Thursday, June 29, 2006

Husband, Love Your Wife

One of the greatest responsibilities that I have as a pastor is pre-marital counseling. I love marriage, and I love being married. Perhaps the most evident grace in my life, and one of the greatest assurances I have that God loves me, lies is the fact that I am married to one of His beloved daughters.

I remind husbands-to-be of the above fact in our counseling sessions. I tell them with passion the fury and wrath of God that must rightly descend upon a man when He fails to treasure his wife. Think of it, brothers. What greater gift on earth has God given to you? Surely not money or land or house, all such will be destroyed with a fervent heat. Do you think that God cares more for such things than the woman you call your wife?

Before the world was formed out of nothing, God knew the woman who is now your wife. He formed her in His mind, and He longed for her in His heart before a single star shined or the first flower grew. He purposed to take this woman, your wife, and rescue her from sin and shame and hell, and to lovingly make her perfect. The Father would make her as a love-gift to His own beloved Son, and by the power of His Spirit, He purposed to make her shine with His glory. He has been thrilled with your wife for centuries; His heart yearns for her with a love that has not been diminished by time or circumstance. She is magnificent to Him; the Lord died for her. Will you now treat His beloved, His daughter, as a thing of your fancy?

How it must burn the heart of God to see His daughter treated with contempt! When a husband speaks hurtful words to his wife, God must rage. When a man betrays her heart by defiling the marriage bed, how He must simmer with wrath. That is the King's daughter!

But in His grace, and despite our faults, He gave her to us. He entrusted her heart to us. He has charged us to love her as He has loved us, and His heart soars when we comply. How happy must the Father's heart be when a husband loves his wife! How delighted the Lord is when He sees His daughter honored with affection and faithfulness! Husband, do you wish to fill your Father's heart with joy? Then love His daughter.

It is my hope and prayer that every man with whom I counsel will realize the gift that God has prepared for them in a wife. I pray that they will tremble at the responsibility, but delight in fulfilling it. I trust that as the measure of the gift of marriage settles into a man's heart, that he will daily cry out for mercy and guidance as he seeks to honor God through the gift He has given. So husband, love your wife, and do not neglect the gift that God has given you.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Could You Stand the Glory?

In many of our worship songs, we ask the Lord God to show us His glory. I have a sneaking suspicion that when we ask for this, we really have no idea exactly what we are asking for. We have caught glimpses of God's glory in nature and in rebirth, but His glory is still partially veiled to us. We haven't seen Him in the full brightness of His greatness. What we have seen makes us long for more, but we have to have Him in small doses or we would be consumed. At least, it certainly seems that way in Scripture.

Take Moses for example; he asked the Lord to show him His glory (Exodus 33:18). God agreed to show Moses His "goodness," but Moses could not see God's face or he would die. Odd, isn't it? Without being too fakely pious, consider why Moses would have died if he had looked upon God's face. Do you suppose that God did not want Moses to see His face? Do you think that He did want Moses to see? So why couldn't Moses look? Why could he only look at God's back?

Consider also Job. Job was a righteous and blameless man. He suffered tremendously for the glory of God, and we admire him greatly for his faith and spiritual fortitude. Why do you suppose that when this great man of God saw the Lord he would exclaim that he hated himself? (Job 42:6). Job was a righteous and just man. What did he see that made him feel so despicable?

Turn your thoughts now to Isaiah. Isaiah, the prophet of God, walks into the Temple and sees the Lord God sitting on His throne, with the train of His robe filling the entire place (Isaiah 6:1). Why do you suppose Isaiah cried out "Woe!" instead of "Hallelujah!"?

At the risk of being redundant, I will also mention the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:2). For a blinding, incredible, miraculous moment, the glory of God shone through Jesus of Nazareth. Peter, James, and John all saw this wonderful sight. Did they start jumping up and down and yelling praises? Actually, the Mark tells us that they were terrified (Mark 9:6). When God the Father subsequently spoke to them from the "cloud," they fell down on their faces. John had the same experience years later when Jesus appeared to him on Patmos. Again, when John was confronted with the glory of the exalted Christ, he fell down like a dead man (Revelation 1:17).

