Mercy in Disguise

heaven-jesus-father-holy-spiritAs a kid I always loved singing the song “When We All Get to Heaven.” Even as a six-year-old I looked forward to the day when Heaven was a present reality. I looked forward to spending eternity with family, friends, and most of all with Jesus. I can still remember the joy that would fill my little heart every time we sang the words, “When we all get to Heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory.”

After fifty-one years of experience in living, I have a whole new appreciation for Heaven. I long to be with Jesus, be like Him, and spend eternity worshipping Him with a pure and holy heart. I look forward to all traces of my sinful nature being removed so that I never again have to confess my sin and repent of my rebellion. I long for the day when this incarceration in human flesh will end, and I shall awake in the beautiful, glorious, radiant presence of Almighty God. That will truly be a day of singing and shouting the final victory!

I also look forward to the day when there will be no more suffering. Personally, I do not like to suffer, nor do I like watching others try desperately to make it through trying times. There are many verses in the Bible that are meant to comfort us during the testing of our soul. One such verse is 1 Peter 5.10, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” Did you catch that? “After you have suffered for a little while…” That is the key phrase that gives most of us trouble. Our  idea of “a little while” and God’s never seems to match. I think “a little while” means five seconds or less; whereas, God’s idea is usually quite a bit longer. The distance between these two ideas have caused many to turn away from God and venture out in life on their own.

As a Christian, we are to have a different outlook on suffering. Is it easy? No! Nevertheless, we should allow suffering to create in us a greater desire for the day when we finally see Jesus. Not too long ago on my way to church I heard the ending of a song that caught my attention. It is by Laura Story entitled “Blessings.” Here are the closing words, “What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy.  What if trials of this life—The rain, the storms, the hardest nights—Are your mercies in disguise.” What a beautiful view of suffering.

The thirst that suffering creates in our heart is a longing to get to Heaven and spend eternity with Jesus. Suffering in this life should drive our hearts to long for the day when there will be no more difficulty, discomfort, distress, disappointment, discouragement, depression, debt, divorce, disease, or death. Suffering in the life of a Christian should produce a deep longing to leave this place we are visiting and go to our eternal home in Heaven. It is there we will live in the perfect peace of our Savior, our Lord, and our God!

I hope you enjoy “Blessings” by Laura Story.

One of Those Days!

outrageous loveHave you ever had one of those days when you feel all alone? You don’t feel close to anyone. It’s like you’re the only person on the planet even though you’re surrounded by a multitude of people. These feelings usually continue down the path of doubt. You doubt your importance, your worth, or even if anyone loves you. You’re alone, hurting, and feel like there is no one who cares that you are alive.

Sometimes you might be led down the path of confusion. You are suffering in so many different ways that you can’t imagine life ever getting better. This usually leads to wondering if the trials are because of something you’ve done. Confusion leads to questions you already know the answer to: “Are things so difficult because I’ve made God angry?” “Is this punishment for not going to church, giving, serving, reading my Bible, or praying enough?” “Does God really love me?” It is not uncommon for those who have suffered for a long period of time to be confused. You are so tired, weary, and worn that nothing makes sense, so you begin to wonder “What have I done to bring this pain upon myself?”

I believe the paths of doubt and confusion are two trails Satan has cut off the beaten path of faith to cause us to question God’s love. Just like Eve in the garden, Satan is still asking questions to cause us to misinterpret God’s Word and forget His promises. He wants us to believe we’re all alone so we’ll try to solve our problems on our own. He wants us depending on self instead of the Savior.

If you’re having one of the those days and about to leave the path of faith, stop and remember the cross. There is no greater sign of love in all of creation than the cross of Christ. God’s outrageous love for you was proven at the cross. At the cross your sin-debt was paid in full. At the cross anything that could bring condemnation upon you was placed upon Jesus. At the cross we can see that our suffering in this life should make us long for eternal life in heaven all the more.

So, if you’re having one of those days, know that our trials, troubles, and tribulations are not a sign of God’s displeasure. They are a sign that we live in a sinfully fallen world that will eventually end. When this world comes to an end, those who are believers in Christ will be ushered into one eternally long peaceful day where we dwell in the presence and love of God!

