Suffering

Teaching God to be fair...

Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm and said, "Now gird up your loins like a man; I will ask you, and you instruct Me. Will you really annul My judgment? Will you condemn Me that you may be justified? Or do you have an arm like God, And can you thunder with a voice like His?" (Job 40:6-9)

Do you blame God for your poverty? Unhappy marriage? Sickness or suffering? The accident you had last week? Having to work at a job you don't like? Not being able to be an overseas missionary? Not being an elder?


"I just don't want him to suffer anymore..."

Almost always when I walk into a patient’s hospital room, the first thing I do is turn off the TV. Sometimes, I'll turn off the roommate’s TV, too. (Every room has two, you know.) Have you ever tried to maintain interest in someone’s diarrhea when right behind your head there’s a John Wayne marathon on AMC ?

Well, for whatever reason, today I left it on as I walked up to the bed in critical care. And sure enough, like the TV-zombie child of the 70’s that I am, I was soon fighting desperately to concentrate on my patient’s kidney failure instead of the breaking news on the Today Show: “NYC studio offers naked yoga.” That’s right, naked yoga. Fig leaves? Shame? Those are so Garden-of-Eden. Here in America, we gonna let it all hang out.

Suddenly, it became clearer than ever before that all a man needs to understand America is Isaiah 5...


"Will you be angry with us forever?"

A dear friend, Juergen Von Hagen, preached on Psalm 85 recently, and here's a part of his sermon translated into English. Juergen is a member and elder of the Free Evangelical Church of Bonn, Germany.

(For the choir director: a Psalm of the sons of Korah.) O LORD, You showed favor to Your land; You restored the captivity of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of Your people; You covered all their sin. Selah. You withdrew all Your fury; You turned away from Your burning anger. Restore us, O God of our salvation, And cause Your indignation toward us to cease. Will You be angry with us forever? Will You prolong Your anger to all generations? Will You not Yourself revive us again, That Your people may rejoice in You? Show us Your lovingkindness, O LORD, And grant us Your salvation.

I will hear what God the LORD will say; For He will speak peace to His people, to His godly ones; But let them not turn back to folly. Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, That glory may dwell in our land. Lovingkindness and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth springs from the earth, And righteousness looks down from heaven. Indeed, the LORD will give what is good, And our land will yield its produce. Righteousness will go before Him And will make His footsteps into a way.

The psalmist has understood and acknowledged that the suffering and chaos of his life are the result of God’s wrath...

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Living for the joy set before you...

But Abraham said, "Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony" (Luke 16:25).

Lately I've been thinking about addictions, whether they be fixations on fantasy or money or knowledge or alcohol or prescribed drugs or illegal drugs or sex. Solomon gave himself to these tasty pleasures: "All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure... (Eccl. 2:10). The Temple he built had it's songs and sacrifices but Solomon's palace was rockin'. He concludes that there is no mountaintop-experience, no lasting high: "All a man's labor is for his mouth and yet the appetite is not satisfied" (Eccl. 6:7). In the end, all that this fallen world offers—all of it's vacations and tastes and pleasures and buzzes and escapes—are merely pleasure for a moment. Everything under the sun is only vapor and a striving after wind (Eccl. 1:14).

Yet,  that vaporous moment is goooood, no? Let's string together moment after moment, and we'll get through this alright...


Chuck Colson on the Resurrection...

(TB: Chuck Colson gave himself to many works lots of us praise God for. Beyond his prison work and efforts to reform sentencing laws, there's his writing. One year Mary Lee and I gave one of his books to the other staff members of our congregation as a Christmas gift. Also I've recommended or given away his book Born Again any number of times. It's that rare bio that bears some resemblance to Augustine's Confessions. What a wonderful testimony of God's grace to recommend to unbelievers. Here's another piece of his writing that's meant a lot to me. I've used it in Easter sermons and commend it to you.)

“Watergate” and the Resurrection of Christ” by Chuck Colson

One of those involved in “Watergate”

After I became a Christian, my lawyer’s mind demanded evidence regarding the Bible. Was it legend, or could it really be taken as God’s revelation?

I read some excellent books. But ultimately it was my experience in Watergate, strange as that will sound, that convinced me the Bible is the authoritative, inerrant revelation of God. Let me explain...


Nations must face the blood shed by their fathers...

