Humorous Suffering: Is it possible?

What are some signs that your family is suffering, needs your extra effort as the father/husband, and is providing humorous moments at the same time? This is a tough combination - humor and suffering. Is it possible? I will say “yes” as a Christian father. Read my account and see if you agree.

We are now in the midst of the fourteenth day of our children suffering from a nasty virus, which produced one (so far) hospitalization, high doctors bills, and an average of four or five hours of sleep each night during that span. Fatigue has obviously descended upon us as well as a lingering sickness that rivals the Bubonic Plague. My oldest son David wept bitterly upon discovering that CS Lewis is dead and therefore will not be able to write more Narnia books. My daughter is the main culprit in the sickness escapades. My son John has been sick now for five nights along with Sally.

I came home for lunch a few minutes ago and found Sally dry-heaving at the table while trying to shove down some Cheetos. She was gagging because John was diarrheaing (is that a word?) out of his diaper while eating Cheetos. Where was my wife? I walked into the kitchen to find her huddled in the refrigerator door “cleaning” (we laughed heartily at her feeble attempt to escape).

As the semester ends, my work and school has taken a toll on my family as our circumstances have been “infected” by an intruder. We are worn out and tempted to go to a family member’s house to receive a little help in the midst of these trying times. However, we realize that no one wants us! We would infect everyone, so we have no where to go, no means of escaping. We are just left to the harsh reality of suffering. The Lord, however, has given us the grace to be patient through the past two weeks and laugh. What else can we do? My answer is “yes.” One can find humor in difficult circumstances while walking in God’s grace and ultimately trusting that, despite the unpleasant circumstance, this is what God has for you - to sanctify you and bring you closer to glory.

Meditations from 2 Peter 2

I rarely write a journal-style blog entry as I think that much of this type of blogging is unproductive and a waste of time for others to read. However, I was so overwhelmed by the glory of Christ this morning as I read 2 Peter 2, I thought that I should post the following thoughts.

As I read this text, I was struck by the severity of God’s judgment as I prayed through issues of my heart and the Spirit convicted me of sin. The more I think and pray through Exodus 20 and the far-reaching nature of the Law, I am truly driven to despair. I despair of my ability to fulfill God’s commandment to be perfect as He is perfect (Mt 5:48). This conviction was not just the realization of how I have recently transgressed God’s Law, but the conviction of the ugliness of my sin nature and the utter corruption deep within me. It made me utterly afraid that I would be counted among the false believers and adulterous peoples of this passage.

I felt as if I were teetering on the edge of hell itself and seeing the judgment of God that I so deserve because of my foolish flesh. In my hurried lifestyle, my initial response was to quickly say, “Yes, yes, but I am forgiven in Christ” and move on to thanking God for my adopted status as His child, but I chose to do something that was highly beneficial. I stayed there, in that state of conviction and despair, not moving my mind and heart from that point by flippantly dismissing what God was doing through this passage. I chose to stay there and fully (as fully as possible) experience the wrath of God until He Himself picked me up and confirmed me in Christ. I found myself utterly driven into the dust and crushed into nothingness in and of myself. This time of meditation was unbelievably humbling to my complete person as I experienced God’s wrath and He showed me the shallows of the depths of my wretched heart-I say shallows because I believe that as I progress in my faith, I will only see the depths of my sin more clearly. I allowed myself to stay here because I subjectively believed that I should do so rather than mentally claim forgiveness in Christ, thus allowing me to test my soul in all honesty to see if I am in the faith.

As I waited on the Lord to move, He did so through His word by flooding my heart with the glorious assurances of pardon as found in Scripture (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 8:1, and 1 Peter 2:24 were a few that came to mind) and the joy which flows from the peace that I have with this just and almighty God. Christ Himself brought me out of the gloomy pit of feeling and sensing His wrath into the green pasture of which He is the shepherd. He opened my soul to an enhanced view of the height and depth and breadth of God’s love for me in Christ Jesus.

