Pictures of Grace

sovereign graceI have often heard people say they have problems reconciling the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New Testament. In the Old we see Him kicking Adam and Eve out of the garden for simply eating something that was against His rules. Then we see God sending Cain out as a nomad with nowhere to call home all because he killed his brother Abel. And then when everyone has decided to live according what they think is right (sounds like something from the 21st century), God tells Noah a flood is coming that will destroy all humanity. Because Noah is a man of righteousness, God commands him to build an ark that he, his family, and a few chosen animals might survive the deluge. These are just a few of the examples that cause some people problems with a God who seems so unforgiving and unwilling to give anyone a second chance.

As I read the whole Bible I see something different. I see a God who consistently deals with people in the same manner. I believe the Old and New Testaments give us an unchanging picture of God. Over and over in both testaments we see pictures of God’s gracious patience. Never do we see an immediate outpouring of His righteous wrath. Throughout every story we can see His patience in not wanting any to perish, but all to come to a saving relationship with Him.

In this past Sunday’s message—Pictures of Grace—we looked at the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain, and the flood in order to see pictures of God’s grace. In each of these instances we can see how God patiently withheld what would have been just punishment to give ample time for all to repent and live in a loving relationship with Him.

If you have struggled with understanding what appears to be a different God in the Old and New Testaments, then I would encourage you to listen to last Sunday’s message. Simply follow this link, Pictures of Grace, and then click on the arrow pointing down. After that you will be able to choose between listening online or downloading it to a mobile device.

If you need to know more about becoming a follower of Jesus please contact me at pastorbob@lobc.net. And if you are looking for a church home, please join us on Sundays at 10:45 a.m. You can find out more about our church at WWW.LOBC.NET.

“Why Doesn’t God Do More to Restrain Evil and Suffering?” Part 2 by Randy Alcorn

If God is GoodSevere suffering seems unacceptable to us precisely because we are unaccustomed to it.

Susanna Wesley had nineteen children; nine of them died before they reached the age of two. Puritan Cotton Mather had fifteen children and outlived all but two. Ironically, the problem of evil and suffering seems worse to us who live in affluent cultures precisely because we face less of it than many people have throughout history.

I heard an exasperated woman at a restaurant table loudly proclaim that her Porsche had to be taken in for repairs and now she had to drive her Audi. In contrast I have met devout Christians in Africa and Southeast Asia who have endured famine, genocide, and persecution, yet smile genuinely as they affirm God’s goodness and grace.

C. S. Lewis wrote,

Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it is a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is one that comforts and strengthens you in the end. The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world would become pessimists: the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic. [1]

People who ask why God allowed their house to burn down likely never thanked God for not letting their house burn down the previous ten thousand days of their lives. Why does God get blame when it burns, but no credit when it doesn’t? Many pastors and church members have experienced church splits, feeling the agony of betrayal and disillusionment. But where were the prayers of gratitude back when the church was unified? Our suffering seems extreme in the present only because God has graciously minimized many of our past sufferings.

Dorothy Sayers wrote,

“Why doesn’t God smite this dictator dead?” is a question a little remote from us. Why, madam, did he not strike you dumb and imbecile before you uttered that baseless and unkind slander the day before yesterday? Or me, before I behaved with such a cruel lack of consideration to that well-meaning friend? And why sir, did he not cause your hand to rot off at the wrist before you signed your name to that dirty bit of financial trickery? You did not quite mean that? But why not? Your misdeeds and mine are none the less repellent because our opportunities for doing damage are less spectacular than those of some other people. Do you suggest that your doings and mine are too trivial for God to bother about? That cuts both ways; for in that case, it would make precious little difference to his creation if he wiped us both out tomorrow. [2]

Our birthright does not include pain-free living. Only those who understand that this world languishes under a curse will marvel at its beauties despite that curse. C. S. Lewis’s final article, published after his death, carried the title “We Have No Right to Happiness.” Believing that we do have such a right sets us up for bitterness.

Fallen beings could not survive in a perfectly just world where God punished evil immediately.

What if every time I gave a hundred dollars to feed the hungry, two hundred dollars appeared in my wallet? Or when I spoke a kind word to a weary supermarket checker, I received a Starbucks gift card?

Suppose that every time a man yelled at a child or looked at a woman lustfully, a painful shock jolted his frontal lobe? Or when he lied, he got an instant toothache or was struck dead by lightning?