He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground." (Genesis 4:10)

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has taken the first step towards doing for the Cult of Mao what Kruschev did for the Cult of Stalin: he's publicly spoken of the terrible suffering of his own family at the hands of the Red Guards during Mao's Cultural Revolution. Melinda Liu reports: 

The Cultural Revolution remains a neuralgic political topic because it reflects poorly on Mao, who presided over that decade but is revered by many Chinese as their nation’s “Great Helmsman.” During that decade, youthful Red Guard radicals rampaged through the country, sowing violence and terror.... Even today, the government wiggles around Mao’s responsibility for the Cultural Revolution with an ambiguous formula that declares his achievements to have been “70 percent good, 30 percent bad.”

It's about time one of China's premiers officially acknowledges Mao's riot of blood. Chinese ignorance or silence concerning the over fifty million souls who were slaughtered by Chairman Mao is complicity in that slaughter and the perfect seedbed for more slaughter to come.

Christians who know and love Chinese must speak with our Chinese friends about Mao's slaughter as often as we speak with our American friends of the slaughter of the unborn. Jews aren't bashful...


Like a weaned child...

A Song of Ascents, of David. O LORD, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; Nor do I involve myself in great matters, Or in things too difficult for me. Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me.

O Israel, hope in the LORD From this time forth and forever. - Psalms 131

Last night in an elders meeting with a couple suffering a troubled marriage, we were reminding the couple that God's goodness calls us out of our romantic idolatry of our husband (or wife) by shoving our nose in the truth of his sin. And ours...

Seeing our husband's sin exposes our own sin, also, as the Holy Spirit leads us away from worshipping man to love and adore God Alone.

The discipline is difficult. And if we are tempted to reject it and continue to hold our idolatry precious, it is the love of our Heavenly Father to intensify it until we unstiffen our necks. In that context we told of the warning Thomas Watson gives in The Ten Commandments that God sometimes disiplines a father's idolatry of his child by taking that child's life. This is God's love.


Defend your shepherds from slander...

Sure I am, if it were well understood how much of the pastoral authority and work consisteth in church guidance, it would be also discerned, that to be against discipline, is near to being against the ministry; and to be against the ministry is near to being absolutely against the Church; and to be against the Church, is near to being absolutely against Christ. Blame not the harshness of the inference, till you can avoid it, and free yourselves from the charge of it before the Lord. - Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, (Banner of Truth, Carlisle PA: 1974) p. 111.

When a man rejects the exhortations and admonitions of his elders over a period of years, the time will come when he will turn his back on Christ's Church. If he refuses to repent and continues to give himself to sin, his sin will bear fruit and he will be separated from the Body of Christ. He may find another church that will allow him to hide in his sin; that church may marry and baptize and bury him and his family as churches have done across the centuries; but his repudiation of the discipline of Christ's Bride is his repudiation of Jesus Christ. The binding of earth and Heaven is no game of Angry Birds or Where's Waldo...


Should Christians sterilize when facing genetic disorders?

Every time I do an Institutes study with college students at Christ the Word one of our favorite passages is the section titled "The Faith of Abraham" in which Calvin recounts the trials and sufferings by which God taught Abraham faith and weaned him from the world.

The section ends with God's command that Abraham sacrifice his son on Mt. Moriah:

But for a son to be slaughtered by his own father’s hand surpasses every sort of calamity. In short, throughout life he was so tossed and troubled that if anyone wished to paint a picture of a calamitous life, he could find no model more appropriate than Abraham’s! (Vol. 2, Ch. 10, Sec.11)

To be the source of your own child's death is a terrible form of suffering indeed. I was reminded of this section from the Institutes when I read recently of a Christian couple who took surgical steps to prevent further pregnancies after their number two child died of a rare genetic condition.

Despite our sympathy for parents who lose a baby, and despite a genetically-linked death appearing to arrive by the parents' own hands, we must ask whether such a response is consistent with faith in God.

My thinking on this matter is influenced both by Scripture and by personal experience. Tim's and my mother and father continued having children despite the death of our older siblings from genetic diseases. I suffer today from the same genetic disease (hemophilia) my oldest brother died of, and Tim and I had two additional brothers die as the result of another genetic disease (cystic fibrosis).


Nationalized health care and parental authority...

(Andrew Henry) The conflict over Joseph Maraachli throws into stark relief our modern age's attack on the authority of fathers and mothers.

