His Reminders are Grace

Babe, the car is making a funny noise when I start it. It’s making a noise I’ve never heard before.” I got up from my comfortable sleeping position and went outside with my wife to see what was wrong with the car. She cranked it twice and both times there was a delay. I knew it was the battery because I’d been notified about it the last time the car was serviced. Right then I knew our day would not go as planned. I had a business appointment in another city and had arranged to have a rental ready, but I wasn’t sure if driving to the rental car agency or having them pick me up was going to be more efficient. Because of this uncertainty, I drove my wife to work instead of her taking our second car to work. As we were driving away, my wife kept voicing how she was going to be late to work and how this car problem threw off her whole day. It would also affect my day because it reduced my sleep time and taking her to work threw off my schedule by an hour.

Graciously, the LORD reminded me of His sovereignty and I took the opportunity to encourage my wife to respond biblically (recalling truths about God, etc.) and not in the flesh. She said she was trying, but I reminded her that life will always have trials that we are called to respond correctly to. She made it to work on time and arranged a ride home. I was picked up by the rental car agency and I made it to my meeting on time. Because I was picked up, our second car was at home which allowed her to run her errands after work. After I got home, we went to the auto parts store and purchased a new battery for our first car.

We discussed the day and talked about several things the LORD reminded us of with this small trial.

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First, this trial reminded us that God sends trials that we might mature as Christians as we seek Him for wisdom and grace. James reminds us that we are to count it all joy when we experience trials because they’re working for our maturity and preparing us for eternity (Jam. 1:2-4).

Second, this trial reminded us that we are not in control of our lives and even dying car batteries serve the purposes of God to remind us of that. As mentioned before, we both had our days arranged and this interruption (by her own admission) revealed my wife’s lack of submission to God, and trust in God regarding this unplanned event. We must remember that God is sovereign over all and is working out all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11).

Third, this trial reminded us of how undone we are and how much we still desire to sit on the throne of our own lives. James reminds us that presuming upon the LORD’s grace is evil boastful arrogance and that we should be of the mind that says, “If the LORD wills, we will live and do this or that” (Jam. 4:13-15). Oh how patient the LORD is with us when we presumptuously make plans with no thought of His majesty. That is a mark of pride that often eludes us. We must remember that we are not our own, but we were bought with a price called to submit ourselves to God with His glory as our end goal.

Fourth, this trial reminded us that God answers prayer….and sometimes very fast! As I was driving my wife to work, she told me that she had just prayed that the LORD would cause her to think biblically in all things. Within an hour, He granted her an opportunity to put that prayer request to work. We must remember that God answers prayer according to His will and He will complete the work of salvation that He started to conform us to the image of His Son (Phil. 1:6, Rom. 8:29).

Finally, the trial reminded me of my call to lovingly lead my wife by speaking the truth to her in love. I haven’t always done this well, but the LORD was gracious to me in this instance. Though I sternly admonished my wife to think biblically, I did it because I love her. I also quickly admonished her to think correctly because I didn’t want her own sinful tendencies nor the enemy to assail her mind with anxiety and frustration concerning the car and her plans. More than anything in my marriage, my desire for my wife is to see her continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ and I have a God ordained role to play a significant part in that (Eph. 5:25-27). It is a role that I need much grace for due to my own sin, and I rejoice because God is sufficient to supply all of our needs in Christ Jesus.

We must remember the next time when things don’t go our way, understand that they weren’t supposed to.

We must remember that God is God and we are not.

These reminders are grace working for our good and His glory! 

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God Is Not Aimless

aimlessOne of the things my wife and I are committed to is continuing to date each other. Every week, usually on Friday evenings, we make it a point to spend time away from the “to do” list and away from others.  As self-avowed amateur foodies, we like to try different types of cuisine and Austin has a wide variety to choose from.  Some dates are more formal and some are casual, even including Austin’s famous food truck culture. With all of these choices, we’ve often found ourselves indecisive about what we want to eat and I’ve been known to drive without knowing where we’re going. Logic finally kicks in and I usually stop driving aimlessly and pull over in a parking lot so we can finalize our decision.

Aimlessness is costly because it is wasteful and counter-productive resulting in fruitlessness.  I think all of us can agree with that because we intuitively know that life is to be lived with purpose and usually when one loses that sense of purpose apathy, depression or despair kicks in.  I think we intuitively know this because we were created by God who is purposeful in all that He does.  If we truly believe that God is committed to carrying out His purpose in the world, we can be confident, despite what happens, that all things are working together for good in our lives.