If we think we want all evil judged now, we’re not thinking clearly.

Were such rewards and punishments built into our lives, the world would cer­tainly be more just—but at what cost? We would base our obedience on instant payoffs or the avoidance of instant pain, not on loving God. Our behavior might improve, but our hearts wouldn’t. Faith would fade, because faith means trusting God to eventually make right what is now wrong.

Do you believe the world would be a better place if people immediately paid the just penalty for every sin? In God’s sight, every evil is a capital crime (see Romans 6:23). The woman who tells a “little white lie,” the teenager who shoplifts, the greedy man, the gossiper, all would instantly die. D. A. Carson writes, “Do you really want nothing but totally effective, instantaneous justice? Then go to hell.” [3]

God restrains suffering through our limited life spans—people don’t endure eons, millennia, or centuries of suffering, but only decades, years, months, weeks, days, and hours.

Take the total number of years you believe human life has existed. Now, ask yourself what portion of that time any one human being has suffered.

Suppose God permitted evil and suffering, yet limited them to one ghastly year of human history. Would we consider that duration of evil and suffering acceptable? What about one month? If someone could prove that we would become greater and happier beings for all eternity as a result, would you think it right for God to allow ten seconds of intense suffering? Likely you would.

Once we make that admission, do you see where it puts us? If we could justify ten seconds, then why not ten hours, ten days, or ten years? And in eternity, as we look back, how much longer will ninety years seem than ninety minutes?

Who holds the record for suffering among all human beings alive today? As I write, the oldest person in the world is 114 years old. She hasn’t suffered her whole life. But suppose she suffered significantly for a century. Most people, obviously, will endure much less. Some suffer severely for five days, weeks, months, or years; some, perhaps, for fifty years. However, no one in this world suffers for 10,000, 1,000, or even 130 years.

To say God takes too long to bring final judgment on evil and suffering imposes an artificial timetable on someone time cannot contain. God’s Son entered time in his incarnation. Though he understands our impatience, he won’t yield to it—and one day we’ll be grateful that he didn’t.

God allows substantial evil and suffering because he values our sense of neediness and trust as we turn to him for his grace.

Each year before Christmas we look forward to our church choir singing “Send the Messiah.” The haunting lyrics and powerful presentation resonate within us:

The cry of generations echoes in the heart of heaven….

I need a Savior who will walk the earth down here with me…. Send the Messiah, I need his love to own me. [4]

God sent the Messiah once, but he will send him again to deliver us. Paul, likely within months of his death, said God will grant a special eternal reward “to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). What makes us long for our Lord? Isn’t much of it because of the evil and suffering we face in this life?

Thankfully, while the Messiah may not return to Earth as soon as we’d like, he promises, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). So while we long for and pray for God to send the Messiah to bring an end to this age of evil and suffering, we need not wait until then to enter his presence.

In light of the work done by Christ, our sympathetic high priest, we’re told, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Until God sends the Messiah to rescue this world, or he rescues us through our deaths, may we approach his throne confidently, seeking his fellowship, comfort, mercy, and grace in our time of need… today, this very hour.

This is an excerpt from If God is Good, by Randy Alcorn.

Sources

From: Eternal Perspective Ministries

[1] C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), 52.

[2] Dorothy L. Sayers, “The Triumph of Easter,” in Creed or Chaos (London: Methuen, 1954).

[3] D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 161.

[4] Daniel Perrin, “Send the Messiah,” https://www.cedarpark.org/resources/media/ html.php?id=60.

Why Doesn’t God Do More to Restrain Evil and Suffering? Part 1 by Randy Alcorn

If God is GoodGod may already be restraining 99.99 percent of evil and suffering.

Why does the chaos that breaks out in some corner of the world always prove the exception rather than the rule? Why haven’t tyrants, with access to powerful weapons, destroyed this planet? What has kept infectious diseases and natural disasters from killing 99 percent of the world’s population rather than less than 1 percent?

In the collapse of New York’s Twin Towers, fifteen thousand people came out alive. While this doesn’t remove the pain felt by families of the nearly three thousand who died, it shows that even on that terrible day, suffering was limited.

Nanci said to me, “Given what Scripture tells us about the evil of the human heart, you’d think that there would be thousands of Jack the Rippers in every city.” Her statement stopped me in my tracks. Might God be limiting sin all around us, all the time? Second Thessalonians 2:7 declares that God is in fact restraining lawlessness in this world. For this we should thank him daily.