The circumstances are simple and painful. Several years ago, Moe Maraachli and Sana Nader lost their daughter, Zina, to a degenerative neurological condition. Her respiratory function deteriorated so severely that she was placed on a ventilator. Rather than allowing her to die in the hospital, her parents decided to take her home. A simple tracheotomy allowed her to breathe without the aid of a ventilator and she lived for six more months at home with her family before passing away.

Fast forward several years to the birth of Joseph. He was considered to be at high risk for the same genetic condition and was closely monitored as he grew. At four months old, he began having seizures and his parents worst fears were confirmed...


Teach us to number our days...

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. (Psalms 90:12)

(Tim: from Dad's "Out of My Mind" column in June of 1964) Last week a church editor told several of us, "I had a colostomy a few years ago—the growth was malignant. Later I met an old warhorse who told me, 'Good. Thank God for it. You don’t begin to live until you know you’re going to die.'"

Dying men aren’t afraid of their reputations. And they throw everything into the battle. “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”


And it's one, two, three; what are we fighting for...

(Tim) David Canfield forwarded this news piece about the Vatican working to stem the tide of Christian refugees flowing from the Middle East, adding this comment: "It's interesting that the US sought to re-introduce political freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan, but did virtually nothing to secure religious freedom in those places. Considering that the US was first settled primarily by men and women seeking religious freedom, it would seem that we are abandoning our very roots by trying to promote the one without the other."


A better possession, a lasting one...

(Tim) Praise God for His faithful servants, killed in action. Let us pray for their loved ones.

For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. (Hebrews 10:34)


The abuse of a thing does not negate its proper use...

(Tim, w/thanks to Kamilla) A bunch of self-affirming feminists who claim to be Christians met in Orlando, Florida recently, and issued a letter accompanying a set of demands. These women are convinced that God and the plain commands contained in His Word have produced wife abuse. As they see it, the faithful proclamation of God's Order of Creation--Adam first, then Eve--is responsible for many of the bad things that ever happened to women. 

Of course, they'd deny the above accurately reflects their letter and demands, but read it for yourself and see their hatred for the Word of God's commands. This is not to say terrible grievances against women don't inundate us, today. Regularly in my work, I cry for the suffering of the weaker sex at the hands of men.

There's no question husband's have murdered their wives. But think about it: there's also no question mothers have murdered their sons and daughters. And just as the command that children submit to their mothers isn't to be thrown out because it subjugates children to abusive and murderous mothers, so the command that wives submit to their husbands is not to be thrown out because it subjugates wives to abusive and murderous husbands.

Rather, the solution is...


A response to Tim Keller's doctrine of Hell...

"Keller would seem to want to salvage some dignity for the man in hell, saying that he has chosen from his first breath to his last that this was where he wanted to be; and God, with a fatherly sigh, saying, 'OK, if that’s really the way you want it, I can live with that.'"

This guest post is contributed by David DeBoor Canfield. David is a graduate of Covenant College, longtime elder in the PCA, teacher at ClearNote Pastors College, and elder of Church of the Good Shepherd.

Tim Keller’s article, "The Importance of Hell," seems to have a good motivation. It is a theodicy (defense of God), and theodicies have their place: Moses appealed to God on such a basis when he mediated for his people in Exodus 32. But theodicy works only if it is based on sound biblical principles. Despite its frequent appeal to Scripture, Keller's article fails in this regard, being such a conflation of truth and error that it almost requires a theologian to sort out the one from the other. He seems utterly incapable of realizing that the very Scriptures he cites often propel one logically to a conclusion diametrically opposed to the one he reaches.

Right off the bat, Keller is wrong...


Missional flattery and selfishness...

(Tim) Yesterday, a friend sent me a satirical piece his son and several friends had written about a bunch of new city church plants with names like Elevation Church, Dust, The Line, Infusion Church, and Austin City Life (see Howard Davis' comment, below). He commented, "What is really amazing is their unique web sites all look alike (and) I bet all their unique worship services are the same. And... they're all about being in the 'city.'"

From reading many city church web sites, it's clear such churches normally aren't missional if missional means faithfulness to Jesus' Great Commission commands. Most indicate no practice of rebuke, preaching God's Law, or calls to repentance. Instead, they prattle on about being "for the city" and they're positively chipper.

It's all about seeking common ground with unbelievers. And if they mention God's perfections, it's only those perfections that would be likely to make unbelievers feel good about themselves and think God might not be so high and mighty and scary after all. Christian faith and the Church are presenting as uniting believers and unbelievers in the same brotherhood and sisterhood of man in and for the city. Convicting the world of sin and righteousness and judgment is out and assuring the world of our goodwill toward them in God's Name is in.

