Wandering From The Truth

Grace For The Journey

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8Apr A friend told me once about a family member named Frank.  He would say frequently, “My name is Frank, and that’s what I am.”  This certainly sounds like James, doesn’t it?  If there is one thing we have learned about James in these studies it is that he does not mince words.   He sugarcoats nothing and gets right to the point.  He is frank, direct, straightforward, and real.  He is blunt, bold, and candid.  His approach, while painful at times, is both real and refreshing.

Consistent with his style throughout, these final two verses of James’ letter are succinct, incisively penetrating, and fraught with meaning. Here’s how James puts it in James 5:19-20, “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.”

James teaches that Christians are to be involved in the ministry of restoration, bringing back fellow believers who have wandered from the truth, presumably by wandering from the church.

Christians are to go after those

Who have fallen into this error.

They must work to turn

These erring brothers and sisters

Back to the truth.

Doing so, argues James, is tantamount to the saving of their soul from death and the receiving of God’s forgiveness.

There are some discernible, straightforward truths for the church here:

1) It Is Possible For A Believer To Wander From The Truth.

James supposes the real possibility that someone hearing or reading his letter may “wander from the truth.” By this statement he means “wandering from the truth of the gospel, wandering into heresy, or wandering away from living the truth, falling into the sins (some he addressed earlier in the letter – sins of being judgmental, sins of the tongue, sins of worldliness).

It is possible for a believer to wander from the truth.  We often sing of this possibility in a well-known hymn:

Prone to wander,
Lord I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.

We may ask how this is possible given the fact that Christians have a new nature and have the Holy Spirit residing within.

Before we address this question, let us admit that many in the typical church congregation may not be saved.  No one knows with absolute certainty who is saved and who is not.  When we read the New Testament, the writers never pretend to know that every person to whom they are writing is truly saved.

The New Testament writers write the same way we would write if we were writing to our church.  We would write to the “brethren,” not knowing for certain that every brother is in fact a genuine brother.  Sadly, there may be some among our gatherings who will turn away from the church, turn away from spiritual truth, and walk down a path that leads to destruction and hell.  That is simply the reality of the situation.

Recall Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

A person can refer to Jesus as “Lord,” serve in the church, and perform good deeds among the Christian community, but not be a genuine brother or sister in Christ.

In 1 John 2:19, the Apostle John writes of those who left the faith: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.”

James addresses the “brethren,” without assuming that every person is, in fact, a brother.  This uncertainty notwithstanding, James’ truth applies to all: turning a sinner from the error of his way saves his soul from death and covers a multitude of sin.

Having addressed the possibility – if not the likelihood – that not all of James’ readers and hearers are genuinely saved, we are comforted knowing that true believers will remain true believers.  Authentic Christians will persevere in their faith.  They will struggle from time to time, but will finally overcome.

Justification describes the very moment God declares us entirely forgiven of all sin.  It happens all at once, at a specific, singular occurrence in time.  But while justification is a precise point in time, sanctification is an ongoing process.  Sanctification takes a lifetime.  So, God changes us, but He does not change us all at once.  Much of the change occurs gradually over time, even through the “various trials” mentioned earlier in James’ opening chapter.

But . . .

While justification is a precise point in time,

Sanctification is an ongoing process.

Because of Christ, Christians are saved, redeemed, and justified forever.  Yet, there is still what we often describe as the “sin that remains,” the daily struggle with temptation, the daily battle of the “old man” or “the flesh.”  When we give-in to the tug of the world and the flesh, we are at that moment “wandering from the truth.”

So, it is possible for a Christian to wander from the truth.  It is interesting that the original word for “wander” is a word from which we get the word “planet.”  That’s helpful as the term conveys “the idea of going off-course, wandering like a planet out of orbit.”

This is why it is vitally important for a Christian to endeavor to walk in righteousness every day, reading the Word, living by and in obedience to the Word, praying to Him, spending time with God’s people, attending worship with other believers, and sharing the gospel with the lost.  These actions are the “working out” of the salvation God has “worked within us (Philippians 2:12-13).

As we endeavor to walk in righteousness, we have the growing assurance that God is growing us in our sanctification, making us more like Jesus, the One with whom we are assured to spend eternity.  As Paul writes to the Corinthians, God “will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ/” (1 Corinthians 1:8; cf Romans 8:30).

Until that day, however, we will battle sin and temptation.  James’ words remind us that it is possible for a believer to wander from the truth.

2) It Is Assumed Another Believer Will Turn Him Back.

For every person who wanders from the truth, James assumes there will be “someone” who “turns him back.”  He assumes the church is actively going after those who wander.

Given the immediate context, this work of restoration includes prayer.  Christians are to “pray for one another” that they “may be healed (James 5:16).”  Certainly the effectual, fervent prayers of many righteous persons, prayers for the turning back of the erring one, increases the likelihood of that soul’s restoration.

In addition to their prayers for a wandering brother, the church will also need to approach the one in error in an effort to “turn him back.”  James assumes “someone” from the congregation will do this.

This truth calls to mind Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep.  He supposes a man has a hundred sheep and one of them “wanders” (same word used by James).  Jesus asks, “Does he (the man) not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying (Matthew 18:12)?”  Jesus concludes the parable with the truth: “It is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish (Matthew 18:14).”

James expresses the same concern for the church.  He assumes that the church has the same love for wandering members as the man does for wandering sheep—as God does for wandering souls.

“A real friend is someone who always ‘gets in your way’ when you are ‘on your way down.’”

Do you love those who have wandered from the truth?  Do you know anyone who has wandered from your Bible study?  Your small group? Your school class?  Your worship service?  Have you called to check on them?

Too often we allow fear or pride to overrule the Spirit’s promptings to reach out to a wandering brother or sister.  You can be sure that Satan wants you to just forget about them or to reason: “They had issues,” or, “They were never really connected anyway.”

Too often we allow fear or pride to overrule the Spirit’s promptings to reach out to a wandering brother or sister.  You can be sure that Satan wants you to just forget about them or to reason: “They had issues,” or, “They were never really connected anyway.”

Fear of confrontation or fear of appearing sanctimonious may also impede the work of the Spirit within us.  But if we truly love others, we will not allow our fears to keep us from doing what the Bible teaches.

Someone said, “A real friend is someone who always ‘gets in your way’ when you are ‘on your way down.’”  Good words!

It is possible for a believer to wander from the truth and it is assumed another believer will turn him back.  Thirdly:

It is a Blessing when a Believer is Restored 

James teaches that the one “who turns a sinner from the error of his way” invites a blessing.  The blessing is the knowledge that God used him to “save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.”

James’ teaching raises a poignant question: Do you love others enough to go after them when they wander?

When a sinner is turned back, his soul is saved from death—spiritual death—because his sins are “covered.”  His sins are not covered by the one who turned him back, but by God.  God alone forgives sins.  God uses caring church members–working through them–to bring about the forgiveness of a wanderer’s many sins.

James’ teaching raises a few poignant questions: Do you love others enough to go after them when they wander?  Do you love them as you love yourself?  Are you a real friend—someone who “gets in the way” of another who is “on the way down?”

Since all Christians are to be engaged in the ministry of restoration, let us consider how to live out this truth.

Develop The Necessary Character Of One Who Restores

If we are to be involved in going after those who have wandered from the truth, there are at least two character qualities that are essential to the work.

Humility 

If it is possible for a believer to wander from the truth, then it is possible that one day we ourselves may be that very believer.  This possibility should give us pause lest we draw boastful conclusions about those who have wandered from the truth.

Recall Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:3-4, “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye?  Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Among other things, Jesus teaches that each of us “has issues.”  We each have some kind of inability to “see clearly.”  So before we make prejudgments about the errors of another brother or sister, let us humbly remember “the plank” in our own eye.

In the words of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians: “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).  Recall also Paul’s teaching on this subject to the churches of Galatia: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).

Never become so critical of a struggling Christian, a downcast, seemingly defeated brother or sister in Christ, believing somehow you are “above all that.”  It could happen to you.  Practice humility.

Mercy

If we hope to win back those who wander from the truth, having mercy and showing mercy towards others is essential.

Showing mercy is the primary application of the familiar “Parable of the Good Samaritan.”  Read it afresh and consider how it may apply to James’ teaching: “And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?”  So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’”  And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”  But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side.  But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.   So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’  So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”  And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)

Develop necessary character as one who restores: humility, and mercy.  There is something else helpful to us as we apply James’ teaching:

Understand the Ultimate Cause of Wandering

Why is it that people wander from the truth?

