A Fast Changing World: An Answer to Prayer

We are living in an unusual period of rapid, radical change throughout the world, especially in the West. We dare not ignore what God is doing in the world around us.
Islamic people groups are surging out of their countries into Europe and other western nations–nations formerly shaped by the Gospel of Jesus, but now adrift in post-Christian decadence. In the US, peoples from around the world are streaming into our land. Whether their entry is through legal or illegal means is not the primary concern for the follower of Christ. This global seismic shift of people offers an unprecedented opportunity for God’s people to “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.” We must be careful and diligent to think like God’s redeemed people–ambassadors–who are joyfully responsible for making known the glories of the Lord Jesus, and calling all people to repentance and faith in Christ. As pilgrims who are passing through a passing nation, our first assignment is to our eternal King. Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our first and most passionate loyalties are to our Savior, alone. Any goal other than seeing his Kingdom come is idolatry.
In response to this seismic shift of people and cultures, at least two very different views can be taken:

1. A political view as a citizen of a passing nation who places preeminent value on maintaining cultural heritage and comforts, and,

2. A spiritual view as a pilgrim passing through a world that is not home, placing ultimate value in making Jesus known for the joy of all people.
God, who has “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him,” has assigned us this time, and this watch. We are to abide in him and be responsive and obedient to him in a hostile, transient world. It has always been thus, and it is certainly no less now. There is a place for politicians and governments to establish and enforce order for the good and flourishing of humankind. God sovereignly sets up and brings down governments and rulers as it suits his purposes in accomplishing the flourishing of humankind. But political positions are rooted in a decaying world, making them intrinsically inferior to eternal spiritual values.
We must set our hearts to seek the Lord and feel what he feels for the nations.
We must pray for spiritual power and stamina to first serve our King.
We must place our minds under the authority of Scripture to be transformed by God’s wisdom, understanding the weight of glory and the surpassing joy of seeing Jesus worshipped by every tribe, language, people and nation.
We have routinely prayed that the nations may come to know Christ. We give money to send the Gospel via missionaries to difficult places in the world who need to know Christ. Now the difficult places are coming here. The unreached are arriving at places where they can be reached. The unengaged are coming to the lands of God’s people where we can engage them. Is this one way God has answered our prayer for the nations? His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor our ways his ways. We dare not ignore what God is doing.

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/01/world/europe/a-mass-migration-crisis-and-it-may-yet-get-worse.html?_r=0
Psalm 96

2 Corinthians 5:20

Philippians 3:20

Acts 17:26-31

Romans 13

Revelation 5

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Total Realignment of the Heart (Part II)

In part one, we dealt with the truth that lasting change will not occur without a radical shift in our values. And since realigning our hearts to treasure Christ is the only surefire way to kill lesser desires and be fulfilled with greater desires, it would behoove us to know what that looks like. To that end, I’d like to give some practical advice in the form of an acronym.

Think of your life as a computer. Over time, viruses and junk files (sin & hindrances) fill your hard drive (your life). As a result, your computer slows down, it becomes unresponsive, and the next thing you know you are threatening to throw “the rusted hunk of junk” out of the window because it’s too slow. It’s ineffective. In tech terms, the process of removing all the bad viruses and junk files from your computer and starting over is known as “wiping” your hard drive. So, too, our hearts need to be wiped clean, and realigned to desire God.

 

Wash your heart frequently with scripture

We need frequent encounters with the scripture. It is God’s revelation to mankind. And, as Paul’s second letter to Timothy says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” God wants and expects you to use it to become more like him.

That said, different people are at different places in their walks with the Lord Jesus. We all can’t be expected to read one hundred chapters three times a day. The goal is not to read so much that you are only able to get through the physical process of your eyes scanning the words. Instead, each person ought to read what they’re able to (and still get something from it) at least once a day.  As you continue to grow in your walk, make a concerted effort to stretch the amount you are able to read. Perhaps add a chapter, or read twice a day, and so on. The point is to grow. As you read the scripture frequently, you are able to better apply it into your life – thus helping to fulfill God’s sanctifying (scrubbing clean) work in your life.

