Tag Archives: Comfort

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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Filed under Comfort, Truth

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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Filed under Comfort, Faith, Gospel, Love

Is This the End?

I remember when I was a child reading a book about Chicken Little. Almost everyone knows this parable in some form. The basic story is that one day an acorn falls from an oak tree and hits Chicken Little in the head. His conclusion was the sky was falling, and his mission became to spread the news of the coming disaster. The ending changes from tale to tale and is either positive or negative. On his way to tell the king, Chicken Little tells all the birds and animals he comes across. The last is the fox, who offers his den as protection.

The sad ending is that the fox eats them all. You shouldn’t believe everything you hear. The happy ending (not for the fox!) is they all escape and make it to the king. Be strong and courageous, and things will turn out well.

As with all moralistic stories, they are parables and must be limited in application. Chicken Little was more than merely mistaken. If he had taken a moment to investigate and not make an irrational conclusion, nothing would have happened from it. If the other animals had inquired into what Chicken Little was claiming, they might have realized that the idea of the sky falling is nonsense.

What reminded me of this story is an interpretation of the Corona Virus, which has resulted in tragedy and disruption of life is a judgment of God. The same argument has been made through the centuries for plagues and natural disasters. However, I believe that in each case, we have called the falling sky a curse from God, we border on the flaw of Chicken Little’s irrationalism and the others’ blind acceptance of the claim.

There are thinking people in the church who have called us to not speak of judgment but of compassion, love, and a call to service. I may agree or disagree with their reasoning. Still, I do believe that one of the things I have noticed during this critical time is that many people who are not necessarily religious have given of themselves for the sake of their neighbor. Judgment or not, this arises, I believe, from the nature of all mankind having been created in the image of God.

Whether or not people believe in Christ for their salvation from sin, they have, for the most part, rejected the evolutionary concept of the survival of the fittest. If that maxim was right, we would let the virus run rampant and not mourn those who, in their weakness, die. Yet even atheists, agnostics, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and every other kind of faith you can think of, have joined in the effort to reduce the effect of this and other diseases.

So, I am thanking God for showing us all that we are his creation and that our care for one another is a loving example of his glory.

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:5–7, ESV)

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Our Shepherd

A Psalm of David.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ps 23.

Almost everyone knows this psalm. The beauty of its poetry and imagery encompasses the heart like a blanket on a cold evening.  It is used by those who believe and those who hope. It is also used by many who are hoping for hope.

Because Psalm 23 is used so often, I have tended to avoid using it. I didn’t want to become cliché. Yet there is no other work in which I find such expression of the Lord’s daily watch and care for his sheep.

The psalm speaks for itself. That is why it is so popular. Unlike other passages of Scripture, even without deep theological analysis, you can still be comforted by its lines. So, I will not try to explain all of the images and cross-references and details. I present it that you may be reminded to use it. Meditate on it. Pray it. Let it become a song of hope in your heart.

May the Lord bless you.

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Filed under Poetry