What happens to individuals that they begin to lose interest in corporate worship, preaching of the Word, small group study, and private devotion?  Why exactly do they fall away?

To be sure there are many factors involved in the Christian’s going astray.  We noted earlier, for example, the Christian’s ongoing battle with “the flesh” or the “old man.”  We must not underestimate the need for constant vigilance as we endeavor to walk in holiness.

It is also important to remember that most sin stems ultimately from misplaced desire.  A lack of delighting in the all-satisfying relationship with Lord Jesus Christ weakens our defenses and awakens our vulnerability to wrong.

God speaks of misplaced desire through the Prophet Jeremiah: “My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns – broken cisterns that can hold no water”  (Jeremiah 2:13).

When we forsake the Lord, we stop going to Him in prayer, listening to Him in His Word, communing with Him both corporately and privately.  We stop “drinking” from the well of our salvation and we drink from something else.  The prophet says God’s people have made their own cisterns, or wells, wells he describes as “broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

A broken cistern is a container that is cracked, allowing water to seep out slowly while mud slowly seeps in.  To drink from a broken cistern is to drink muddy water.  Who wants to drink muddy water?  A thirsty person will drink from it until he discovers a better, more refreshing, and more satisfyingly healthy source.

As people created in God’s image, we often thirst for our Creator without even realizing it.  As St. Augustine so famously wrote: “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”

Spiritually we may be drinking muddy water without even realizing it, inadvertently trying to satisfy our spiritual yearnings.  It’s like trying to quench our thirst with the wrong water, drinking from the wrong well.

  • When you turn to pornography to make yourself feel better, you are drinking from a broken cistern.
  • When you allow your thoughts to wander into sin and temptation, you are drinking from the wrong well.
  • When you get drunk or use drugs to get high you are substituting living water for muddy water, perhaps without even realizing it.

Jesus said to the woman at the well in John 4, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13-14).

The ultimate cause for wandering from the truth is drinking from the wrong well.

We wander from the truth when we forget that Jesus embodies truth (John 14:6).  Often unintentionally we turn to the lies of the Enemy, the one in whom “there is no truth” (John 8:44).

The ultimate cause for wandering from the truth is drinking from the wrong well.  Take care to drink from the water of life, the only water that can quench the thirsting of our souls, and see that those who wander are turned back to the living water of Jesus Christ.

In conclusion, let us read prayerfully the words of an old hymn that speak to the heart of this ministry of restoration:

Though they are slighting Him, still He is waiting,
Waiting the penitent child to receive;
Plead with them earnestly, plead with them gently;
He will forgive if they only believe.
Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,
Feelings lie buried that grace can restore;
Touched by a heart, wakened by kindness,
Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.
Rescue the perishing, duty demands it;
Strength for thy labor the Lord will provide;
Back to narrow way patiently win them;
Tell the poor wand’rer a Savior has died.

This is God Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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Why Being Good And Keeping The 10 Commandments Doesn’t Save Us

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

5AprWhen we share the gospel we often hear folks saying they believe that getting into heaven is about being as good as you can be, like keeping the 10 Commandments. Turning to James 2:10-11 is helpful when answering this response, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.  For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’  Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 

James says: “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in line point, he is guilty of all.”  Given the examples provided in these verses, it seems clear that James has in mind what we often describe as the “moral law” in the Old Testament.  Much of the “cultic law,” such as dietary laws or other laws of rite and ritual, are no longer binding upon believers today.  But the “moral law” is timeless.  Every culture has some sense of moral law woven into the fabric of their existence, even if that culture fails to understand that their sense of law is rooted in the grace of God.

For Christians, the moral law is aptly summarized in the “Ten Commandments,” (Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21.)  This moral law is a cohesive unit to be obeyed in its entirety.  We are not permitted to ignore any of them.  James says we are to “keep the whole law.”

This raises a necessary clarification: James is writing to Christians.  We’ve noted in previous posts that James’ letter is not about how to become a Christian, but how to behave as a Christian.  He is writing to those who have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  So . . .

James is not teaching here

That the way one is saved

Is by keeping the Old Testament Law,

Keeping the 10 Commandments.

Many people think that that’s what the Bible teaches.  Many people wrongly think that Christianity is about following rules and regulations.  But . . .

Christianity is not so much about

Following principles as it is about

Following a Person, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the only one who obeyed perfectly “the whole” law so that we could be forgiven of our sin.  Once we have trusted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we live out the moral law in obedience to God not as a means by which to be saved – that has been accomplished already through faith in Jesus – but as a means of honoring and glorifying God with our new hearts.

One of the primary functions of the Old Testament law is to convict unbelievers of their sin, forever pointing out their inability to keep the law and pointing to the only one who perfectly has, Jesus Christ (see Romans 3:20; Galatians 3:21-24).

The Bible is a mirror.  As we look into it, we must allow it to show us what we are before we can expect to do what it says.  And we can’t really do what it says until we first see what we are.

We must first

See our sin

Before we can rightly

See our Savior.

Then we turn to Him, trusting Him as Lord.  We are saved by grace through faith in Christ.  Jesus lived for us and died for us.  He kept the law perfectly and thus fulfilled the law on our behalf.  He died, taking our punishment for breaking the law, and He rose from the dead so we could be declared righteous by faith in Him.

So . . .

If we have been saved through faith in Christ,

Then the law is now “lived out” in us,

Not to gain our justification,

But to grow in our sanctification.

Christians live the law

Not in an effort to get saved;

Christians live the moral law

Because they are saved.

James teaches that Christians, then, should be living out this moral law, by “keeping” the whole law.”  Unfortunately, many in James’ day thought of the law as the means of gaining salvation:

The Jew was very apt at regarding the law as a series of detached injunctions.  To keep one was to gain credit; to break one was to incur debt.  A man could add up the ones he kept and subtract the ones he broke and so emerge with a credit or a debit balance.

This is exactly how many today regard the observance of biblical commands.  They think if they keep a biblical command they will gain a credit, and when they break a biblical command they will incur a debt.  They hope that they will have more credits than debts in the end and perhaps tip the scales of justice in their favor.

But one reason it is impossible to be saved by keeping the law (Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16) is precisely because it is a cohesive unit.

A person must obey it in its entirety

And no person does that

Consistently and perfectly.

To break one single command

Is to break all the law,

Much in the way one single crack

On a windshield affects the entire windshield.

If you hope to be saved by keeping the law, you would have to keep all of it consistently and perfectly.

Christians live the law not in an  effort to get saved;

Christians live the moral law because they are saved.

Think about taking a test in school.  Say there are 100 questions worth one point each and you miss 5, you get a 95%.  That’s an A by most calculations.  But imagine if you took that test and there are 100 questions worth one point each and you miss only one and receive an F.  You would argue, “But I got 99 right, I only missed one!”  The teacher replies, “Doesn’t matter.  This test is pass or fail test and because you did not get all of the questions correct, you fail.”

If you’re hoping to keep the Old Testament law as a means of earning salvation, you need to know that God does not grade on a curve.  You’ve got to keep the whole law in its entirety.  Breaking any one of them is to break all of them.  Breaking just one command makes us “a transgressor of the law.”

Imagine you are rushing to catch a plane.  You are hurrying through check-in, moving quickly through the security line, and now running to the gate so you can catch the plane.  But when you finally reach that gate it does not matter whether you are just one minute late or ten minutes late, once that gate is closed you are not getting on that plane.  It doesn’t matter how close you got, you are not allowed to board that flight.

If you are not a Christian, it doesn’t matter how closely you try to follow the 10 Commandments.  It really doesn’t matter how “close” you get, because you are not saved by keeping the law. Nobody keeps the law consistently and perfectly –

Nobody but Jesus.

That’s why

He is the only way to God.

From the standpoint of an unbeliever, “sin is sin,” whether it is murder or adultery or lying.

Just one sin will keep a person

From getting into heaven.

It doesn’t matter if

It’s a so-called “big” sin

Or a so-called “little” sin;

It doesn’t matter whether

You just “thought” it

Or you actually “did” it.

Just one is enough to keep

Anyone from entering heaven.

This raises the need for another important word of clarification. While the phrase “sin is sin” is rightly used when referring to an unbeliever’s ability to earn forgiveness or his hoping somehow to gain entrance to heaven based on an accrued number of “credits” he hopes outnumber his “debts,” it is not always appropriate to use this phrase.