Intentionally meditate on God

While reading the scripture is valuable, meditating on God is equally valuable. After all, as much as we may want to, we cannot spend 24/7 reading scripture. Let me be clear about what I mean when I say to meditate on God. What I do not mean is what so often pops in our head when we hear the word “meditate”; that is, sitting cross-legged and chanting the “Ohm” somewhere in the Himalayas. What I am saying is that we must make the effort to think frequently and deeply about God.

Meditation is merely keeping God at the forefront of your mind. So, for all those other times where we are not able to read scripture, we ought to be thinking about God, about what we have recently read in Scripture, about how we can apply it to our lives, about all of the good qualities of God (his love, his wisdom, his forgiveness, etc.), about the meaning of troubling and seemingly mysterious verses, and about what the new heaven and new earth will be like, among other things.  Meditating on God causes the focus of our mind’s eye to be fixed on Jesus, just as Hebrews suggested. By keeping our mind’s eye fixed on Jesus, he becomes more and more valuable to us.

Pray

Prayer, simply stated, is talking to God. When we pray, we must bear in mind that we are not talking to thin air, to a mystical force, or to an idea that we have conjured in our heads. We are talking to a real person. As with any relationship with other people, our relationship with God (after we are saved) improves as we talk to him more, as we are more honest and transparent with ourselves before Him, and the more that we seek satisfaction from speaking with Him.

Embrace Suffering

Suffering comes in various ways: cancer, financial collapse, car wrecks, adultery, looting, natural disaster, militant opposition to the Gospel. Regardless of its source, our sovereign God has orchestrated—whether by design or permission—suffering as a means of His grace.

I’m not about to say suffering isn’t hard. Nor am I saying to just put a smile on your face. But I am saying that you can choose deeper joy in God, even in the face of your calamity. God has (perhaps) trillions of reasons for allowing calamity in our lives. One common reason is to kick from underneath us anything that we’re leaning on aside from him – much like a hangman kicks a stool from underneath a convict. But there is one glorious difference: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good,” for, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Gen. 50:20 & Rom. 8:38-39)

 

Embracing suffering—pains and all—allows us to taste and see God as better than anything else, and allows us to be more and more like our Lord. This is the essence of sanctification.

 

Finally, let us say with Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:7-11)

 

Total Realignment of the Heart (Part I)

What things bring you joy when you think about them? What are the things you just can’t seem to step away from? What things do you lie awake in bed thinking about?

For some, they can’t help but think that life is “all about the Benjamins”, and fretting about how to grow their bank account. For some, they value time at home with their spouse and their children. For more than a few college-aged persons, it’s all about maximizing fun-time between (and sometimes instead of) classes.

None of those things I listed are inherently bad: that is, money, sex, family, possessions, or even intangible things like love or fun. In fact, when they are enjoyed in such a way that shows that God is more valuable to us than those things, they are blessings.

However, even for a people whose entire faith hinges on the promise of the resurrection because of the substitutionary death of Christ, I am convinced that we spend far too little time thinking about (read: dwelling on) the new heavens, the new earth, and the glorious God who will govern both. The reason is that we are so prone to becoming bogged down by other concerns – some of which are sinful, and some of which are legitimate. Kids need to eat. The mortgage needs to be paid. You know, stuff like that.

If we are going to live fruitful Christian lives, we must rise above our sinful, idolatrous addictions, and we must rise above our tendency to settle for the here-and-now. How do we go about doing that? Hebrews reminds us to, “lay aside every weight and sin which so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:1b-2).

