Saturday, November 8, 2014

All Things: Romans 8:28 and Christian suffering

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28 NKJV)

If you have listened to the news at all this past year you will have heard something about the crisis in Syria and Iraq involving the militant Islamic group ISIS and their genocide against Christians. The atrocities they have committed in the name of their god are so evil, they are not fit to print.

But it is not only in Syria and Iraq that Christians and religious minorities are suffering because of their faith, but in Nigeria this past May the militant Islamic group Boko Haram kidnapped 300 school girls to sell them into slavery. Despite pressure from the international community the girls were never returned or recovered.

And it is not only under militant Islam but also under militant Hinduism that Christians are persecuted. After the Hindu Nationalist Party won the election in India this year, Christians have faced increased persecution from their Hindu neighbors.

North Korea, however, continues to be the most difficult place for Christians to live. Under an atheistic regime which makes gods of its political leaders, Christians, if discovered, are forced into labor camps and/or executed as enemies of the state.

With such horrific things happening to the church around the world, how do we read such verses as Romans 8:28? We know that all things work together for good to those who love God...? Not some things, but all. That means even the evil things, God intends for good. Remember Joseph in Egypt--you meant it for evil but God meant it for good (see Genesis 50). But do we really believe this?

As western believers we do not tend to have a good theology of suffering. But almost the entire New Testament was written in the context of suffering. Jesus and His disciples faced persecution from the Jewish leaders, the early apostles faced persecution from the Jewish leaders, and eventually the Church faced persecution from the Roman government. Early Christians knew what it was like to suffer for their faith. They came to understand that this was what they were called to do--suffer with CHRIST. Really, if you think about it, it isn't strange that Christians suffer so much in other parts of the world. What is strange is that we suffer so little.

Honestly, I do not know how to pray for my brothers and sisters. I have no idea what they are going through. But...God knows. Jesus knows. The Spirit knows. Not only is the Spirit interceding for them and for us, but He also helps us to pray. Let us ask God to teach us how to pray for our brothers and sisters under persecution. It is the one thing they ask of us. When we need prayer, be sure they'll be praying for us.

Friday, November 7, 2014

God is With You: Lessons from Joshua 1

No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:5-9 NKJV)

I have a question for you. What would you do if you knew that you could not fail? What would you do for Jesus if you knew that He would give you success? What would you "risk" if you had the assurance that God was with you in everything that you did? I'm asking myself these same questions. I would probably "risk" a lot more than what I am now. Let me be honest and say that my service is often stunted by fear. I do not serve with the abandon that I wish I had because I am afraid of the consequences of living with that sort of abandon to Christ. Maybe I don't really believe that God is with me. Is the promise that God gave Joshua available to us as New Testament believers? I think it is (which means I need to believe it but more on that later). I want to show you from the New Testament scriptures that we have the same promises given to Joshua.

1. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life.
This verse made me think: Wow! I want that promise! And then the Spirit called to mind Romans 8:31 "If God is for us, who can be against us?" God is for us! He proved it at Calvary! Therefore, no one and nothing can stand before or against us as long as we live! Wow! Thank You God!

2. I will not leave you nor forsake you.
This promise is repeated almost word-for-word in Hebrews 13:5 "He Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.'"

3. You will make your way prosperous and you will have good success when you meditate on the law of the Lord.
This promise is certainly to every believer. In His High Priestly prayer our Lord prayed that God would sanctify His people in the truth and He said, "Your Word is truth" (John 17:17). To be sanctified is to grow in godliness or Christ-likeness, and whatever Jesus asks for on behalf of His people the Father delights to answer that prayer, so you can be sure this prayer will be answered. We will prosper when we meditate on the Word of God.

4. The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
Again, we have Hebrews 13:5, but as that promise is stated negatively as a promise that God will never leave nor forsake us, do we have a promise stated in the positive like this one? If you're like me you might be struggling to think of a verse. But think again, believer. How is the Lord your God with you wherever you go? Yes! The indwelling Holy Spirit! 

Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (II Corinthians 1:21-22 NKJV)

In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14 NKJV)

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. (Romans 8:9 NKJV)

So be strong! And very courageous, Christian! You have the same promises Joshua was given! Therefore be brave, be strong, let all that you do be done with love.

Now that you know them, believe the promises!

What will you do with God on your side?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Repentance: Wrong Directions and About-Turns

It can be a difficult thing to start over again. 

It can be hard to pick up where you left off. Especially if you left off a long time ago. The longer you're away it seems you'll never go back. It is like you've closed a door and you're walking down the street. The farther you get down the street, you've committed to the direction that you are going and it is harder to turn around. But what if you're walking and then you realize that you're going in the wrong direction? Do you stop and say, "I've already walked so far, it's pointless to go back"? Not likely! No matter how far you've gone, you have to turn around and walk the other way or else you will never arrive at your destination.

“If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” - C.S. Lewis

When I picked up this blog some years ago, God was gracious to me and blessed my efforts, but I had some doubts as to whether I was doing a good thing. Was I writing for God's glory or for my own? I couldn't answer that question; I honestly did not know. So I took a break from writing. But that break became a hiatus which grew and grew as I left off writing for longer and longer periods of time. What had happened was that I had closed the door on this blog--God hadn't; I had--and I was walking farther and farther down the street of that decision, and while some time away from it was necessary, I actually spent too much time away because my attitude changed from not knowing whether I was glorifying God to realizing that I was glorifying God and then instead of diving right in, I mourned the time that I had been away.

I had made a perfect blogging record an idol, and I was telling God that I would not continue writing because I didn't have that perfect record. I had months--years--of inactivity, and it bugged me. I was walking in the wrong direction, and instead of turning and walking back the other way I was looking at how far I had gone and pouting.  I needed to actually start walking in the right direction.

That's what repentance is. A 180-degree turn. Realizing that we are headed in the wrong direction, stopping, turning around, and then starting to go in the right direction. And it is so difficult that we can only accomplish it by the grace of God.

By God's grace He showed me my sin--that I was headed in the wrong direction, destined for Hell--and by God's grace He made me a new creation and set me on the path of righteousness in Christ.  By God's grace I stand before Him a forgiven sinner, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and by God's grace I labor--not to be saved, for only the work of Christ is sufficient for salvation--but because I am saved. Yet, not I, but Christ who works in me.

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. - 1 Corinthians 15:10, NKJV

By the grace of God I am taking up this blog anew, after a long time away, asking God for help to forget what lies behind and press on towards what lies ahead, and eagerly anticipating all that He will do for His name's sake!

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 3:12-14, NKJV

Soli Deo Gloria. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

With Thanksgiving

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God - Philippians 4:6, NKJV

Thanksgiving is an integral part of prayer. Gratitude and appreciation for all that God is, all that He has done, and all that He has given us ought to be the attitude of our heart when we come before Him. So that when we make our requests it is from the understanding that God is good, what He has already given us is good, and He will continue to give us good things. Even in the anxious times, we have much to be thankful for. 

A practical application of this principle I have found in my own life is that when I don't want to do something like read my Bible or pray or do my chores or homework or call someone I know I ought to... I am actually forgetting and failing to be thankful for that good thing God has given. I see it not as a gift from a loving Father but as a burden. I want to challenge and encourage all of us to be thankful to God for everything He gives us!

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. - 1 John 5:3, NKJV