Not all sins are equal in the sense that not all are equally heinous, equally ugly, or equally reprehensible.  The issue is not the degree of the sin but the disobedient that sin causes.  You could be fired from your job for lying to a co-worker or for physically beating a co-worker, but which would you rather have to explain at your next job interview?  Would you rather your daughter be found guilty of driving too fast or for robbing a bank?  One has a greater degree of wrong; but both are definite acts of wrong.

All sin is equally deadly in terms of a lost person’s hope of gaining some sense of favor before God, doing good works in the hopes of becoming more “savable.”

A proper understanding of this is needed when talking with good people who think they are good enough, or are doing enough good things, to satisfy God’s righteous standard and make it to heaven.

This is God Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Hebrews 4:16, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.”

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Bible Contradiction?

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

4Apr  If you open your Bible to James 2:17, and read, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” and go back to Ephesians 2:8-9 and read, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast,” we might conclude that James is teaching a “faith plus works” salvation and that Paul is teaching a “faith minus works” salvation.  Is there a contradiction?

To get at an answer to that question we must understand is that . . .

James and Paul are speaking about

Two different points in the Christian life.

Paul is talking about

The way into the Christian life,

The beginning of Christian living.

James is talking about

A point after one has become a Christian,

The living out of Christian faith.

James does not write his letter to teach how to become a Christian, but how to behave as a Christian.  Paul, in his writings, frequently stresses the way one becomes a Christian and he does so by teaching that the way to God’s approval is not to be found in the way many of his Jewish acquaintances erroneously believed: by keeping the law.

Paul is addressing the entry point into salvation when he writes in Ephesians2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”  That is . . .

You cannot earn your way into heaven.

 You cannot ‘work’ your way

Into favor with God.

You are saved by grace,

Through faith, in Christ, alone.

In that same passage, however, Paul goes on to say that once a person is saved that he or she will live out the Christian faith by doing the good deeds and works that God has prepared for him to do.  To the one who is saved he writes in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

So . . .

Salvation is not a “faith plus works,”

Nor a “faith minus works,”

But a “faith that works.”

Faith alone saves,

But

The faith that saves

Is never alone.

James stresses that saving faith is more than mere confession.  In verse 18 he suggests: “But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’  Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”

There has been a lot of discussion about what this verse means? It is helpful to back up a bit and read the text in it’s wider context.  This way we are able to see that the wider point remains: faith and works are inseparable.  As wrong as it is for one person to say, “I have merely faith,” it is equally wrong for the other to say, “I have merely works.”  The two are inseparable.

Again, salvation is not a “faith-plus-works,” nor a “faith-minus-works,” but genuine living faith is a “faith that works.”  Faith alone saves, will be accompanied by works that show this faith to be genuine, saving faith.

Have you ever heard the expression, “Empty suit?”  An empty suit is a derogatory expression, a way to refer to someone who looks good on the outside – they’re dressed nicely – but they are empty on the inside.  If one person merely has good deeds, good works only, but no faith, then this is a person who may be good on the outside but has not been changed on the inside.  What we mean is that this person looks okay on the outside, but there’s a problem on the inside.  They are lacking something.

Applied to James’ teaching on faith, one person may say he is a Christian and another may say he has good works.  Truth is, both are necessary for genuine conversion to have taken place.  Otherwise we are making an empty claim.

We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.  But once we are “born again,” new creatures with new desires, we will live out the truth of our confession by doing the good works God has ordained for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

This is God Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Hebrews 4:16, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.”

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The Uncertainty Of Tomorrow

Grace For The Journey

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3AprBeginning the early part of March we encountered startling events that caused us to quickly realize that we are not in control of what happens to our lives and even with all the future plans we make we can’t count on carrying them out.  Our lives have been turned upside down.  Many have learned in these days that is God who is sovereign and not us.

Have you ever heard this phrase: “Man proposes, but God disposes?”  The phrase is centuries old, apparently occurring first in Thomas à Kempis’ 15th century classic, The Imitation of Christ.  And you will find it in a number of other places.  In fact, if you do a Google Image search on this phrase you will be directed to a photo, a 19th century oil-on-canvas painting by the English Painter Edwin Landseer.

In the painting Landseer depicts the aftermath of a ship lost in the arctic sea and the ensuing disappearance of 129 men, explorers who had sailed in 1864 in search for the Northwest Passage.  The ship and the men disappeared into the arctic ice.

The idea of this phrase is that man may plan the events or the course of his life, but the God who is sovereign will do as He believes best.  Even the JB Phillips paraphrase of the verses of our study contains this heading above the verses: “It is still true that man proposes, but God disposes.”  Here is how the Bible states it in James 4:13-17, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.  Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that. But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.  Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.

God’s sovereignty precludes our presumption.  This really is at the heart of what James is teaching in these verses.  Most pressing on his mind is the presumptuous planning of Christian merchants, but his warning applies universally to all people in all times and in all situations:  God’s sovereignty precludes man’s presumption.  The Bible puts it this way in Proverbs 16:9, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

In today’s blog, let’s look at James’ text and examine it more closely, noting no fewer than three facts about life.

1) Life Consists of Uncertainty 

This first point is unmistakably present in the words of James.  He cautions: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit…”

James has in mind primarily Christian merchants or businessmen, men who travel and trade goods and services for profit.  We may picture a man unfurling a huge map, flattening it out on a table and pointing to various places of interest where he hopes to go in order to “buy and sell, and make a profit.”

On the surface there is nothing wrong with this kind of thinking and planning.  We all plan events and give thought to the days ahead in terms of what we will do or what we hope to accomplish.  There’s nothing wrong with having a day timer or using the calendars on our computers or smartphones.  In fact, because God is an orderly God, there is something of our mirroring our Creator when we plan our days and structure our lives.  Created in God’s image, our orderliness reflects the glory and grandeur of an orderly God.

Planning the future

Is not the problem.

What then is the problem?

Fundamentally, it is

The problem of presumption.

It is the brazen and arrogant way we may plan our days and events as though we were in charge of everything and that everything we plan will come to pass.

A key to understanding

What is wrong in verse 13

Is to consider not so much

What is said but

What is not said.

The key to understanding

What is wrong with

The speaker’s presumptive boast

In verse 13 is to

Consider what he leaves out

– Or better, who he leaves out.

How much of our own lives do we live or plan without giving so much as a thought to God’s plans?

When you read verse 13, do you see any reference at all to the One True and Living God?  No.  There is no mention of Him.  And lest we become too critical, how much of our own lives do we live or plan without giving so much as a thought to God’s plans?

The futility of presumptuous planning is especially proven by the next verse: “whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow…”

James sounds a bit like Solomon, when he writes in Proverbs 27:1, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”

Who knows what tomorrow holds?  Life is full of uncertainties.  This truth can actually . . .

Liberate us from so much

Fretting about and

Losing our temper

When things don’t go “our” way.

Belief in the sovereignty of God –

That God is absolutely in control

And is overseeing all events

For His glory and our good

– Means we may rest assured

He is doing what is best.

The Christian can rest in knowing that God always does what is right, every single time without exception.

Frankly, the fact that we do not know what tomorrow holds is nothing short of a profound mercy of God.  I’m not sure I want to know the future!

Thankfully, God knows what we can handle and what we can’t handle.  He knows for our own good whether to give or to withhold a happy providence.  He also knows exactly when to unveil a trying or difficult circumstance meant to grow us and conform us to greater Christlikeness (Romans 8:28).  God knows best and always acts rightly.

Life consists of uncertainty.  The second fact of life:

2) Life is Characterized by Frailty.

This is such a humbling truth!  We are not as strong as we may think.  James asks and then answers a question worthy of sober reflection: “…For what is your life?  It is even a vapor that appears for a time and then vanishes away.”

The Greek word translated “vapor” here is an old word meaning “mist.”  It’s the word from which we get our English word “atmosphere.”  Our lives are like that misty steam rising from our morning cup of tea or coffee.  We see it but for a moment and then it is gone.

How foolish that we should speak

So presumptuously about

Our plans for the future

When our lives are so

Fragile, so fleeting, so frail.

This does not mean we are to live our lives dejectedly, consigning ourselves to the fatalism of a meaningless existence.  That is not what James is teaching!  Quite the contrary:

Created in God’s image

We have real

Meaning and purpose.

