Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Do All Things Really Work Together for Good? Part 2 of 5

Romans 8:28 is one of the most beloved of God's promises - And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

My first post in this short series was about The Qualifications of the Promise - who it is meant to include.

In this post I'd like to talk about The Power of the Promise. What makes it true? How is it that "all things work together for good?"

Some naturally optimistic folks have the attitude, "Well, somehow everything will just work out for me." Not true. And some “religious” or “spiritual” people have the idea, "I have faith, I am a spiritual person, and I know that everything will just work out for me." But again, that’s not true.

Let’s be clear. All things don’t just somehow work together for good. Not everything “just works out.” The most important part of any promise from God’s word is the Lord Himself. And in this case, it is He who makes all things work together for good.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Do All Things Really Work Together for Good? Part 1 of 5

If you've been a Christian for even a short time, you’ve probably encountered everyone’s favorite Bible promise, Romans 8:28: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (ESV)

Maybe you’ve quoted it to someone who’s going through hard times. Or maybe you were hit with trouble in your own life, and you knew that God had a promise for you. “All things work together for good,” you told yourself.

When Dionne and I have faced trials over the years, Romans 8:28 has encouraged and strengthened us. I am very grateful for God’s promises, and especially for this one. It has reminded us that God is in control and He will have His way.

God’s  promise can be like a lifeline when you're drowning. But sometimes well-meaning people may use His word more like an anchor than a lifeline. I'll never forget a visiting chapel speaker when I was in seminary. He had just gone through some very deep waters with his teenage daughter. They had found a malignant tumor in her knee, and her leg had to be amputated. People in his church quoted Romans 8:28 to him so he would "cheer up." They came across as uncaring and shallow. Instead of a lifeline, they threw him an anchor. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

I've Been Praying for You

The first words my wife ever said to me were, “I’ve been praying for you.” I was a newly arrived freshman at the university, and my name ended up in a list of people looking for Christian fellowship. That list was given to a few of the Christians who were already part of a vibrant Christian ministry on campus. And so she prayed.

It helps when people pray for you. It means a lot, just knowing someone cares enough to spend a few moments (or maybe a lot longer) going to God on your behalf. Sometimes people let me know they’re praying for me, some even pray every day, and that is a real encouragement.

So how great is it to know that your Savior is praying for you constantly! Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:25

Of course Jesus’ intercession means more than prayer. It is, in effect, Christ’s testifying before the bar of divine justice: “She belongs to Me! I paid for all her sins, and now she is covered in my righteousness.” But intercession certainly means that the Savior has His own on His heart, and He constantly brings their concerns before the throne of grace.

Praying for one another is so encouraging. Being in Jesus’ prayers is wonderful beyond measure. (I also wrote about Jesus' praying for us here and here.)

By the way, my blogging has been light lately. Dionne’s health challenges are improved, but I am still focused on her. For all who have prayed for us, and especially to our Savior who always does, thank you so much.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Stop Me if You've Heard This One Before

I was talking with my wife about a popular Christian author, and she commented that his last several books have been recycled from earlier ones. I heard another writer, a favorite of mine, joke that all his many books are about the same basic truth.

In music you might call this a “one-hit wonder”  - somebody who made a career singing variations of one great song.

I know there are a few wonderfully imaginative, endlessly brilliant people out there whose creativity bubbles up like a fountain all their lives. They seem always to be able to share new ideas, different plots and characters, diverse themes and insights. But most of us aren’t that creative. We may have one or two good ideas in our whole life, and so if you’re a teacher or writer or composer (or blogger), you might eventually sound like a broken record.
We’ve all had friends or loved ones who launch into the same story over and over again. "Stop me if you've heard this one before," they might say. Sometimes we listen politely and laugh in the right spots. Or we may get impatient and interrupt: "Yeah, Grandpa, you already told that one…”

Maybe I am approaching the broken record stage in my own life. Maybe I’ve run out of ideas. But I think it makes all the difference what story you keep telling.

