1025) The Suffering God

By Alvin Rogness, The Word for Every Day, page 303, Augsburg Publishing House, 1981.

     If God is perfect, does he suffer?  If he is all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere-present, holy and eternal, can we possibly cause him to suffer?  Would it not be beneath his dignity to let small people like us cause him pain?

     If, in addition to all these other sovereign qualities, he should be a God of love, then how can he escape suffering?  If we love someone, we give that person the power to hurt us.  To the degree that we love, to that degree we may have to suffer.  A loving wife who is betrayed by a faithless husband knows what suffering love is like.  A father and mother who lose a child know.  The only certain way to be spared suffering is never to love at all.

     God opened himself up for suffering when he created us to be his sons and daughters.  Had made us like all other creatures, beasts and birds and fish, he could have escaped the risk.  In the very first book of the Bible, we see him broken-hearted over the betrayal.  Adam and Eve chose the enemy of God instead of God.  And throughout the long chapters of the Old Testament, as he lavishes his love upon Israel, only to have them turn to other gods again and again, we watch him suffer.

     One would think his patience would run out.  It would have, had his love run out.  But he loves with an everlasting love.  Once committed to his children, he could not abandon them, though they grieved him a thousand times.  His anger would flare, but it was anger out of a broken heart.  Not only was it anger at his children, but more often high indignation over the evil that caused suffering for his children.  He wept for them and with them.

     Anyone who has lost a dear one in death, anyone who has watched a dear one in agony, anyone who has had his dreams shattered, anyone who has writhed in pain has known what great comfort there is in having a God who, in love, suffers with us.  If, when our son was killed, I would have had to think of God sitting detached as a spectator, I could not have prayed to him.  It is good to remember I had a Lord who wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus.  It is of great comfort to have a God who loves and suffers.

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Genesis 6:5-6  —  The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.  And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.

John 11:35-36  —  Jesus wept.  Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

Hebrews 4:14-16  —   Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

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Do not be far from me, O Lord,
    for trouble is near
    and there is no one to help.

–Psalm 22:11

1024) Jealousy

I Samuel 18:5-9  —  Whatever mission Saul sent him on, David was so successful that Saul gave him a high rank in the army.  This pleased all the troops, and Saul’s officers as well.  When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine (Goliath), the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing,with joyful songs and with timbrels and lyres.  As they danced, they sang:  “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.”  Saul was very angry; this refrain displeased him greatly.  “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands.  What more can he get but the kingdom?”  And from that time on Saul kept a close eye on David.

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WHEN GOD BLESSES OTHERS

     Jealousy is a destructive attitude that poisons the way you view life.  It is so harmful that God condemned jealousy in the Ten Commandments.  King Saul was a jealous and insecure man.  He had been elevated to the highest position in Israel.  He had been blessed in numerous ways.  But Saul saw that David was gaining the attention and praise of the Israelites.  The Israelites recognized Saul’s accomplishments, but they also praised David, whom God was using to accomplish even more.  Rather than rejoicing that God had empowered another to defeat their enemies, Saul became murderously jealous and sought to destroy David.

     Jealousy is an abomination in the life of a Christian.  God has made us His children.  None of us deserves to be God’s child, so there is no need to compare our blessings with those of other children of God.  Jealousy is self-centeredness at its worst.  Jealousy robs us of joy and chokes our contentment.  Jealousy hardens the heart and stifles gratitude.  Jealousy assumes that God’s resources are too limited for Him to bless another and still bless us.

     Watch over your heart!  If you find yourself unable to rejoice in the success of others, beware!  Do not let jealousy taint your heart.  Repent before it robs you of any more of the joy and contentment God desires for you.  When you are tempted to compare your success in life to that of another, ask God to remind you of all the ways He has blessed you undeservedly.

–From Experiencing God Day-by-Day, by Henry and Richard Blackaby

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The jealous are troublesome to others, but a torment to themselves.  –William Penn

Don’t waste time on jealousy.  Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind.  –Mary Schmich

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Exodus 20:17  —  You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.  You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Proverbs 14:30  —  A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.

Galatians 5:26  —  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

James 3:16-17  —  Where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.  But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving,considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

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Lord, I perceive my soul to be deeply guilty of envy.  I would prefer your work not done at all, than to be done better by someone else other than myself.  Cleanse me, Lord, of this bad spirit, and turn my envy into gratitude, making me thankful to you for other people’s gifts, as well as for my own.  Amen.

