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.

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The Grace of A Rebuke

We currently live in an age where truth is projected as a fleeting fantasy or it’s reconstructed as an oppressive notion.  The ideas of our postmodern age, sadly, have infiltrated and contaminated the professing church through enemies of the cross and undiscerning ears.  It is because of the failure to adhere to truth that the church exhibits stagnation and retarded growth.  The failure of adhering to truth is not of a theoretical issue alone, but a practical one.  We do the truth of the gospel no good when we fail to exhibit it practically.  We bear the fruit of postmodern theory when we fail to walk in truth.  So what does it mean to walk in truth? Psalm 86:11 says this:

 Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.

First, walking in truth involves understanding His ways, His commands and precepts.  So there is an instructional aspect.  Next, the Psalmist prays for the effect of the LORD’s instruction: to obey His truth.  The Psalmist is praying for comprehensive obedience.  And this comprehensive obedience is for what end?  To deliver him from the duplicity resident in his heart.  We must have undivided, right and reverent affections, with the chief affection being the glory of His name.  This is what it means to fear His name.

But let’s be a little bit more specific. I am going somewhere with this!

What does walking in truth look like in the relational dynamic of the brotherhood, which is united in one Spirit?

To put it simply, we are to walk in love toward one another for the advancement of the gospel for the glory of Christ.

Let us not be naïve to think that this love is a cocktail of warm thoughts, nice gestures, and complimenting words.  It is much more.  It is much harder. Why?

The core of our relationships with one another is about the glory of Christ.  I believe this should be the primary focus of our relationships, which takes grace from God to comprehend such a blessed reality. (Philippians 1:27)  But the precursor to that is to see the beauty and perfection of Christ Himself to rejoice in such a privilege.  Such is the reason for our sanctification.  We were predestined and saved to be His image bearers. (Romans 8:29) And in the wisdom and love of God,  He’s designed for that sanctification to happen through relationships, which involves transparency, honesty, humility, and at times painful rebukes. Yes, rebukes!

It angers me that it seems like the church (at least in America) thinks it’s above being reproofed.  As long as we are on this side of glorification, biblical reproofing is to be done when necessary.  It is the foolish and prideful person that refuses to take heed of his sin.  It is also the  jaded individual who accuses the reproofer of being uncharitable.  That is severely unbiblical!  In fact, Scripture tells us that discipline is an expression of love.   The writer of Hebrews says to Israel:

 “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
   nor be weary when reproved by him.
6For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
   and chastises every son whom he receives.”

 7It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

That’s grace!!  The purpose of reproofing is that we may turn from sin, share in His holiness which leads to the peaceable fruit of righteousness.  It would be highly unloving of God to not discipline His children and instead let them persist in sin and reap the damaging consequences thereof.

There will always be a constant fight to preserve our self image versus abandoning ourselves humbly to the obedience and glory of God.  Abandoning ourselves to God involves a constant tearing down of the high place of self-idolatry.  This is what Jesus meant when He said, “Abide in me…”

I can guarantee that before we go to be with our Lord, we will find ourselves on both sides of this issue.  When we see the need to rebuke someone, let our motivation be love for our brother or sister, their repentance and God’s glory.  When we find ourselves on the receiving end,  let us respond humbly understanding that this a practical demonstration of the love and grace of God toward us.  That is walking in truth!  That is walking in the fruit of the gospel of grace!

 Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness;
   let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head;
   let my head not refuse it.

Psalm 141:5

Lord, continue to give us the grace to not be practical postmoderns and soften our hearts to receive your correction when needed.

Grace & Peace,

d.

50, 45, 40, 30, 20, 10. . .

It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again. “The more one reads the Bible, the more one realizes that it is not of human origin. God is the Author of the Holy Scriptures.” Even if man could compose such writings himself, he wouldn’t because he is too prideful to expose himself the way the Scriptures exposes him. Moreover, natural man is too prideful to cast glorious light on God the way Scriptures do. As it says, “All Scripture is God breathed. . . “

As previously mentioned, I am reading the Scriptures chronologically and thoroughly enjoying it!  Currently, I’m in Genesis, which is nicely “interrupted” by Job, and though I’ve read it before a few times, the Holy Spirit is showing me things that I previously have not noticed.  These “discoveries” are providing greater insight to the character and essence of God and His redemptive plan with the Son, Jesus Christ, as the focal point.

One of my most current readings was Genesis 16-18.  Genesis 16 dealt with Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael.  Genesis 17 dealt with the covenant of circumcision for Abraham, his descendants and foreigners of his household and the son he would have with Sarah, Isaac. Genesis 18 shows us an interaction between the Lord and Abraham and the Lord’s plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.  It was the conversation that took place between Abraham and Jehovah that grabbed my attention.

Genesis 18:16 reveals Jehovah’s choice to reveal His wrath against Sodom and Gomorrah.  Immediately, Abraham begins to intercede for the “righteous” dwelling in Sodom and Gomorrah, which was the dwelling place of his nephew, Lot and Lot’s family. (See Genesis 13:11-12).  Abraham couldn’t fathom the idea of God judging the righteous with the wicked – “Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”  He implored God to spare the two cities on the account 50 righteous people.  God said He would if there were 50 righteous people there. Abraham again implored the LORD to spare the two cities on the account of 45 people.  Again, God said He would if there were 45 righteous people there.  With Abraham’s suggestion of 40, 30, 20, and 10 people, the LORD responded the same way.

While we cannot overlook the importunate intercession of Abraham, what caught my attention was the willingness of God to extend mercy and grace to the unrighteous on the account of the righteous at this point in the redemptive narrative. But should it really surprise me? For He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Grace & Peace,

d.