The great assurance that can sum up all of Scriptural passages of pardon is that nothing can separate believers from God. Why? Not because of anything that we bring to this journey or even because we become more experienced in the Christian life. Anything associated with us would lead to a foolish re-enslavement of our souls and bodies to the lusts of our flesh so blatantly offered to us by our culture. We are inseparable from the Lord despite our remaining folly for His name’s sake. For His own glory, He will complete what He has begun in us. He would not be God if He could not graciously sanctify us and His name would be dishonored if He did not graciously sanctify us. He will not share His due glory with any person or thing, thus the humbling nature of the gospel. His jealousy for His sole reception of complete glory also extends to the gospel’s reshaping of our lives throughout the remainder of the Christian’s journey on this earth. How glorious is God that He will not share His glory and He will not leave His children to themselves before or after initially entrusting oneself to Christ alone for salvation.

Malachi 1:11-For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.

Hinckley Continues Deception

The praise of recently deceased Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the Mormon Church (LDS), begins this week as men and women around the world laud this man who continued the pattern of 2 Timothy 3:13-"...while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived." He is yet another example of men who desire to put forth an evil lie as being "truth" all the while knowing that it is false.

Think about this reality for a moment: The central authorities of the LDS church know that no such golden tablets given to Joseph Smith exist in their secure vault, yet they continue to hold fast to their assertions! How evil and demonic is such a position!

We ought not be surprised by this situation however as we know that men have always preferred the vain creations of men's minds and hands to the humiliating position that one can only be saved by God's grace without NOTHING to contribute and a preference for the shedding of God's rightful authority to the self-determined moral grounds of man-made religion. May we all heed the warnings of Paul in Colossians 2:8-"See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ" (emphasis mine). The central issue is that Hinckley and the other Mormons are putting forth a man-made philosophy that is not according to Christ, that actually denies the Christ of the Bible. May we not be deceived by America's mantra that all religions are equally true and fall into the trap of thinking that Mormons are good people, another form of true Christianity, or other such nonsense, but pray that God will perhaps show them grace and convert them to a true saving knowledge of Jesus Christ according to Scripture. Guard your hearts, pray for unbelievers and preach the Word.

God is Good Even in the Midst of Death

Danielle and I received a terrible phone call late last night notifying us that one of Danielle’s friends from college died earlier in the evening. Our hearts were filled with deep sorrow and our eyes shed many tears for the loss and also for the husband and two small children grieving at this moment. The Lord was good in bringing the firm foundation of His word to us in the midst of the pain. I pray that this will be an encouragement to you as it was to us either in your current trouble or in preparation for the inevitable suffering that will one day come to you in the natural course of life. Psalm 46 is a comforting text during times such as these as well as How Firm a Foundation (notice verses three and six copied below).

Psalm 46
God Is Our Fortress
1God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
3though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come, behold the works of the LORD,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
10 "Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!"
11 The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

How Firm a Foundation
1. How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He has said,
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

3. When through the deep waters I call you to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with you, your troubles to bless,
And sanctify to you your deepest distress.

4. When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be your supply;
The flame shall not hurt you; I only design
Your dross to consume, and your gold to refine.

6. The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

May the God of grace comfort us in His steadfast love during such trials. As believers, we grieve as those with tremendous hope and not like those “who have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13). Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, death has lost its sting for the believer (1 Cor 15:55). God is good and in control of all things. This truth is our comfort and hope in the midst of death itself.

What Do Christ & Psychiatric Drugs Have To Do With One Another?

The question addressed in this entry really concerns the relationship between Christ's followers and the use of psychiatric drugs. I found an incredibly insightful interview series, which I have linked below, addressing the realities of psychiatric drugs and their effects. I am pretty sure most Americans have either taken a drug in this category of medicine or have a close friend or relative who has had this experience. The larger question that supersedes the issue of whether or not they actually work (and the evidence is far from conclusive that they work for the good of those taking them and actually weighs heavily against their positive effectiveness) is whether or not they are a viable option for believers. Sure, we all struggle with attentiveness in long meetings or the ability to concentrate from time to time, but should we all go around popping Ritalin as if it is the new flavor of Certs? Some believers would object by saying that God has made these drugs and they are therefore permissible. However, not everything that God has made is free from the tainting of the Fall. Please remember that just because it is what the doctor ordered does not mean that it is good for you.