When the Lord takes me home, and I’m no longer writing or telling stories, I would be pleased if what people remembered is that the story I kept telling, the song I kept singing, was how wonderful my Savior is. Actually, I don't mind at all if they've heard it before. I intend to kept telling it.
I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how He could love me,
A sinner, condemned, unclean.

O how marvelous! O how wonderful!
And my song shall ever be:
O how marvelous! O how wonderful!
Is my Savior’s love for me!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Glory of God to Conceal Things

The other night our Bible study finished a DVD study produced by Dr. Tim Keller. The video series, called The Reason for God, features Keller's dialogue about the Christian faith with six unbelievers. This last study was about how a God of love could also be a God of wrath.

The skeptics were earnest, articulate, well-educated, and polite, and it did me good to listen to their comments. But I was particularly struck by one man's conclusion. He said the evidence for God was inadequate, and that’s why he didn’t believe. And he figured that if God did exist, He would realize that He really hadn’t given enough reason for people to believe in Him, and therefore would not judge them.

That made me think of a verse from the book of Proverbs: It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. Proverbs 25:2.

So the unbeliever in the video said that, if God wants to be worshiped, He should do a better job of revealing Himself. But God says that it is "His glory" to conceal things.

Why would God ever by glorified by concealing something, especially about Himself? 

  • Concealing things magnifies His glory as the all-knowing Creator, the Sovereign over all things great and small.
  • Concealing things humbles people, and forces us to come to Him for insight, wisdom and clarity.
  • Concealing things allows Him to reveal what He wants, to whom He wants, when He wants. No one is ever saved because they were “smart enough to assemble the evidence.”

Actually there is plenty of real evidence. The evidence is Christ, His life, death, and resurrection. But without God’s intervention, nobody ever believes in Jesus. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14) 

When we admire, worship, submit, obey, and share Jesus, it is because in mysterious (concealed) ways we may never fully understand, He has called us to Himself. If you belong to Him, He wanted you long before you wanted Him.

And if you’re reading this, and don’t yet believe, maybe that’s about to change. Keep investigating, pursuing, and admiring Christ. Jesus promised, All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. John 6:37

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Encouraged in the Lord

King David learned how to “encourage himself in the Lord his God” (1 Samuel 30:6, KJV). All of us who follow Christ need to learn this lesson. Since my last couple posts have been a little dark (that’s what my wife said, and I’m sure she’s right), I thought I’d share briefly what has encouraged me in the Lord in the last couple weeks.

1. A new granddaughter. Chloe Jane was born to our son Andy & his wife Cheryl on July 5, their fourth. A little early, she weight 5 lb. 13 oz, and was 20.5 inches long. Having a new little one reminds you of all God’s good gifts.

2. The prayers of God’s people. Four friends sat with me while Dionne was still in the ER, and prayed before they left. My cell phone didn’t get reception in the pre-op section of the hospital, so after they wheeled Dionne into the OR, I walked outside and I found I had 85 texts, mostly from our friends pledging their prayers and support.

3. God’s word. The Lord led me to one of my favorites, Isaiah 41, the other night when I was struggling. Here’s what I read. (The bold is what encouraged me the most.)
8 But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosenthe offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; 10 fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
13 For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.”

4. Meditating on Jesus’ suffering. I’ll probably write a post on this, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the only time Jesus said anything about His personal pain on the cross: I thirst (John 19:28). It’s just one word in both Greek and Aramaic. I find it easy to complain about the slightest discomfort, but Jesus said only this word as He was dying. Our Savior knows what it feels like to be overwhelmed, beset by pain and stress and trouble. That’s why He is a sympathetic High Priest and why, in drawing near to Him, we receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

5. Oyster tacos. Okay, I guess this isn’t spiritual, and I realize for some people, eating an oyster seems like a form of torture. But, for me, the oyster tacos at TJ Oyster Bar (the older, little one) were sublime. I think they did my soul good. I know they did my stomach.