God has designed us

To live our lives

For His glory

And when we

Live for Him

We experience life

On the most

Joyous level possible.

James gives us what we ought to say instead of boasting of our self-made, self-determined plans.  Rather than saying, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit,” James argues, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’”

“If the Lord wills.”  That’s how we are to speak: “If the Lord wills, I will be alive tomorrow.”  This is sounds different than our normal response and it is pretty humbling too!   Someone invites you to go somewhere, imagine you reply: “If the Lord allows me to live.”  Sounds kind of morose, doesn’t it?!

I’m not sure that James actually means we are to say these exact words every time,

But . . .

I do believe He wants us to

Think this way every time.

We are to be thinking this way,

Deep down in our hearts,

Knowing that our lives

Are full of uncertainties.

We will only do this

Or that if the Lord permits.

The Apostle Paul thought this way.  We see evidence of it in his first letter to the Corinthians.  He writes, “I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills” (1 Corinthians 4:19), and, “I hope to stay awhile with you, if the Lord permits” (1 Corinthians 16:7).

This is a healthy and humbling way of thinking: “If the Lord permits” or, “Lord willing.”  Christians of earlier generations would often conclude their letters with something of their plans and then append the Latin phrase, “Deo Volente,” God permitting.

Our lives are characterized by so much uncertainty and frailty.  No one knows for certain what’s going to happen tomorrow or in the next few hours.  This truth takes us to the final fact of life:

3) Life Calls for Humility 

It is the obvious response.  The cure for presumptuous thinking, planning, and living is humility before God. James is saddened to hear of the lack of humility in his hearers: “But now you boast in your arrogance.  All such boasting is evil.”

Rather than saying, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that,” the arrogant, prideful, if even “successful” businessman boasts, “I’m going to go and do this or that and make a profit,” leaving God’s sovereignty entirely out of the equation.

James says in verse 16, “You boast in your arrogance” and, “All such boasting is evil.”  The man who does this is like the popular intinerant medicine peddler portrayed in old Western movies.  You know the character: he’s the fellow who has a cart full of various elixirs, nostrums, and potions.  He jumps up on a soapbox and begins to boast about how he can cure this and fix that.  And he can do nothing of the sort.  He’s a charlatan.

We are no different when we “boast in our arrogance,” and plan the business trip without bathing it in prayer, seeking contacts and profits without seeking God first, or preparing for a career without ever considering how God may be glorified in it.  “All such boasting,” warns James, “is evil.”

James concludes by saying, “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.”  He is addressing what is frequently called a sin of omission.   Most of us are aware of sins of commission – deliberate sins – doing of something we know to be wrong.

Sins of omission, on the other hand, are those occasions where we remain passive, leaving undone the things we ought to do.  Given the immediate context James is saying, “If you fail to humble yourselves and you continue to speak and act presumptuously, leaving God out of your thinking and planning, you have sinned.”

Life consists of uncertainty and is characterized by frailty.   Therefore, life calls for humility.

Let us conclude my blog by asking a practical question: “Given what James teaches in these verses, how can I practice humility this week?”

Consider three ways:

a) You are weak and fragile, so trust God with your life

Remember that you depend upon Him for everything.   Everything – food, clothing, shelter, rest, etc.

We are not in control

And don’t do the best job

When we are in charge

Our lives are a vapor, a mist, here for a moment and gone.  We must depend upon God for everything.

b) You don’t know everything, so trust God with your plans

Remember James warns: “You do not know what will happen tomorrow.”  Be humble: You don’t know everything. You don’t know the future.

God knows what we ca it.

Never forget that not knowing the future is as much a mercy of God as a mystery of God.  He knows for our own good whether to give or withhold information.  He is always working, growing us and conforming us to greater Christlikeness.  God knows best and always acts rightly.  So, don’t worry about the future and trust God with your plans.

c) You won’t live forever, so trust God with your soul.

This is a clear and blunt conclusion given James’ teaching in these verses.  Because our lives are like the evaporating steam rising from our morning tea or coffee, we ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live…”

Ultimately, God alone keeps us living.  Ultimately, God alone keeps us breathing.  How foolish we are if we do not trust Him with our soul and live for His glory.

I saw an image once in an online article that gripped me.  The story was about efforts to revive someone whose heart had stopped beating.  What struck me was the image: a couple of doctors or nurses standing over a man who was lying motionless on a gurney.  One of the doctors was holding defibrillator paddles above the patient as though he had just tried to shock the patient’s heart into beating again.

What was so gripping about the image was the look on the faces of the doctors as they stood over the patient.  They stood motionless, their eyes fastened to the heart monitor, waiting to see whether the man’s heart would start beating.  Their frozen posture indicated that they had done all that was humanly possible to revive the man.  There was nothing more they could do except watch to see whether the man’s heart would beat again.

That image is a vivid reminder that ultimately God alone keeps our hearts beating.  God alone keeps us living and breathing.

Many of us grew up praying a certain bedtime prayer.  The words have changed a bit over time.  We now teach children to pray it this way:

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep,

Guide me safely through the night,

and wake me with the morning light.

It’s not a bad prayer.  I used it myself when raising our girls. But as I’ve grown older, I have gained a greater appreciation for the prayer I was taught when I was small:

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep,

And If I die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.

The purpose for changing the last two lines of the prayer was to make it seem less morbid.  But I think that the purpose for those lines is to remind us of the brevity of life and our accuntibility to God.  I think that prayer is more honest and more humble in its petition.  I believe it conveys a far better understanding of, and appreciation for, the God who is sovereign over the affairs of men – including His sovereignty over our very souls.  It is important to make plans to keep organized to keep us moving forward; but it is more important to understand that we are accountable to God and we must follow the plan in John 3:16 that He has laid out to prepare to stand before Him . . .

  • Realize how much He loves us (“For God so loved the world …”);
  • Recognize what His love caused Him to do (“… that He sent His only begotten Son …”);
  • Repent of our sin and turn to Him (“… that whosoever believes in Him …” – the word “believe” means: (1) To agree with God about your sin; and (2) look to Him as your only source of salvation;
  • Receive Jesus as your Savior and Lord – “… should not perish, but have eternal life” … “To as many as received Him to them gave He power to become children of God.”

That is the first step to trust your soul to God … and that decision will be the fuel to keep you trusting in and surrendering to Him.

This is God Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

 Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

2 Corinthians 4:7, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.”

GraceForTheJourneyBottomOfPagePicture

 

Biblical Reflections on the Problem of Evil, Part 2

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

31Mar  In yesterday’s blog we looked at some key Old Testament passages dealing with properly balancing the nature of God with the problem of evil in the world.  Today we will turn our attention to several New Testament passages and learn what I believe to be God’s ultimate response to the problem of evil, His beloved Son, Jesus Christ.  Listen to the way Peter preached about the cross of Christ:

Acts 2:22-24, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know – Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.”

Once again, we see that God intended good even through the most evil event that has ever occurred – the murder of His one and only Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Peter knew this, and . . .

He was very careful to attribute the evil

To the “lawless hands” of

The men who killed Jesus,

Even while he described the action

As the fulfillment of God’s divine plan.

Such an understanding was also reflected in a prayer of praise offered by the early Christians:

Acts 4:27-30, “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.  Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”

These early Christians were suffering for their faith in Christ, but they did not blame God for the evil that was being done to them any more than they blamed Him for the evil that had been done to Jesus, even though they clearly saw these evil events as a part of His sovereign plan.  Instead . . .

They looked to the cross

As an encouragement

That God could work

Good through the evil

That was being done to them

Just as he had worked good

Through the evil that had been

Done to their Lord and Savior.

Thus again we find that, in our response to the problem of evil, it will not do to say that God has no control over it, for God is sovereign even over the evil things that happen in the world.  Nor may we imagine that those who commit evil are acting as if they are robots who cannot then be held accountable for their sin. Their evil acts are a part of God’s plan in such a way that those through whom the evil acts are committed are to be blamed, but God is never to be blamed.

We also see once again that . . .

In our response to evil,

We must never forget

That God works

His own good purposes

Through it.

This is encouraging because even when we cannot see His good purpose, we can nevertheless be assured that He has one.  The Apostle Paul embraced the same view, as may be seen in Romans 3:1-4, “What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision?  Much in every way!  Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God.  For what if some did not believe?  Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?  Certainly not!  Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: ‘That You may be justified in Your words, and may overcome when You are judged.’”

