Asking To Grow In Christ

My new life song… Careful…

“I Asked The Lord That I Might Grow” (John Newton)

Read the words as the song plays…

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and every grace
Might more of His salvation know
And seek more earnestly His face

Twas He who taught me thus to pray
And He I trust has answered prayer
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair

I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest

Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry powers of Hell
Assault my soul in every part

Yea more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Humbled my heart and laid me low

Lord why is this, I trembling cried
Wilt Thou pursue Thy worm to death?
“Tis in this way” The Lord replied
“I answer prayer for grace and faith”

“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou mayest find thy all in Me.”

(Tuesday January 15, 2013.  7:30-12:45.  M.S. Heather Ln)

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Rejoice ALWAYS

Suffer JoySuffering is the Gospel.  Suffering is how the Gospel is spread.  Suffering is inevitable in everyone’s life especially for Christians.  Yet Christians are to rejoice always!  In Scripture Christians are encouraged to be joyful while in the midst of difficulty!

I’ve been working on something for my kids called, “The Joyful Supremacy of Christ in Suffering.”  I want them to be able to understand and process suffering in a manner that glorifies God and results in joy for them and their family.  I want others to see the differece Christ makes in them as they suffer so that they can share the Gospel of Jesus Christ when asked, and comfort others in their suffering.

Also, I need to be reminded of some basic truths when I have a minor struggle or two myself.

I’ve worked my thoughts into four messages that (God willing) I will present to a congregation in February.  The sessions are titled (Click on each one to read it):

God’s Promises

God’s Providence

God’s Pawn (Satan)

God’s Provisions

God’s Preemptive Strike

thornSometimes God uses Satan to take a preemptive strike in our heart to KEEP US FROM sin AND build our faith BEFORE we would have failed.  Paul called it his “thorn in the flesh.”  Consider the Scripture from 2 Cor 12:7-10…

To keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

“To keep me from” is how Paul described God’s preemptive strike at his heart.  Paul realized the “messenger of Satan” was God using Satan to prevent pride entering his life.  Get that!  To PREVENT.

There are times God uses Satan to PREVENT Christians from falling into sin!  It is possible that what you are going through (Or will go through) is NOT because you failed… or sinned… or did anything wrong, but rather it is a “pound of prevention” from the hand of God!  Meditate on the love of God in this truth.

When hardship, difficulty, or trial enters your life… ask God to reveal to you what He is doing in you for His glory and your good!  Instead of fighting God’s sanctifying work in you, be still… listen… pray.  You may very well live in verses 9-10 as a result!

Fair Versus Unfair

As a Christian there will be times when life gets tough.  There will be times when life is tough through no fault of your own.  When that happens you have a choice.  You can either: 1) Fight back, attacking the source of injustice, or 2) Follow what is outlined in 1 Peter 2:19

This is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.

Be Mindful Of God.  This means to remember who is in control.  Who is with you in life.  Who is working out His purposes in you.  Who is working to conform you to the image of Christ.  Who is using you to glorify His name.  Who has promised never to leave nor forsake you.  Who is laying up treasures for you in heaven.  Who you can trust regardless of your own understanding.  This is best done by reading and meditating upon Scripture.

Endure.  It is by being mindful of God that you can endure.  To endure means not to quit.  Not to give up.  To keep following Christ.  To on honor Him.  To do what is right.  To continue to love… be merciful… turn the other cheek… and forgive.

The result is that it makes God smile (“This is a gracious thing in the sight of God”).  Imagine… by your conduct God is pleased.  That is a good thing.

Whatever you are going through, for God’s glory… patiently endure it.  God is watching so give Him reason to smile.

Patience And Evil

I read something interesting in 2 Timothy 2:24 you should reflect on when you have time…

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness.

Who is “The Lord’s servant?”  Well… Paul wrote this to Timothy who was a minister.  So first I’d say it applies to all who are in the ministry.  On a larger scale it applies to all who serve the Lord… all Christians.

“Must not be quarrelsome.”  That would mean argumentative… contrary… constantly debating… contradicting others.  As it is written in James 1:20, “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires.”

“Kind to everyone.”  We know a kind person when we encounter them.  We see it in their eyes… hear it in their voice… their demeanor is pleasant.

“Able to teach.”  Strictly, if a person cannot faithfully and effectively teach Scripture… they are not qualified to be recognized as the Lord’s servant (This has nothing to do with seminary!).

“Patiently enduring evil.”  This is the phrase that grabbed my attention.  “Patiently enduring evil.”  When you serve the Lord… you will be opposed, attacked, maligned, belittled, and at times treated harshly (Philippians 1:29).  The response from the Lord’s servant is to endure it patiently!  ENDURE means don’t quit… don’t give up… don’t throw in the towel.  ENDURE can possibly also mean not to fight back as in “turn the other cheek.”  Evil is to be endured PATIENTLY!  Don’t whine… don’t be bitter… don’t get frustrated… don’t retaliate… don’t seek revenge.  Be patient by doing what is right in God’s sight… trusting Him to handle whatever you experience.