–Thomas Fuller  (1608-1661), English clergyman and historian  (adapted)

1023) Doing Good Work

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By Dorothy Sayers, British writer (1893-1957), Creation or Chaos, 1949, pages 56-57:

   The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays.  What the Church should be telling him is this:  that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.  By all means he should go to church, and he should certainly find for himself decent forms of amusement– but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry?  No crooked table-legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare say, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth.  Nor, if they did, could anyone believe that they were made by the same hand that made heaven and earth.  No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie.

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     Martin Luther was once approached by a man who happily announced he had recently become a Christian.  Eager to serve God, he asked Luther, “What should I do now?”  The man was probably expecting to hear he should abandon his old life, go to a monastery, and become a priest or a monk.

     “What is your work now?” Luther asked.

     “I make shoes,” the man replied.

     “Then make a good shoe,” Luther replied, “and sell it at a fair price.”

     The story may or may not be true, but it is certainly true to the spirit of what Luther taught about how to best serve our neighbor.

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Mark 6:3a  —  “Isn’t this the carpenter?  Isn’t this Mary’s son…?” 

Colossians 3:23-24  —  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

I Peter 4:10–11  —  Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.  If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.  If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.  To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever.  Amen. 

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A MORNING PRAYER FOR LABORERS:  O God, we thank you for the sweet refreshment of sleep and for the glory and vigor of the new day.  As we set our faces once more toward our daily work, we pray for strength sufficient for our tasks.  May Christ’s spirit of duty and service ennoble all we do.  Uphold us by the consciousness that our work is useful work and a blessing to others.  If there has been anything in our work harmful to others and dishonorable to ourselves, reveal it to our inner eye with such clearness that we shall hate it and put it away, even though it be at a loss to ourselves.  When we work with others, help us to regard them not as servants to do our will, but as brothers and sisters, equal to us in human dignity, and equally worthy of their full reward.  May there be nothing in this day’s work of which we shall be ashamed when the sun has set, nor in the evening of our life when our task is done and we to go our long awaited home to see your face.  We pray this in the name of Jesus our Lord.  AMEN.

–Walter Rauschenbusch (alt.), For God and the People: Prayers of the Social Awakening, 1909

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O Lord, give your blessing, we pray, to our daily work, that we may do it in faith and heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.  All our powers of body and mind are yours, and we devote them to your service.  Sanctify them, and the work in which we are engaged; and, Lord, so bless our efforts that they may bring forth in us the fruits of true wisdom.  Teach us to seek after truth and enable us to gain it; and grant that while we know earthly things, we may know you, and be known by you, through and in your Son Jesus Christ.  Amen.  

–Thomas Arnold (1795-1842)

1022) Sowing in Tears

By William Willimon, Pastor, pages 92-93, Abingdon Press, 2002:

     A woman in my church suffered from periodic bouts of depression.  These were described to me as times when she felt “down and depressed.”  During such times, she would often call me to come by her house for a visit.  I would have conversation with her, offer a prayer, and often she would say that she felt better.

     One day she called me to come to her house because, she said, “I’m feeling kind of down today.”  As Providence would have it, I was reading Walter Brueggemann’s commentary on Jeremiah.  I told her that I would be by that afternoon.  After speaking with her, I returned to my study of Jeremiah.  Brueggemann says that among the prophets, one can discern a number of typical prophetic moves.  The first prophetic move is tears, as the prophet attempts a public expression of grief.  The prophet does this, not to leave people in tears, but rather so that people, through their grieving, might learn to be open to new arrangements of reality– to the will of God.  Vision (or, re-vision) is dependent upon letting go, and in the relinquishment there are tears.

     When I appeared at this parishioner’s house that afternoon, I had a different mode of care to offer.  I said to her, “I want to apologize.  I have been treating you as if you had some sort of illness.  But how do I know that?  Here you are, sitting in your half-million dollar house, with all that the world has to offer around you, and yet this doesn’t appear to be enough.  You seem to be in grief, as if you were expecting more.  I wonder why you think you deserve more, and that life could be even better for you than it is.  Many people think Greenville is a great place to live.  I wonder why you look for more.”