Reading Augustine's City of God earlier today, I came across this excerpt. Augustine knew something about preaching the Gospel in the city and contextualizing the Lordship of Jesus Christ to urbane men and women world-weary in a decadent


Legal and illegal drugs...

(Tim, w/thanks to Yoseph) Psychotropic drugs have a place, I'm sure, but this short article (very unfortunately, where Arianna and her buddies huff and puff against God) demonstrates there are druggies on both sides of the legality fence. Whether the addict is getting his drugs from dealers, pain clinics, or psychiatrists, the cost to society and the drug-addled zombies and their families is terrible. Of course, like most sins of our culture, this one too is an epidemic among confessing Christians.

One in every forty-five adults of working age is getting money from taxpayers for a mental illness disability. And the number of children receiving federal payments for mental illness jumped from 16,200 in 1987 to 561,569 in 2007.

But maybe this explosion of legal drug use allows men to function as more productive members of society?

Apparently not...


Preaching to an effeminate age (III)...

They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach. They were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. -Mark 1:21, 22

(Tim: this is third in an ongoing series, with the first here and the second here) Whether in classroom discussions, the dorm late at night, our accountant’s office, or coffee with a neighbor, the believer is hard pressed on all sides to give up truth. The radical relativism that permeates our world is absolutely antithetical to Scripture. Those seeking to preach Scripture faithfully will immediately face the world's dogmatic declaration that there is no truth--only stories, perspectives, and narratives; only my truth and your truth.

The intensity of the opposition we face is directly related to our faithfulness in preaching God’s Word with a form of delivery and content that is contextualized to the end that it appears radically authoritative to those acclimated to an effeminate relativism. Or, to put it another way, in our world one way to judge whether of not a preacher is a faithful servant of God is whether he is accused of arrogance. A faithful man will employ a method and content that bears witness to his faith that he is not communicating the words of men, but of God. With Calvin, he will declare that preaching is the Word of God. And the world has no way of understanding such declarations as anything but an arrogance that's sick and pathetic.

My wife and I were out for dinner one night. As we prepared to leave, we struck up a conversation with another couple at an adjoining table. In their mid-seventies, both were strikingly tall and dignified. During the preliminary small talk, we learned they had been married fifteen years, were from the Pacific Northwest, had several children from previous marriages, and he'd spent fifty years working as a computer programmer.

Our deeper conversation started with the woman exclaiming over the beauty of the ocean. She had learned I was a pastor and, trying to relate to us on a spiritual level, she told us how the sea gave her permission to commune with God as “she” rather than “he...”


Preaching to an effeminate age (II)...

(Tim: this is second in a series, with the first, here) It's in vogue for preachers to cop a posture of humility, today, but it’s almost always a counterfeit humility. While claiming to be speaking for God, they deny the very authority of God and His Word that forms the only foundation they can stand on when they say, “Thus says the Lord.”

Jonathan Edwards, the best-known preacher of the Great Awakening in Colonial America, points to the difference between true and false humility:

A truly humble man is inflexible in nothing but in the cause of his Lord and Master, which is the cause of truth and virtue. In this he is inflexible, because God and conscience require it. But in things of lesser moment, and which do not involve his principles as a follower of Christ, and in things that only concern his own private interests, he is apt to yield to others.

There are various imitations of (humility) that fall short of the reality. Some put on an affected humility. Others have a natural low-spiritedness, and are wanting in manliness of character. …In others, there is a counterfeit kind of humility, wrought by the delusions of Satan: and all of these may be mistaken for true humility. [1]

Edwards strikes an interesting note...


Greater love hath no man than this...

(Jesus said) "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep" (John 10:11).

(Tim, w/thanks to Todd W.) The NYTimes' David Brooks sets out to explain how a nation of five million won as many gold medals as our nation of three-hundred million at the Winter Olympics this year. So he tells a brief version of the story of Jan Baalsrud, a Norwegian instrument maker who tried to get back into Norway to help the Norwegian resistance movement during the Second World War.

The account reminds me of the Apostle Paul. What courage and tenacity in the face of the most terrible danger and suffering these hardened men demonstrated!

Which prompts me to ask when it was, precisely, that the sign of godliness in a pastor changed...