Whatever our response to the problem of evil . . .

It must never call into question

The righteousness of God.

We must never forget that

It is we who are sinners!

This is taught in Romans 3:21-26, “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.  For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”  This solves a part of the problem of evil from the Old Testament perspective: How could a just God, who never acquits the wicked, do just that!?

So, when we consider the problem of evil, we must never forget that God Himself is not untouched by it.  Far from it!  Indeed . .. .

We may say that God the Son

Has endured the effects of evil

Far more than any of us

Christians ever will!

So . . .

When we struggle with the problem of evil,

We can be encouraged that God cares

About it more than we ever could.

But for Him it is

Obviously no problem at all,

For it is somehow a part

Of a great and good plan

That He has for His own glory.

When we are tempted to wonder, as Job did, whether or not God still loves us or is being fair with us, let us do as the early Christians did and turn our eyes to the cross!

Romans 5:1-5, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

Romans 8:28, “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.”

When we consider the problem of evil, isn’t it comforting to know that God is in control and will work even the evil things that happen to us to our ultimate good?

Romans 9:14-20, “What shall we say then?  Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!  For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.’  So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.  For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.’  Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.  You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?’  But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’”

I believe the ultimate answer to the problem of evil is to say that, logically, we cannot give an answer, at least not the kind of answer that philosophers so often seek.  God simply doesn’t give us the kind of explanation philosophers such as David Hume have been after.  And He is under no obligation whatsoever to do so.

The real question for us, then, is not . . .

Given that God truly is both

Supremely good and

Supremely powerful,

We must not focus on finding

A satisfactory answer to the question,

“Whence then is evil?”

Rather, we must each ask ourselves,

“Do I trust God?

Can I bow before Him

And admit my ignorance

And be content with what

He has in His wisdom

Revealed to me?

We need to accept what Moses taught the people of God so long ago in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

I would suggest to you that the logical answer to the problem of evil is among those things that God has not revealed to us.  It is not that there is no such answer; it is simply that He alone knows what the answer is, and He has not told us.  Instead, He has repeatedly and lovingly assured us that He is all-knowing, that He is all-powerful, and that He is supremely good and just.  He has also demonstrated to us that no one cares more about the problem of evil than He does, and He has asked us to trust Him.

This is God Word … This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

2 Corinthians 4:7 – “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.”

 

 

 

Biblical Reflections On The Problem of Evil, Part 1

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

31Mar  In my blogs, I normally take a verse or passage of Scripture and expound it to help us grown in the grace and knowledge of Christ.  However, since we are in the midst of dealing a worldwide pandemic, I felt led by the Lord to deal with the problem of evil in the world.  The “problem of evil” has been an issue that has been encountered by every single human being that has ever lived in this world.  Whether it is viewed as a philosophical problem or an experiential one, it is faced by us all.  Here is a summary of the basic philosophical problem, which, as I see it, is based upon at least four undeniable facts:

  1. God is supremely good and just.
  2. God is omniscient.
  3. God is omnipotent.
  4. Evil is in the world.

The problem that is proposed for Christians, who agree with each of these four assumptions, comes in pointing out the apparent inconsistency of asserting these attributes of God while facing the truth of the existence of evil in the world.  For example, since evil exists in the world, and God has the power to deal with it, then it is thought that He must not be truly good or else He would deal with it.  Or, since evil exists in the world, and God is supremely good and just, then He must lack the power to deal with it.  Or, perhaps God is supremely good and has the power to deal with evil, but He either doesn’t know about it or simply doesn’t know how to deal with it, in which case He would not be omniscient.

The eighteenth century philosopher David Hume, citing the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, set forth the problem of evil succinctly by asking three questions about God: “Is He willing to prevent evil, but not able?  Then He is impotent.  Is He able but not willing?  Then He is malevolent.  Is he both able and willing?  Whence then is evil?” (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Part 10, 1779).

That, in a nutshell, is the philosophical problem of evil.  It is an age-old problem with which philosophers and theologians have struggled for millennia.  But even if many have not taken the time to think much about the philosophical problem of evil, I am certain that there has never been a person who hasn’t dealt with it as an experiential problem… at least to some extent.  After all, the experiential problem of evil stares us in the face in one way or another every day.

For many today and throughout history, the problem of evil has represented the most serious objection to the Christian faith.  Some very brilliant philosophers have thought that this problem conclusively refutes belief in the Christian God.  But not only professors of philosophy – ordinary people, too, often feel this problem deeply.  You don’t have to be a sophisticated philosopher to doubt the reality of God when a loved one is going through terrible suffering or a pandemic is threatening your health.  At such times the “problem of evil” is not so much a learned argument as it is a simple cry of the heart, “How could a loving God allow this?”

Does God give us an answer to this problem in Scripture?  That is what I would like for us to consider in today’s blog.  Although we do not have time to examine all of the pertinent passages of Scripture on the matter, I hope to focus our attention upon a number of key texts that show us something about God’s relationship to evil.  In the process I hope to show what a Biblical response to the problem of evil really is, even if it is not the kind of answer that many would like or that many might suspect.  We will look first at some key Old Testament passages and then at some key New Testament passages.

Old Testament Passages

We will look first at Joseph’s response to the evil actions of his brothers in selling him into slavery.  This event is summarized in Genesis 45:5 where David says to his brothers, “But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. [See also Psalm 105:17).  Joseph acknowledged that through the evil action of his brothers God was working His own good purposes.  He clearly saw God as in sovereign control even over their evil actions.  In fact, he later asserted the same point even more forcefully.  In Genesis 50:15-20, when Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “Perhaps Joseph will hate us, and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him.” So they sent messengers to Joseph, saying, “Before your father died he commanded, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph: ‘I beg you, please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin; for they did evil to you.’  Now, please, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your father.’  And Joseph wept when they spoke to him.  Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, ‘Behold, we are your servants.”  Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God?  But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.’”

Once again Joseph acknowledged God’s sovereign control over evil as a part of His own good plan.  He also clearly distinguished between the evil intentions of his brothers and the good intentions of God, even in the very same act.  This much Joseph understood, even if he could not explain to his brothers how it could be so.  Apparently, he knew that, whatever else was true, he could not deny either God’s sovereign control or His goodness.

So, whatever our response to the problem of evil, it cannot be a denial of God’s sovereign control even over evil events.  Nor can it be to make God the author of sin in any way.

A proper response to the problem of evil

Always places the blame for sin

Upon wicked human beings

And never upon God.

We will see this approach reinforced several more times as we examine a number of other key Scripture passages.

Next, we will need to take a rather lengthy look at Job’s response to the evil against him, together with his interaction with God that followed.  After all, if there is one book in the Bible devoted to wrestling at length with the problem of evil, it is the Book of Job. The book begins with God pointing Job out to Satan and permitting Satan to do evil against him.  He permitted Satan to work both through natural disasters and through the instigation of evil acts by human beings in order to destroy Job’s family (except for his wife) and all that Job possessed, as well as to bring a terrible disease upon Job.  With this background in mind, look with me at Job’s response:

Job’s initial response in recorded in Job 1:20-22, “Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped.  And he said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there.  The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.’  In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.”

Even though he had suffered many evils against himself – evils that the reader knows that Satan was ultimately behind and that had been permitted by God – Job still did not accuse God of any wrong.

He clearly recognized that God

Is sovereign even over these evil things

And that they could not have occurred

Except as a part of God’s plan,

But he also knew that this does not mean

That God is to be blamed for the evil.

So, again, we see that a response to the problem of evil must not rob God of His sovereignty over all things, but neither should it to lead us to accuse Him of any evil. Rather, in responding to the problem of evil . . .

We must acknowledge

That God is

Sovereign over it

And permits it

As a part of His plan

In such a way

That He is never

To be blamed for it.

It would be nice to have a solution to the problem of evil, but not at any price. If the price we must pay is the very sovereignty of God, the faithful Christian must say that the price is too high.  After all, it is of little importance whether any of us discovers the answer to the problem of evil. It is possible to live a long and happy and faithful life without an answer.  But it is all-important that we worship the true God, the God of Scripture. Without Him, human life is worth nothing.