     This led to a wonderful conversation about her life.  We came to the conclusion that afternoon that God was indeed pushing her to some new place (and, I assume, some new endeavor –ed.).  Her grief did appear to be a kind of prelude to a more abundant life, a wider world.

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From A Godward Life, by John Piper, pages 89-90, 1997, Multnomah Press:

Psalm 126:5-6  —  Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.

     There is nothing sad about sowing seed.  It takes no more work than reaping.  The days can be beautiful.  There can be great hope of harvest.  Yet Psalm 126 speaks of “sowing in tears.”  It says that someone “goes forth weeping, bearing the seed for sowing.”  Why the weeping?

     I think the reason is not that sowing is sad or that sowing is hard.  I think the reason has nothing to do with sowing.  Sowing is simply the work that has to be done, even when there are things in life that make us cry.  The crops won’t wait while we finish our grief or solve all our problems.  If we are going to eat next winter, we must get out in the field and sow the seed whether we are crying or not.

     This psalm teaches the tough truth that there is work to be done whether I am emotionally up for it or not, and it is good for me to do it.  Suppose you are in a season of heartache and discouragement, and it is time to sow seed.  Do you say, “I can’t sow the field this spring, because I am brokenhearted and discouraged”?  If you do that, you will not eat in the winter.

     Suppose you say instead, “I am heartsick and discouraged.  I cry if the milk spills at breakfast.  I cry if the phone and doorbell ring at the same time.  I cry for no reason at all, but the work needs to be done.  That is the way life is.  I do not feel like it, but I will do my crying while I do my duty.  I will sow in tears.”

     If you do that, the promise of this psalm is that you will “reap with songs of joy;” not because the tears of sowing produce the joy of reaping, but simply because sowing produces reaping.  We need to remember this even when our tears tempt us to give up sowing.

     George MacDonald counseled the troubled soul:

Think of something that thou ought to do and go to do it, if it be but the sweeping of a room or the preparing of a meal or a visit to a friend.  Heed not thy feelings.  Do thy work.

     Here’s the lesson:  When there are simple, straightforward jobs to be done, and you are full of sadness and the tears are flowing easily, go ahead and do the jobs with tears.

     Then say, by faith in future grace on the basis of Gods Word, “Tears, I know that you will not stay forever.  The very fact that I just do my work (tears and all) will in the end bring a harvest of blessing.  God has promised.  I trust him.”

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Luke 17:10  —  (Jesus said), “When you have done everything you were told to do, you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Revelation 21:4a  —  He (God) will wipe away every tear from their eyes…

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Eternal Father, who are the life and light of Thy children, we give Thee hearty thanks for all the blessings Thou has so abundantly bestowed upon us.  We commend ourselves and all who are near and dear to us to Thy care and protection.  Give us grace so to live that we may have insight to see what is right, inspiration to do what is right, and industry to keep on doing what is right at whatever cost.  Grant us strength for all our work, understanding with all our endeavors, good will amid all our relationships, and peace in all our hearts.  Amen.

–source lost

1021) How the Early Church Grew

Chapel of St. Ananias, Damascus, Syria, an early  Christian house of worship (1st century)

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Adapted from A Godward Life, by John Piper, pages 303-404, Multnomah Press, 1997.

      About A.D. 133 Aristeides, a teacher of philosophy, presented a defense of Christianity to Emperor Hadrian.  From it we get a glimpse of what the early Christians were like and why the church grew the way it did— like wildfire— in those early centuries.  Surely this is a fulfillment of the words of Jesus that we should let our lights so shine that men may see our good deeds and give glory to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

     Christ died and was buried; and they say that after three days He rose and ascended to heaven; and then these twelve disciples went forth into all the kingdoms of the world, telling of his greatness with all humility and sobriety; whence they who still serve the righteousness of his preaching are called Christians, who are well known.

     Now the Christians, O King, have the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ himself engraven on their hearts, and they are looking forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.  They commit neither adultery nor fornication; nor do they bear false witness.  They do not deny a deposit, nor covet other men’s goods; they honor father and mother and love their neighbors; they give right judgment; and they do not worship idols in the form of man.  They do not do unto others that which they would not have done unto themselves.  They comfort those who wrong them, and make friends of them.  They labor to do good to their enemies.  They are meek and gentle.  As for their servants or handmaids, or their children, they persuade them to become Christians for the love that they have towards them; and when they have become so, they call them, without distinction, “brethren.”

