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Pains that Come from God

Brother Lawrence, who wrote a marvelous book on Christian spirituality called The Practice of the Presence of God, suggested: “When pains come from God, he only can cure them. He often sends diseases of the body to cure those of the soul.”

To our ears, what a strange idea! God doesn’t send pains of any kind. To our thinking, the Lord is a good and wonderful being who wants nothing but the things that make us happy. Baloney! God wants what is best for us, and nothing less, ever. What is best is seldom painless.

Pain is part of every good thing we do. When we want to learn a new skill, language, or hobby, we go to great pains to study the subject thoroughly, and we enjoy every minute of the labor involved. We discover new aspects of the subject when we fail, and we repeat what broke down with modification until we master the knowledge we set out to acquire. A painful but necessary experience.

God sends us pain in other ways. When we discover in our devotional time that we’ve been far from patient, we set out to master this virtue. Learning to be patient is a pain! We have to put up with slipshod workmanship from others or ourselves. We have to tolerate accidents, delays, failures. We have to bear with so much that we don’t like or enjoy in order to be trained in patience.

Diseases are often part of God’s lessons in life. The reason you’re struggling with cancer is not that your body was invaded by a microbe or disturbed by an improper habit. You combat cancer and its pains so that you will learn the spiritual lesson you haven’t learned in less harsh ways. You’re finally still enough that God’s Spirit can teach you to surrender yourself wholeheartedly to him. Brother Lawrence was right. God frequently allows us to experience a disease so that our souls might benefit.

You see, we humans think that long living is good living, but this isn’t true. To live a long life means we must put up with agony of one sort or another for a lengthier time. Neither the quantity nor the quality of life makes life meaningful. The meaning in life comes from your relationship with God, and to develop the relationship the Lord wants with you may require him to inflict pain, just as a parent disciplines a child properly in order to create an adult who will always appreciate what he or she learned while growing up at home. Taking out the garbage or cleaning up your room may have been a bothersome chore, a pain, but it taught you habits of cleanliness that make life better.

Jesus Christ is the great physician, the one who will heal, but the healing is sometimes accompanied by pain. Don’t shy away from the agonies of life. Embrace them as gifts from God, and study them for the lessons God has for you. Pain is a scalpel in the healer’s hand, and he uses it skillfully to remove everything that harms your relationship with him.

 

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2012 in FaithLife

 

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The Holy Spirit and You

Andrew Murray wrote about receiving the Holy Spirit: “Just as the Lord Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to Peter, He is willing to give the Holy Spirit to you. Are you willing to receive Him? Are you willing to give up yourself entirely as an empty, helpless vessel, to receive the power of the Holy Spirit, to live, to dwell, and to work in you every day?”

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2011 in Something I read made me think...

 

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But What’s in a Word?

You’ll hear it again, I’m sure. All the flap about saying, “Happy Holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas.” People seem to bring it up every year. So what’s the big deal? What’s in a word? Can’t you say either phrase and mean the same thing by it?

Well, I’m not so sure. Happy holidays focuses on everything from Halloween through New Years. That’s four holidays…holidays that are quite different from each other. But even the phrase Happy holidays betrays itself. The word holiday is a shortened form of an older English phrase: “Holy Day.” So whether you say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas,” you’re still referring primarily to a Christian holy day which celebrates Jesus Christ’s birth! Therefore, people who want to avoid reference to Christmas (a Christian holiday) should be consistent and invent a new phrase of their own. I suggest, “Have a happy day off work with your family,” because that’s all December 25 means to some people.

What’s in a word? A lot! Words convey meanings. They talk about what we want to say. When they don’t carry the significance of what we want to communicate, we should find a new way to phrase the point we’re making.

What does “Merry Christmas” mean? First, CHRISTmas is a reference to Jesus Christ, specifically the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem as narrated in the Bible. Also, ChristMAS expresses thoughts associated with worship on the day when Christians celebrate Christ’s birth. MAS refers to the Roman Catholic Mass as practiced in the Middle Ages…a worshipful celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth which included the offering of the Lord’s Supper to Christian believers. Also, the word MERRY means happy, joyous, cheerful. Merry Christmas is a wish that others will celebrate the birth of Jesus with feelings of pleasure and delight. Say it to someone, and you’re wishing—praying?—that God will give them great satisfaction and eagerness while worshiping his Son. There’s a lot in this phrase for me. So…

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2011 in FaithLife

 

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Why did Jesus come anyway?