Such was the attitude of Job.  However, as his suffering the effects of evil continued, he did get upset with God and challenge Him to explain Himself.  In fact, we might say that Job demanded an answer from God to his own experiential problem of evil.  Consider, for example, the following statements of Job:

Job 10:1-3, “My soul loathes my life; I will give free course to my complaint, I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.  I will say to God, “Do not condemn me; show me why You contend with me.  Does it seem good to You that You should oppress, that You should despise the work of Your hands, and smile on the counsel of the wicked?”

Job 19:6-7, “Know then that God has wronged me, and has surrounded me with His net.   If I cry out concerning wrong, I am not heard. If I cry aloud, there is no justice.”

Sadly, although he initially – and correctly – refused to blame God for the evil against him, at this point Job’s suffering, grief, and anger got the best of him.  But he will end up repenting of having spoken such things. First, however, let us notice one more brash statement by made by Job:

Job 31:35-37, Oh, that I had one to hear me!  Here is my mark. Oh, that the Almighty would answer me, that my Prosecutor had written a book!  Surely I would carry it on my shoulder, and bind it on me like a crown; I would declare to Him the number of my steps; like a prince I would approach Him.”

However, when God did manifest His presence to him, Job started singing a different tune!  God declared that it was not Job who would do the questioning, but that He Himself would question Job.  Look at God’s confrontation of Job in order to see what I mean in the following passages:

Job 38:1-5, “Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: ‘Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?  Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.  Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding.  Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?’”

God then went on to speak of many of His great works, and He challenged Job to explain them and asked Job if he himself could do them.  In other words, God did not respond directly to Job’s demand for an answer to the problem of evil. Instead, He rebuked Job for having demanded an answer from Him in the first place! Listen to God’s challenge to Job:

Job 40:1-8, “Moreover the LORD answered Job, and said: ‘Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him?  He who rebukes God, let him answer it.’  Then Job answered the LORD and said: ‘Behold, I am vile; What shall I answer You?   I lay my hand over my mouth.  Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; yes, twice, but I will proceed no further.’  Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, ‘Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me: Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified?’”

God then challenged Job in much the same way that He had already challenged him.  But still God did not give any answer to the problem of evil.  Once again, He simply rebuked Job for his arrogance in demanding an accounting from Him in the first place.

This is hard to take.  Like Job, we usually expect something else when we ask for an explanation of the problem of evil.  This doesn’t even seem like an explanation.  But in this case, this is bitter medicine that we need to take.

When we are faced

With the problem of evil,

We need to remind ourselves

Who we are and who God is.

We are in no position to judge Him; we have no right to demand an explanation from Him.  He is Lord.  That is our first answer to the problem of evil.

But what was Job’s final response?  How did he react after God rebuked him?  We find his response in Job 42:1-6, “Then Job answered the LORD and said: ‘I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.  You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.  Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’  I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You.  Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

So, in our response to the problem of evil, we must never forget . . .

  • That we are fallen creatures and that God does not owe us any explanation at all for what He does.
  • We must learn the lesson of Job’s life and of the book that bares his name.

That lesson is –

That God is aware that we struggle

With the problem of evil

And that He has chosen

Not to give us the kind of answer

That we often think we need or deserve.

Instead . . .

  • He expects us to trust Him and to worship Him on the basis of His previous works and revealed character.
  • He expects us to trust that He is good even if we can’t understand all that He does.
  • And, when we become angry and begin to think that He owes us the kind of explanation we so often think we need, then we must do as Job did and repent of our sinful attitude towards Him.

In tomorrow’s blog, we will look at New Testament passages that will help us develop a Biblical response to the problem of evil.

This is God Word … This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

2Corinthians 4:7And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always havng all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.”

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Who Can Stand?

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

30MarThe Bible says in Psalm 130:1-3, ‘”But of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD; Lord, hear my voice!  Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.  If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?  But there is forgiveness with You, That You may be feared.”

Have you been burdened and overwhelmed with your sinfulness?  Do you wrestle with feelings of guilt and  condemnation from the sins of your past? Do the sins you battle in the present overwhelm you with hopelessness and despair?  The Psalmist had cried out to the Lord for forgiveness and redemption. “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?”  The Psalmist is not using universal guilt to excuse or minimize his own sinfulness. He is not saying, “Yes, I am sinful, but so is everyone else. So no big deal. Everybody does it.”  Rather, he is overwhelmed with his own sinfulness and confesses his sinful with all of Israel and all of humanity.  He also includes you and I in this universal verdict, when he asks rhetorically, “who could stand?”  The answer, of course, is “no one.”  If the LORD counted our sin against us or judged us according to our sin, we would have no standing before Him.  The Bible says in Isaiah 64:6, “all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.”

We are without excuse.  As Paul wrote in Romans, “our mouths are stopped.”  We have no answer to give in our defense.  We, with the whole world, are guilty before a holy and righteous Judge.  James wrote that “whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.”  And yet, don’t miss that the psalmist writes of “iniquities.”  He is overwhelmed by the guilt of numerous iniquities.  One sin would condemn us, and yet there are so many.  We are not merely charged with one crime, but with an innumerable list of offenses.  If the LORD should mark them, who could remain standing in the face of such an indictment?  I look at  my life and I see the countless failures and sins.  I have only one hope – that Jesus Christ shed His blood for my soul.  He is my only consolation after all these years.

Although we should not excuse ourselves or minimize our guilt, we may take comfort in the Psalmist’s words for several reasons:

1) Because we are not alone in feeling this burden.

The psalmist was also overwhelmed with his own sinfulness.  He expressed with his words the weight of the burden that we feel and the reality of our sinful condition, and yet he had hope of redemption.  As Paul expresses in Romans 8:23, “we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.”  The Psalmist likewise eagerly anticipated redemption through Christ.  His hope was in a sacrifice for sin, which had not yet been made.  We look back to a payment for our sins, which has already been made by Jesus Christ, and forward to our glorification when we will be forever free from the burden of our own sinfulness.

2) We should take comfort in that the Psalmist says. 

His question, “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand” is a conditional statement through which the Psalmist hints to us that the Lord will not judge everyone according to his or her sins.  The answer to the rhetorical question which he uses as his base of argument is a resounding, “No one could stand!”  You could not stand; I could not stand.  But he says, “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities,” leaving us with hope.

3) We should take comfort, for here God gives us the full assurance and comfort for which our souls so deeply long. 

His next declaration creates a big difference:  “But . . . there is forgiveness with You.” There is forgiveness with the LORD for those who hope in Him.  As Paul wrote in Romans 3:20-21, “By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight for by the law is the knowledge of sin, but now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.”  We cannot stand before the Lord in our filthy rags, soiled and stained with the filth of our own sin, but we can stand before Him forgiven and clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, who was without sin and bore our sin and the wrath of God for our sin on the cross.

Dear reader, do not seek any righteousness in yourself.  For you will not find it.  Do not try to excuse or justify yourself by your works, for they are insufficient efforts, iniquitous and flawed.  Do not condemn yourself for your sins, for you can be forgiven.  Look to Jesus for your righteousness and your justification.  He is your only hope.  The Bible declares in Psalm 2:12, “Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.”  If you are in Christ, you were saved by grace and you must continue in grace.  The Gospel is as much for you today as it was when you were born again after hearing it and responding to it.  Let this Good News sustain you.  When Jesus cried out and breathed His last on the cross, the Bible says, “the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth quaked and the rocks were split.”  The shockwaves of that earthquake reverberated in your conversion and must reverberate down the whole path of your sanctification until you are forever glorified.

Look again at verse 4, where David is led to say, “There is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.”  This statement seems odd.  It seems that forgiveness would take away our fear rather than kindle fear in us.  Indeed, when we receive Christ’s forgiveness by faith, we are relieved of our terror of God’s judicial wrath, but we are left with a righteous fear and awe of the One who can send body and soul to hell, but sent His son to be the propitiation for our sins.  What this says to us is, we cannot rightly worship God without the knowledge of His grace.  We would either ignore Him without fear, or our despairing terror would lead us to have an unhealthy fear Him.  Having, however, escaped His wrath through the blood of Jesus Christ, we are left in awe and wonder of His justice, power, and grace.  And we are left to fear the loving discipline of the One who bruised the servant when He could have poured out His wrath upon us.

An example of the fear we should have of His discipline is exemplified in Jesus’ instructions to the paralytic that he healed in John 5: “See you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.”  We do not know what sins the paralytic had committed, but we do know that he walked away with the knowledge that if he continued in these sins, the Lord would severely discipline him.  Resting in God’s grace will instill in us a righteous fear – not a despairing fear or a despising fear, but a worshiping fear th8t will produce godly satisfaction and obedience.

