Category Archives: Comfort

God Uses All Things

And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Acts 15:36–41, ESV

Sometimes we look only upon the negative side of things. If Christ is the King of the universe seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, and if we accept that he created his Church to establish the reign of his Kingdom on earth, then there must be of necessity a positive aspect to everything. I am not suggesting that “every cloud has a silver lining.” I believe that every cloud is a tool in the hands of the King to accomplish his will on earth, even as it is in heaven.

The end of Acts 15 testifies to this, for there a disagreement arises between Paul and Barnabas that ends in the breakup of the team. Luke is careful, though, with his recitation of the event. First, he limits the space in his book to present the situation and its outcome. Second, he does not go into the details of the discussion between them other than that the issue is bringing Mark along on their next journey.

Because we are all tainted by sin, it is normal for us to lean toward sinful things. Gossip is sin, and I don’t think I need to remind anyone that we all want to know all of the juicy details of an argument. Luke refrains from providing for our base desires. We also want to make other people’s troubles greater than they may really be so that our troubles don’t appear to be so bad. This is another attribute of our sin nature. Just because two individuals have a disagreement that leads to a new direction for each does not mean they are split by a fight.

Neither Paul nor Barnabas are presented in any light other than a simple disagreement. We don’t know exactly why they disagreed over bringing John Mark along on this second missionary journey other than Mark left them in the middle of the first. We are not sure why Mark left, but it may be that he became afraid when the journey became too difficult and Paul became quite ill (see Acts 13). Whether this is a correct view or not, It is clear that the events surrounding the conversion of the proconsul at Salamis was not motivation enough for Mark to continue on.

In any event, Barnabas wanted to try working with his cousin Mark on this second journey, but Paul did not want to bring him. I do not deny that the two disagreed sufficiently to go in different directions. I do not believe that the opposition of wills was enough to end a friendship or even their partnership in their gospel ministry. Nevertheless, Barnabas took Mark and Paul took Silas, one of the men sent back with them from the Jerusalem council. The division of labor was sensible in that Barnabas went to Cyprus where he was from. Paul took the other rout through Tarsus to Galatia and Syria.

I have heard it said, and at one time believed that since the church in Antioch sent Paul on his way with the blessing of God’s grace they took his side of the argument. This thinking falls within the fallacy of an argument from silence. Just because Luke does not record a blessing given to Barnabas does not mean it was not given. Furthermore, Barnabas is not mentioned again in the book of Acts which certainly does not mean that God took Paul’s side over Barnabas. All that can be deduced from the failure to mention Barnabas anymore is that Paul is the one whose ministry Luke followed and the rest of the book of Acts records his church planting work including those he discipled all the way to proclaiming the good news in Rome.

This short passage, though, does say a lot about the work of God here on earth. I would not say that the decision of Paul and Barnabas to go separate ways was necessarily a good one. But the worst we can gain from the event is to recognize the frail humanity God has chosen to become vessels of his grace. Every child of God is a minister in his Kingdom. No child of God deserves such a high honor. As Paul wrote,

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’

1 Corinthians 1:25–31, ESV

Repeatedly when we look backward upon events in life, we see God’s handiwork and control. I dare say that when I try to take control, my weaknesses become abundantly manifest by the outcome of my distorted thinking. Yet when I turn to God seeking his will, even those things that I have messed up become Kingdom blessings.

One reason for this, I am convinced, is that I can’t help thinking of myself first and the Kingdom of God second. This is not the priority we are told to observe. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33, ESV) Even when I try to seek the Kingdom of God first, I often find that I do so intending to receiving all the things promised to me. How much greater a fool can I be?

God chose the foolish things of this world… For this I am ever grateful. While I was a sinner, Christ died for me. And he died for you, too.

God wastes nothing. He uses all things for his glory. As we look at the confusion of our world we need not fret. God uses all of the mess we have created. There is a thought process that has become more and more popular as humanity has grown farther and farther from God. It is chaos theory and essentially refers to the concept that out of chaos comes order. Chaos theory is necessary if one wants to take evolutionary theory seriously. The experience of life and the world is the contrary: order tends to break down into chaos.