I confess to you that I fear the Lord. I would say that I "revere" Him, but I worry that this word is now bereft of any meaning. What I mean is that if I knew that I would be appearing before the Lord tomorrow, I would be scared to death. Yes, I have assurance of salvation, but I would still tremble. I would tremble because I still struggle with indwelling sin, and because I still do not love Him as I ought. I feel certain that His glory would burn me like fire.

I am conscious of these things when I hear people pray for revival or for the Lord to "reveal" Himself. In my heart, I wonder if they know what they are asking for. I have a feeling that they think if God answered their request, they would leap about for joy. Something tells me that we would be flat on the ground instead of dancing and leaping.

Yet, having said all of this, I confess also that I pray for revival and for the revelation of God's glory. I pray that God would lay us in the dust of repentance, so that He may then lift us up to honor Him. God's glory purges us of sin, but it is humiliating and painful! My hope lies in the fact that after the humiliation, after God has revealed who we are in relation to him, he then makes us able to stand and gaze on His least, as much as we can stand.

Monday, June 26, 2006

But...I'm Not Dead!

If you have never seen Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail, then you are probably better off for it. Personally, I have probably seen it a dozen times, and I haven't the foggiest idea why. For some reason, it cracks me up. Anyway, one scene in particular reminds me of how some people view the local church.

There's this scene in which an undertaker is going about collecting the bodies of plague victims. He's continually yelling, "Bring out yer dead! Bring out yer dead!" Anyway, he has this dude draped over his shoulder, and the undertaker is intent on taking him off to bury him. The only trouble is the guy isn't dead yet.

A conversation ensues involving a passerby, the not-quite-dead guy(hereafter known as NQDG), and the undertaker. It goes sort of like this:

NQDG: But I'm not dead.

Undertaker: Yes, you are.

NQDG: But I feel better.

Undertaker: Shut up!

Passerby: You're not fooling anyone you know.

NQDG: But I feel fine. I feel happy.

Undertaker: Nonsense.

NQDG: I think I'll go for a walk.

At this point, someone bashes the Not-Quite-Dead Guy over the head with a club and kills him. The Undertaker then goes about his business. Silly, isn't it?

Unfortunately, I hear this sort of dialogue all the time concerning "dead" churches. Spiritual undertakers look at "plateaued" numbers or an "elderly" church membership and say, "Oh. That's a dead church." Or, they will go in, hear an organ playing and say, "Oh, the worship here is dead. This is a dead church."

To which I respond, "No it's not!" Why isn't it dead? For one thing, it is still a confessing church, and where there is gospel, make no mistake, there is life. It may be a smoldering light, but it is a light. Remember, our Lord will not snuff out the smoldering wick nor break the bruised reed. Further, I know that the gospel can breathe life into dead bones. So, I stick to my guns; where there is gospel, there is life.

In the day of church-hopping, band shopping, me-driven ministry, it is rare to find a person of enough spiritual maturity to fan a smoldering flame to life. Instead, pastors and people come in and bash in the head of a living church. It may be struggling; it may be diseased, but it is alive.

So the next time you diagnose a church as dead, make certain of your bold claim. Make certain that the gospel is gone, that the people have ceased to profess life in Jesus Christ, and that the Bible has ceased to be believed. If not, you may inadvertantly turn into a sort of Dr. Kevorkian to a living Church; you may kill something that yet has life and hope and a future. I say again, dear brother or sister, where there is gospel, there is hope.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Under-estimating the Gospel

Once, there was a foolish young boy named Brad. (That's me.) One day, he decided to take a three inch tube, cut open a bunch of shotgun shells, and pour and pack the powder into the tube. He then tightly taped a top onto the tube, buried it halfway in his front yard, added a fuse, and lit it. The ensuing explosion was so loud that his mom heard it from the inside of the house while taking a shower. She came out in a towel in a panic, and when she ascertained what happened, the proper beating commenced.