If God permitted people to follow their every evil inclination all the time, life on this planet would screech to a halt. Sometimes God permits evil by giving people over to their sins (see Romans 1:24–32), and this itself leads to the deterioration and ultimate death of an evil culture, which is a mercy to surrounding cultures. The most morally corrupt ancient cultures no longer exist.

“But many children suffer; why doesn’t God protect them?” We don’t know the answer, but we also don’t know how often God does protect children. The concept of guardian angels seems to be suggested by various passages (see, for example, Matthew 18:10).

God gives us a brief, dramatic look into the unseen world in which righteous angels battle evil ones, intervening on behalf of God’s people (see Daniel 10:12–13, 20). How many angels has God sent to preserve the lives of children and shield them from harm?

My earliest memory is of falling into deep water and nearly drowning; someone my family didn’t know rescued me. As a parent and a grandparent I have seen many “close calls” where it appears a child should have died or suffered a terrible injury, but somehow escaped both.

This thought, of course, doesn’t keep a parent’s heart from breaking when her child suffers or dies. Still, though I can’t prove it, I’m convinced God prevents far more evil than he allows.

God may also be preventing 99.99 percent of tragedies.

Great though they may be, God actively restrains the tests and temptations that come our way so that we will not experience anything greater than we can bear (see 1 Corinthians 10:13).

Fatal car and airplane accidents bring awful devastation, but statistically these are rare. On January 15, 2009, what should have brought certain death to passengers aboard Flight 1549, and catastrophe to Manhattan, turned into what secular reporters labeled a “miracle.” The pilot, Chesley Sullenberger, safely landed a crippled plane in New York’s Hudson River, with no serious injuries.

While chunks of ice and busy ferries filled most of the river, the place where the plane came down remained clear of both ice and boats. It landed without breaking apart. Ferryboat captains rescued all 155 people from the frigid river within minutes. The New York Times suggested “more than luck” brought the plane down mere minutes from experts trained in water rescues. Passengers who said they hadn’t believed in God nevertheless prayed to him on the plane, then publicly thanked him for sparing their lives. [1]

I tell this story to raise a question—isn’t it likely that a kind and all-powerful God routinely prevents terrible tragedies in ways that we do not see and therefore do not credit as miracles?

While the miracle of Flight 1549 appears to be the exception, not the rule, we cannot know about most of the equally miraculous interventions of God that may have invisibly prevented other catastrophes. Perhaps one day we’ll hear those stories and marvel at how often God intervened when we imagined him uninvolved in our world.

God exercises wisdom and purpose by not always intervening in miraculous ways.

As a young Christian, a teenager, I often asked God to show me signs. In the darkness of my room at night I would light a match and ask him to blow it out. What a simple miracle I requested! Nothing on the level of raising the dead, not even turning water to wine. But he never granted my request. And though I didn’t understand why at the time, now I have a better idea. What would I have asked him to do once he blew out the match? Levitate the pool table? And then what would I ask him to do to top that? Where would it end?

How many magician’s tricks would we call upon Jesus to do? As we share Christ with a neighbor who says, “I don’t believe in God,” we might say, “Oh yeah? Watch this.” Then we’d call on God to torch the man’s maple tree. Seeing the tree vaporize would get his attention! And surely it would generate faith-oriented conversion, right?

No. That’s not how faith works, and it’s not how God works.

God did bring down fire from Heaven on occasions (see Numbers 16:35; 1 Kings 18:38). He even opened the earth to swallow up his enemies (see Numbers 16:31–33). Did this result in people turning to him for the long run? No. Jesus fed the multitudes and many followed for a while, but they turned away recoiling from his demanding words (see John 6:1–66). Abraham told the rich man that his brothers “will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (see Luke 16:27–31).

We say, “Show me a miracle and I’ll believe,” yet countless people who have seen miracles continue to disbelieve.

In our eagerness to see greater miracles, we regard “natural processes” as minor and secondary, missing God’s marvelous daily interventions on our behalf.

Focusing on God’s “big miracles”—like curing cancer and making brain tumors disappear—causes us to overlook his small, daily miracles of providence in which he holds the universe together, provides us with air to breathe and lungs to breathe it, and food to eat and stomachs to digest it.

Years ago when I became an insulin-dependent diabetic, it dawned on me that I had never once, in the fifteen years I’d known him, thanked God for a pancreas that had worked perfectly until then.