I don’t think I need to go into too much detail to highlight the problem with chaos theory. People do not get better, they get older and die returning to the earth. Environmentalists tell us that we need to take better care of the world to keep it from running down, but the more we try to reverse the situation, the greater the cries for immediate and necessary change. Chaos theory wants to say that sludge became life but it fails to identify the source of the sludge that had within it the capability of becoming life, let alone complex cellular life.

God has chosen the foolish things in this world to confound the wise. The only answers for any questions scientific, social, political, creative, and on and on come from the God who was there before creation, the God who created, and the God who has remained within his creation using all of his word and activity to be glorified.

Whenever you feel frustrated with the way things are, or fearful for the future, or apathetic about the present, be reminded that God uses all things for our salvation and his glory.

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Evil Versus Providence

This morning I read an article that everyone should read. You can find it here.

The article reminds us that God’s providence is greater than the evil we endure. Moreover, God uses the evil we encounter to move us to the place, and shape us into the people he wants us to be. It’s fine to speak about Sanctification. The reality, though, is that we have become comfortable in our faith. We are couch potato Christians who wait around for some miraculous effort on the part of the Holy Spirit to do God’s will in us.

The road to sanctification is narrow, steep, and rocky. On it, our Father places obstacles. However, he does not intend for us to stumble over them but to adapt and overcome, to quote the USMC.

Psalm 121(ESV)

A SONG OF ASCENTS.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.

How can we deny God’s providence? It is always in action. Yes, there are many who deny the thought of a providential God who even exists. Yet that is the beauty of God’s providence. It’s not about them; it’s about us.

When I was a seminary graduate seeking ordination in the Church, Psalm 121 was assigned to me to use as the foundation for a sermon to be presented and evaluated. I wish I knew then what I know now. But that is God’s providence. All these years later, I have the experiences through which God by his Spirit has led me, taught me, and shaped me. It has not been easy. However, I can say now that I would not have changed a day of pain into a day of comfort, because they brought me to many days of joy.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:4–5, ESV)

Older is wiser only if you are in the hands of God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There is no other source of wisdom. The greatest Christian men and women in my life, those I admire as examples of humility and holiness, are the saints who have suffered the most either in quantity or degree or both. I say this not to suggest that we should seek suffering. I say this as an observation of those who have suffered.

What is injustice compared to the providence of God? What is disease compared to the providence of God? What is death compared to the providence of God? Nothing. I pray that every Christian preacher catches the truth of God’s providence and not shy away from preaching uncomfortable sermons. I pray that every congregation gathers to worship not simply to be uplifted, built up, or made to feel good. Instead, the gathering for worship means entering into the presence of a Holy God by a people who are on the path toward holiness.

God is love. God is grace. God is mercy. These things, and others, cannot deny that God is also holy, righteous, and just. He is not these things in the way that we might define them. All of the attributes of God are prior to us. The creation was determined according to God’s plans and providence. Why should we think that the creation could define the creator?

We take comfort in the truth of God, who he is, what he does, and what he has said.

Thy word have I hid in mine heart, That I might not sin against thee.” (Psalm 119:11, KJV 1900)

And we find comfort in the knowledge that everything we encounter today will, by God’s work, prepare us for tomorrow.

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” (Psalm 30:11–12, ESV)

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Marked for Life

In 1990, 20th Century Fox released a Steven Seagal movie called “Marked for Death.” It is typical of the action genre that has become the norm for decades. Good versus Bad, white hat versus black hat, or in this case, fear versus greater fear. That’s right. A burned-out CIA agent retires and goes back home only to learn that a gang of ruthless Jamaicans has taken over the drug trade in his home town. As with most of these movies, the law is unable to deal with such a situation because it is inept or because it “has to play by the rules” when criminals don’t.

The leader of this gang is Screwface, a Jamaican drug lord who rules and accomplishes what he wants through fear. Now I have laid out this background so 1.) you don’t have to watch the movie, and 2.) to present a quote by Screwface who at one point says, “Everybody want go heaven. Nobody want dead.” Out of the mouth of evil comes an interesting statement that is an interesting thought, especially as we currently live in a society that has virtually shut down out of the fear of death.