     They despise not the widow, and grieve not the orphan.  Those that have, distribute liberally to them that have not.  If they see a stranger, they bring him under their roof and rejoice over him as if it were their own brother, for they call themselves brethren not after the flesh but after the spirit and in God.  And if they hear that any of their number is imprisoned or oppressed for the name of their Messiah, all of them provide for his needs, and if it is possible that he may be delivered, they deliver him.

     And if there is among them a man that is poor and needy, and they don’t have an abundance of necessities, they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with their necessary food.  For Christs sake they are ready to lay down their lives.

     So it was spread abroad, “Behold how they love one another.”  What shall we be known for?  Let it be that we are willing to die for Christ and even more, that we are willing to live for him in loving his people— and his enemies.  The early Christians fasted so that they would have more to give to the needy, which means they did not have a lot stored up. 

     O Lord help us see Christ, and to show Christ, as they did.

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Matthew 5:14-16  —  (Jesus said),  “You are the light of the world.  A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

John 13:34-35  —  (Jesus said), “A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Romans 12:9-18  —  Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love.  Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction,faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

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  O Lord, give us the faith to be like the early Christians.  Help us to see Christ, and to show Christ, as they did.  Amen. 

1020) Be Generous; But Use Your Head

     One cannot say enough about the importance of prayer in the life of a Christian.  Prayer is commanded and described in the Bible.  There are, in the Bible, many examples of God’s people at prayer, and it was something Jesus himself did on a regular basis.  What can be more important for us than to be given the opportunity to talk to God himself?

     Yet, there is something Jesus talks about six times as much as prayer.  Certainly then, this other subject must also be very important to God.  What is this other subject? Money– your money and how you spend it.  There are many verses in the Bible about money.  We are warned that money can become more important to us than God, becoming that which we love and trust in above anything else.  We are told that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.  We are told to be careful about being too greedy, and letting our greed lead to all sorts of other sins and wickedness.  We are told in one of the commandments not to steal money, or anything else, from anyone.  We are told to be content with what we have, and not be jealous and covet what God has given to another.  And we are told about how the wrong use of money and the wrong attitude towards money can lead to much grief and sadness.  The Bible says a great deal about money.

     There is one other important thing that God says in the Bible about money, and God says this more than anything else on the subject.  What God says most of all about our money is that we should share it.  First of all, the Bible reminds us in many ways and places that everything is from God and belongs to God.  “He owns the cattle on a thousand hills,” is the way that the Psalmist puts it.  The cattle on the hills, the trees on the hills, the hills themselves, along with the valleys and the fields and everything in the fields and all who work in the fields.  It all belongs to God, and we get to use what we have for a little while.  It is entrusted to us.  We are, says Jesus in the parables, stewards of what God has given us.  Stewards are managers of what belongs to another, to God.  God says we may use what we need, and then, ought to be willing to share the rest, giving freely to the Lord’s work and to those in need.

     It is often said, “If you want to feed someone for a day, give him a fish; but if you want to feed him for a lifetime, teach him how to fish.”  That’s true.  Long term relief work is much better than just handing out food all the time.  Simple as that.  But I have also seen that quote adjusted and lengthened in order to reflect the complexities of long term relief work.  For example: “If you want to feed someone for a day, give him a fish; but if you want to feed him for a lifetime, teach him how to fish, and help him get a rod and reel, and give him access to the pond, and teach him how (if he starts catching lots of fish) he can package and market those fish so that even more people can be fed and he can get on an even firmer financial footing, etc.”  You get the idea.  

     It doesn’t help to teach a person how to care for animals if he has no animals and no way to get even a single one to begin with.  It doesn’t help to teach someone how to run a business to support their family if they cannot even get the $50.00 start up funds that they need.  Borrowing money in many of these countries is an expensive, dangerous, and unreliable process.  Therefore, some charitable organizations provide ‘microloans.’  These loans, though small by our standards ($50-100), are enough to help hard working men and women get started and work their way into a business, and become able to feed their family.  This is one example of not only teaching someone to fish, but also giving them access to the stream of business and free enterprise.  There are many wrong ways to help the poor, but there are also many very good ways, ways very much in line with how the Bible says we should help.  We must not only be willing to be generous with what God has given us, but we also need to use our head.

