Thank God for Suffering

We speak of the “comforts” of life, but what is comfortable? Perhaps we can know joy only after misery. Perhaps we can know peace only after the storm. Perhaps we can know comfort only on the other side of suffering.

Walking into a delicious fall breeze tingles your senses and fills you with a sense of energy and calmness. It’s fresh and invigorating precisely because it’s new and different. You have known sweltering hot summer days and chilly winter days, so the perfect autumn morning strikes you as just right.

Spiritually mature Christians know the comforts of the Lord because they have joined Him in His sufferings. They know what is pleasant because they know what is uncomfortable. They know what is peaceful because they know what is terrifying. Paul began his second letter to Corinth in this way:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort. (2 Cor. 1.3-7)

He is the “God of all comfort”! Is that not wonderful? And His comforts work in us to such extent that we can now aid the afflicted around us. As the Lord has granted us mercies, so we extend mercy to the fallen and the outcast, the orphan and the widow.

But what shall we do with our own heavy burdens? From time to time the weight of this life can feel almost unbearable. Will it crush us? Will it destroy us? Will our faith be broken? Paul continues:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many. (2 Cor. 1.8-11)

Paul–the great apostle, no less–had felt burdened so excessively that it was beyond his strength to bear! Yet he glimpsed God’s purpose underlying the burden: SO THAT he would not trust in himself but in God who raises the dead!

“Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” (Job 13.15)

So, dear Christian, where is your hope today? Where is your peace? You will surely not find it on Fox News, CNN, ABC, NBC, etc. Talk radio does not deliver joy. Facebook comments usually do not leave peaceful feelings. Our hope is found in Jesus Christ and Him alone. Therefore we must join in giving thanks to Him in all things.

Enjoy the comforts God affords, but also give thanks for the sufferings He grants (Phil. 1.29), because through afflictions we find His rest sweeter and through sufferings we find our hope brighter (Rom. 5.1-5).

One Thing Will I Seek

What’s the most important thing in your life, your absolute strongest desire?

Many Christians would reply, “Going to heaven” or “Being with God one day.”

If that truly is your main, goal, does your life reflect it? Do others know this about you? If I were to ask your best friend or spouse or parents, “What is his / her life’s passion?” what would they tell me?

David stated clearly in Psalm 27.4 the one thing he sought. It wasn’t going to heaven. It wasn’t one day being with God in eternity. It had to do with his immediate life.

One thing I have asked of the LORD,
that I will seek after:
that I may dwell in the house if the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to inquire (or meditate) in his temple.

David wished to dwell in God’s house now, while he lived.

As you read David’s words, don’t they ring true with you? Don’t you feel how right they are? Doesn’t a fire well up inside your own heart, a reflection of the same longing David expressed–to know God?!

How can I dwell in God’s house, gaze upon His beauty, and meditate in His temple now? David and I seek God and know God the same way–through His word. Notice another passage from David: Psalm 119.11-16.

I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O LORD;
teach me your statutes!
With my lips I declare
all the rules of your mouth.
In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.

Am I ingesting God’s word on a regular basis? God has not given us some rule for how much we must read per day, week, or year, but He certainly shows us how important His word is! It’s really the only way to truly know God, because in His word God reveals Himself.

Our modern society scoffs at, disdains, and belittles the Bible, and it’s easy to feel as if the Book is actually an archaic relic best left on the shelf or coffee table. But for those who actually open the Book–watch out! It speaks just as powerfully today as it did to David and to Paul.

One thing I will seek–to know God, to experience God, to enjoy God. I will seek Him now, not wait for eternity. I will seek Him through His word, through Jesus Christ, who is the revelation of God in the flesh!

You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
“Your face, LORD, do I seek.” (Psalm 27.8 ESV)

The Path to Joy

Perhaps you have memorized Philippians 2.3-7:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.

You may remember Paul wrote Philippians from a prison cell in Rome. You may also recall a major theme of the letter is JOY! Rejoice in the Lord always.

Where do we find this joy and that deep peace the world cannot know (Phil. 4.6-7)?