Fear is a powerful motivator. Fear is an emotional response, not a reasonable one. Fear has a positive use. For example, I have a healthy fear of rattlesnakes. I have had a number of encounters with them growing up in Southern California. That fear makes me cautious when I do encounter one. However, to allow the fear to become my emotional response in an encounter is most certainly going to end in disaster. Remaining calm and allowing the snake to go on its way is generally going to result in a short delay and nothing more.

Throughout history, fear has been used as a means of controlling others. A recent article about such a use of fear was written by Gary DeMar and can be found here. I believe that the greatest fear many people have is the fear of death. This, to me, is interesting because as Screwface says in another place, “Look upon this madman! Him dead and him don’t even know it!” Can it be that we fear death because we all know instinctively we are already dead and refuse to acknowledge it?

My question goes to the heart of the Gospel.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2:1–3, ESV)

The human problem is we are all born dead in sin. You may want to try to get philosophical and want to define death at this point, but I suggest that you just reflect on what death might mean to you. Non-existence? Sleep? Pain? Heaven? Hell? “Everybody want go heaven.” I do! So why fear death? I suggest a couple of reasons. First, we were created and given life which is essential to our purpose. It is natural for me to want to live and not want to die. Second, because we are touched by the ramifications of death every day. We know death and we don’t have to admit it for it to be true. Third, most of us believe in a heaven of some kind, and most of us know that it is our deeds that may keep us out of heaven. How many times have you heard about someone who dies and was a good person? How good does one have to be to go to heaven?

Now I present to you a solution to the human problem. The solution to the human problem.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:4–9, ESV)

Screwface was right! To go to heaven you must die. Or someone must die. And someone has died making us alive, Jesus Christ. There are no works that can take us to heaven. There are no deeds that can give us eternal life. But there is Christ Jesus and God’s grace. This truth defeats the fear of death. Why?

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (Romans 8:31–35, ESV)

While the world turns itself inside out and upside down because of COVID-19, fear not but believe that the one who is greater than the virus loves you. In Christ, we can be marked for life.

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The Chief End of Man

There have always been Christians and non-Christians speculating on the end of the world. There are those who keep trying to tell us when the Rapture, the tribulation, and the final judgment of all mankind will take place. This has been done ever since the early days of the church.[1] Christians are not alone in this fanciful speculation. Take the movie 2012. We love catastrophic movies and books so much, that we are uncritically accepting the same kind of thinking by the scientific community building their models and guessing on what is going to happen.

My suggestion to all of it is to give it up. Why focus on the end of life and society? The Westminster Shorter Catechism makes clear just what the end of mankind is: to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

What a shift in our outlook this offers. We can cast off all fears of what is going to happen tomorrow. We become indifferent to circumstance. It’s not that we don’t care. It’s that we care about the glory of God above all else. We recognize that our humanness is not something evolved from anything. We know better! We are created beings. Created to display God’s being. We are created in his image.

The difficulty is that we don’t act that way. The church of the Middle Ages recognized this with their Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, Envy, Anger, Sloth, Avarice, Gluttony, and Lust. What’s more, we humans have redefined most of these things into virtues. We can only do this if we cast off God the Creator and replace him with God the created.

Why is it that all governments want to control our lives “from cradle to grave?” Only because we, not just the politicians, have removed God from his throne of glory and replaced him with ourselves. Government is good. It is God-ordained. Yet this can only be true if we remember that the purpose of all human government is to glorify God and to aid each of us to glorify him and enjoy our relationship with our Creator.

Little children look up to their parents. They want to be like mom and dad. Can this be why Jesus said we must become like little children? Could this be the meaning Jesus intended when he said, “Let the children come to me?” Our Father wants us to come to him, to make our concerns known to him, be comforted by him.

I don’t remember a lot about being a little child. However, there is one memory that is seared into my mind and heart. I remember walking with my dad and my hand was too small to hold his hand. So I would grab onto his index finger and squeeze. Holding that finger was my comfort and joy because my dad was everything to me.

My dad would be the first to acknowledge that when I was that age, and even to the moment of his death, he was really a stand-in for my true Father. Holding my dad’s finger made me believe that nothing could happen that would cause me harm. How much greater is it to hang on to our Father in heaven and proclaim, “Hallowed be thy name.”

 

[1] see The Day and the Hour

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