Then I saw a new Heaven and a new earth, for the first Heaven and the first earth had disappeared and the sea was no more. I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, descending from God out of Heaven, prepared as a bride dressed in beauty for her husband. Then I heard a great voice from the throne crying, “See! The home of God is with men, and he will live among them. They shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death shall be no more, and never again shall there be sorrow or crying or pain. For all those former things are past and gone.” Then he who is seated upon the throne said, “See, I am making all thing new!” (Revelation 21.1-5)

“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.

A Day In The Life Of A Pastor

At the end of his post Dr. Thom Rainer extends a challenge to pray for your pastor five minutes a day. If you will commit to this challenge or believe that it is a much-needed ministry, will you please share this on your Facebook page, email the link to all your friends, or have  your church send this to their members. Once you have done these things then pray! Pray for wisdom, discernment, holiness, purity, compassion, vision, and most of all for a Spirit-filled life. You will never know this side of heaven the difference you are making for the kingdom of God.

I hope “A Day In The Life Of A Pastor” by Thom Rainer encourages you to pray for your pastor.

Rainer writes:

It’s Thursday morning. Pastor Doug has a clear calendar, an aberration in his busy schedule. Actually, the calendar is not really clear; he has set aside time to finish his sermon for Sunday. His Bible is open; study aids are nearby. He begins to study.

Then the phone rings.

His assistant tells him about a car accident involving a family in the church. The ambulances are already on the way to the hospital. Doug leaves all of his study material on his desk and jumps into the car.

On the way to the hospital, his assistant calls him again. The entire Godsey family of five was in the car. None are seriously [hurt] except Gary, the father and husband of the family. His condition is grave.

Pastor Doug walks into the emergency waiting room. The family has just been told that their husband and father did not make it. They see their pastor and run to him sobbing, in total shock. Doug is there for them. He stays with the entire family for three hours until he is certain that enough people are around to care for them.

The Afternoon

He stops by his home to see his wife and grab a quick sandwich. It is now afternoon. He’s not sure if he can return to his sermon preparation, but he knows he must. He must fight the emotional exhaustion of the morning, and finish the message. But as he walks back to the church, his assistant apologetically tells him that two people need to speak with him. They consider it urgent.

Doug meets with the two men. One of them is the worship leader of the church. He is struggling with his ministry and is considering giving up. For two hours, Doug listens, consoles, and attempts to encourage the staff member.

The next visitor then catches Doug off guard. George is one of the key lay leaders in the church. Doug considers him a friend and an incredibly vital person in the overall leadership of the congregation. George struggles to speak: “My wife is having an affair . . . “  There are no more words for 15 minutes. Just tears and sobs.

Doug stays with George for over two hours. They pray together and talk about next steps.

It’s nearly five o’clock in the afternoon. Doug is too drained to attempt to get back to his sermon. Instead he begins to look at his crowded email inbox. He cringes when he sees one of the senders of an email. But he cannot stop himself from opening the message. It’s from one of Doug’s most frequent critics in the church. She has two complaints. The first irritation was something he said in last Sunday’s sermon. The second complaint addressed Doug’s failure to visit her sister-in-law who had minor outpatient surgery yesterday. The sister-in-law is not a member of the church. And Doug knew nothing about the surgery.

And Now Evening

Pastor Doug shuts the laptop cover and moves to his car slowly. He’ll stop by the house to grab a quick bite to eat. He needs to check on the Godsey family. He will stay with them for a while, but he must leave prior to 7:30, when he is to give the invocation for a local high school basketball game.

Several people get his attention at the game, so he doesn’t get home until after nine o’clock. He goes to his small study in his home, shuts the door, and begins to cry.

Gary Godsey, the father and husband who was killed in the car accident, was Doug’s best friend.

This was the first chance Doug had to grieve.

A Call to Pray for Pastors

The story is true. Only the names have been changed.

In a few weeks, I will be initiating a call for church members to pray five minutes a day for their pastors. Will you make a commitment today, even before the initiative? Will you commit just five minutes a day to pray for your pastor? Will you ask others in your church to do so? Will you pray for their strength, protection, wisdom, and families?