Go to:  

http://www.worldvisionmicro.org/

    You see, the same Bible that talks a lot about helping the poor, also has much to say about working for your own food.  And just as the Bible warns against the dangers of greed, it also warns against the dangers of idleness.  And just as God in the Bible warns against too high a regard for money, God also warns against too high a regard for leisure.  And just as the Bible says it is foolish to think you can make yourself totally secure without God, it also warns against not planning for the future at all.  Therefore, as Christians help the poor, we must be careful that we do not help in such ways as to encourage dependence and idleness.  The best Christian aid work is that which works hard at giving people the opportunity to work hard to help themselves.

    We must not forget what a blessing it is to be born in this country, with such an abundance of opportunities placed before us.  It is certainly true that there are many who are poor by their own actions and choices, but we must not in our position of blessing and privilege forget the billions who are poor because they’ve never had the opportunities we take for granted.  We should be grateful if we are among those who are able to give, and not among those who need the help.  As Jesus said, we are stewards of what God has given us to use, managers of what still belongs to him.  And do remember that whatever it is that we have, one day we will have to let it all go.  It will all then be turned over to someone else to manage; again, only for a little while. It is for us to be faithful right now with what we have been given for the brief time that we are allowed to have it.

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II Thessalonians 3:10-13  —  Even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”  We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive.  They are not busy; they are busybodies.  Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat.  And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.

Proverbs 19:17  —  He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and the Lord will reward him for what he has done.

Proverbs 21:13  —  If a man shuts his ears to the cries of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.

Proverbs 28:19– He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.

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Almighty God, all that we possess is from Your loving hand.  Give us grace that we may honor You with all we own, always remembering the account we must one day give to Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

1019) The Lincolns’ Unhappy Marriage

“The Slow Fires of Misery:  Enduring the Pain of a Flawed Marriage”

By John Piper, A Godward Life, pages 33-35, Multnomah, 1997.  Quotes are from “The Struggle for Lincoln’s Soul,” by Mark Noll, in Books and Culture, September/October 1995 issue.

     Abraham Lincoln’s marriage was a mess, and accepting the pain brought deep strength in the long run.  

   I write this not because it is wrong to seek refuge from physical abuse, but because, short of that, millions of marriages end over the agony of heartbreaking disappointments and frustrations.  They do not need to.  There is much to gain in embracing the pain for Christ and his kingdom.

     Our culture has made divorce acceptable and therefore easier to justify on the basis of emotional pain.  Historically, the misery of painful emotions was not a sanction for divorce in most cultures.  Marriage durability— with or without emotional pain— was valued above emotional tranquility for the sake of the children, the stability of society, and in the case of Christians, for the glory of Christ.  In Christianity such rugged, enduring marriages, through pain and heartache, are rooted in the marriage of God to his rebellious people whom he has never finally cast off.

     “Your husband is your Maker… For the Lord has called you, like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even like a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected,’ says your God.  ‘For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you” (Isaiah 54:5-7).

     Abraham Lincoln brought debilities to his marriage with Mary Todd.  He was emotionally withdrawn and prized reason over passion. She said that he “was not a demonstrative man…. When he felt most deeply, he expressed the least.”  He was absent, emotionally or physically, most of the time.  For years before his presidency, he spent four months each year away from home on the judicial circuit.  He was indulgent with the children and left their management almost entirely to his wife.

     Mary often flew into rages.

She pushed Lincoln relentlessly to seek high public office; she complained endlessly about poverty; she overran her budget shamelessly, both in Springfield and in the White House; she abused servants as if they were slaves (and ragged on Lincoln when he tried to pay them extra on the side); she assaulted him on more than one occasion (with firewood, with potatoes); she probably once chased him with a knife through their backyard in Springfield; and she treated his casual contacts with attractive females as a direct threat, while herself flirting constantly and dressing to kill.  A regular visitor to the White House wrote of Mrs Lincoln that “she was vain, passionately fond of dress and wore her dresses shorter at the top and longer at the train than even fashions demanded.  She had great pride in her elegant neck and bust, and grieved the president greatly by her constant display of her person and her fine clothes.

     It was a pain-filled marriage.  The familiar lines in his face and the somber countenance reveal more than the stress of civil war.  But the two stayed married.  They kept at least that part of their vows.  They embraced the pain, even if they could not (or would not) remove it.