We notice at least three admonitions from the author of Hebrews: First, lay aside sin. Seems obvious, right? Second, lay aside other stuff (even good stuff) that prevents you from seeking and obeying God. Thirdly, realign your heart to treasure Christ. This third admonition from Hebrews really is the key to unlocking the first two. By fixing our eyes on Jesus – his glory, his goodness, his loving sacrifice, among his other manifold qualities – the things of this world “grow strangely dim.” In other words, not only are we to lay down one set of passions, but we are also to pick up a better passion – namely, God.

 

Our Lord sets the very same example for us when “for the joy set before Him he endured the cross.” What joy is the author referring to? The joy of ascending to heaven, the joy of being returned to his rightful place at the Father’s right hand, the joy of redeeming a people for himself, and the joy of conquering sin and death (just to name a few) were more valuable to Him, and motivated Him to obey the will of the Father.

No doubt this world offers many things that capture our desires and attention. Falling out of love with the world is a hard thing to do. Nay, it is impossible to do on our own. We are creatures that are naturally inclined to seek joy and fulfillment – which is not wrong! What is wrong, is where we choose to fulfill those desires. When we were unconverted, we were dead to God and had no other choice than to seek fulfillment in sin and in the here-and-now. But once God gives us the gift of conversion, Christ frees us from our absolute enslavement to sin. Even though we still have a sinful nature inherited from the fall, Christ now gives us the freedom to tell our sinful natures, “no,” and to seek fulfillment in Him.

We must, therefore, for God’s glory and our joy, realign our hearts to treasure Christ. It is the only thing that will help us – for the long run – to live lives that are pleasing to God. Recognizing that it’s easy to spout platitudes, part two of this blog will provide some practical advice on how to realign our hearts. In other words, what does the process look like? Stay tuned for part two.

Roadkill and Radical Depravity

It’s amazing how quickly we grow accustomed to things. Case in point: Nearly every day, as I make my circuitous drive to work, I encounter the remains of an unfortunate confrontation between a small animal and one ton of barreling steel.

It happens so often that we offer up a quick, insincere prayer thanking God that we avoided getting the mess on our car, and then go about our merry way. Rarely do we ever reflect on the deeper meaning of . . . roadkill. However, this is exactly what I invite us to do.

As I drove past the unfortunate creature, I couldn’t help but think about the implications of what I saw. In what seemed to be an insignificant, every-day occurrence, we see the manifestation of a larger truth: Sin continues to have devastating consequences. It seeks to maim, kill, and destroy everything it touches. It’s a lesson we’re prone to forget, but that we need to frequently remind ourselves.

Genesis teaches us that when God made the heavens, the Earth, and everything that is in the Earth, that He deemed everything to be good. There was no sin; nor was there sickness and death. However, Adam and Eve, in their pursuit to become like God, deliberately ignored God’s warning that moment they eat of the Tree of Knowledge that they will surely die.

Since that first, seemingly “minor” sin, humanity quickly devolved. In just a few short chapters we read about Cain killing his brother Abel out of a jealous heart. Over the course of the remainder of human history, from the fall to the present, we have been exploring and pushing the boundaries of our sinful natures.

Only God knows, precisely, how we inherited Adam’s sin tendency. However, the bible clearly clearly teaches that we inherited his nature nevertheless (Gen. 6:5, Gen. 8:21,Jer. 17:9, Eph. 2:3, Rom. 5:12). Perhaps the clearest case, in my opinion, is Psalm 51:5, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” In our natural state we are not blank canvasses like some would have us believe, but posses an irresistible bent towards sin. In other words, we do not become sinners because we sin; instead, we sin because we are sinners.

