchadnezzar was not. Though Job knew God, after his ordeals, he knew Him in a much more intimate way. Many people testify that, although they would not have chosen their trials, they don’t regret them because of how much better they knew God after  the process.

That we may learn what we are and what we trust in

Moses told the children of Israel that “the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word  that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:2-3). God knew what was in their hearts, but He had to bring it out so they could see it.

One of the reasons God caused the events in Exodus was to get people’s attention and to show that their gods were no gods, that He alone was God. He did get their attention, and there are signs some believed (Exodus 18:5-11; Exodus 14:18; 14:31; 11:9).

Sometimes we don’t realize we’re trusting in something other than God until God removes it. Though that process is painful, it’s ultimately kind in turning us from a false hope to the only true God.

To humble us

As mentioned above, part of God’s purpose for bringing Israel through the wilderness was to humble them. Nebuchadnezzar had to be humbled before he would see his need of God. Paul’s “thorn” mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:7 was partly to keep him from being too proud because of all the revelations he had received.

For the sake of others

Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). Paul mentions several times that some of his suffering were for others:

  • Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” (2 Timothy 2:10).
  • And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Philippians 1:14).
  • If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.” (2 Corinthians 1:6).
  • “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come” (2 Timothy 4:5-6).
  • Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you” (2 Corinthians 4:10-12).

Joni Eareckson Tada has suffered for 50+ years since her diving accident. God may have had reasons unknown to us for allowing this, but her suffering has opened a ministry to untold numbers of people.

To glorify God

I mentioned earlier Jesus telling the disciples that a certain man wasn’t born blind due to sin. He went on to say that the man was born blind “that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 1:3). When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, He said this illness was “for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:1-4).

I admit I have wrestled with this one. When I was about 38, I read about the man who had been paralyzed for 38 years and imagined his being paralyzed my whole lifetime. Part of me wondered how God could ask this of him. But 38 years is not that long compared to eternity. Paul said, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). Paul didn’t use the word “light” lightly: he had been speaking of excruciating suffering earlier in the chapter. But compared to the “eternal weight of glory,” it was light.

It’s like pregnancy: expectant mothers go through a range of discomfort all through pregnancy, culminating in the pain of childbirth. But they count all the suffering worth having that little one in their arms (John 16:21).

After speaking about the inheritance laid up for us in heaven, Peter says: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:15).

That the world may be shown what love and obedience mean

I’m grateful to Elisabeth Elliot for this one. In John 14:27-31, Jesus said, as he was preparing for the cross, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” Elizabeth wrote in Keep a Quiet Heart:

The disciples’ worst fears were about to be realized, yet He commanded (yes, commanded) them to be at peace. All would be well, all manner of things would be well—in the end. In a short time, however, the Prince of this world, Satan himself, was to be permitted to have his way. Not that Satan had any rights over Jesus. Far from it. Nor has he “rights” over any of God’s children… But Satan is permitted to approach. He challenges God, we know from the Book of Job, as to the validity of His children’s faith.

God allows him to make a test case from time to time. It had to be proved to Satan, in Job’s case, that there is such a thing as obedient faith which does not depend on receiving only benefits. Jesus had to show the world that He loved the Father and would, no matter what happened, do exactly what He said. The servant is not greater than his Lord. When we cry “Why, Lord?” we should ask instead, “Why not, Lord? Shall I not follow my Master in suffering as in everything else?”

Does our faith depend on having every prayer answered as we think it should be answered, or does it rest rather on the character of a sovereign Lord? We can’t really tell, can we, until we’re in real trouble.

Paul said that somehow “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:8-10). So we don’t display His working and wisdom only to other humans, but to beings in the heavenlies.

To learn that His grace is sufficient

Paul had asked God to remove something troubling in his life that he called a thorn. God said No. Instead, God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul responded, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

I believe it was Corrie ten Boom who said, “When all you have is Christ, you find that Christ is all you need.” The times in my life when anything I normally depended on was taken away and I felt the rug pulled out from under me were the  times I came to know by experience that Christ truly was sufficient for every need.