“Correcting his opponents with gentleness.”  Patiently enduring evil doesn’t mean being a doormat for abuse.  But the way the Lord’s servant responds to evil is with gentleness.  Gentleness is conciliatory… full of grace and mercy… calm… and patient.  Gentleness is an attitude of respect for others.  Gentleness is non-offensive.

Now.  Could I suggest we prayerfully ask God to work 2 Timothy 2:24 deep into our hearts and that we make conscious efforts to live it… for God’s glory?

“Why Me?!” (Tim Keller)

This is from one of my preaching and theological heroes, Dr. Tim Keller…

When I was diagnosed with cancer, the question “Why me?” was a natural one.

Later, when I survived but others with the same kind of cancer died, I also had to ask, “Why me?”

Suffering and death seem random, senseless.

The recent Aurora, Colorado, shootings — in which some people were spared and others lost — is the latest, vivid example of this, but there are plenty of others every day: from casualties in the Syria uprising to victims of accidents on American roads. Tsunamis, tornadoes, household accidents – the list is long.

As a minister, I’ve spent countless hours with suffering people crying: “Why did God let this happen?” In general I hear four answers to this question. Each is wrong, or at least inadequate.

The first answer is “I guess this proves there is no God.” The problem with this thinking is that the problem of senseless suffering does not go away if you abandon belief in God.

In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said that if there was no higher divine law, there would be no way to tell if any particular human law was unjust. Likewise, if there is no God, then why do we have a sense of outrage and horror when suffering and tragedy occur? The strong eat the weak, there is no meaning, so why not?

Friedrich Nietzsche exemplified that idea. When the atheist Nietzsche heard that a natural disaster had destroyed Java in 1883, he wrote a friend: “Two-hundred-thousand wiped out at a stroke—how magnificent!”

Because there is no God, Nietzsche said, all value judgments are arbitrary. All definitions of justice are just the results of your culture or temperament.

As different as they were, King and Nietzsche agreed on this point. If there is no God or higher divine law then violence is perfectly natural.

So abandoning belief in God doesn’t help with the problem of suffering at all.

The second response to suffering is: “While there is a God, he’s not completely in control of everything. He couldn’t stop this.”

But that kind of God doesn’t really fit our definition of “God.” So that thinking hardly helps us with reconciling God and suffering.

The third answer to the worst kind of suffering – seemingly senseless death – is: “God saves some people and lets others die because he favors and rewards good people.”

But the Bible forcefully rejects the idea that people who suffer more are worse people than those who are spared suffering.

This was the self-righteous premise of Job’s friends in that great Old Testament book. They sat around Job, who was experiencing one sorrow after another, and said “The reason this is happening to you and not us is because we are living right and you are not.”

At the end of the book, God expresses his fury at Job’s ”miserable comforters.” The world is too fallen and deeply broken to fall into neat patterns of good people having good lives and bad people having bad lives.

The fourth answer to suffering in the face of an all-powerful God is that God knows what he’s doing, so be quiet and trust him.

This is partly right, but inadequate. It is inadequate because it is cold and because the Bible gives us more with which to face the terrors of life.

God did not create a world with death and evil in it. It is the result of humankind turning away from him. We were put into this world to live wholly for him, and when instead we began to live for ourselves everything in our created reality began to fall apart, physically, socially and spiritually. Everything became subject to decay.

But God did not abandon us. Only Christianity of all the world’s major religions teaches that God came to Earth in Jesus Christ and became subject to suffering and death himself, dying on the cross to take the punishment our sins deserved, so that someday he can return to Earth to end all suffering without ending us.

Do you see what this means? We don’t know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, or why it is so random, but now at least we know what the reason isn’t, what it can’t be.

It can’t be that he doesn’t love us. It can’t be that he doesn’t care. He is so committed to our ultimate happiness that he was willing to plunge into the greatest depths of suffering himself.

Someone might say, “But that’s only half an answer to the question ‘Why?’” Yes, but it is the half that we need. If God actually explained all the reasons why he allows things to happen as they do, it would be too much for our finite brains.

What we truly need is what little children need. They can’t understand most of what their parents allow and disallow for them. They need to know their parents love them and can be trusted. We need to know the same thing about God.

The Lord Gives And…

After all seven of Job’s children were killed and all his worldly riches taken, it is written in Job 1:20-22…

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” 22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.

What has the Lord given you?  According to James 1:17 and 1 Corinthians 4:7, everything you have!  That would include…

Your salvation… life… family… job… intellect… retirement account… friends… food… seeing eyes… hearing ears… a beating heart… lungs that work… a house… food… car… etc ad infinitum.

Now, what does God have the right and power to take away?  Anything He desires to.  Why?  Because He is God.  That would include…

 Your life… family… job… intellect… retirement account… friends… food… seeing eyes… hearing ears… a beating heart… lungs that work… a house… food… car… etc ad infinitum.

There is only ONE thing God will not ever take away, nor can we lose it.  Did you notice the ONE thing left out of the second list from the first one?  Salvation!  That is the ONLY thing that cannot be lost by any Christian.  EVERYTHING ELSE is on the table and can be taken from us.

When we are satisfied that having Jesus IS our everything, losing anything or everything else won’t destroy us.  But when a person loves anything more than Christ… and loses it… they will be destroyed from the inside out.

I leave you to contemplate what is written in Colossians 3:1-4…

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.