Furthermore, sin has produced far reaching consequences. Physical death was not the only consequence of sin entering the world. Consider just a few ramifications:

  1. Physical – Sin has produced real, physical death. We are reminded of it every time we bury a loved one. During the death of loved one – especially if they were particularly young – we experience a rightful sense that there is something wrong in the universe. Because there is something wrong. Physical death is perhaps the most patently obvious consequence of sin.
  2. Eternal – God’s warning to us, “lest you surely die,” was not only referring to a physical death. Because we have been created with eternal souls, and because sin separates us from a Holy God, without Christ we are objects of God’s wrath, destined for hell. (Rev. 20:14b)
  3. Spiritual – Sin has ravaged our relationship with our Creator. Not only are we born with sinful natures, and not only are we subject to both physical and spiritual deaths, but for what little time we have breath it is impossible for us to please God without the transforming power of Christ at work in our lives. (Rom. 8:5-8)
  4. Mental – Despite living in a supposed, “Age of Reason,” even our minds have been corrupted by the fall. In other words, we are unable to think rightly about God, our minds and hearts have been darkened, and we are unable to experience Godly guilt. Our minds are slaves to our sinful natures, constantly using them to dream up new ways of fulfilling our desires. Therefore, Romans teaches us that we must be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This renewing occurs as we expose ourselves to the gospel – and to the whole of scripture – whereby God reveals himself to man. (Romans 12:2)
  5. Relational – Immediately after the fall, we see discord in human relationships. Adam shifts blame for the fall onto Eve. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. Jesus teaches that family members will betray one another on account of the Gospel. Lastly, Paul states that as a consequence of the fall, that men and women gave up natural relations for one another, and were inflamed with lust. (Gen. 3:12, Gen. 37:18-36, Rom. 1:18-31)Societal/National – We see the consequences of sin societally and nationally every time we turn on the news. Nations are at war with one another. Cultures devolve into godlessness, and promote every kind of evil imaginable. Homicide and crime rates fluctuate. And, as a general rule, we do not seek to do good to our neighbors. (Prov. 14:34)
  6. Creational – Mankind was not the only being to suffer from the fall. The scripture teaches that all of nature suffered as well. The ground was cursed as a result of our sin, fields produced thorn and thistle, and animals became predatory. Paul confirms this when he writes:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Rom. 8:18-22)

 

The ramifications of sin extend far beyond the short list I have compiled. The truth of the matter is that something big happened at the fall. Something that has affected nearly every faculty and every facet of our lives.

And so we come back to that poor creature lying on the road. Whenever we see the death of a cat, or dog, or squirrel, or some other kind of roadkill, we are witnessing the far reaching and continuing consequences of our sin. We have become too numb to it. Out of the fall we have adapted and  forged a kind of “new normal.” But it is not natural, nor right, nor normal.

How should we respond, then? Let us cry over spilled milk. There is nothing we can do about our new present state. But we can weep over sin and its destructive fruits. Let our weeping move us to prayer. Let us be moved to share the news of a God who will make all things new – both our bodies and the creation. And finally, let us long for the redemption of our bodies in the age to come. Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus!

Dark Watches of the Night

The dark watches of the night. Outside, all is hushed except for the occasional cricket song, croaking frog and distant barking dog. Inside, anxiety gnaws at the pit of their stomach, fear is a ball of fire in their heart and grief crushes like lead weight.

Read between the lines and picture the disciples between chapters 19 and 20 in the book of John. They have locked themselves away to mourn and grieve. Sleepless nights find them gathered in dark rooms, talking in hushed tones about what they have seen and reminiscing about good times with their friend, their teacher, their Lord.

The question of where to go from here is the gnawing anxiety they feel.

Fear for their lives is that ball of fire in their heart.

Grief for their murdered friend and Lord is the crushing lead weight.

Mary Magdalene visits the tomb in the dark early hours of morning after her own sleepless night.  As soon as it was “tomorrow”—at the earliest opportunity—she was up and on her way to the tomb of the Savior she loved. Can you feel her fear as she races to tell Peter and John that she found the stone rolled away from the tomb that morning?  Can you see the worried lines that crease the disciples’ foreheads as they quietly rush to investigate? The moment he saw the empty tomb, John believed. But, surprisingly, John 20:9 says, They (the disciples) still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.