As an idiotic kid, I completely under-estimated the power of gunpowder. My goal was simply to create a small hole and make a loud explosion, not rattle the windows of nearby homes and get beat by mom. (If you have a problem with a deserved whipping, let me say that this was so stupid that Social Services came over and beat me.)

Lately, Romans 1:16 has been burning in my mind and heart. In it, Paul says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God." You probably have this memorized already, but I beg you to rethink it. Say this to yourself, "The gospel is the power of God." Let me expand on this thought.

When I think of the power of God, I think of earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods. I think of stars and black holes and gravity and supernovas and a universe larger and more complex than our collective imaginations. I think of DNA and RNA and microbes and ants the 5 million bugs that live in a spoonful of bayou water. I think of Jesus Christ holding all of creation together by His power. Ashamedly, I do not think of the gospel in this category, but I am trying to learn to.

The gospel is so simple. Paul defines it in a few words in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. He writes, "For I delivered to you of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriputres, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day." Don't blink; you just saw the power of God. Here it is again in bullet point:

1. Jesus Christ died for our sins.
2. Jesus was raised from the dead.

If you believe this, and if you confess Jesus as Lord with your mouth, you will be saved. If you have been saved, you have known part of the power of God. When you are fully glorified, you will know it better.

The gospel is the power of God for salvation. The hardest, darkest, most depressive heart can be and has been changed by those two simple points. The gospel is the power of God is not to blow up, it is the power to put back together. Any juvenile can blow something up; it takes a miracle to put it back together. That's what the gospel does. It restores broken lives.

When you witness to the glory of a risen Christ, do you really believe that the dead bones to which you speak can live through this simple message? Does the darkness of culture and sin and tradgedy make you doubt the power of God? I wrestle with this every day. Sometimes, the hardness of the heart seems as strong as diamond, and the ears on which the gospel falls seem hopelessly deaf. I do well to remind myself: This is the power of God. This is the power of God.

So meditate on this truth. I believe that it will make you a more shamless witness. Sow the seed that has never failed, and you will reap a harvest that is guaranteed.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Two Hundred Pound Tumor and the Danger to Community

For some odd reason, I have a fascination with watching surgery on television. I have watched eye surgeries, plastic surgeries, heart surgeries, emergency surgeries on various body parts, and just about any other sort of surgery you can think of. A couple of months ago, I saw a surgery that topped them all. I saw doctors remove a tumor that weighed over a hundred pounds off of a woman who was barely bigger than the growth itself. I'm serious. It was unbelievable. It was not a "cancerous" tumor, just some sort of weird tumorous growth. I can't remember for certain, but I think that she was from the Ukraine.

The surgery was very dangerous, and it was uncertain if the woman would survive the procedure. The tumor was so large and had so many large blood vessels feeding it that it was likely that she would bleed to death. If that didn't kill her, then it was very probable that the shock to her body from removing it might do her in. Fortunately, she survived. They got a shot of the mass that they removed from her after the surgery. It was hideous, and by far it was the most disgusting thing I'd seen on a surgery show. It was even harder than watching a face lift.

That lump of useless, life-threatening flesh has caused me to think hard about the condition of the local church today. Because our church discipline is nearly non-existent, we have unregenerate people attached to us like a tumorous growth. Without the scalpel of discipline, we are helpless to check the rampage of sin in the body of Christ. Now, I fear that the lump has grown so large that it will likely kill the patient to try and remove it.

The danger to the Church body in leaving this mass of death attached without remedy is multi-faceted. First, it is nearly impossible to have a worship service with so much dead flesh attached. Just as that tumor was drawing away blood needed for the useful parts of the body, so dead church members suck away life from the living. Nothing throws a wet blanket on joyful, exuberant worship like sitting next to a dour-faced tumor.