Downcast feelings and depression are a reality for all humans as everyone will ultimately face certain circumstances that will not be pleasant or worse. For the believer, such times force one to ask where or from whom will he find relief. The Psalmist clearly states that the believer's hope is not in man or the creation that points to the Sovereign God, but the Lord Himself. King David was certainly a candidate for clinical depression as were the OT prophets, the NT apostles, and others throughout Scripture. I am afraid that we are too quick to turn to easier options such as taking a pill than the hard, patience-building exercise of seeking and trusting Christ in times of difficulty. Of course there are rare and difficult situations that may call for the use of such medicines, but the stakes are way too high to flippantly take them without careful consideration. Think for yourself on this issue. Begin with the two following links.

1. The interview series conducted by Joost Nixon. Note: He interviews some non-believers who are experts in Psychology and Psychiatry, so you cannot simply dismiss this link as biased. Also, for anyone who does not partake in alcoholic beverages, please overlook the theme of the website to hear the truth of this series.

2. A short paper written by John Piper on William Cowper, who greatly struggled with deep and dark depression . Cowper tried to commit suicide on several occasions and struggled with depression all the days of his life, including post-conversion. He wrote several of the best hymns that you and I sing regularly such as "God Moves in a Mysterious Way" and "There is a Fountain Filled with Blood" and "O for a Closer Walk with God."

The purpose of this entry is not to argue for my personal position, although you can probably take an accurate guess from my statements above. My hope is to expose all of us to the realities of psychiatric drugs and their effects, while asking the simple question, "What do Christ (and therefore His followers) and psychiatric drugs have to do with one another?"

Straying From The Solas

How wise were the Reformers in expressing biblical Christianity in the form of the Reformation Solas! Yet how quickly do you and I stumble away from the simplicity of the gospel and these clear expressions of the one true faith. In my pastoral counseling, I often see such straying in one of two forms.

The first variety comes in the way of an Antinomian Christianity, meaning a lifestyle that is undisciplined, being justified by one’s “freedom in Christ” from the law of God. After all, if we are saved by grace, I do not want to try to “add” something to the work of Christ in my life. This thought sounds noble on the surface and it may be a genuine desire of this person, but one will find much deeper issues upon probing a little further. Although this mentality can lead to licentiousness I generally find that people falling into this trap are spiritually lazy as well as lazy in other areas of life. The attempt to excuse one’s behavior, or more accurately the lack of activity, is often hidden within this appeal. Scripture is clear that we as believers must be disciplined in our pursuit of godliness if we will follow in Christlikeness. Romans 5-7, 1 Timothy 4:7, and other such passages point us to the necessity of being disciplined if we will experience the full bloom of Christianity on this side of death. A disorderly approach to seeking the face of God, in which one may or may not rise early in the morning for Bible reading and pray or one may or may not share the gospel or one may or may not attend corporate worship on a regular basis, will result in a weak faith followed by meager attempts to quite the conscience. I love what Donald Whitney says about this subject. He writes, “The only road to Christian maturity and Godliness (Christlikeness and holiness) passes through the practice of the Spiritual Disciplines. These personal and corporate disciplines promote spiritual growth and have been practiced by God’s people since biblical times. Jesus modeled them for us and expects us to pursue them.” Such discipline will actually result in greater freedom as one adheres to the commands of Christ as found in Scripture. After all, the Truth shall make us free, including the truth that Christ requires something from us for godliness-a disciplined pursuit of Him.