I have to admit that I sometimes find myself a little annoyed with the disciples. Wouldn’t you think that after sleepless nights, grieving over the death of Jesus, they would be overjoyed to find His tomb empty? Wouldn’t you think they would remember all He had said and know that He had risen? But it is my annoyance and impatience with them that only enhances  the loving picture of the Savior throughout the rest of John chapter 20.

For you see, instead of being angry because of their unbelief, instead of throwing up His hands in frustration and returning to heaven to take His place at the right hand of the Father, Jesus instead appeared to them multiple times. He appeared to a sobbing Mary in the garden where she stayed after the disciples returned to their homes that morning. He tenderly calls her name and her grief is replaced by the joy of seeing the risen Savior, Rabboni, her teacher.

On the evening of the first day of the week He appears to the disciples who are locked away in their fear. He shows them His hands and side and then breathes on them the precious gift of the Holy Spirit.

Thomas wasn’t with them when Jesus came and he wasn’t just going to take his friend’s word for it! It was too far-fetched! Even though he had walked with and been taught by Jesus for three years, he still wanted to see Him with his own eyes before he would believe. And so, one full week later Jesus appears to the disciples again, specifically to Thomas. He is not upset by Thomas’ doubt—He welcomes it. Thomas wanted and needed proof that the Savior had risen and Jesus was more than happy to provide it. He not only appears to Thomas, but He patiently and lovingly invites Him to touch His hands and side.

When they needed visual evidence, Jesus appeared. When just one of them needed tangible evidence, Jesus became touchable for him. He appeared to them so that they would believe beyond any doubt; so that these men, his disciples and friends, would know and emphatically believe that He truly was the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior.

I suggest to you that the Savior appeared to them multiple times because of His great love not only for them but also for us!  Looking through time, Jesus saw us and knew we needed to hear this story! The disciples’ unwavering belief and love for the Savior would be the catalyst for their lifelong preaching of the Gospel and the telling of the story for millennia! In order to believe in Him as our own Savior, the story—the Gospel—needed to be told and passed down through all generations.  For …faith comes by hearing [what is told], and what is heard comes by the preaching [of the message that came from the lips] of Christ (the Messiah Himself). (Romans 10:17 AMP)   

Sleepless nights filled with anxiety and fear? Where is it that you need Him to meet you? What is the reason for your doubt? He will meet you at the point of your need and show you what you need to see. He welcomes your questions. Just like the disciples, He wants you to know and emphatically believe that He IS the Christ, He IS the Messiah, He IS your Savior. BELIEVE!

…if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10 NIV)

 

8 Reflections on Grief

A Grief ObservedMason

Every weekend my wife and I visit my father. Last weekend was no exception. My pregnant wife sat next to me on the picnic table, watching our three-year-old son play on the playground tucked between the apartment buildings where my dad lives. The sizzle of hot dogs wafted through the air as the autumn breeze cooled the shaded pavilion.

As I watched my son play, hearing his boyish shrieks of laughter as the children chased each other, an intense contentment settled over me. I found myself reminiscing over the previous year. The more I reminisced, the more I became profoundly aware of my mother’s absence. My heart wanted nothing more than to see her. I had so many things to say to her:

I wish you were here now. I wish you could see your grandson – he’s grown up so much since you’ve last seen him. He looks and acts just like me when I was his age. We’re having another baby, a daughter. We wish you could be here to see her. We need you. We need your advice and encouragement. It’s hard to make it here without you. I miss you.

I can still vividly remember her passing. My mother had developed acute leukemia. She had tried everything, but nothing took. Last year, in mid-August, she quit the blood transfusions that were keeping her (temporarily) alive. We spent nearly every moment of the remaining weeks of her life together. Our evenings were filled with food, talking, and watching the children play. We laughed, we told stories, she admonished us, and we stayed up way too late watching movies. Through all of it her strong, steel-blue eyes communicated a loving, hopeful sorrow.Mom and Mason

Her last day with us was abruptly bitter sweet. She was no longer able walk or talk. She was propped up in bed, in the back bedroom of her apartment. The day passed like that. No one spoke. Evening fell, and then eventually night came. The hallway light cast a dim glow into the dark bedroom. I sat next to her and spoke gently to her. I held her hand and told her that I loved her – that she had been a good mother. In a moment – a moment that nearly eluded me – her breathing ceased and she passed into eternity. It is a moment I will never forget.