A Case of Aim from the Beginning

Recently, I began re-reading the Bible, starting in Genesis, and immediately I was struck by the order in which He created creation.  Genesis 1 details God’s creative activity in six days.  However, what’s intriguing about this account is the order or structure of creation. There is a pattern of form and filling in Genesis 1. Here is what I mean:

  •  Day 1 corresponds with Day 4 | Creation of day and night on Day 1 and then the creation of the sun and moon to fill the day and night skies on Day 4.
  • Day 2 corresponds with Day 5 | Creation of sky and sea on Day 2 and then the creation of birds to fill the sky and fish to fill the sea on Day 5.
  • Day 3 corresponds with Day 6 | Creation of dry land, plants, and sea and then the creation of animals and man to fill these places on Day 6.

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In the very first chapter of the Bible, we learn that God is not aimless, but purposeful in His sovereign activity of creation. This truth should begin to shape our understanding of the character of God.  In fact, the rest of the Bible continues to reveal that God is purposeful.  

God’s Aim in Our Pain

However, I strongly suspect that isn’t where we struggle to believe and understand that God is purposeful.  We struggle to understand God’s purposefulness when we see the painful effects of sin in the world and how it painfully affects our own lives.  When we experience or hear of tragedies abroad or closer to home, we often question their purposes which, at times, causes us to question the sovereignty and the goodness of God.  Our theology seems to come unraveled when pain or disappointment invades our lives.  But why don’t we struggle to believe that all exists to glorify Him when all is going well? Is it impossible to believe that God even uses sin and its painful effects to glorify Himself?  Why do we commend God in times of pleasure and condemn Him in times of pain? We do this when we interpret life from our vantage point and not from God’s. That’s idolatry, not theology.  

James 1:2-4 and 1 Peter 1:6-7 reminds us that the trials we experience are given to us by God to prove, strengthen and perfect our faith.  God’s ultimate goal for us is that we would be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) and the process of being conformed or sanctification sometimes happens by experiencing trials and pain.  Trials and pain provide the occasion for us to remind ourselves of truth and respond accordingly as children of God. Oftentimes, these trials expose just how unholy we naturally are. C.H. Spurgeon said, “Trials teach us what we are; they dig up the soil and let us see what we are made of”.  

In seeing our unholiness, we ought to desire to be more holy. In that way, God’s aim in our pain and trials is that we would continually turn to Him for sanctifying and sustaining grace. When we turn to Him, we are declaring that He is sufficient to remove our pain or sustain us in it and in that He is glorified! God’s aim in our pain is not only our sanctification, but ultimately our joy and His glory as we are driven to Him (Psalm 16:11).   Do you believe that pain is God’s tool for your joy and His glory in your life? We must continually fight to believe in the goodness of God (Psalm 106:1), the sovereignty of God over all things – good and bad (Daniel 4:35, Psalm 115:3), and the good promises of God for His children (2 Corinthians 1:20).

God’s Aim in Our Pleasure

If pain is a tool that drives us to God for joy, what about pleasure?  What is God’s aim in our pleasure? Are the pleasures we experience meant to drive us to God?  Resoundingly, “yes!”  All of the legitimate pleasures we experience emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, materially and physically are pointers.   James 1:17 reminds us of the source of every good gift (material and immaterial) and 1 Timothy 6:17 reminds us that He aims for us to derive joy from what He’s given. Earthly pleasures are meant to be pointers to an eternally pleasing God!  The gift reflects the heart of the Giver. However,  sin prevents us from seeing the greater value of the Giver over His gifts. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is given that we might see rightly!  Psalm 16:11 says –

You make known to me the path of life;

   in your presence there is fullness of joy;

   at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Psalmist tells us that  lasting pleasure and the fullness of joy are ultimately found in God. If earthly pleasures are pleasurable, yet fading, how much more should we seek to experience ultimate unfading pleasure by being with Christ?!  

God’s Aim in His Pleasure

Have you ever wondered what brings God the most pleasure? It’s Him! Dr. John Piper writes: “God’s own glory is uppermost in his own affections. In everything he does, his purpose is to preserve and display that glory. To say his glory is uppermost in his own affections means that he puts a greater value on it than on anything else. He delights in his glory above all things” (Desiring God, p. 43).  For God to find joy or pleasure in anything above Himself, He would be an idolator giving glory to something or someone lesser.  Since nothing greater exists than God, He finds ultimate delight and pleasure in Himself because He is the sum of all perfection and glory!  If God finds ultimate delight in Himself, how much more should we do the same?  