This is God’s Word for today,

This is Grace For The Journey

Rest and be glad in it!

Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith …”

2 Corinthians 9:7, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always havng all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.”

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Don’t Underestimate God And His Forgiveness!

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

27Mar  We need to know the greatness of God’s forgiveness.  That is what the Psalm we are going to look at today teaches us.  In Psalm 103, David what the Lord to so work in His mind and heart that he will never underestimate the power of being forgiven by God.  We have a tendency to underestimate the power truth.  I confess that there are times when I do.  Because of this tendency to underestimate God, I am continually being surprised at what He does.  He constantly surprises me in the people He chooses to forgive and save.  He is always amazing me at some display of his power.

One problem with underestimating God is that it places limits on what I may seek from the Lord or what I may ask Him to do.

A cure for this problem

Of underestimating God

Is to become aware of

What God has done

In the past.

From His past acts we can learn something of His behavior.  David points to this in verse 7, “He made known His ways to Moses, and His deeds to the people of Israel.”   He has in mind both the things that God did and the things that God said.  The verse that follows is a restatement of something God said to Moses in Exodus 34:6.  As Moses met with God on the mountain to seek the restoration of the sinful nation to the favor of God, God said, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”

Evidently this Psalm grew out of the meditation of David on that statement of the Lord to Moses.  What does this mean in my experience if this is who God is?  It means we must never underestimate the forgiveness and mercy of the Lord God of Israel!

It is probable that the Psalmist focused on the mercy and forgiveness of God because that is what we are most likely to underestimate.  This is also the most serious underestimation.  If you underestimate the power of God, this would be serious – but not necessarily eternally fatal.  To underestimate the forgiveness of God could affect you eternally and could have serious consequences for all of those that you love.  Let’s look into what the Bible says about this great reality.

Don’t Underestimate The Readiness Of God To Forgive.

This was the heart of the word that Yahweh spoke to Moses on Mt. Zion. Israel had committed a terrible transgression against the Lord.  While Moses was on the mountain receiving the law of the Lord written on the tablets of stone, Aaron had allowed the people to make a golden calf and to defile themselves in the sensual worship of the idol.  Moses knew of the judgment of the Lord and knew that the transgressors deserved all that Lord might pour out.  He came to the Lord with an appeal for mercy.  God granted mercy and rewrote the tablets of the law.  Moses is still not sure, so he appeals again for the Lord to go with His people on their journey.  It is then that the Lord speaks this revealing word.  The heart of it is that the Lord is ready to forgive always.

  1. We know of His readiness to forgive because He is compassionate.

The “merciful” is a word that is used of the feelings of a parent toward a child.  Are we not inclined to deal with our own child with more compassion than we are the children of a stranger?  Have you not noticed how a mother can distinguish the cry of her child from that of any other child.  So it is with the Lord.  Israel was His son by faith as we are so He would be compassionate toward them and us.

  1. We know He is ready to forgive because He is gracious.

This word is obviously related to the word “grace”.  This means that He is inclined to forgive us what we do not deserve.  It is because that He is gracious that He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.  Have you not found this to be true?  If He had dealt with Israel, as they deserved, they would have been destroyed before the golden calf.  He is ready to forgive!

  1. We know He is ready to forgive because He is slow to anger.

This does not mean that the Lord is incapable anger.  Rather it means that anger is never His first response.  He is slow to anger.  Paul described agape love as being “not easily provoked.”  This is surely true of the love of the Lord for us.

Because this is true, He will not “harbor His anger forever.”  Are you not glad that the Lord is not like some people you know?  Once you offend them, they never forget.  They have a memory longer than the proverbial elephant.  They will always harbor a little anger in their hearts against you.

  1. We know He is ready to forgive because of the greatness of His love.

The reason for all of this is stated so grandly in verse 11, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him.”  This is a poetic attempt to state just how great God’s love is for His people.  The word translated “love” is one of the great words of the Old Testament.  It is sometimes translated “mercy,” or “lovingkindness,” or just as love in this case.  When you consider everything that is involved, it is the basic explanation of God’s readiness to forgive.  It is rooted in His lovingkindness.

Our parents probably influence us more than we realize at this point.  Some of you grew up in a home that was full of anger.  You were constantly in fear of provoking your parents to anger.  They would become angry at the least provocation.  You tend to project that parental image on to God, so you are inclined to underestimate how ready God is to forgive you.

You tend to think

That He will forgive

Only if you do something

Outstanding to deserve His forgiveness.

You cannot imagine that

He would forgive you

Freely and gladly.

But He does.

Jesus illustrated this truth about God in an unforgettable way in the parable of the Waiting Father.  When the prodigal son fearfully returned home, rehearsing his speech as he walked along, to his surprise the Father ran to meet him.  The Father had bestowed forgiveness upon him almost before he could ask for it.  Do not underestimate the readiness of God to forgive.

Don’t underestimate The Completeness Of God’s Forgiveness.

When God forgives, He forgives completely.  In beautiful poetic language David puts this truth before us in a manner that we can never forget.  We have a tendency to underestimate the completeness of God’s forgiveness.

But notice what the Bible tells us . . .

  1. He removes the sin completely.

Verse 12 declares, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgression from us.”  The thing removed in this case is our transgressions.  This word that is commonly used for sin in the Old Testament is a relational word – it almost always has reference to our relationship to God.  It refers to “a willful deviation from, and therefore rebellion against the path and life God has designed and desires.”  So . . .

The thing removed is not some mistake

That we may have made.

Rather it some deed of rebellion

That deliberately went against

What we knew to be

The will of God in the matter.

In this case the person

Has personally done something

They knew to be wrong.

God so completely removes our sin that it will never be found.  How far is from the east to the west?  You know that we can measure the distance from the north to the south, but the distance from east to west is eternal, infinite.  If you start on a journey to east, unless you turn around, you will return to your starting point and will still be going east.

What a glorious truth about out sin!

God will move it so far from you

That it will never be found.

Your memory may find it.  Your accuser may find the memory of it in order to bring an accusation against you, but the sin it itself is gone, gone forever.

How can He remember it if it is gone!

  1. God removes the punishment for the sin completely.

In his Expository Dictionary, W. E. Vine, indicates that the word “transgression” can be used for the punishment for the transgression as well as the transgression itself.  Surely the Lord intends for us to see both here.  When he removes the transgression, the punishment for that transgression goes with it.

When we apply the light of the New Testament to this Old Testament statement, this makes a lot of sense.  We know that Jesus Christ bore our sins in His body on the cross, and that there He suffered the punishment that our sin deserved.  So indeed, God has completely removed the punishment for the transgression through the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ.

  1. God restores the relationship that sin has broken completely.

It is noteworthy that the next statement in the Psalm refers to our relationship with the Father. Verse 13 states, “As a father has compassion on His children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.”

Jesus illustrated this truth so beautifully in the parable of the Waiting Father.  When the Father forgave the prodigal, he was restored fully to his position as a son in the family.  The robe, the shoes, and the ring symbolized this to him and to all the family.  He was back in the full favor of the Father.  All of the privileges of sonship were restored to him.  Don’t underestimate the completeness of the Lord’s forgiveness.

Don’t Underestimate The Impact Of God’s Forgiveness.

In the word that God spoke to Moses on the mountain that became the basis for the Psalmist’s thoughts, there was one ominous note that has frightening implications.  After the clear word about His readiness to forgive, God added: “Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished, he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:7)  Is that not a frightening possibility?  If you do not receive the forgiveness, which God is so ready to give, then the punishment for the sin will extend to our children and grandchildren for as many as four generations.

Contrast this word from the mountain that Moses received with the word written by the Psalmist in verse 17, “But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear Him, and His righteousness with their children’s children – with those who keep His covenant and remember to obey His precepts.”  This a reference to those who have experienced God’s forgiveness.

  1. His forgiveness will impact your personal life.

This psalm opens with a call for praise and thanksgiving to be offered to God.

One of the blessings

To be celebrated before

The Lord with thanksgiving

Is that of forgiveness.

God is the One who “forgives all your sins.”  To know His forgiveness is to have your heart filled with peace and joy before the Lord.  It will set your heart to singing of the goodness of the Lord.