 

TRIED IN THE SCHOOL OF AFFLICTION

It has been a year since my mother’s passing. Like Lewis, my soul still resounds with the sentiment that, “Her absence, like the sky, is spread over everything . . .” Over the past year I have had the pain and privilege of experiencing all the peaks and valleys that naturally come with the passing of a loved one. And though there are still difficult days, I have made it to the other side.

The American statesman Thomas Jefferson, too, felt his share of loss. Over the course of a short ten year marriage, Jefferson lost not only his wife, but also four of his six children. These losses so shaped him that he was able to offer the following words of comfort and encouragement to a grieving friend:

Tried myself in the school of affliction, by the loss of every form of connection which can rive the human heart, I know well, and feel what you have lost, what you have suffered, are suffering, and have yet to endure. The same trials have taught me that for ills so immeasurable, time and silence are the only medi­cines. I will not, therefore, by useless condolences, open afresh the sluices of your grief, nor, although sincerely mingling my tears with yours, will I say a word more where words are vain, but that it is of some comfort to us both, that the term is not very distant, at which we are to deposit […] our sorrows and suffering bodies, and to ascend in essence to an ecstatic meeting with the friends we have loved and lost, and whom we shall still love and never lose again. God bless you and support you under your heavy affliction.

In the same vein, having been tempered by the school of human affliction myself, I wish to offer some helpful thoughts, reflections, and biblical admonitions regarding loss. It is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope it proves useful in finding joy and satisfaction in God in the midst of loss.

 

1. Joy Comes in the Morning

If I could get you to grasp anything, I want to affirm that there will be joy again. Don’t lose sight of it. Even if you don’t feel like believing it, even if you have to coldly preach it to yourself every day, be patient. The Psalms remind us, “weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning” and just a few verses later, “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”

I like to think of grief like an ocean storm. In the beginning large, daunting, towering waves come – and they come frequently. Many times you struggle to keep afloat in the turmoil of your grief. Just as one wave overtakes you, another one is already building. Be patient. As more time passes, the waves become both less frequent and less intense. There might be the occasional rogue wave that threatens to overtake you on a holiday or anniversary, but eventually life is bearable again.

Even if it is hard for you to believe, hold fast on to the promise that Christ is working everything – even our loss and intense grief – for our delight in God.

 

2. Weep with those who weep

This advice is mostly geared toward those who are watching and comforting a person who is experiencing a grief. There is a natural temptation to jump in and say something – anything. And I believe that it is a good temptation, because it shows our hearts are in the right place. However, I want to urge caution. Too often, speaking prematurely or speaking without the discernment of the Holy Spirit can actually cause deeper hurt for those who are grieving. Often times, especially in the immediate aftermath of a loss, there are no words that bring comfort. My default advice (unless specifically moved by the Holy Spirit) is to simply empathize with the grieved. Feel their pain. Follow the biblical admonition to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15).

In other words, be like one of Job’s friends. What!? Didn’t Job’s friends make his problems worse? And didn’t God discipline them because of what they said? Yes. Be one of Job’s friends before they got it wrong. Because, despite their mistakes later in the book, Job’s three friends got one thing right – they suffered in silence with Job:

When Job’s three friends, [Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar], heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. (Job 2:11-13)

3. Blessed is he who perseveres under trial

Grief can be an unpredictable monster. People react differently to loss – some become angry, some live in denial, some stay in periods of prolonged depression. In the midst of their anguish, grieved people can sometimes act hurtfully. It’s not right. In fact, it is sin. However, we are called to “bear with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)

Our duty to bear the hurts and sins of others do not stop with only our fellow brothers and sisters. Even when we are insulted or hurt by those who have no hope in the gospel, God admonishes us toDo not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9) Forgiving their outbursts may be hard, and they may not even apologize, but considering the weight of sin from which we have been forgiven, how can we not be moved to forgive them as well?