I hope you're encouraged in the Lord!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The "Rough Companion" Who Leads Us to Christ

I've spoken often about Samuel Rutherford’s little book The Loveliness of Christ. Like our Savior, Rutherford was a man of sorrows. He suffered many heartaches and set-backs in life, including persecution for his faith. His wife died after a long and painful illness. Except for one daughter, all the children she and Samuel had died at an early age.

But God used his trials to bless and encourage others. Rutherford wrote hundreds of letters to people in his church, and The Loveliness of Christ is a collection of selected quotes. It is one of the most encouraging and Christ-centered works I’ve ever read. (I recommend you get your own copy: click here).

I picked up the little red book the night after Dionne came home from the hospital, and read the following. (Because he wrote in the 1600’s, I've added a few footnoted words of explanation).

He cutteth off your love to the creature1, that ye might learn that God only is the right owner of your love, sorrow, loss, sadness, death, or the worst things that are, except sin:2 but Christ knoweth well what to make of them, and can put his own in the crosses common3, that we shall be obliged to affliction, and thank God, who learned us to make our acquaintance with such a rough companion, who can hale us to Christ4.

  1.  The Lord uses suffering to wean us from dependence upon anything else (“the creature”) except Christ.
  2. God is sovereign, and controls and orders all things. Even the hardest things are under His hand. 
  3.  Jesus outfits us with our own crosses, and does so for our good and His glory.
  4.  Suffering, a “rough companion,” hales (draws, pulls) us to Jesus.
Whatever you’re going through is under Christ’s control. The hands that hold your life and times, suffering and sorrow, have the nail-marks to prove His love for you. You may not know why, but you always know Who. And He is the kindest, wisest, and most powerful Person in the universe.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Prayer of Relinquishment

Dionne wrote the following for a daily devotional book for church planters. We read the book together every morning, and the June 30 entry seemed prophetic in light of her health challenges. (If you'd like to check out the book, it's available at Amazon. Click here.)

After we read it Sunday morning, I asked her, "Is there anything we need to relinquish?" She said, "No, we're not demanding anything of the Lord. Just asking for His timing and way."

Within hours we were back for another long night in the ER. She was diagnosed with a serious kidney infection, and by midnight she was having a stent put in to deal with kidney infection.

Abba, Father,” He said, “everything is possible for You. Take this cup from Me. Yet not what I will,
but what You will.” Mark 14:36

READING:  Genesis 22:1 – 14

I had the timing all figured out when we transitioned from our second church plant to the third. We prayed like crazy to sell our house by June 30, calculating the sale would be completed in time for us to move by the start of our son’s schools in September.

But no buyer came. I fumed all through July. God, how could You fail us like this? By late July, I surrendered the timing of our move to God – dejected but yielded. 

We all come to periodic crossroads in our Christian walk. Something suddenly takes center stage: something we dearly love, something we’ve assumed, or maybe something we’ve been praying for with all our might. God gives us an unmistakable choice: Will you lay this down? Will you trust even this to Me, to do with as I will? This crossroad moment always addresses an issue that, left unchecked, could poison, divert or dilute our single-hearted devotion to Christ. Whatever the details, praying the prayer of relinquishment leaves the taste of death on our tongue because, of course, it always is a kind of death. 

Sometimes God removes what we surrender, and because He has kindly allowed us the dignity to choose, we find peace. But often He returns to us, in purified form, the thing we gave to Him. Our buyer showed up two weeks after my surrender.

I thought the deadline was June 30. I was wrong. God used that painful delay to teach me to trust His perfect timing, then sent us buyers whose terms gave us plenty of time to move into our new house just in time for the first day of school.

Dear Father, Help me to walk at Your pace. Amen.

Written for church planters, this is really for all of us who are trying to follow Christ. Relinquish means to voluntarily cease to keep or claim; give up. We cease claiming our "rights," our timing, our outcomes, and give everything up to Jesus. Is there anything you need to relinquish to Him? Putting everything in His hands in always best, because He knows best and has the best planned. Really, because He is the best.

By the way, I brought Dionne home today. We have lots of challenges ahead, but we're trying to relinquish each of them to our Savior.