The world looks for joy in all the wrong places, because it believes happiness happens (see the relationship between those words?) as we seek it. Yes, the world pursues happiness. After all, is it not written into the Constitution of the United States? They seek happiness in power, prestige, and possessions (connect with the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–1 John 2.16). The world shouts “Me! I deserve! I want! Give me! You can’t have mine!” If it sounds selfish, it’s because it is.

However, God’s ways are opposite the world’s. When the world shouts “Me,” God says “regard one another as more important than yourselves.” When the world shouts “I want; Give me,” God says, “It’s better to give than to receive.” When the world shouts “I deserve,” God says, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…who emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant.” If anyone deserves, Christ does. If anyone deserves nothing, it is I.

Brothers and sisters, we can only find true joy and peace when we quit seeking them and rather begin seeking Christ and the the interests of others. Have you ever noticed how good you feel after you pour your energy out for someone else? It may be your child, your spouse, or your friend. It may be your neighbor, your coworker, or your enemy. When we expend ourselves for others, God has built into our consciences–into our very beings–an understanding of the rightness of selfless action.

Jesus, of course, perfectly models this mindset, and we should imitate Him.

How will you seek the interest of others today?

Have You Praised God Today?

Sunflowers SunsetPraise God for a beautiful day.
Praise God for creating family.
Praise God for my health and ability.
Praise God for His awesome creation.
Praise God for protection and sustenance.
Praise God for my gifts and talents.
Praise God for opportunities to serve.

And MORE THAN THAT…

Praise God for turning away His anger from me!
Praise God for forgiving my sins.
Praise God for comforting me.
Praise God for His mercy through Jesus’ blood.
Praise God for His guidance through His word.
Praise God for the joy set before me.
Praise God for the peace which passes understanding.
Praise God for the love and unity among my brethren.
Praise God for the hope of eternal life.

Gorgeous LandscapeYou will say in that day:

“I will give thanks to You, O LORD,
for though You were angry with me,
Your anger turned away,
that You might comfort me.
Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song,
and He has become my salvation.”

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

And you will say in that day:

“Give thanks to the LORD,
call upon His name,
make known His deeds among the peoples,
proclaim that His name is exalted.
Sing praises to the LORD, for He has done gloriously;
let this be made known in all the earth.
Shout, and sing for joy,
O inhabitant of Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

(Isaiah 12)

What Do I Need for Christmas?

The GiftAs I ponder the wonderful giving opportunities on December’s horizon, I wonder about all the things I already have.

My wife is following an idea this year to provide each of our children four gifts:

  1. Something they Wear
  2. Something they Read
  3. Something they Want
  4. Something they Need

Nice jingle, eh?

Each year it never fails…I lose myself thinking about all the stuff I own and all the things my children already have.

Christmas SweaterSomething They Wear
Sure, my kids have not mastered the art of folding their clothes neatly, but usually their drawers are difficult to shut because they are completely overflowing!

My own closet is packed with pants and shirts I don’t actually wear on any consistent basis. My wife gets upset because all my favorite shirts have holes in them. But the other ones don’t fit quite right, being too large, too small, too scratchy, too tight. Why do I keep them around?

Something They Read
Don’t even get me started on books. We have books. And we also have four nearby libraries we raid on a regular basis. Do we need another book in the house? (Whenever I ask that question, my wife gives me a look which makes me realize, yes, clearly we do. Apologies in advance, dear wife…)

Something They Want
What do I want? I mean, what do I want that fits into the category of I-haven’t-yet-bought-it-for-myself-and-it’s-within-a-reasonable-price-range. Because, let’s face it, if it’s within a reasonable price range and I really want it, I’ve probably already purchased it for myself.

My kids want…video games and LEGOs. And LEGO video games. My littlest son wants character figurines from his favorite video game.

Something they wantDo we usually want things that are good for us? The winning stocking stuffers are usually not pecans, apples, and boiled eggs. Usually they include lots of cocoa, butter, and sugar. Maybe that’s just at my house.

