How Can Christians Endure Suffering?

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Being a Christian does not make one immune from suffering. Suffering can come in many forms at various times, to the young or the old, to the man or the woman, to the single or the married, to the Christian or the non-Christian. Although suffering affects Christians like everyone else, it doesn’t mean Christians are to react like everyone else.

God has expectations for his children regarding how they should face suffering. There is much on the line for the Christian when suffering comes. Paul puts it this way, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God—and fellow heirs of God, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16–17). Our future glory and inheritance is dependent on our remaining faithful to Christ in the midst of our suffering.

But how? How can we remain faithful when the pain is so raw? How can we remain faithful when everything within us wants to throw in the towel? How can we remain faithful when God seems distant? How can we remain faithful when our suffering continues year after year and it seems God will never change our situation?

We find one of Paul’s answers in Romans 8:18, which says, “For I consider the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Sufferings of the Present Time

You might be tempted to say to Paul that he is not qualified to come to his conclusion—that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed—because he hasn’t faced deep suffering. Because he hasn’t faced suffering like your suffering.

We get a glimpse of Paul’s sufferings in 2 Corinthians 1:8–9. He writes, “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.”

Paul was no stranger to suffering and was faithful to Christ in the midst of the pain.

Future Glory

The motivation for faithfulness for Paul—and for us—is the future glory that is ours. But just what is that future glory? Paul gives two answers: First, creation will one day be set free (Romans 8:21) and second, Christians will fully and finally be brought into God’s family, or put another way: redeemed (Romans 8:23).

Can you imagine what that will be like? To be fully a part of God’s family in a creation that has been set free? It will be like the Garden of Eden, but more like Eden 3.0; it will be like Christmas morning when you were a kid, but the presents will never disappoint because we will have the presence of Christ.

So even if your pain is raw today or if you feel like throwing in the towel, take heart. We have a hope that will never disappoint. Jesus is worth it.

* This article first appeared at bcsmn.org.

Image: Anna Rommel

 

Great Book About the Giver and His Gifts

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Joe Rigney has fundamentally changed the way I think about God and the world he made. He does this by raising and resolving this tension: “Why did [God] make a world for his own glory in Christ and then fill it to the brim with physical pleasures—physical pleasures, sensible pleasures, emotional pleasures, and relational pleasures (25)?”

In The Things of Earth, Joe Rigney gives two lenses which Christians can use to rightly express God’s relationship to his gifts: the comparative approach and the integrative approach. The comparative approach emphasizes the truth that there is no one so awesome, so satisfying, and so worthy of worship than our triune God. He is the only creator, the only wise judge, the only savior, and only soul-satisfier. The comparative approach emphasizes that everything God has created is a shaft of his own glory and therefore ought to be received with enjoyment and gratitude to the Creator.

Joe enlists C.S. Lewis, Jonathan Edwards, and Doug and N.D. Wilson for support and takes you on a trip that includes the Trinity, cultural engagement, and human finitude. (Make sure you have some food nearby when reading; the talk of sweet tea, chicken parmesan, pecan pie and other such delicacies will almost certainly make you hungry!)

As someone who has been influenced greatly by John Piper’s Desiring God, I found The Things of Earth to provide a helpful corrective to how I relate to the world around me. This book has caused me to be a more grateful person, a happier husband, and free from false guilt; and most importantly, it has caused me to love God more in all of life.

* I received this book for free from Crossway in exchange for an honest review.

Image: Keith Slagerman

 

My Favorite Books in 2014

6365101775_541ca4d9c9_oAs I think about the books that I read this past year, there are some that stand above the rest. Here is a list of my favorite books of 2014, in no particular order:

How (Not) To Be Secular, James K. A. Smith

This book is a kind of Cliffs Notes for Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age and provides Smith’s own analysis along the way. Not only is this a great introduction to the state of the world today when it comes to belief and unbelief, it also provides interesting analysis as to how our current world came to be. This is a very philosophical and yet surprisingly practical book. It is well worth the effort to read.