 

4. Blessed are those who mourn

God loves the broken. Not in a “I like to kick wounded dogs” kind of way. Consider with me, for a moment, the number of times that God addresses brokenness:

For I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit (Isaiah 57:15)

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matt. 5:4)

The Lord is near the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18)

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit (Psalm 51:17)

Take comfort in this: God loves broken hearts. But why? Does He take delight misery? No. On the contrary! He takes delight when we experience and enjoy him as the only one capable of fixing us. By fixing and filling empty, broken people He shows himself to be glorious. We get the joy, He gets the glory.

 

5. I will give them mothers and brothers

Sometimes, the promise of reuniting with loved ones can seem “pie in the sky.” One of the things that define the Christian is delayed gratification. After all, the bible admonishes us to “store up for yourself treasures in heaven” because that is where our ultimate joy is.

That said, God is not unaware of our current sufferings. God promises to set things right not only in the next life, but in this life as well:

Consider the words of Jesus: “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, […] and in the age to come” (Mark 10:29-30)

Did you catch that? God sees our losses. He promises to make up for our losses not only in heaven, but now. I understand the objections, “But Jeff, that sounds really prosperity-gospelish. How does he do that? How does he repay me ‘a hundred fold now in this time’ when I’ve just lost my one and only mother!?” I don’t presume to know all of the possible meanings of that verse. I’m certain that in heaven we will see manifestations of that verse that we could never fathom. However, I’m certain of at least two things: First, that God will repay our losses in the age to come; and second, that He repays us now by giving us the church. He gives us a body of believers who become our surrogate homes and families.

 

6. The Lord gives & the Lord takes

Whenever we suffer a loss, it seems that we often have two gut reactions: We blame, argue, or feel that we have been cheated by God; or we diminish the role of God in taking life. “Oh, well they were old and it was their time to go” or “God only does good, so her tragic death is really the handiwork of Satan.”

A biblical view of loss must acknowledge that God is the sovereign orchestrator of all that happens. Whether He is proactively arranging everything, or whether he is permitting bad things to happen, everything ultimately comes from the sovereign hand of the Lord. As if that weren’t enough, God owns you. He is the sovereign creator of the universe, and all that is in it. If you are a Christian, God double owns you. And as sole owner, he has the right to do with our lives as he pleases – and no one has the rightful authority question his sovereign will. We must reorient our thinking, and accept our positions as created beings. We must realize that in every moment God is up to trillions and trillions of things to accomplish his purposes – most of which we can’t see. But everything, good or “bad” comes from the hand of God, just as Hannah prayed in 1 Samuel:

The Lord kills and makes alive;

   He brings down to Sheol [the grave] and raises up.

The Lord sends poverty and wealth;

   He humbles and He exalts.

(1 Sam. 2:6-7)

 

7. Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing

What is the purpose of life? Ask one hundred different people and you’ll get one hundred different answers. For a Christian, the answer is clear: We exist to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Notice what is important here: We exist to glorify God. Consider the weight of that statement for a moment: We exist to Glorify God. That should be a huge, life altering statement, and should make your soul tremble.

It’s easy to talk about glorifying God – but what does it mean? What does it look like in action? Take a look at the second half: and enjoy Him forever. These two statements are not at odds. It’s not either/or. We do not either glorify or enjoy. It is rightfully both. We glorify god when we live our lives in such a way that shows that He is our highest treasure. Everything we are given in life – whether food, money, cars, houses, possessions, family, or children – are all given to us so that we can enjoy them in such a way that shows that Christ is more satisfying than any of those things. Because, whether you intend it or not, the world is watching your value system.