Secondly, trying to move with that lump attached is nearly impossible. How can you hope to move forward as a church when you have such a useless growth weighing you down? It is depressing to have a "business meeting" for a church and only one-tenth of the 'resident' membership even show up. This is not just my experience here, this is fairly well across the board I'd imagine. If you have to scrounge about to get a quorum of 20% to vote in the man you want to pastor the students, that's a fairly discouraging thing.

Thirdly, tumors contribute only negatively to the body. In the church, dead members leech the system. They do not contribute any money towards the church itself, yet they often complain about what goes on in the church itself. They are conspicuously absent from important meetings, absent from any committee, demonstrate no leadership in any area, and maybe, maybe put a five spot in the plate, yet they will slander, grumble, and complain about the least inconvenience. These malcontents steal the joy from an otherwise healthy congregation, and they cause division with their grumblings.

Fourthly, and most horribly, they obscure the glory of Jesus Christ. In order to join a Baptist church, one must make a credible profession of faith. The world then believes that these abnormalities are actually Christians. Therefore, when a 'real' sinner comes into the midst of the congregation and sees the dour life-suckers, they cannot feel the contagious joy of real believers. Further, they know what these people live like outside of church. In church, they look like their dog got hit by a car, at the Casino's happy hour, they look like they've been paying full price for cocktails for quite some time. No dour looks here. No way. This conceals the greatness of Jesus Christ because the lost find joy outside of Christ and not through Him. It makes a worship service look like drudgery and sham. If the world wanted drudgery, they'd go and have their teeth cleaned.

These are but a few reasons why I am utterly dismayed that the Integrity on Church Membership Resolution was not presented. Southern Baptists have a cancerous tumor that is as big as the convention itself. Our church is no exception. We report over 400 "members" to the convention. We average 120 on Sunday morning.

The real heartbreak to me is not the bloat on the rolls. It is that we have lost what it means to be a Christian community. Accountability in friendship is, or should be, the hallmark of Christianity. Instead, we seem to believe that discipleship equals hearing expository sermons on Sunday and that's it. What about going to a brother's house and discussing marriage, children, sex, books, philosophy, and news from a Biblical perspective? How about getting personal and saying, "Brother, you are overbearing to your children. You are the meanest person at the ballfield, and you embarrass me." Beloved, that's fellowship beyond fried chicken and sweet tea. Faithful are the wounds of a friend.

So yes, we have a problem that a mere purging of rolls will not fix. The challenge is to produce the type of bond of fellowship that can promote accountability and a type of humility that can handle it when it comes. The cancer that sits in our pews is only symptomatic of a shallow, individualistic fellowship.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Burden for the Lost

I have often heard that we ought to have a "burden for the lost." If I may be so bold, I believe that I have a burden for the lost, but when I say it, I believe that I mean something different than the average evangelical means when he says it. You can tell me if you find my burden to be more or less helpful.

Let me define what I believe most people mean when they say this. What they mean is that they feel sorry for lost people. They feel bad in the sense that they imagine that these people wish to live otherwise, but either have not had the opportunity to hear the gospel, or that they have not been sensible enough to accept it.

Mission work is often pushed through making the average church member feel guilty. This guilt is accomplished through selling the lie that there are literally "millions" of people who are "starving" to hear the gospel. The idea is purveyed that if someone showed up on their doorstep and shared the gospel, they would instantly believe. Until then, these lost people are thought to be miserable folks, in danger of perishing any moment and going pitifully into hell. And we could have prevented this tragedy if only we have given money, went to Africa, etc.!

The second part of this so-called burden relates to the fact that lost people haven't been "sensible" enough to accept Jesus as Savior. It is imagined that these people are either exceptionally wicked, selfish, and/or stubborn. They could get saved if they would just surrender and believe! There is truth to this, I confess. But it is a half-truth.