A Christmas carol, written in the 1800’s, isn’t sung often enough when we celebrate Jesus’ birth. We should learn it! The title is “See Amid the Winter’s Snow.” The first stanza and refrain are…

See amid the winter’s snow,
Born for us on earth below,
See, the gentle Lamb appears,
Promised from eternal years.

Hail that ever blessed morn,
Hail redemption’s happy dawn,
Sing through all Jerusalem:
Christ is born in Bethlehem.

The name of the tune to which this carol is sung is “Humility,” and I find this very appropriate for the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

In scripture, the image of the Lamb is applied to Jesus many times. John the Baptist called him, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” In the Book of Revelation, Jesus is called “the Lamb that was slain,” a reference of his sacrifice on the cross for our sins. In popular understanding, a lamb is considered a mild, meek creature. This accords well with humility.

As we think about Jesus, God’s Son, who surrendered his heavenly glory and power to take on himself our human nature, we’re impressed with his humility. His surrender for our salvation began long before his death on the cross. It took its first earthly form when he was born of Mary and placed in Bethlehem’s manger. Humility is the essence of Jesus’ personality.

In part, I think, the intended message of Christmas is the need for humanity to become humble. Why did Jesus come anyway? Because you and I and every human being sins! Our root sin is pride, arrogance. We considered the things of God to be within our reach. Adam and Eve grabbed for the “apple” because it was good to the eye and would make them strong in the ways of God. Pride about themselves!

Human beings always chafe under the delusion that humility is beneath them, when humility is the very essence of a creature before his or her Creator. In part, this is what Jesus came into our world to teach us. Are we learning?

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2011 in FaithLife

 

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Have your read Micah lately?

Micah 1:1-7:20

Have you read Micah lately? He’s a minor prophet whose writings are good reading during Advent, because he foretold the birthplace of Christ. When King Herod the Great wanted to know where the Messiah was expected to be born, the chief priests and teachers of the law inspected scripture and answered by quoting Micah 5:2, 4, which cited Bethlehem. But Micah is also good to read during Advent because his prophecy raised the same issues as Jesus raised in his preaching. Both spoke of neglecting God and his ways in favor of greed and false religion. Both called for repentance and a genuine religious experience.

Micah was a native of the southern portion of God’s chosen nation. He came from the town of Moresheth in Judah, but he spoke to the northern kingdom, Israel, as well as Judah. He preached against dishonesty, idolatry, coveting, greediness, witchcraft, and treachery. He saw the elite of the nation as leading the way to moral corruption, kings and their families, prophets and priests. He complained, “Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they look for the Lord’s support and say, “Is not the Lord among us? No disaster will come upon us” (Mic. 3:11, NIV). Announcing the nation’s sense of false security, he revealed how it fell away from God, and Micah called for repentance and a change of heart as well as behavior.

Yet Micah forecast a reformation among the people and their leaders. He proclaimed hope for the future: “Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. Because I have sinned against him, I will bear the Lord’s wrath, until he pleads my case and upholds my cause. He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness” (Mic. 7:8-9, NIV). Micah was a prophet who saw both disaster and deliverance.

His hope extended to the righteousness of the nation and its citizens. They’d become the center of teaching about the Lord, and the world would stream to Jerusalem seeking peace, beating their swords into plowshares. Micah announced God’s rule: “I will make the lame my remnant, those driven away a strong nation. The Lord will rule over them in Mount Zion from that day and forever. As for you, watchtower of the flock, stronghold of Daughter Zion, the former dominion will be restored to you; kingship will come to Daughter Jerusalem” (Mic. 4:7-8, NIV). Christians see this prophecy fulfilled in the coming of Christ, partially when he first arrived, fully at his second coming.

From Micah, we learn what religion is all about: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8, NIV).

If you haven’t read Micah lately, now is an excellent time to study his wisdom and proclamation.

 

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2011 in Behind the Bible...

 

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Is God Ever Mean?

Now this is a loaded question: Is God ever mean? People, whether Christians or not, don’t like hearing that God might be hard to get along with. They want the divine to be manageable. They like a God who obeys the laws as they understand them, who doesn’t get frustrated or angry. Unfortunately for such people, God’s own revelation of himself is different. God can appear to be very mean to us humans who become subject to his wrath, even if we live according to all the rules.

I’m not speaking of his wrath focused on people who don’t choose to follow Jesus Christ. I’m thinking of how mean God can seem to those who do choose God’s Son as Savior and Lord. When adversity comes upon them, Christians sometimes ask, “Why me, Lord?” After all, if we have faith in Jesus Christ, we’re redeemed people. So where is the power and gift of redemption when fatal illness comes over you or unemployment overwhelms? Adversity seems to fly in the face of promises that life goes better with Jesus in it.