How do we show God to be supremely valuable in the midst of a devastating loss? When you are so broken that you can barely pick yourself up? I’m not advocating for trying to assume some kind of mask – some kind of false, superficial joy. We glorify God in the midst of our loss when we grieve in such a way that shows that although we are deeply wounded by the loss of our loved one, Jesus is better. Paul states that one of the markers of a christian life is that we are a people who are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing”

It makes God look valuable and praise worthy when we can say with the Psalmist, in the face of our loss:

Whom have I in heaven but you?

   And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

My flesh and my heart may fail,

   but God is the strength of my heart

   and my portion forever.

(Psalm 73:25-26)

 

8. Behold, I make all things new

I am convinced that grief never truly goes away this side of heaven. It may subside, and it may ebb and flow in decreasing measures, but a kernel of grief will always remain. And that’s ok. It’s what happens when you live in a broken world. The truth is that nobody makes it to the end of their life without bruises and scars.

God cares about the here and now. So yes, take heart that God promises to be all satisfying in this life. But God cares more about the joy he has set before us – unending joy in the life to come, unblemished by sin and death. So let your heart be affirmed by the promise of a magnificent, trustworthy God:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

(Rev. 21:3-4)

 

The Power of an Encouraging Word

A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. (Proverbs 25:11)
Congenial conversation—what a pleasure! The right word at the right time—beautiful! (Proverbs 15:23 MSG)

I love words! I especially love personal, handwritten, beautiful words. I love words of hope, words that bring peace and comfort, and words that push me on to greater things. Yet so many words we hear these days do anything but make us feel loved or full of hope.

We are told we need something to make us prettier, something to make us thinner, something to make our hair shinier, something to make our teeth whiter, and the list goes on. In addition to all of this are the hurtful, wounding words that often come from those we love most. Sometimes words can be ugly and destructive, leaving a bruised, battered mess in their wake.

That’s why I appreciate the fact that our loving, heavenly Father took the time to see that His words were handwritten for us. The God of all creation took the time to personally communicate with us. I came across this verse recently, For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Rom.15:4) He (who knows us better than anyone) knew we would need His beautiful encouraging words along our walk in life.

Don’t you love the encouraging word of a friend? Is there anything better or more inspiring than a good word spoken in love? We already know the worst things of our own nature. Everyone does. We certainly don’t need them repeated back to us. Wouldn’t you rather hear those words that give you the strength to take that next step? Wouldn’t you rather hear the “Atta girl/boy! You can do it!” that spurs you on toward the goal and across the finish line? I would!

God’s Word gives us much needed instruction and correction. But His Word is also an encouraging revelation of His love and His thoughts toward us! Kari Jobe and Klaus Kuehn drew from several scriptures and wrote beautifully of God’s love for us in their song, “Beloved:”

“You’re My beloved, you’re My bride.
To sing over you is My delight.
Come away with Me, My love.
Under My mercy come and wait, till we are standing face to face.
I see no stain on you, My child.
You’re beautiful to Me, so beautiful to Me.
I sing over you My song of peace.
Cast all your cares down at My feet.
Come and find your rest in Me.
I’ll breathe My life inside of you.
I’ll bear you up on eagles’ wings and hide you in the shadow of My strength.
I’ll take you to My quiet waters. I’ll restore your soul.
Come rest in Me and be made whole.”

If you don’t already, please take the time each day to read His words to you. It will center you; it will give you hope, encouragement, and the strength you need to face each day. Don’t allow the enemy to tell you that you don’t have time, or that His Word is boring, or that you can’t understand it. He’ll do his best to keep you isolated from the one source of all you need. Read His Word before Facebook or Twitter, before watching the news, or reading the newspaper or your favorite novel. Make it your goal to spend more time in His Word than you spend on any other media or written resource.

Read His Word, talk with Him, rest in Him, be encouraged and be made whole. Then share His encouraging words of hope with those around you!

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2Thess 2:15-17)