No matter how much God reduced world suffering, we’d still think he did too little.

Evil and suffering make up part of a world in which God allows fallen people to go on living. How much evil and suffering is too much? Could God reduce the amount without restricting meaningful human choice, or decreasing the urgency of the message that the world’s gone desperately wrong and we need to turn to the Redeemer before we die?

Suppose we rated all pain on a scale of one to ten, with ten representing the worst and most intense pain, and one describing the unpleasant yet quite tolerable. Say “engulfed in flames” got a ten rating while “mild sunburn” received a one. If God eliminated level ten pain, then level nine pain would become the worst. God could reduce the worst suffering to level three, but then level three, now the worst, would seem unbearable. Any argument that judges God’s goodness strictly by his elimination of pain will, in the end, not leave us satisfied if he permits any pain at all.

This is an excerpt from If God is Good, by Randy Alcorn.

Source

From: Eternal Perspective Ministries

[1] Michael Wilson, “Flight 1549 Pilot Tells of Terror and Intense Focus,” New York Times, February 9, 2009.

“We Know They Are Killing Children” by John Piper

sanctity of lifeOne biblical principle of justice is that the more knowledge we have that our action is wrong, the more guilty we are, and the more deserving of punishment (Luke 12:47–48). The point of this blog post is that we know what we are doing — all America knows. We are killing children. Pro-choice and Pro-life people both know this.

But before I show that, let’s clarify what the Supreme Court did forty years ago today. In Roe v. Wade the Supreme Court in effect made abortion on demand untouchable by law. The way this was done was with two steps.

One step was to say, laws may not prevent abortion, even during the full nine months, if the abortion is “to preserve the life or health of the mother.” The other step was to define “health” as “all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman’s age — relevant to the well-being of the patient.”

For forty years this has meant that any perceived stress is a legal ground for eliminating the child. We have killed fifty million babies. And what increases our guilt as a nation is that we know what we are doing. Here’s the evidence that we know we are killing children.

1. Anecdotally, abortionists will admit they are killing children.

Many simply say it is the lesser of two evils. I took an abortionist out to lunch once, prepared to give him ten reasons why the unborn are human beings. He stopped me, and said, “I know that. We are killing children.” I was stunned. He said, “It’s simply a matter of justice for women. It would be a greater evil to deny women the equal right of reproductive freedom.” Which means women should be no more encumbered by the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy than men. That equal freedom from the burden of bearing unwanted children is the basis for abortion that President Obama refers to again and again when he talks about equal rights for women. We know we are killing children.

2. States treat the killing of the unborn as a homicide.

We know what we are doing because 38 States (including Minnesota) treat the killing of an unborn child as a form of homicide. They have what are called “fetal homicide laws.”

It is illegal to take the life of the unborn if the mother wants the baby, but it is legal to take the life of the unborn if she doesn’t. In the first case the law treats the fetus as a human with rights; in the second case the law treats the fetus as non-human with no rights.

Humanness is defined by the desire of the strong. Might makes right. We reject this right to define personhood in the case of Nazi anti-Semitism, Confederate race-based slavery, and Soviet Gulags. When we define the humanness of the unborn by the will of the powerful we know what we are doing.

3. Fetal surgery treats the unborn as children and patients.

High risk pregnancy specialist, Dr. Steve Calvin, in a letter some years ago to the Arizona Daily Star, wrote, “There is inescapable schizophrenia in aborting a perfectly normal 22 week fetus while at the same hospital, performing intra-uterine surgery on its cousin.” When the unborn are wanted, they are treated as children and patients. When they are not wanted, they are not children. We know what we are doing.

4. Being small does not disqualify personhood.

The five-foot-eight frame of a teenage son guarantees him no more right to life than the 23-inch frame of his little sister in her mother’s arms. Size is morally irrelevant. One inch, 23 inches, 68 inches — does not matter. It is morally irrelevant in deciding who should be protected. We know what we are doing in killing the smallest.

5. Not having developed reasoning does not disqualify personhood.

A one-month-old infant, nursing at his mother’s breast, does not have reasoning powers. But only a few dare argue that infanticide is therefore acceptable. Most know better. Outside and inside the womb the infant cannot yet reason, but is a human person. We know what we are doing.

6. Being in the womb does not disqualify human personhood.

Location or environment does not determine a right to life. Scott Klusendorf asks, “How does a simple journey of seven inches down the birth canal suddenly transform the essential nature of the fetus from non-person to person?” We know what we are doing.