The truth is that the lost person is no more stubborn, selfish, and stubborn than the one sharing the message. You see, the saved person did not become a Christian because he was less selfish, stubborn, or selfish; he became a Christian because God resurrected him from spiritual death. If this second truth is not coupled with the first, evangelistic efforts become a prideful display of "Christian" condenscension. That is, we share the gospel to "lesser" people from our place of exaltation. We are Christians because we are better than you. Such a witness is an abomination.

Let me know if you think that this is an accurate assessment. Tomorrow, I plan on debunking this understanding of evangelistic burden, how it can lead to spiritual depression and disaster, and then demonstrating what I find to be a more compelling and realistic reason for evangelistic endeavor.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Irony of the Southern Baptist Convention's Resolutions

I have mixed feelings about my Southern Baptist Convention today. That's not unusual, I have had mixed feelings about us for some time now. But the results of the votes on the Resolutions this year serve to highlight some of the consternation that I feel about us right now.

For example, one of the resolutions that was voted on was a Resolution Against Alcohol Use. That is, the resolution basically stated that if you are a Trustee of the Southern Baptist Convtion, you must abstain from drinking any alcohol. After much debate, the Resolution passed. Here is the text of that resolution. (You can skip it, if you wish):

On Alcohol Use In America

Whereas, Years of research confirm biblical warnings that alcohol use leads to physical, mental, and emotional damages (e.g., Proverbs 23:29-35); and

Whereas, Alcohol use has led to countless injuries and deaths on our nation's highways; and

Whereas, The breakup of families and homes can be directly and indirectly attributed to alcohol use by one or more members of a family; and

Whereas, The use of alcohol as a recreational beverage has been shown to lead individuals down a path of addiction to alcohol and toward the use of other kinds of drugs, both legal and illegal; and

Whereas, There are some religious leaders who are now advocating consumption of alcoholic beverages based on a misinterpretatio of the doctrine of "our freedom in Christ"; now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina, June 13-24, 2006, express ur total opposition to the manufacturing, advertising, distributing, and consuming of alcoholic beverages; and be it further

Resolved, [insert amendment from floor urging that potential Trustees and Entity Heads who don't adhere to this resolution not be chosen for service]; and be it further

Resolved, That we urge Southern Baptists to take an active role in supporting legislation that is intended to curb alcohol use in our commuities and nation; and be it further

Resolved, That we urge Southern Baptists to be actively involved in educating students and adults concerning the destructive nature of alcohoic beverages; and be it finally

Resolved, That we commend organizations and ministries that treat alcohol-related problems from a biblical perspective and promote abstinence and encourage local churces to begin and/or support such biblically-based ministries.

Another Resolution, a resolution offered by Dr. Tom Ascol, was not considered worthy by the Resolution Committee to come to the floor for discussion or vote. As a point of order, Dr. Ascol asked that it be considered for discussion by the Convention at large, it would have required a 2/3 vote to make it happen. It failed. Dr. Ascol's Resolution was for Southern Baptists to demonstrate Integrity in Church Membership. That is, it encouraged Church discipline in Churches. It failed. Here is the text:

Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership
Submitted by Thomas Ascol

Whereas this 148th annual session of the Southern Baptist Convention marks the 26th anniversary of the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention; and

Whereas at the heart of this resurgence has been a determination to return to an unashamed commitment to the inerrancy and infallibilty of the Bible as the written Word of God; and

Whereas the Baptist Faith and Message states that the Scriptures are "the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried" (Article 1); and

Whereas the inerrant, infallible Word of God instructs us not to bear false witness (Exodus 20:16), but to put away lying and to speak truthfully to his neighbor (Ephesians 4:25); and

Whereas in 2004 the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Church Profiles indicated that there are 16,267,494 members in Southern Baptist churches; and