Yet God promises to be mean to his rescued people if they should sin. To the Israelites of Moses’ time, he declared,“Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the Lord sends against you. He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you” (Dt. 12:47-48, NIV). There is no way around it: God is mean to his people when they need it. If they sin, he will punish them.

“Wait a minute!” you say. “That was the Old Testament. God isn’t like that now. Saved in Christ now, our sins are all forgiven. Grace is ours always.”

Do you really believe that it makes no difference how you live after coming to faith in Christ? Does your conduct not matter? Can you do anything you want? I doubt it. Our activities must line up with God’s grace in Christ. If Jesus has redeemed us, we have to live as redeemed people. When we don’t, God is good and right to be mean toward us. He can send—actively send—trouble our way.

The adversity you experience may be the simple result of living as a faithful Christian in a world that wants nothing to do with godliness. You’ll have to grin and bear such trouble. Yet it is possible that some of your adversity is God’s deliberate action toward you which is aimed at dealing with a new or recurrent sin in your life. You should not grin and bear this trouble. You should examine it and learn if you have transgressed. You ought to admit whatever sin brought this trouble from God. Indeed, the only way out of the trouble, could be confession and repentance.

The apostle Paul taught this clearly in Romans 2:9-11, when he wrote, “There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism” (NIV). Adversity comes to everyone, to the Jew first, that is, to those who are chosen and blessed, to Christians. Hard times are not only for faithless people. The faithless get what they deserve, but the believer who sins gets what he needs, help toward repentance.

Will God not judge the actions of those whom he loves and calls according to his purpose? I believe he will. I believe he does.

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2011 in FaithLife

 

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Have you read Jonah lately?

Jonah 1:1-4:11

The prophet Jonah got me into trouble once. I preached a series of sermons on his prophecy, and I made the “mistake” of referring to the whale as a big fish. But I was simply quoting the Bible translation we used in the pews. A woman in the church became angry with me for changing the Bible. She was in charge of VBS that year, and we covered the story of Jonah and the whale. As an award to the teachers, which she made sure I received, she gave out pins in the shape of a whale.

But Jonah’s message is so much more than a debate over what kind of aquatic animal swallowed him. The prophet was a Galilean, same as Jesus, and he tried to run from his call as a prophet by taking a ship to Tarshish, Spain, all the way across the Mediterranean Sea. This guy wanted to get away from the Lord, as far as he could! But he succeeded in running smack into God, and he had face up to his divinely given responsibility. He was supposed to preach repentance and salvation to the Ninevites, archenemies of his nation.

Jonah is about the unlimited grace of God. He cares for all humanity, and reaches out to every one of us all the time. The Lord wants to redeem us from our own bad behavior and morally corrupt nature. The mercy of God is far-reaching and encompasses even the people we would exclude.

This is not the ordinary way of seeing the Old Testament. Many people think the Old Testament God is a beast, eager to chew on anyone who strays from a narrow path. But the Lord is a God of grace in the Old Testament just as he is in the New. The prophecy of Jonah revealed this about God, as do other writers from the first two-thirds of the Bible. God is merciful. He is merciful to righteous and unrighteous.

He is not, however, nothing but mercy. The threat of judgment is firm in Jonah’s prophecy. If the Ninevites didn’t repent, they’d come under his wrath. Jonah’s own life was an illustration of the truth, too. He could not escape the Lord’s anger. He went into the water and the belly of the huge fish. His “leafy plant” was chewed up by a worm, also a punishment, although it was meant to lead Jonah to discover God’s compassion. The Old Testament God is not what people expect. He’s so much more.

Jonah’s character was a mixture of muscle and frailty. He walked in faith, and he vacillated in commitment. He was both a godly man and obstinate. He could be obedient to the Lord, though it might take a reprimand from God to get him to behave. He was childish and childlike. Jonah was a lot like me, and you, and many people.

Jesus said that the only sign people would have is the sign of Jonah. Matthew explained that as a reference to the resurrection, because Jonah was in the fish’s belly three days (see Mt. 12:39-42). But Luke took a different approach. He pointed out that it was the prophet’s preaching and the Ninevites’ repentance which is the sign. He didn’t hint at the resurrection. Perhaps the sign Jesus referred to was the amendment of life and attitude that comes when people who hear the gospel preached also repent.

It seems to me that’s what Jonah learned and taught.

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2011 in Behind the Bible...

 

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