     What was the gain?  God will give the final answer, but here are two historical assessments.  (1) How was it that Lincoln, when president, could work so effectively with the rampant egos who filled his administration?  “The long years of dealing with his tempestuous wife helped prepare Lincoln for handling the difficult people he encountered as president.  In other words, a whole nation benefited from his embracing the pain.”  (2) “Over the slow fires of misery that he learned to keep banked (under heavy pressure) deep within him, his innate qualities of patience, tolerance, forbearance, and forgiveness were tempered and refined.”  America can be glad that Lincoln did not run from the fires of misery in his marriage.  There were resources for healing he did not know, and short of healing, embracing the fire is better than escape.

     Increasingly, contemporary culture assumes the opposite.  Pain-free relationships are assumed as a right.  But God promises his people something better.  “Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).

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Matthew 19:5-6  —  (Jesus said), “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Ephesians 5:25…33  —  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…  Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

James 1:12  —  Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

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Prayer following the marriage vows, 1662 Book of Common Prayer ‘Solemnization of Matrimony’ service:

Eternal God, creator and preserver of all mankind, giver of all spiritual grace, the author of everlasting life; Send thy blessing upon these thy servants, this man and this woman, whom we bless in thy Name; that, as Isaac and Rebekah lived faithfully together, so these persons may surely perform and keep the vow and covenant betwixt them made, (whereof these rings given and received as a token and pledge;) and may ever remain in love and peace together, and live according to thy laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

1018) Optimist or Pessimist?

By Randy Alcorn, January 22, 2016 blog at: http://www.epm.org 

     No Christian should be a pessimist.  We should be realists—focused on the actuality that we serve a sovereign and gracious God.  But because of the reality of Christ’s atoning sacrifice and His promises, biblical realism is, ultimately, optimism.

     If we build our lives on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ’s eternity-shaping redemptive work, we can be optimists.  Why?  Because even our most painful experience is but a temporary setback.  Our pain and suffering may or may not be relieved in this life, but will certainly be relieved in the next.  That is Christ’s promise—no more death, crying or pain; he will wipe away all our tears (Revelation 21:4).  Indeed, any other foundation is sand, not rock.  It will inevitably disappoint us

     Knowing that our suffering will be once and for all relieved and God will use it for our eternal good (Romans 8:28) doesn’t make it easy, but it does make it bearable.  So too does the promise, “The sufferings of this present time aren’t worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18); and, the profound truth that our present sufferings are light and momentary, but are achieving for us something weighty, glorious, and eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17).

     Locking our minds onto these truths allows joy in the midst of suffering.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you…  Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven” (Luke 6:22-23).  We who will one day enter into our Master’s happiness can front-load that happiness into our lives today.

     Paul said, “I rejoice in my sufferings” (Colossians 1:24), and James said, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2).  The apostles didn’t enjoy suffering, but they could rejoice in the midst of it, because they trusted their gracious God’s eternal plan.  They believed in His constant presence, that we are more than conquerors through Him, and nothing shall separate us from the love of Jesus (Romans 8).  They looked forward to Christ’s return, their bodily resurrection, and the redemption of God’s creation.

     Christ said to His disciples, who would suffer much, “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).  Our optimism isn’t “health and wealth gospel” wishful thinking which claims that God will spare us from suffering here and now.  Peter said, “Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).  Christ’s future glory, in which His children will participate, is the reason for our present rejoicing while suffering.

     As Christ’s followers, we know this world isn’t evolving into something better.  Still, even if bright spots seem few, we have much to be grateful for.  Thanking God and others feeds our perspective and helps us enter into our Master’s happiness today.  It then spills over to those around us.

     Understanding the biblical doctrine of Heaven and the resurrection will shift our center of gravity and radically change our perspective.  We don’t need a bucket list because we’ll live forever as part of a great adventure far better than anything here and now.  This realization is what the Bible calls “hope,” a word used six times in Romans 8:20-25, the passage in which Paul says that all creation longs for our resurrection and the world’s coming redemption.

     Don’t place your hope in favorable circumstances, which cannot last.  Place your hope in Christ and His promises.  Jesus promised He will return, raise us, and bring us to live with him and the Father in the place is preparing for us (John 14:1-6).

     I’m not optimistic about everything, but I am very optimistic about the future of all who trust Jesus.  Our glass is already half full and will one day, for God’s beloved children, be completely and eternally full to overflowing.