Whereas well over one half of those members never attend or participate meaningfully in the life of any local Southern Baptist church and are thus no different than non-members; and
Whereas the ideal of a regenerate church membership has long been and remains a cherished Baptist principle; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED that the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina, June 13-14, 2006, urge Southern Baptists to repent of our failure to maintain responsible church membership, and be it further

RESOLVED that we urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to repent of the widespread failure among us to obey Jesus Christ in the practice of church discipline (Matthew 18:15-18), and be it further

RESOLVED that we plead with pastors and church leaders to lead their churches to study and implement our Lord̢۪s teachings on this essential church practice, and be it further

RESOLVED that we encourage denominational servants to support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior̢۪s teachings on church discipline, especially when such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches, and be it finally

RESOLVED that we commit to pray for our churches as they seek to honor the Lord Jesus Christ through reestablishing integrity to church membership and to the reporting of statistics in the Annual Church Profile.

The irony here is thick. Apparently, a Southern Bpatist can be disciplined from being a Trustee if he sips a glass of wine, but that same person should face no reprecussions at his church for such behavior! Indeed, he could be a frothing drunkard for that matter, and we should not dare remove him from membership. Nay, not even if he is an adulterous, theiving, drunkard. And why should he be left on the Mebership roll...because he is a "prospect for evangelism." WHAT??!!! Yes, that was part of the explanation the Committee Chair gave for not considering this resolution. We would ruin opportunities for evangelsim.

Let me tell you why I am incensed at this ridiculousness. For one, we, as baptists, are supposed to believe in a regenerate church membership. That is, you cannot be a member unless you are a Christian. Church members should not be "prospects" for evangelism. Such thinking is so preposterous it nearly drives me to drink.

Seriously, are we having trouble with a bunch of Trustees who have turned out to be lushes? Are we having trouble keeping them out of the bars? Are they dragging young men down to the pub for shots and drinking games? Did we need this Resolution? Yes, drunkenness is sin. Shame on you if you get drunk. Shame! Shame! Shame! But is the drinking of wine itself actually sinful? Good luck proving that Scripturally. To me, this is as inane as a resolution against obese Trustees or slacker Trustees. Is it wrong to take a break? No. Is it wrong to be a lazy oaf? Yes.

On the other hand, can we demonstrate that Church discipline is necessary for the health of the Church? To all but the most obstinate, I believe that we can. So, I am dismayed, but I am happy that these things are coming up. May the voice of the Reformation grow louder every year until we are purged of our cultural legalistic tendencies. Who will drink to that?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Is Blogging a Good Thing?

From time to time, the topic comes up on blogs as to why we blog. More pointedly, the question is often asked as to whether or not this trend is healthy or not, or whether or not it is beneficial. I have given this some serious thought of late as my schedule has become increasingly busy and I haven't had the time to blog that I might wish. If I had to boil it down to some very positive motivations for blogging, here they are. And I believe they are exceedingly good ones.

First, I find blogging to be a sort of journal. It is a place where I can capture my thoughts on things, especially Scripture, from day to day. That is a definite plus.

Secondly, I find it healthy to have my ideas challenged or confirmed "publicly." This sharpens my witness, my theology, and my ability to communicate with clarity. More than once I have landed in a blog 'discussion' simply because I was unclear from the outset. Again, I find this to be very positive.

Thirdly, reading blogs keeps me up to date with the current trends of theology and church so I can prepare myself. I did not even know that such a thing as the "emergent church" even existed before I read blogs. This is decidedly helpful information to have.

Fourthly, blogs often make me laugh. I enjoy a good laugh.

Fifthly, I find blogs to be helpful devotionally. Because it is a popular medium, few blogs go into depth on topics. So they are more helpful for a quick thought to move the mind and soul towards godly reflection or meditation.

Sixthly, blogs are an excellent source for further investigation of matters. While few blogs go into depth on theological topics, they may raise questions that spur one to further investigation and can even point the way to good sources for further study.