As children grow up, they depend on their parents less and less until they are able to stand alone. But Christians grow more and more dependent on God as they mature.

To spare us from something harder

We tend to overlook this part of Israel’s journey from Egypt. Exodus 13:17-18 says God didn’t bring Israel a nearer way through the land of the Philistines because the people might be tempted to turn back when they saw war. Instead, He led them through the wilderness to the Red Sea—where they were stuck between the sea and Pharaoh’s army. God already knew how He was going to deliver them, and they should have been able to trust Him for that trial.

To teach us to depend on His Word

In Deuteronomy 8:2-3, mentioned earlier, God says He led Israel through the wilderness and gave them manna partly to “make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Psalm 119:67 says: “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word.”

To identify with Christ

This is one of Scripture’s mysteries. I have several passages on this topic, but since this post is long already, I’ll just share a couple:

  • “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29).
  • “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:8 10).
  • “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).

Conclusion

These truths from Scripture help, but in some ways they don’t satisfy. Elisabeth Elliot said once, in a source I have not been able to retrace, that even though God accomplished great things through her first husband’s death, he didn’t necessarily have to die to accomplish those things. God calls people to salvation and service all the time without requiring someone’s death. Yet He chose to work that way in this case.

Even when we don’t know why, we know God. We are “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair” (2 Corinthians 4:8). We know His character. We know He is wise and good. We know He is with us (Isaiah 43:2; Daniel 3:24-25) and loves us. He is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). He promises His grace is sufficient. and He will bring good out of everything He allows. As Joni Eareckson Tada says, God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.”

For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief,
he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;

for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.
(Lamentations 3:31-33).

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

From “How Firm a Foundation,” attributed to “K”

(Revised from the archives)

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Laudable Linkage

Here’s my latest round-up of noteworthy reads:

Lies That Keep Women from the Word: Busyness Is Not the Problem, HT to True Woman. “Imagine if you thought that in order for a green bean to nourish you, you had to eat it in a calm place with nice lighting and no kids. What if a shower cleaned you only when you had a journal on hand to write about it? Or what if toothpaste worked only in Instagrammable moments?” Silly, yet we do the same thing with Bible reading. Good stuff here.

A Different Kind of Christmas List. Doing all the things leaves us exhausted. Choose the ones that mean the most to you and your family.

The Christmas Rush. From the first Christmas to now, people rush by the most important aspect of Christmas.

Someone Needs to See You Suffer Well. “Don’t assume your suffering is a detour. Suffering may hinder or even halt a hundred things in our lives, but God loves to use our griefs to magnify our small visions of him. And suffering makes the gospel run with a pace unknown in prosperity.”

Some Kids Barely Survive Christmas: Celebrating the Son with Special Needs. “Special needs can isolate families. When a child’s sensitivities preclude even a routine trip to the grocery store, the usual avenues of fellowship — birthday parties, baby showers, church-wide dinners — become unfeasible. But love and fellowship from other believers, offered without judgment, can provide parents a cool cup of water as they labor through arid terrain.”

The Humility of the Given Self. Wise words on sacrifice and humility in motherhood, but applicable to all of us who are task-oriented.

Why Did God Give My Kids a Sick Mom? HT to True Woman. “For mothers struggling with chronic pain, fatigue, physical or mental illness, our inabilities can be soul-crushing. . . . We want our kids to see us smile, even though it’s hard. . . . Whether or not you’ve struggled with significant illness, we all have seasons when we worry we don’t have enough to give to our children. And we can all be encouraged that God has good purposes for us and our children in every season.”

From Girl Power Strong to the Right Kind of Strong. HT to True Woman. “The Bible’s concept of weak and strong doesn’t line up with culture’s. This is especially the case when it comes to ideas about womanhood.”

And for a Christmas smile:

Happy Saturday!