A man was rehired to fill a position from which he had been fired.  There was such a radical change in the man, that a fellow-worker asked him what had made the difference.  The man shared with his fellow-worker a tragic story.  While he was in college, he was a participant in an initiation for some freshmen.  They took them out to an isolated country road and made them stand in the middle of the road.  He was to drive a car toward them at a high rate of speed.  The freshmen where to stand in the road until they received a signal to jump.  He had the car going about a hundred miles per hour as he approached the young men.  He could see the terror in their eyes.  When the signal was given, they all jumped out of the way except one.  The memory of that boy’s death was with him continually.  It affected everything about his life.

One day some months earlier, after he was fired from his job, a strange woman came to his home.  She looked faintly familiar, but he did not recognize her.  She introduced herself as being the mother of the boy that he had ran down.  She said to him, “For years I have hated you for what you did to my son. Recently however I gave my life to Jesus Christ, and he forgave my sins. I have come to tell you that I forgive you for what you did to my son, and that I want you to forgive me.”

He explained to his fellow-worker, “What I saw in that woman’s eyes so touched me that it gave me permission to become the person I might have been if I had not killed the student.”  It was something that changed his life for good.  Don’t underestimate the power of forgiveness to impact you for good.

  1. His forgiveness will impact your family.

Are you aware of how negatively your lack of forgiveness impacts your family?  You are not a free person within.  Guilt and shame bind you.  You are void of the activity of the Holy Spirit in your life and He is the one who blesses others through you.  Your grandchildren may not know of your transgression, but they will know that something is wrong in your life. When God forgives you, they will be able to see that the lights of heaven have been turned on in your soul.

  1. His forgiveness will impact your ministry to others.

In another Psalm (Psalm 51), David acknowledges that he will not be able to help others until the Lord has forgiven him.  He will not be able to teach transgressors their ways.  But when you are forgiven, you will be restored to a place of available service.   Don’t underestimate the impact His forgiveness will have on you!

In 1830 George Wilson was caught robbing a mail train.  He was tried and sentenced to death.  President Andrew Jackson decided to pardon him and sent an official with the news.  But Wilson refused the pardon.  The officials did not know what to do with the man so the case was sent to the Supreme Court and Chief Justice Marshall decided that the pardon was null and void.  He wrote that the pardon was just a piece of paper until the person being pardoned received it.  If that person refused it, then there was no pardon.

The only thing that will keep you from receiving this wonderful forgiveness from God is your unwillingness to receive it. Ask for and accept God’s forgiveness today so you can experience the miracle of forgiveness and enjoy the marvel of forgiveness.

This is God Word … This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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A Pastor’s Thoughts On Responding To The Coronavirus

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

25Mar  In AD 251, a plague struck the Roman Empire.  We now believe it was measles, but then it was a devastating, mysterious illness that seemingly struck at random and ravaged the population.  No one knew why or how the disease spread, so fear was wide-spread. It was recorded that five thousand people were dying every day just in the city of Rome.

In the modern age, disease is not so mysterious.  But it’s incredible how much the human spirit remains the same.  Much like thousands of years ago, the response to the threat of a pandemic is fear that leads to panic. Costco, Sam’s, and Wal Mart routine now ran out of water and toilet paper in a matter of minutes after stocking.  We cannot turn on the news without hearing of the coronavirus.  I am saddened to find that Christians are among those who are falling prey to the rising panic.

But in AD 251, Christians were the one segment of the population who fared much better than any other.  The average Roman, believing that the plague was the judgment of the gods, would, as Dionysius recorded, “[push] the sufferer away, and [flee] from their dearest…hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease.”  Thucydides reports that many “were afraid to visit one another…they died with no one to look after them; indeed there were many houses in which all the inhabitants perished through lack of any attention.”

Christians responded differently.  Trusting in God’s promises of eternal life, they turned to care for the sickest.  The ironic result is that the mortality rate of Christians was significantly lower because their care for one another gave a chance for the measles sufferer to recuperate, whereas those who isolated would inevitably perish from neglect even if they survived the ravages of the disease.  Because they did not fear death, the Christians lived.

Are Christians responding any differently to the news of coronavirus than the average person?  If Sam’s or Costco or Wal Mart is any indication, then the Christian fears death as much as anybody else does nowadays.

Where is our peace?

Where is our selflessness?

Have we no assurance

In the face of the unknown?

I am not advocating we abandon common sense. Obviously, everyone  needs to do what everyone that is being recommended by health authorities to halt the spread of disease. But . . .

I am asking you to give yourself a faith check.

If you call yourself a follower of Jesus

And COVID-19 strikes fear in your heart,

Ask yourself why?

What does that say about your perspective

On life and its purpose?

What does that say about where

You place your hope and assurance?

For the early Christians, Jesus loomed large in their vision.

  • They trusted that Jesus embraced others in love, even as they suffered.
  • They loved others and embraced them in love, even as they suffered.
  • They trusted that Jesus is King and thus no twist and turn of history was a surprise to him.
  • They trusted that death did not have the last word because Jesus had defeated it, and that their destiny was with him eternally.

If Jesus, in all His

Beauty, wisdom, and grace,

Does not capture our hearts

Like He did theirs,

Then our hearts will

Be captured by fear.

The annals of history show, time and again, that the way of Jesus, of self-giving and sacrifice, is not a pie-in-the-sky philosophy that has no bearing in life.

It’s actually the best,

Most practical way to live.

Society functions best

When we consider the needs

Of others above our own;

It unravels when we seek first our needs.

We only need to look at

The example of Christians to see this.

I pray that the coronavirus advances no further, but should it continue its advance, will we Christians differentiate ourselves from the rest of the world in our response?

  • Will we be the voice of peace in the midst of panic?
  • Will we be the ones who serve one another and share resources, or will we horde and isolate?
  • Will we have hope when others despair?

Our response will not only

Be a matter of the soul,

It may very well be

What makes a difference

In our communities.

And as we walk through this time of uncertainty together, please remember that we can be certain of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, and show that love to others as we live out what it means to be “for our neighbors.”  So please take this opportunity to call and check in on your neighbors, or those you know who are elderly or live alone.  Offer to bring food to those who are sick and can’t go out.  Be a comfort to them in the midst of fear.  Meet people where they’re at.  Be different and be faithful. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

This is God Word … This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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Peace Amid Covid-19

Grace For The Journey

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24MarThe Bible says in Psalm 119:165, “Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing causes them stumble.”  Inasmuch as my blog has been designed to provide varied and meaningful words of encouragement to you over the years, at this time I want to be very intentional about speaking to this unprecedented and wildly uncertain time we are currently facing due to the Corona-virus pandemic and the anxiety we are all feeling while we are amid Covid-19.

In just a few short weeks, the daily routines of our lives have been turned upside down and inside out.  To be sure, this caught all of us by complete surprise.  But we can take comfort in the fact that it did not catch our God by surprise.  Some 2,700 years ago, God spoke to the prophet Isaiah, saying, “Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand.  This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations” (Isaiah 14:24, 26).  He also told Isaiah, “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).  Jesus told us that not a bird falls to the ground apart from the will of God (Matthew 10:29).

While you and I are feeling uncertain

About the days that lie ahead of us,

There is absolutely no doubt or confusion

In the mind of the Sovereign Lord.

In light of all the instructions issued by national, state and local governments, we as a church have cancelled our services and activities but we have not cancelled church.  We now engage in our Lord’s Day worship via live stream at 10:15 a.m. with a trimmed down worship team of less that 10 people.  We are also seeking to remain in “contact with our church family members through deacon family member ministry and our Bible Study Class care ministry.  We are doing the best we can to minister and watch out for one another.

We are navigating through uncharted waters.  We, the people of America, have never seen anything like this.  So, the question that has been on my mind and in my heart as a pastor is this:

How can we have a Godly peace

When we are amid Coronavirus pandemic?

The answer, of course, is to look past the pandemic to see our Prince of Peace, who gave us these very encouraging words: “Peace I leave you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)

The peace the world offers to us is based on circumstances.  When things are going well, we have peace; when things are going badly, we are troubled.  But . . .

The peace that the Word of God offers us

Is not based on circumstances, but on Christ,

Who changes not and whose compassions never fail.

Our God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

True peace, a godly peace, is built on the sure,

Solid foundation of the Word –

Both the written Word and the incarnate Word.

When we look to the Lord, “The peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

Now more than ever, let me encourage you to stay in the Word and pray to the living Word, knowing that “He himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14).  Let’s stand in that peace and share it with others.

This is God Word … This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

 Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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