     King David wrote, “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

     The night may seem long for God’s people, but the truth is that once morning comes, it will never end.  Neither will joy.  Every day will be better than the one before.  Jesus promises that we really will live happily ever after.

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Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.  –Victor Hugo

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Romans 5:5a  —  This hope does not disappoint us…

II Corinthians 4:16-18  —  So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.  For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

Romans 8:18  —   I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.

Luke 20:10b  —  (Jesus said), ” Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

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Psalm 30:1-5

I will exalt you, Lordfor you lifted me out of the depths...
Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me.
You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead;
    you spared me from going down to the pit.

Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

1017) Reasonable?

By William Willimon, Pastor, pages 99-100, Abingdon, 2002

     Early in my ministry I arrived at a hospital room where a woman in my church had just given birth.  I had been told that “there were problems with the birth.”  A couple sat in the hospital room waiting for the doctor.  The doctor appeared shortly after I arrived, and said to the new parents, “You have a new baby boy.  But there are some problems.  Your child has been born with Down Syndrome.  Your baby also has a rather minor and correctable respiratory condition.  My recommendation is for you to consider just letting nature take its course, and then in a few days there shouldn’t be a problem.”

     The couple seemed confused by what the doctor told them.

     “If the condition can be corrected, then we want it corrected,” said the husband.  His wife immediately nodded in agreement.

     “You must understand that studies show that parents who keep these children have a high incidence of marital distress and separation.  Is it fair for you to bring this sort of suffering upon your other two children?” said the doctor.

     At the mention of the word “suffering” it was as if the doctor finally began speaking the woman’s language.  She said, “Our children have had every advantage in the world.  They have really never known suffering, never had the opportunity to know it.  I don’t know if God’s hand is in this or not, but I could certainly see why it would make sense for a child like this to be born into a family like ours.  Our children will do just fine.  When you think about it, this is really a great opportunity.”

     The doctor looked confused.  He abruptly departed, with me following him out into the hall.  “Reverend, I hope that you can talk some reason into them,” said the doctor.

     The couple was already using reason, but it was reasoning that was foreign to that of the doctor.  For me, it was a vivid depiction of the way in which the church, at its best, is in the business of teaching a different language from that of the world.  The church, through its stories, worship, and life together, teaches a different language whereby words like “suffering,” words that are unredeemably negative in our society, change their substance.  Here was a couple that had listened to a peculiar story, namely the life and death of Jesus Christ, in which suffering could be reasonably redemptive… 

     In my own denomination (Methodist) there has been a debate raging for sometime between two groups over something called “abortion.”  Who gave us this word?  It was the same people who gave us words such as “appendectomy,” thus turning what might be described as a moral matter into a merely surgical procedure.  One group argues that there is a “right to life.”  Another group argues that we must do nothing that would deny “freedom of choice.”

     Undeniably, these are positive, socially approved terms within our culture.  We live in a culture of “rights.”  A human being is defined as a bundle of rights, and the best society is that which gives me the maximum amount of space to exercise my rights.  In such a society, even life itself becomes a “right.”

     Likewise, we live in a society where freedom of choice is a supreme virtue.  After the European Enlightenment, a human being is defined by choices.  A human being without choices is less than a human being.  The best human being has the maximum number of choices and the maximum amount of freedom to choose in this great supermarket of desire we call Western culture…

     Unfortunately, both of these terms—”right to life” and “freedom of choice”—are at some odds the the language of Scripture.  Where in the Bible do we find a “right to life”?  In Scripture, life is not a right.  Life is a gift.  God gives life and God commandeers life and God takes life.  Only the giver of life can be the taker of life.  Our lives are not our own, rather they are accountable to the God who gave us life.  

     Furthermore, it is difficult to, find scriptural support for “freedom of choice.”  Mary, Paul, Peter, Sarah—what was their “freedom of choice”?  The story is concerned more with the free and sovereign choices of God, rather than the autonomous choices of people.

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I Corinthians 6:19b-20a  —   You are not your own; you were bought at a price.