From Eden to New Jerusalem, T. Desmond Alexander

This book is a reverse biblical theology. It takes themes that appear in the final three chapters of the Bible, goes back to Genesis to find them in the first three chapters of the Bible, and then traces the theme from cover to cover. This book is a good introduction to many of the themes of the Bible. It is short, easy to read, and written by an expert in the field. Even those familiar with the Bible and biblical theology will learn much from this gem.

The Glass Cage, Nicholas Carr

There aren’t too many people I know alive today who have thought as deeply about technology and it’s influence on people than Nicholas Carr. In the Glass Cage, Carr explores the intersection of automation and our humanity. Carr is no Luddite. He acknowledges the virtues of technology, but he also warns that excessive dependence on automation may prove harmful in the long run. Carr argues that automation can and should be done in a way that promotes human flourishing.

Mission at Nuremberg, Tim Townsend

Would you accept a nomination to be the chaplain of the worst war criminals of World War II? Henry Gerecke did, even though he was over fifty years old and had been away from his family for several years serving as a chaplain in World War II. This is a book about the gospel in action. A book about a man dying to self and dying to the world’s opinion of him in order to reach hardened sinners through the gospel. Inspiring stuff.

The Warden and the Wolf King, Andrew Peterson

This is the final installment of the Wingfeather Saga and what a fitting conclusion it is. Fast-paced, page-turner, and emotionally satisfying. I laughed. I cried. I was surprised. Buy and read the whole series. It’s that good!

The Things of Earth, Joe Rigney

If Christians are not to love the world, how should they relate to the world that God created? Does loving God mean we shouldn’t love the gifts that he gave us? Rigney says we should love the creation because it points to the greatness and creativity of the creator. Foodies beware: you may be tempted to take unplanned reading breaks for sweet tea and pecan pie.

Image: Moyan Brenn

The Storyline of the Bible: Creation and New Creation

When warm air meets snowOne reason I love reading theology books is because they help me understand the Bible in ways that I could never know if I only read the Bible for myself. God gives understanding to all who read and think over what Scripture says, but sometimes what helps me understand the Bible better is reading those who have thought deeper about the Bible than myself rather than only reading the Bible itself.

This is one reason why Christian community is such a blessing. God has written a book and given it not just to one person, but to his people. Therefore, we would be foolish both to neglect reading his book for ourselves and to neglect insights others have about his book.

I have been reading G.K. Beale’s New Testament Biblical Theology, and I came across these three charts which I found absolutely fascinating. Beale argues that the theme of creation / new creation is essential to the biblical storyline and that this storyline follows this pattern:

  1. cosmic chaos followed by
  2. new creation
  3. commission of kingship for divine glory
  4. sinful fall
  5. exile

Beale then shows how this works in Genesis 1–3, Genesis 4 – Revelation 20, and in Revelation 21 (New Testament Biblical Theology, 59-61).

Beginning of History as the Inaugurated First-Creational Kingship in Genesis 1–3

first chaos of earth and waters
first creation
first commission of first Adam as king for divine glory
first Adam’s sin
first Adam’s exile and judgment

 

Cycles of Inaugurated Eschatology within Biblical History

chaos of earth and waters at flood chaos of oppression and Egyptian plagues chaos of exile in wilderness for second generation chaos of oppression and destruction in Israel’s land and exile chaos of oppression and destruction in Israel’s land as continuing exile
new creation exodus and new creation through Red Sea exodus and new creation through small Red Sea (Jordan) exodus and new creation through return from Babylonian exile escalated new creation in Christ’s life (and later in his death, and resurrection)
commission of Noah as new Adam for divine glory commission of Israel as a corporate Adam for divine glory commission of Israel as corporate Adam for glory (repeated promised commission of Israel as an eschatological corporate Adam for divine glory commission of Christ as eschatological Israel/Son of Man (“Adam”) for God’s glory
new Adam’s sin [Noah’s sin] sin of Israel (corporate Adam) at the “golden calf” episode and in wilderness repeated sin of Israel from Judges up to destruction in land and exile in Babylon Israel’s sin in the land and forfeiture of the eschatological role Christ as eschatological Israel and last Adam resists sin
judgment and exile throughout the earth at Babel judgment and exile in wilderness for first generation judgment in land and exile in Babylon judgment of continuing exile even though Israel had returned to the land continuing physical exile for God’s people in the world even though they had begun to be restored spiritually