The greatest danger I see in blogging and the reading of blogs is that it can be a serious time consumer. Especially for you folks who read blogs while you are on the clock. Be responsible with that. Of course, I have heard of people who get sucked into this "on-line world" and sort of live there. Don't do that; it's weird. Learn to have stimulating conversations with people face to face and you won't need the online world so much. It is a nice place to visit, but you can't live here.

That's it for my profundity concerning the blogosphere. You can let me know what you think in the comment section.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Is Romans 8:28 for Everyone?

To answer the subject line quickly: No, Romans 8:28 is not for everyone. There are two qualifiers in this verse that warrant investigation. The promise of Romans 8:28 applies to this type of person:

1. One who loves God.
2. The one called according to His purpose.

The first one we can delve into without moving past 8:28, the second will take a few more verses to unpack. It is enough here to note that if one does not love God, then the things that befall this one in life are not working out for their good, but rather, I believe, we may be able to say:

For we know that all things work together for evil to those who hate God.

Now, this may not be a true statement, and it certainly isn't Scripture. However, it does serve to make a good point, and I will try to explain why this is true, at least on some levels.

How is it possible then, that all things work for the hurt of those who hate God? Seemingly, the wicked seem to prosper greatly in this life. The apparent success of the wicked provoked the Psalmist Asaph to jealousy. He wrote, "For I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the propserity of the wicked" (Psalm 73:3). Think of the many wealthy and powerful that you know of who have no love of God. Do things seem to be working together for their hurt? It may not look like it, but I am afraid that they are, and horribly so.

A Christian can find peace in suffering because he knows that God is working things out for their good. He can find peace in prosperity because he knows that blessing is a gift from God. To the Christian, God is the ground of joy through which they may hope in times of good and bad. The God-hater does not have this foundation, and so no joy can last.

In blessing, there is no peace for the pagan heart. Their hope is cast entirely upon worldly things, and they innately know that such treasures are fleeting. Money, fame, beauty, and power are truly here today and gone tomorrow. Even in the birth of a child, the joy is fleeting. They cannot keep a child truly safe, nor make it live, nor can they keep it forever. Lasting joy cannot be found in things that are not lasting.

In bad times, there is no peace for the pagan heart. When strength fails, and beauty leaves, and riches vanish, their treasure and hope flees with it. At the loss of a loved one, they have no solid hope that they will see them again or that they are taken care of. So despair is the only natural course for the fleshly heart in either blessing or cursing.

As if these things were not enough, blessings will haunt the pagan in eternity. For every breath that God gives, for every love that they experience, for every sunset, for every meal, they will give an account for why they spurned God's graciousness in these things. If God, in His mercy toward the wicked, grants a gift to a pagan that He withholds from His own beloved people, how much shall they be held accountable for not giving thanks for such a precious gift? How many Christians long for children, never to receive that blessing? How many God-despisers are given that gift and never acknowledge the goodness of the Giver of life? In the end, their blessings will be turned to cursings because of their ingratitude and idolatry. The gift is still good, it is the attitude of the recipient that will draw the ire of the Almighty.

More blessing means more worry and higher accountability for the wicked. Worry comes because they cannot hold fast to the fleeting pleasures of this life. Accountability comes because they have been profoundly blessed by a generous God and have never acknowledged this fact. They become arrogant because of their blessings, and they curse God when they lose their worldly treasures. How miserable is the pagan heart who can find no peace or hope in God's graciousness because of unbelief!

So sadly, I say that Romans 8:28 is not for everyone. The promise of all things working together for good only applies to those who love God and no one else. Indeed, the opposite may be true if I am right; everything is working together for their ruin.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Hope and Pain of Romans 8:28 Part 2

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28).