What is the opposite line of failure in the pursuit of godliness? The opposite of Antinomianism would be the second form of straying from the biblical faith, namely man-centered Fundamentalism. By this phrase, I mean a list of do’s and don’ts that will supposedly lead of godliness. Am I being contradictory in this statement? Am I condemning what I just promoted? It is not a contradiction, but a difference in understanding that the above is only accomplished by the grace of God through faith in Christ rather than by one's righteous works. The difference is that those who create regulations for godliness stray into the mentality that their works have produced their “godliness.” Somehow they have accomplished something that they can bring to the throne of grace as merit before God. What a person with this mentality does not grasp is that the heart is the wellspring of all actions and simply creating certain standards, even the best ones, will never get to the root problem of the heart. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees of Israel for thinking that their man-made regulations would justify them before God, when their hearts were corrupt. Out of the heart flows sin, even sin that does not hatch into outward manifestation (Mt 5). This is the point of frustration for such individuals as their actions may be regulated and their sins of the flesh may be squelched for a time, but sin will always rear its ugly head and leave the Fundamentalist to “try harder” and “hunker down” in this battle. To this person, the simplicity of walking by faith in the grace of God is too elemental. This person says, “Now that I have received Christ for salvation, I must proceed in godliness by not doing _______ or by making sure that I ________.” Such efforts are far short of godliness and actually distract from the joyful delight that one experiences when he realizes the existence of and honestly admits to his inability to be godly, thus requiring him to humbly approach God for grace.

What a freeing reality is the pursuit of godliness through disciplined adherence to the commands of Christ as found in Scripture. If we love Him, we will keep His commands…commands such as making disciples (evangelism & discipleship), loving our neighbors (evangelism and mercy), not forsaking the bride of Christ (fellowship and corporate worship), fasting, prayer, etc. Pursuing God through disciplined grace will bring about godliness and freedom from our feeble attempts to be perfect. When we fail, we are pointed back to the simplicity of the gospel (Colossians 2:6-15) that confounds the ungodly man, who cannot understand the wisdom of God. It is only by Grace through Faith in Christ as seen in Scripture for the chief end of man, which is Glory to God Alone. Soli Deo Gloria.

"I Have a Vision"

With all of the recent books flying off the Christian bookshelves concerning this ministry model versus that approach, it is no wonder that ministers are buying into the latest and greatest. After all, if I can take a general truth about ministry and tweak the language just a bit, I could make a boat load of cash with my own book (of course I would have to donate it to the ministry...maybe one or two trips to the ministry). The result...chaos.

Man-made religion is nothing new. The apostle Paul dealt with this very issue in Colossians 2 and exhorted the church not to allow anyone to draw them away from the faith, to hold fast to the Head, which is Christ. When men are called by a church to minister in the name of Christ, but rather usher in "his vision," the result is confusion as one minister's vision differs from another and who is correct? The resulting mentality is the bunker approach, meaning "I was here before you came here and I will be here after you leave." Granted there are other issues that contribute to this lack of trust, such as the longevity aspect, but it all starts with the message being proclaimed. Is it the gospel of Jesus Christ or is it a message invented by the wisdom of man.

I recently attended a church while on vacation that greatly saddened me. It is a church with deep historical roots, having made a great impact on literally thousands of lives. The service, however, was completely man-centered in theology and music on that day. I spoke with one of the ministers after the service and could not believe what I was hearing. He said that he was sick of the same old message every week, referring to the gospel, and wanted to recreate the church to be "relevant" and "interesting." Yet another congregation headed toward the Baptist version of charismatic chaos and the pools of wood, hay, and stubble from an eternal perspective...disastrous. Just because one's vision is covered in Christian terminology, does not prove that the idea is from the Lord. The book of Jeremiah constantly addresses the issue of men claiming to speak for God who were never sent by the Lord. These become dangerous waters when men claim to have a vision from the Lord, especially when this vision cannot be found in Scripture.

So what is the solution? What do we tell people, how do we lead people, what is our message? It begins with and stands firmly on the gospel of Christ found in the word of God! I am a staunch believer that God has revealed to us how He wants us to worship Him, how churches should be structured, how the ordinances must be carried out, etc. We can and should summarize these positions so that we and God's people are clear on what we are seeking to accomplish and how we will get there, but such vision must be biblical, not invented late at night while lying on one's couch and thinking about the church. Here is a good indicator - if my vision contradicts God's word, then maybe it is not a biblical vision. If the songs that we are singing aren't even Scriptural or possibly contradict Scripture, maybe we are worshipping in vain. Allow the Word to dictate vision, music, structure, and all the other necessary issues rather than being "creative" and "original" and find yourself leading others into sub-godliness or even ungodliness.