 

Ending of History as Consummative Eschatology in Revelation 21

chaos of last destruction of heavens and earth
last new creation
last commission of saints
last resistance to sin by saints
last deliverance of saints from exile

Beale, of course, argues at length for the legitimacy of these parallels. But if his arguments are persuasive, and they are to me, then these charts give a staggering amount of unity to the storyline of Scripture. Adam, Noah, Israel, Jesus, and the church all follow a similar pattern and purpose. Adam, Noah, and Israel all fail and are types that are only fulfilled by Jesus, and the church, by the Spirit, follows in Jesus’s wake.

Image: g.m.kennedy 

 

Five Truths about the Wrath of God

Five Truths About the Wrath of God

The doctrine of the wrath of God has fallen on hard times. In today’s world, any concept of God’s wrath upsets our modern sentiments. It’s too disconcerting, too intolerant.

We live in a day where we have set ourselves as the judge and God’s character is on trial. “How can hell be just?” “Why would God command the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites?” “Why does God always seem so angry?”

The fact that so many people struggle with these questions, and many more like them, means that more than ever right thinking is needed about the doctrine of God’s wrath. It is needed for motivation for Christian living, fuel for proper worship, and as a toolbox to confront objections to Christianity.

Here are five biblical truths about the wrath of God:

1. God’s wrath is just.

It has become common for many to argue that the God of the Old Testament is a moral monster that is by no means worthy of worship.

However, biblical authors have no such problem. In fact, God’s wrath is said to be in perfect accord with God’s justice. Paul writes, “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5). God’s wrath, then, is in proportion to human sinfulness.

Similarly, Proverbs 24:12 says, “If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not he who weighs hearts perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?”

J.I. Packer summarizes: “God’s wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is. It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil” (Knowing God, 151).

2. God’s wrath is to be feared.

God’s wrath is to be feared because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). God’s wrath is to be feared because we are justly condemned sinners apart from Christ (Romans 5:1). God’s wrath is to be feared because he is powerful enough to do what he promises (Jeremiah 32:17). God’s wrath is to be feared because God promises eternal punishment apart from Christ (Matthew 25:46).

3. God’s wrath is consistent in the Old and New Testament.

It is common to think of the Old Testament God as mean, harsh, and wrath-filled, and the God of the New Testament as kind, patient, and loving. Neither of these portraits are representative of Scripture’s teaching on the wrath of God.

We find immensely fearful descriptions of the wrath of God in both the Old and the New Testament. Here are just a few examples:

“Behold the storm of the LORD! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked.” (Jeremiah 30:23)

“The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.” (Nahum 1:2)

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18)

“From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” (Revelation 19:15)

4. God’s wrath is his love in action against sin.

This is counter-intuitive, but hear me out.

God is love, and God does all things for his glory (Romans 11:36). He loves his glory above all (and that is a good thing!). Therefore, God rules the world in such a way that brings himself maximum glory. This means that God must act justly and judge sin (i.e. respond with wrath), otherwise God would not be God. God’s love for his glory motivates his wrath against sin.

Read the rest here. 

Christmas in October? (Or, J. I. Packer on the Incarnation)

imageMy wife, Martha, recently purchased Sovereign Grace’s newest Christmas album, and we’ve already listened to it about twenty-three times in the past week. It’s really good. And although I’m usually against much of the commercialism that’s associated with the Christmas season (especially before Halloween!), I whole heartedly believe in celebrating the Incarnation all year round. Hence us enjoying the Chrismas album in October.