I said that this verse is one of the bedrocks of my Christian hope, and it is. If the anchor of Romans 8:28 could not hold through the tempest of life, I fear that I would be washed away forever. One of the major reasons that I take comfort in this verse in times of despair is because it teaches me that nothing that happens to me or my brothers and sisters is ever wasted. Whether it be good or bad, the things which befall us in this life are a part of a larger, wonderful plan: our ultimate glorification. We learn that in verse 29. The 'purpose' of God in everything that happens to us is leading us to our glorification. One day, dear reader, the pain or joy that you feel today will lead to your reflecting a radiance and majesty that would be powerful enough to shake the world.

The natural question then is whether or not the "bad things" that happen to us are a part of the "all things" that God is using to conform us to this image. I am persuaded that they are. I believe that "all things" means that every occurance, no matter how we perceive it, will be used of God to purge us of our worldly addictions.

One of the most memorable debates that I had in seminary came on the heels of the 9/11 attack. One of my professors, one of my favorite professors, said that the attack was a prime example of gratuitous evil. That is, he believed that some evil things happen for no purpose other than to be evil. I was highly unsettled by this, and I questioned his statement vigorously. I saw then that if his statement were true, then I would have no ground to counsel hope to anyone undergoing terrible, painful circumstances in my pastoral ministry. I could not tell them that their pain and loss was working for their good and God's ultimate glory, because I would not know if this were indeed the case. It may have been for nothing, and that is too terrible a thing to imagine.

I am not suggesting that in counseling through tragedy that we ought to pull out Romans 8:28 flippantly. The pain is real in tragedy, and so is the confusion. Romans 8:28 will not chase that away, but I believe that it gives us the strength we need to bear the weight of despair that threatens to crush us.

When I meditate on Romans 8:28, I inevitably think of Job. In one day, the man lost his possesions and his children to tragedy. Eventually, he lost his health. The sores were so awful upon his skin that you could see to the bone. This man suffered terribly, and his friends were no help at all. They were convinced that he had brought this suffering upon himself, but the first chapter of that book tells us that Job was "blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil" (1:1).

Job was a righteous man who suffered tremendously under the cruel hand of Satan. But we know that Satan did nothing which God did not allow. God allowed the slaughter of Job's children, the theft of his property, and the failing of his health. Why? Why would God allow such a thing to happen to a good man? I tremble at the answer, for I have a child myself. I am healthy. I do not desire to feel the pain that Job felt. Not on your life.

Job was rightly upset. He wished that he could have a meeting with God and talk to Him about his troubles. He wanted to know why it happened. He wanted to know what he had done to deserve such treatment from the God he so dearly loved. God, in His mercy, granted Job an audience. This is Job's response to God:

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.

This is the answer of a man who lost everything in this world for no apparent reason. All of his rage and grief and indignation fled from him at the sight of the King of Kings. One glimpse of the glory of God caused Job to hate himself. How is that possible? What sort of God do we worship?

How much is it worth to you to see the glory of such a God? Not enough, I daresay. That is why God does not ask permission from us before He takes the things we love. He wants you to see His glory more than you do. Because He knows that His beauty and love and grace are far more satisfying than any gift He has ever given you. If need be, He will prove it to you. In the end, Job was not satisfied with the "why" explanation. We are never told that he received such an explanation. Rather, he was satisfied by simply seeing the Holy One. That was enough to assuage his pain and bind his wounds.

God did not waste Job's suffering. He recorded Job's magnificent responses for generations to draw strength from in times of despair. He blessed Job by showing him His glory.

Pain is not the only thing that God uses to perfect our faith; He also uses pleasure. At the birth of every child, we learn to love God more deeply. We learn to love Him more in every sunset, sunny beach, moonlit stroll, and fishing trip if we understand them correctly. His mercy is found in every earthly embrace and kiss. He delights in the pleasures that I find in my wife and that she finds in me, and I am most grateful for His mercies and grace in these things. I have grown because of the good things that God continually gives to me, and I have grown through the purging pains He has brought as well. I am confident, absolutely confident, that no pain or pleasure is ever wasted. This is why I find joy in weddings and in funerals, in good news and in bad; because God is working in them for our good and for His glory.