Something They Need
We must define “need” in order to clearly grasp this one. If you ask my children, their “needs” are actually wants. To be honest, it’s not just the children. What do I need? I need to get my truck a new radiator so I can drive it again. I need to finish putting down laminate flooring in my house (that one may not sound like a gift, but in a weird way it is). I need…

Let’s break down needs. Necessities. Air would qualify. Food qualifies. Clothing qualifies. As to the quality of those items, I don’t need the top of the line of any of those things. We eat a lot of organic food, but that’s actually a luxury. I only actually need one or two changes of clothing to live.

I have everything I need, and I always have.

PeacefulWhat I Really Need
After thinking through these four items, what do I come away with?

God has richly blessed me with physical things. I don’t just have what I need–I have much more than I really need. Must folks really have a healthy 401K? Must they live in a four-bedroom house in at least an average neighborhood? Most of the world doesn’t live this way. Why should I think I must live this way? If God has blessed me to live this way, I will praise Him! And if He chooses to take it away from me, praise Him! He will still give me what I need.

What I really need is to know Him and His Son Jesus. That’s where true life is. It’s not in all the stuff I listed above. That stuff comes and goes, ebbs and flows, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13.8).

What I really need is contentment–to be happy with what I have.

“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'” (Heb. 13.5-6)

“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Tim. 6.6-10)

Content people are grateful. Discontent people are complainers. If you and I can take this mindset of contentment (I have all I need) into the Christmas whirlwind of joy, cheer, and merchandising, we will experience peace amidst the chaos. Doesn’t everyone long for peace?

I pray for a peaceful month in which we all center our lives on Him who makes life worthwhile.

Emotions in the Face of Election Results

DisbeliefIn light of the political upset which we witnessed last night, I realize many are excited, many are bewildered, and many are upset. I appeal to you, my brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, to set your mind on things above, not on things here below.

The following guidance from Scripture seems appropriate:

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2.1-4)

So many in this country drift this way and that because they don’t have a firm authority in their lives. They rule their own lives (they think), and so their whim is their command. They have no rock, no anchor of their soul. Their emotions drift with them.

Our emotions, however, are governed by the Lord our God, as we walk in obedience to Him. We can rejoice in all things, even in election results which may or may not have gone our way. We should be careful not to fully think of it being “our way,” even if we voted for Mr. Trump, because we surely don’t stand for everything he does! We should be careful not to think of it being “our way” if we voted for Mrs. Clinton, because it seems God has decided not to place her in this position right now–surely we don’t want to stand against His will.

Christian brothers and sisters, just keep being who you are supposed to be. “Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5.13). Love your neighbor as yourself–especially if they voted differently than you!

God bless you. God give our country peace. May we continually bless Him and bless others.

Superstar Suicides and the Secret to Happiness

ElvisOver the years, an astounding number of intelligent, gorgeous men and women have committed suicide.

  • Maralyn Monroe overdosed on barbiturates and was found dead in her bed clutching a telephone receiver on August 5, 1962.
  • The king of rock ‘n roll, Elvis Presley, overdosed on prescription drugs on August 16, 1977, and died of cardiac arrest.
  • The king of pop, Michael Jackson, overdosed on a cocktail of antidepressants and pain killers and died on June 25, 2009.
  • Robin Williams was found on August 11, 2014, hanging by a nylon belt with wrists partially slashed after having dosed himself with antidepressants, caffeine, and a drug for Parkinson’s disease.

Robin WilliamsThe world loved (and many sill love) these icons for their ability to perform, entertain, shock, and amuse. All were top of their game, making headlines, and amazingly successful as this world counts success.

What went wrong?

Obviously drugs were a major factor in each and every case.

But why the drugs? These were not illegal drugs; they were prescription. After brief consideration, you may easily observe that these women and men were not happy with their super-successful lives! In fact, we might conclude they were actually not successful in life.

These folks were, evidently, seeking happiness in all the wrong places. They did not find joy in their beauty, sexuality, money, or fame–yet upon those things it seems they centered their lives. They built upon a shifting foundation of lies.