Another source of my Christmas cheer in October is my recent reading of J. I. Packer’s Knowing God. In this classic, I read these three paragraphs that both convicted my soul and helped my heart soar in worship:

  1. Here are two mysteries for the price of one—the plurality of persons within the unity of God, and the union of Godhood and manhood in the person of Jesus. It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. “The Word made flesh” (Jn. 1:14); God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation (53).
  2. The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity–hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory—because at the Father’s will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable so that thirty years later he might hang on a cross. It is the most wonderful message that the world has ever heard, or will hear (63).
  3. It is to our shame that so many Christians—more specific: so many of the soundest and most orthodox Christians—go through this world in the spirit of the priest and the Levite in our Lord’s parable, seeing human needs all around them, but (after a pious wish, and perhaps a prayer that God might meet those needs) averting their eyes and passing by on the otherwise. That is not the Christmas spirit. Nor is it the spirit of those Christians—alas, they are many whose ambition in life seems limited to building a nice middle-class Christian home and making nice middle-class Christian friends, and bringing up their children in nice middle-class Christian ways, and who leave the submiddle-class sections of the community, Christian and non-Christian, to get on by themselves  (63).

So marvel with me today at God’s grace to us in Jesus, his Son.  We have hope today because God became man two thousand years ago, the first step in reconciling us to God. And let us incarnate the true spirit of Chrismas, the spirit that Jesus embodied, and of which Paul writes: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (1 Corinthians 9:8).

(Here’s one of our favorite songs from the album.)

Image: Wikipedia

20 Quotes from The Mortification of Sin

John_Owen_by_John_GreenhillI recently had the privilege of reading John Owen’s classic The Mortificaiton of Sin.

I really do mean it was a privilege. The version I read was lightly edited by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor, and it was easier to read than I anticipated. More than that I was really helped  in seeing the seriousness of my sin afresh, the glorious balm that is ours in the gospel, and specific strategies in how I can kill my sin.

Here are twenty quotes from The Mortificaiton of Sin, which I pray are helpful for you as you strive to “put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit” (Romans 8:13).

1. Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it while you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you (50).

2. Sin does not only still abide in us, but is still acting, still laboring to bring forth the deeds of the flesh. When sin lets us alone we may let sin alone; but as sin is never less quiet than when it seems to be most quiet, and its waters are for the most part deep when they are still, so ought our contrivances against it to be vigorous at all times and in all conditions, even where there is least suspicion (51).

3. Sin sets its strength against every act of holiness and against every degree we grow to. Let not that man think he makes any progress in holiness who walks not over the bellies of his lusts. He who does not kill sin in his way takes no steps toward his journey’s end. He who finds not opposition from it, and who sets not himself in every particular to its mortification, is at peace with it, not dying to it (55).

4. Men in [old] age do not usually persist in the pursuit of youthful lusts, although they have never mortified any one of them. And the same is the case of bartering of lusts, and leaving to serve one that a man may serve another. He that changes pride for worldliness, sensuality for Pharisaism, vanity in himself to contempt of others, let him not think that he has mortified the sin that he seems to have left. He has changed his master, but is a servant still (71).

5. Now the first thing in mortification is the weakening of this habit of sin or lust, that it shall not, with that violence, earnestness, frequency, rise up, conceive, tumultate [agitate], provoke, entice, disquiet, as naturally it is apt to do (74).

6. To labor to be acquainted with the ways, wiles, methods, advantages, and occasions of its [sins] success is the beginning of this warfare. So do men deal with enemies. They inquire out of their counsels and designs, ponder their ends, consider how and by what means they have formerly prevailed, that they may be prevented. In this consists the greatest skill in conduct. Take this away, and all waging of war, wherein is the greatest improvement of human wisdom and industry, would be brutish. So do they deal with lust who mortify it indeed (76).