Will you pray for just five minutes?

Living In The Power Of Future Glory

In 2 Corinthians 4.7-10 we read, “7 But we have this treasure in  earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of  the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8 we are afflicted in every way, but not  crushed;  perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not  forsaken;  struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that  the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body” (NASB).

Sometimes it is difficult to apply Scripture to our own lives. When I read the following story by Chuck Swindoll I immediately thought of 2 Corinthians 4.

Swindoll writes:

When Dan Richardson, an enthusiastic believer in Christ, lost his battle with cancer, the following piece was distributed at his memorial service.

Cancer is limited…

  • It cannot cripple love,
  • It cannot corrode faith,
  • It cannot eat away peace,
  • It cannot destroy confidence,
  • It cannot kill a friendship,
  • It cannot shut out memories,
  • It cannot silence courage,
  • It cannot invade the soul,
  • It cannot reduce eternal life,
  • It cannot quench the spirit,
  • It cannot lessen the power of the resurrection.

Source: “Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations and Quotes” 140.

Real Bad

In a recent post, Timothy Keller discussed Jesus’ attitude toward all the difficulties, pain, and suffering we face.

Keller writes:

The story of Jesus standing before the tomb of Lazarus is an endless source of insight for me. As he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, Jesus was not smiling. He was angry. He was weeping. Why? Because death is a bad thing! Jesus wasn’t thinking, ‘They think that this is a tragedy, but no harm done! I’m about to raise him from the dead. This looks like a bad thing, but it’s not. It’s really a good thing! It’s a way for me to show my glory. It’s really exciting! I can’t wait!’ He wasn’t thinking that. Jesus was weeping at the tomb, because the bad thing he’s about to work for good is bad. The story of Lazarus does not give you a saccharine view of suffering, saying bad things are really blessings in disguise or that every cloud has a silver lining. The Bible never says anything like that! God will give bad things good effects in your life, but they’re still bad. Jesus Christ’s anger at the tomb of Lazarus proves that he hates death. He also hates loneliness, alienation, pain, and suffering. Jesus hates it all so much that he was willing to come into this world and experience it all himself, so that eventually he could destroy it without destroying us.

There’s no saccharine view in the Christian faith. The promise is not that if you love God, good things will happen in your life. The promise is not that if you love God, the bad things really aren’t bad; they’re really good things. The promise is that God will take the bad things, and he’ll work them for good in the totality.”

Many people have questioned God’s love for them after they have placed their faith in Christ. They don’t understand why they still suffer even though they are a Christian. Like the seed sown in the shallow soil they wither under the heat of discomfort and eventually turn away from God completely.

Jesus never promised us a life without trouble, in fact He actually told us in this life we would have troubles (John 16.33). Jesus didn’t come to give us our hearts desire. He came to deliver us from God’s wrath. He came to give us life eternal in heaven. He came because of His great love for us.

Tomorrow we will continue our study of Jesus’ “I Am” statements in the book of John. As we look at the broader story around Jesus’ declaration, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11.25) we will discover some of the similarities of Lazarus being raised from the dead physically and our being raised spiritually.

I hope to see you Resurrection Sunday at 10:45 a.m. as we celebrate Jesus’ victory over sin, death, hell, and the grave.

Here is a link for directions to Living Oaks Baptist Church.

Home Free!

As a pastor I have walked along side many who have been diagnosed with some deadly disease. I have seen some healed by the hand of God, some who were healed through various types of treatment, and others who received the ultimate healing through death. It has been humbling to watch as they boldly face their terrible ordeal with the peace of knowing comfort can only be found in God.

I have never faced anything which compares to that type of suffering; however, when faced with a sorrowful burden I have always remembered a couple of verses:

  • “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8.18).
  • “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4.17).
  • “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12.9).
  • “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away'” (Revelation 21.3-4).

As I go through difficult times I try to keep things in perspective. This life is all I know, but it isn’t all I will know. There will come a day when all this will pass away and I will stand before my Savior and Lord. All the pains, sorrows, disappointments, and fears will be a thing of the past, and I will be home free.