From where, then, does true worth and abiding happiness come?

Happy KidsActual joy and peace can only come from the presence of the one true and living God, Yahweh! Notice Psalm 16.7-11, especially verse 11:

    7   I will bless the LORD who has given me counsel;
         My heart also instructs me in the night seasons.
    8   I have set the LORD always before me;
         Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.

    9   Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
         My flesh also will rest in hope.
    10 For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
         Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
    11 You will show me the path of life;
         In Your presence is fullness of joy;
         At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

It saddens me to think of all in this world who are so far away from true spiritual blessing. How gracious God has been to me in showing me this path to peace, for I surely don’t deserve it. To be allowed into God’s presence boggles the mind, doesn’t it? For Him to forgive our sins and give us the opportunity to experience the fullness of joy and everlasting pleasures, does it not fill you with inexpressible delight, humble thanksgiving, and the motivation to serve Him forevermore?

Happy ChildrenSo spread the gospel, the good news of our Savior, who makes it possible for us to approach God’s throne of grace (Heb. 4.16), because millions of fellow men and women are searching for their lives’ meaning. They won’t find it in themselves, in their friends, or in their fans, and they certainly won’t find it in those pills they pop every day to mask their pain and depression.

Jesus has the words of eternal life (John 6.68-39), and He has commissioned us to spread it. Let’s get to work!

Are You Confident in Your Salvation? Why?

Trust ExpertsWhat thing or person completes the following for you: “In ______________ do I trust for my salvation”?

Careful, now. Answer honestly.

“Why are you confident in your salvation?”

If you answer, “I am not confident in my salvation,” please shoot me a response e-mail, because that needs to be remedied! God wants you to be confident. Read 1 John 1.1-4, and see that God wants your joy to be full. You should “know that [you] know Him” (2.3), and you should “know that [you] are in Him” (2.5).

But allow me to address the rest of you who are confident in you salvation. Why are you confident?

Are you confident because of your church or your minister?

“I am sure of my salvation because I’m a member of the right church and my preacher preaches the right doctrine.”

Let us immediately dismiss this, for no person or body of men can ever save a soul.

For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written:

“As I live, says the LORD,
Every knee shall bow to Me,
And every tongue shall confess to God.”

So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. (Rom. 14.10-12)

Trust DadAre you confident because you follow God’s laws?

Does your assurance come from having been baptized (in the correct way and for the right reasons)? Does your confidence swell each first day of the week as you assemble with the saints and correctly partake of the Supper of the Lord? “I do lots of good works. I’m obedient.”

The recurring sermon of every Bible preacher under both Old and New Covenants has been and continues to be, “Repent, and bear fruits worthy of repentance.” So the fruit of a changed heart surely should be seen in us, giving us a level of confidence as to our position with the Lord. However, the fruit is merely a sign of the salvation and not the very thing itself. The good works we do may reveal that we have been saved, but the works themselves don’t save!

“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy…” (Titus 3.5)

Are you confident because of your inward repentance and faith?

“I know my heart is right.”

Please don’t depend upon some attitude of your heart, some inherent internal goodness. Can you be saved without faith and repentance? Not hardly! But these, again, simply expose the fact that you are saved!

If we are completely honest with ourselves, each of us knows he is not worthy because the intents of his heart continue to hold traces of evil motives and weaknesses to temptation. When is faith ever good enough? When is repentance ever absolute? We might believe our latest repentance came from a complete and utter brokenness, but then in a few more days our weaknesses resurface again! O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Reaching UpSo From Where Does True Confidence Come?

Our confidence, ultimately, comes from Jesus Christ, the One whose word never falls to the ground, whose promises are never broken. He exists, He lives, and He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Our confidence should never be in our seeking but in the One Whom we seek! Christ is our Yes and our Amen.

“For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Cor. 1.20-22)

Brother and Sister, rest confidently in this, that God saves in Christ, not because of any works we accomplish but because of THE WORK Christ has done and the work the Holy Spirit continues to do in us.

In Christ do I trust. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Gal. 2.20).