7. Frequent success against any lust in another part and evidence of mortification. By success I understand not a mere disappointment of sin, that it be not brought forth not accomplished, but a victory over it and pursuit of it to a complete conquest. For instance, when the heart finds sin at any time at work, seducing, forming imaginations to make provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof, it instantly apprehends sin and brings it to the law of God and the love of Christ, condemns it, follows it with execution to the uttermost (77).

8. A man may easier see without eyes, speak without a tongue, than truly mortify one sin without the Spirit (80).

9. When the Jews, upon the conviction of their sin, were cut to the heart and cried out, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37), what does Peter direct them to do? Does he bid them to go and mortify their pride, wrath, malice, cruelty, and the like? No; he knew that was not their present work, but he calls them to conversion and faith in Christ in general (v. 38). Let the soul be first thoroughly converted, and then, “looking on him whom they had pierced” [Zech. 12:10; John 19:37], humiliation and mortification will ensue (81).

9.  Hatred of sin as sin, not only as galling or disquieting, a sense of love of Christ in the cross, lies at the bottom of all true spiritual mortification (87).

10. If you hate sin as sin, every evil way, you would be no less watchful against everything that grieves and disquiets the Spirit of God, than against that which grieves and disquiets your own soul (87).

11. No. God says, “Here is one, if he could be rid of this lust I should never hear of him more; let him wrestle with this, or he is lost” (88).

12. That God does sometimes leave even those of his own under the perplexing power of at least some lust or sin, to correct them for former sins, negligence, and folly, I no way doubt (94).

13. Examine your heart and ways. What was the state and condition of your soul before you fell into the entanglements of that sin which now you so complain of? Have you been negligent in duties? Have you lived inordinately to yourself? Is there the guilt of any great sin lying upon you unreported of? A new sin may be permitted, as well as a new affliction sent, to bring an old sin to remembrance (95).

14. Is it not enough to make any heart to tremble, to think of being brought into that estate wherein he should have slight thoughts of sin? Slight thoughts of grace, of mercy, of the blood of Christ, of the law, heaven, and hell, come all in at the same season. Take heed, this is that [which] your lust is working toward–the hardening of the heart, searing of the conscience, blinding of the mind, stupefying of the affections, and deceiving of the whole soul (99).

15. Among those who walk with God, there is not greater motive and incentive unto universal holiness, and the preserving of their hearts and spirits in all purity and cleanness, than this, that the blessed Spirit, who has undertaken to dwell in them, is continually considering what they give entertainment in their hearts unto, and rejoices when his temple is kept undefiled (102).

16. Suffer not your heart one moment to be contented with your present frame and condition… Longing, breathing, and panting after deliverance is a grace in itself, that has a mighty power to conform the soul into the likeness of the thing longed after (106).

17. Rise up with all your strength against [your sin], with no less indignation than if it had been fully accomplished what it aims at. Consider what an unclean thought would have; it would have you roll yourself in folly and filth. Ask envy what it would have–murder and destruction is at the end of it. Set yourself against it with no less vigor than if it had utterly debased you to wickedness. Without this course you will not prevail. As sin gets ground in the affections to delight in, it gets also upon the understanding to slight it (110).

18. I say, to keep your heart in continual awe of the majesty of God, that persons of the most high and eminent attainment, of the nearest and most familiar communion with God, do yet in this life know but a very little of him and his glory… we speak much of God, can talk of him, his ways, his works, his counsels, all the day long; the truth is, we know very little of him. Our thoughts, our meditations, our expressions of him are low, many of them unworthy of his glory, none of them reaching his perfections (111).

19. We may suppose that we have here attained great knowledge, clear and high thoughts of God; but, alas! when he shall bring us into his presence we shall cry out, “We never knew him as he is; the thousandth part of his glory, and perfection, and blessedness, never entered into our hearts” (113).

20. Let a man make what application he will for healing and peace, let him do it to the true Physician, let him do it the right way, let him quiet his heart in the promises of the covenant; yet, when peace is spoken, if it not be attended with the detestation and abhorrence of that sin which was the wound and caused the disquietment, this is no peace of God’s creating, but of our own purchasing (121).

Image: Wikipedia