7. Being dependent on mommy does not disqualify personhood.

We consider persons on respirators or dialysis to be human beings. The unborn cannot be disqualified from human personhood because they are dependent on their mother for food and oxygen. In fact, we operate on the exact opposite principle: The more dependent a little one is on us, the more responsibility we feel to protect him, not the less. We know what we are doing.

(Those last four observations, #4-7, were summed up by Scott Klusendorf under the acronym SLED: Size, Level of development, Environment, Degree of dependence — none is morally relevant for the definition of human life.)

8. The genetic make up of humans is unique.

The genetic make up of a human is different from all other creatures from the moment of conception. The human code is complete and unique from the start. Once that was not known. Now we know.

9. All the organs are present at eight weeks of gestation.

At eight weeks of gestation all the organs are present. The brain is functioning, the heart pumping, the liver making blood cells, the kidney cleaning the fluids, the finger has a print. Yet almost all abortions happen later than this date. We know what we are doing.

10. We have seen the photographs.

The marvel of ultrasound has given a stunning window into the womb that shows the unborn, for example, at 8 weeks sucking his thumb, recoiling from pricking, responding to sound. Watch this four-minute video of the developing unborn child. We know that they are children.

11. When two rights conflict, the higher value should be protected.

We know the principle of justice that when two legitimate rights conflict, the right that protects the higher value should prevail. We deny the right to drive at 100 miles per hour because the value of life is greater than the value of being on time or getting thrills. The right of the unborn not to be killed and the right of a woman not to be pregnant may be at odds. But they are not equal rights. Staying alive is more precious and more basic than not being pregnant. We know what we are doing when we kill a child.

For Christians who believe the Bible, we could add at least ten more reasons why we know what is happening in abortion, and why it is wrong. But the aim here is threefold.

  1. To make clear that we will not be able to defend ourselves with the claim of ignorance. We knew. All of us.
  2. To solidify our conviction to resist this horrific evil.
  3. To intensify our prayer and our preaching toward gospel-based soul-renovation in our land, because hardness of heart, not ignorance, is at the root of this carnage.

Source: We Know They Are Killing Children—All of Us Know

My Spiritual Birthday!

today is the day of salvation_t_nvI can’t believe it has been thirty-nine years! So many things have happened since January 17, 1974. Life has not always been the easiest, but the decision I made that day has influenced the rest of my life.

January 17, 1974—I was nine years old and attending a church service at Parkland Baptist Church in Tulsa. Brother J. Harold Bryant was the pastor. I really can’t remember what he said that morning; however, at the end of his message I told my dad, “I need to be saved.” He took me by the hand, walked me down to the front of the church, and we talked with Pastor Bryant about what I needed to do to become a Christian. He simply led me in a prayer admitting I was a sinner, believing that Jesus died for my sins, that He arose from the dead, and that I was committing the rest of my life to Him.

When we got home that afternoon I wrote the following:

“From this day on I will be a Christian and have everlasting life. For God has been knocking on my heart’s door. He has been wanting me to be saved. But I was to [sic] scared and wouldn’t let him in and I knew I should let him. So I let him in. Bobby Pittenger January 17, 1974”

Now I realize the grammar is not that great, but I was only nine! Nevertheless, notice what I understood:

1) God was pursuing me

2) Becoming a Christian means everlasting life

3) We must choose to accept His offer of forgiveness and eternal life

4) We must turn from our sinful ways and commit to living a life of righteousness

Sometimes I think adults make it way too difficult. Jesus told us to come with a child-like faith. We want to know all the details and have everything figured out before we make a decision. The only way to become a Christian is to admit our spiritual poverty, cry out to Jesus, and then live out the decision we have made.

Over the last thirty-nine years I have made a lot of mistakes, and for several years, most people could not tell that I was a Christian by the way I was living. However, God’s grace has been sufficient for me. At the age of twenty-six I realized I had spent several years out of the church, and I was no longer sure if the decision I made in 1974 was genuine. So, once again I made the long journey down to the front of the church and recommitted my life to Jesus. That was twenty-three years ago, and my life has been filled with incredible peace and joy. Regardless of what happens in this short life, I know that one day I will stand before the King of kings and Lord of lords and will worship Him forever!

How about you? Has God been knocking at your heart’s door? He wants you to be saved. If you are not sure, please contact me at Living Oaks Baptist Church and I will tell you how to become a Christian.