God’s aim in all that He does is that He be glorified by, in and through His creation, which is the whole aim of the redeeming work of Jesus Christ.  God’s aim is His own glory, and rightly so!

Grace & Peace,

d.

The Grace of Trials

jobIf you’re familiar with the Scriptures, you’re familiar with the suffering of Job in the Old Testament. Job’s suffering was agonizing spiritually, emotionally, and physically. No area of his life was untouched by pain. What might be the most perplexing aspect of the narrative is God’s nomination of Job to Satan for these afflictions (Job 1:8). Or maybe perhaps the fact that we really don’t understand the “why” of God’s permission is most perplexing. What we do know from this text and several others in Scriptures is that God’s people are not exempt from trials. At times, God sends trials, which are not meant to harm us, but are a means of our growth or a witness of our faith (Matthew 5:10-11; Acts 5:41; Romans 8:28; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-9). Famed Baptist pastor, C.H. Spurgeon, one who was greatly acquainted with trials said this –

“None of us can come to the highest maturity without enduring the summer heat of trials. As the sycamore fig never ripens if it be not bruised, as the corn does not leave the husk without threshing, and as wheat makes no fine flour until it be ground, so are we of little use till we are afflicted. Why should we be so eager to escape such benefits?”

If we’re honest, we’ll admit that our natural reaction to trials is to escape them, not to sit under them and let them do the good work God intends to do through them. We need to remember that as long as we live on this earth, we will go through trials of various kinds and of varying degrees. Such was the case recently for my wife and me.

Recently, my wife underwent a surgical procedure that we had been putting off for a couple of years hoping and praying the Lord would miraculously intervene and alleviate the issue. He didn’t. The weeks leading up to the surgery consisted of a few pre-op appointments and mentally preparing for major surgery. This would be my wife’s first surgery as an adult and there were more than a few concerns that often resulted in fear and anxiety in my wife. Having had surgery a few years ago, I understood her fear and anxiety and I constantly pointed her back to Scripture and the truths about God. Not only her, but I had to remind myself of these things as well.

More Than You Know
On one occasion before the surgery, my wife and I were discussing things and I reminded her that this surgery was not just about rectifying a physiological problem, but God was doing more than we knew through this ordeal, ultimately for His glory. We talked about God’s providence concerning Joseph, Ruth, and Jesus and how their trials and sufferings were part of His redemptive plan. Former pastor John Piper has said this concerning trials, “God is doing 10,000 things in your life through this ordeal, but He may only let you in on 1 or 2 or 3 of them.”

What Was Perceived & Prayed For
During moments of introspection and prayer, the Lord began to fill my mind with many of the good things that could come of this whole ordeal and I was excited as I shared them with my wife. Some of the things that we discussed and prayed for that could come of the surgery were:

• an opportunity to experience the sufficiency of God’s grace and faithfulness in specific ways (peace, financial provision, freedom from insurance administrative hassle, and a speedy recovery for my wife)
• an opportunity for us to grow deeper in our faith and know God’s goodness toward us in all things
• an opportunity for particular sins to be exposed (fear, anxiety, anger, pride, etc.)
• an opportunity to grow in humility
• an opportunity for God’s grace in this ordeal to be an encouragement to our families
• an opportunity for me to grow in compassion and patience as I serve my wife during her recovery
• an opportunity to continue to strengthen our marriage
• an opportunity to see the Lord’s grace toward us through our church family
• an opportunity to deepen relationships with our church family
• opportunities to share the gospel
• greater desire for eternity and a looser grip on the things of this world

trustThe Road Ahead
At this point, we’re just a few days post surgery and my wife has several more weeks of recovery. So the weeks ahead will be filled with more trusting in God (as all of life should be) as we get back to a place of normalcy.

Recently, we went walking and I took the opportunity to ask her what the Lord taught her about Himself and herself throughout this trial. She told me that she knows God is a faithful God who deserves to be trusted and that at times her faith is weak (like all of us). I appreciated her transparency. When they wheeled my wife off to the operating room, we expressed our love for one another and as she let go of my hand, I welled up with emotion – watery eyes and a shaky voice. I was talking to one of our pastors who had come to pray with us and I told him it was hard seeing her like that. Now that I think more about it, I think what was hard was that I couldn’t be with her during that crucial time. I felt like I had no control or protection over her. My sin – I wasn’t trusting the Lord to truly take care of my wife in ways I never could. I failed to remember that before she is my wife, she is His child and He perfectly loves and cares for her.