Matthew 26:39  —  Going a little farther, Jesus fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Luke 1:38a  —  Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

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Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

–Jesus, Matthew 6:9b-10

1016) The Test (3/3)

     (…continued)  It would have been easy, of course, for God to explain this all to Job, but God chooses not to do that– not for Job, and not for us, either.  There is nothing in the Bible to suggest that God is always making such deals with Satan and that is what leads to all of our suffering.  The Bible lists many reasons for suffering.  Sometimes God is punishing sin, sometimes it is our own sin that brings on our suffering, sometimes God uses suffering to teach us something or to guide us into greater faith, sometimes (as in Job) the devil does cause the trouble, sometimes we suffer from the sins of others, and sometimes suffering is just the result of accidents.  These and other sources of suffering are described in the Bible.  But hardly ever in the Bible, or in our own lives, is the precise reason explained in any given situation.  The book of Job is a realistic book in every way.  The problem of suffering is one we all face, and in the end, Job is given no more of an answer than we receive.  But one thing does become clear.  Job and his friends all were wrong in their understanding of the cause of suffering.  God does not reward and punish us in direct and precise proportion to our good and bad deeds.  That is karma, a belief found in Eastern religions.  The Biblical understanding of suffering is far more complex.

     We might not like the story behind Job’s suffering, this seemingly casual conversation between God and Satan out of which came the severe testing of Job.  But we need to ask ourselves how we are going to approach the Bible.  Are we going to come at God’s Word with our limited understanding and serve as judges over God and His Word; or, are we going to let the Bible be the judge of us and our way of seeing things?

     No one wants to suffer, but perhaps we make the mistake of approaching life with the expectation that all should go well for us.  Therefore, anything that does go wrong is God’s fault for which he is accountable to us.  But perhaps there are things more important to God than our uninterrupted happiness and bliss.  Maybe God isn’t as concerned about our pleasure as he is about our faith.  There certainly is more in the Bible about faith than there is about pleasure.  And one of the lessons in the Bible is that oftentimes the more God blesses us, the less faith we have and the less we pay attention to God.  Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of what is often told to children, that life isn’t just a picnic or a party, and we might as well expect trouble.

     The book of Job teaches us that far from being a party, life is a test in which our faith is challenged and strengthened.  There is much of that image of testing in the Bible, along with the image of life as a battle.  In chapter one of Job, Satan stops in for what looks like a casual conversation, but its not casual and its not friendly.  There is tension in the air all the while, and from the very beginning the reader knows there is a battle going on, a battle between God and Satan, and between good and evil.  At stake is the decision in one man’s heart between trusting God or cursing God.

     This is a battle that we are all familiar with, a battle that starts very early in life.  You can see it already in a two year old.  She reaches for something she knows she’s not supposed to touch.  Her parents say, “No!,” and she stops, hand still outstretched, and looks back.  She’s thinking, and you can see it in her eyes– this lifelong battle between right and wrong is already going on.  She may lower her hand and obediently go on to something else, or she may in a sudden act of defiance go for it, grabbing the forbidden item, and be off running.  There is something in us from the beginning that wants the safety and comfort that comes from obedience.  There is also within us is this sometimes irresistible desire to defy and disobey and do what we know is wrong.

     Life, as we well know, is not a picnic.  It is indeed more of a battle, a test, says the Bible, and the strange setting of the book of Job gives us a little glimpse into that.  We are allowed to see a fuller picture of Job’s suffering.  We do not get to see the fuller picture or the ultimate purposes in our own suffering.

     It is for us to learn from all of the Bible’s message that God is for us and not against us, and in all things God can be trusted.  As it says in Romans chapter 8:28, “In all things, God works for the good of them that love him.”

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Job 5:7  —  Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.

Job 16:22-17:1…11  —  (Job said), “Only a few years will pass before I take the path of no return.  My spirit is broken, my days are cut short, the grave awaits me…  My days have passed, my plans are shattered, and so are the desires of my heart.”

Job 27:8  —  For what hope have the godless when they are cut off, when God takes away their life?

Job 14:14  —  If a man dies, will he live again?  All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come.

Job 19:25-27  —  I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me!

James 1:12  —  Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

Ephesians 6:10-12  —   Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

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O Lord, grant us patience in troubles, humility in comforts, steadfastness in temptations, and victory over all our spiritual enemies.  Grant us sorrow for our sins, thankfulness for your benefits, fear of your judgment, love of your mercies, and mindfulness of your presence, now and forevermore.  Amen.

–John Cosin, Bishop of Durham  (1594-1672)