We can honestly say that the Lord has answered several of our prayers concerning this, but the biggest blessing of the trial is our increased understanding and knowledge of Him and delighting in Him above all things. We truly believe that God uses the tools of trials to remind us just how weak and needy we are, to reveal more of Himself to us and conform us to the image of Christ so that we might say along with the Psalmist, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” (Psalm 119:71)

Grace & Peace,

d.

Our Integrity and God’s Sovereignty in Trials

The Lord declared in Isaiah 55:8: 

8″For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
         Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.
    9″For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
         So are My ways higher than your ways
         And My thoughts than your thoughts.

In a psalm of praise, David recorded in Psalm 145:

17The LORD is righteous in all His ways
         And kind in all His deeds.

What we gather from these two verses are two important aspects of God. One, His purposes and works toward His determined ends greatly exceeds our rationales. Two, all that He does is righteous and kind. It is when we experience trials and great suffering that we sometimes question God and His righteousness and kindness. May the Scriptures prove to be our comfort.

Continuing my journey though the Scriptures, I was greatly encouraged by the account of Joseph. Again, the grace of God was abundant through the working of the Holy Spirit by allowing me to see and ponder things that are particularly relevant to things going on in my life now.

Joseph’s Integrity

Genesis 37:18-28 records the cruel treatment of Joseph’s jealous brothers selling him to the Ishamaelites for 20 shekels of silver. These Ishamaelites would later take Joseph to Egypt where he would be purchased by Potiphar of Pharoah’s house. Very early in Genesis 39, we learn, “2The LORD was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian. 3Now his master saw that the LORD was with him and how the LORD caused all that he did to prosper in his hand. 4So Joseph found favor in his sight and became his personal servant; and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he owned he put in his charge.”

Despite being a victim of sibling evil, being separated from his natural family which were the covenant people of God, being far from home, and his position as a slave among pagan people, Joseph was not angry at the Lord. Though Joseph’s circumstances were hard and were vastly different, his faith in the immutable God never waivered. The Scriptures tell us that in the hard times the Lord was with Joseph and blessed Joseph’s work, which led to him becoming the overseer of Potiphar’s house.

To add to this multi-layered trial, Joseph was repeatedly tested sexually by Potiphar’s wife with very strong advances. (Genesis 39:7-13) Illicit sex and other forms of lusts of the flesh are often crouching at the door when we go through trials. We are fools to think that sinning relieves life’s pressures or exacts revenge if we blame God for our trials, as if He were acting malicious toward us. However, notice Joseph’s reply to her advances, “8But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge. 9″There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?”

The foundation of Joseph’s refusal was his loyalty to God.  Joseph had a theocentric perspective!  Had he not had this perspective, consider how damaging his witness could have been in the sight of the Egyptians.  Consider how the LORD’s name could’ve been blasphemed. Consider the practical implications had he given in to Potiphar’s wife’s advances.  Proverbs 6 says, “27Can a man take fire in his bosom and his clothes not be burned? 28Or can a man walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? 29So is the one who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; Whoever touches her will not go unpunished.”

As an act of revenge, Potiphar’s wife, a rejected woman, accuses Joseph of attempted rape.  This act of slanderous revenge lands Joseph in prison, but Genesis 39:21 tells us, “But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer.”  What grace from God!

God’s Sovereignty

As we have learned, the Lord was with Joseph, extended kindness to him and caused him to prosper under the hand of Pharoah to the extent that Joseph became second in command in Egypt. Faced with a God wrought famine, as the Lord revealed to Joseph the interpretation of Pharoah’s dreams, Joseph devised a plan that would prevent starvation in Egypt and surrounding lands. (Genesis 41:1-49)

Having been hit by the famine in Canaan, Jacob sends his sons to Egypt to buy grain.  Unbeknownst to the brothers, they are reverently beseeching Joseph for grain, thus fulfilling Joseph’s dream.  After a series of testings and blessings, Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers. (Genesis 45).  Imagine how his brothers must’ve felt seeing Joseph alive and well.  Imagine the guilt and shame they were feeling at that moment.  But notice the disposition of Joseph’s heart toward his brothers.  He was gracious and merciful.  Also, notice Joseph’s words describing the events of his life.

3Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. 4Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come closer to me.” And they came closer. And he said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5″Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6″For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. 7″God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.”

Verse 5 tells us that it was God who sent Joseph, through the evil treachery of his brothers, to Egypt to preserve life. Verse 7 tells us it was God who sent Joseph through this same evil to preserve a remnant in the earth, to keep alive by a great deliverance. Later, in Genesis 50, Joseph again reassures and comforts his brothers guilt by saying:

20″As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”

We must never lose sight of the fact that for the believer, God is working all things, including acts of sin, to a good and glorious end. Consider the death of Christ. As we see here, God ordained Joseph’s situation for the preservation of the remnant of Israel remembering His covenant with His Son in eternity past, spoken to Abraham in Genesis 12.

Are you in a trial now?  Don’t doubt the Lord’s arrangement of it, presence in it and purpose behind it.  As we see from this account trials:

  1. Are designed to cause us to rely on and demonstrate the grace of God.
  2. Are designed to cause us to grow in and reflect the glory of God.
  3. Are designed to bring forth the good will of God in our lives and the lives of others.
  4. Are designed to demonstrate the glory of God to unbelievers.

 Also, when we go though trials, by God’s grace, let’s demonstrate the integrity that Joseph did so we will not blaspheme the name of God; but rather emit His fragrance of life and be a blessing to those around us for His glory.

Grace & Peace,

d.

Tragedies and Sufferings As Means of Grace

Tragedies and sufferings are things we all have gone through or will go through, either directly or indirectly. There are no exemptions. This week several reports of tragedies have come my way and it’s provoked me to think about how they fit into the plan of God. On a national level, I’ve been reading articles concerning the plane crash near Buffalo, NY and the effects of the recession. Much closer to home, I’ve received phone calls this week from close people in my life informing me of their recent tragedies and sufferings.

When tragedies and sufferings strike, the common question asked is, “Why did this happen?”.  I believe the foundational answer is sin. This world is fallen and we are engaged in angelic conflict. Presently, this world is not functioning according to God’s intended purpose. But we must not forget in spite of these things, God is sovereign and working all things to His marvelous end. We must not also shrink back in arrogant disbelief when we’re told God, at times, appoints tragedies and sufferings or at other times does not prevent them from happening. Bitter times must never be an account where the sovereignty, love, justice, goodness and wisdom of God is questioned.

So how are we, believers, to assess the tragedies and sufferings that occur in our lives or in the lives of others?

By looking at them as a means of grace. The justification for this perspective is Romans 8:28.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

The all things in this verse definitely includes tragedies and sufferings. God causes tragedies and sufferings to work together for good according to His purpose. We can not overlook that. We must diagnose our lives in light of the big picture – God’s purpose. We cannot merely isolate the tragedies and sufferings of our lives apart from His overall purpose. Rather, we must also see our tragedies and sufferings integrated into the plan and purpose of God. Consider Job, Joseph, Jonah, Paul, and of course Jesus. All of them suffered in such a way whereas God designed it for their benefit and the benefit of others. That’s the grace. Excluding Jesus, none of these men could see the ultimate good and fruit of their suffering while in the midst of it. And neither will we, but will we take God at His word?

It’s very difficult for Western Christendom to see tragedies and sufferings as a grace gift of God. Our affluence and pride kicks against this biblical truth. But God will have His way. God’s purpose for His people is to see Christ’s reflection in them, that He may be pleased. Tragedies and sufferings are two of the tools of grace He uses to make us more like Christ.

Tragedies and sufferings:

  1. Reminds us of the folly of self-sufficiency.
  2. Reminds us of the blessing and joy of depending on God.
  3. Are permitted to induce repentance and humility.
  4. Purifies, strengthens and matures our faith.
  5. Causes us not to trust in money, etc.
  6. Causes us to long to be with God.
  7. Creates opportunities for unbelievers to see Who our Treasure is.
  8. Creates an opportunity to experience the comfort of God.
  9. Creates an opportunity for other believers to be encouraged by your positive response.
  10. Enlargens our ability to express compassion and sorrow when others experience trials.
 It is good for me that I was afflicted,
         That I may learn Your statutes.
(Psalm 119:71)

Grace & Peace,

d.