He Doesn’t Control Some Things

  
That’s right.  He controls all things.  

Is a trumpet blown in a city,and the people are not afraid?  Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it? 

Amos 3:6

Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?  Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?  Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins? 

Lamentations 3:37-39

For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

Acts 4:27-28

And this is very, very Good News.  

The greatest comfort I can give a child of God, and I can only give it to a child of God (meaning someone who has been adopted by God through faith in Jesus Christ), is that God is in total, absolute control of your pain.   And the reason why that’s comforting for the Christian is that God promises to work all things together for the good of His elect.  

This is a God whose hand predestined the worst sin in history for His people’s rescue.  

He does no evil, but neither is He perplexed or surprised by any evil.  And He will work all things together for His good purposes.  

From the other side of Christ’s return, there will not be one moment of history, from Eden’s tree to Calvary’s Cross to Hitler’s Holocaust to Hell’s shut doors, where Satan will be able to say, “Well, at least He didn’t get to work that one out for His purposes.”  When all is said and done, God’s glory and beauty and His people’s good will be pulled from every page of history, even the bloody and awful and scary ones.  And the greatest proof of that is Christ’s bloody and awful Cross.  

Some of you who are born again and in chaos or agony need to internalize this.  

What is frustrating to the unbelieving heart is peace to believing one:  There is no sovereign but God.  

I am telling you to pray to the God who will roll up the sky like a blanket, who set the Milky Way spinning as though it were a top, who fashioned all our souls from His own creative heart.  This is not a God who will win at the last second on a Hail Mary.  I am here to tell you there is a King in the Heavens.  A King.  God is not a powerful figure with good intentions who can only do so much.  This is the King of all creation, and He is taking audiences with all who will call upon Him in faith.  

There is nothing that befalls us that is not ordained by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

Keep all your gods, America.  I have met the only One who can save a man like me.  

This God is in control.

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A PSA On Suffering

  
If you want do your heart a favor, prepare it now for where it should run when sorrow comes.  Because if you live past the age of 40, it is going to come.  

There’s a radio PSA I hear every once in a while that uses humor to make the point that families should have plans about where to go in the event of an emergency situation.  A dad asks each of his kids where the meeting point is and what they’re supposed to do, and each kid fires back a different and increasingly ridiculous answer.  The father then praises everyone for sticking to “the plan.”  Point taken, Ad Council.  I should have a plan for where my kids should go in case there’s a tsunami.  Got it.  

But after I’m done telling them to go the basement if and when they ever hear sirens, I’m going to sit for a second and give my heart a talking to about where it is to go when I am diagnosed with terminal cancer, or I lose a family member, or we go broke.  

Because this side of the return of Jesus is laced with all kinds of shadows for all kinds of people.  Pain is not restricted to those who self-inflict it.  

Good, God-believing people wrote into the book of Psalms (as they were moved by the Holy Spirit) their tears to God.  For instance, Psalm 123 (in its entirety):

To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he has mercy upon us. Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt. Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.

The Psalms are threaded through and through with this sort of thing.  So is Lamentations.  And Ecclesiastes.  And Job.  The sorrows of people who love God and trust in Him, and whose hope in the middle of pain and sadness is Him and Him alone. 

The Christian is going to suffer in this life.  Maybe not always, and maybe less than a brother or sister nearby him, but he will suffer and struggle.  At some point, God’s hand will bring about some affliction for him.  

At some point God will allow something awful to happen to me.

I want to plan now for where I’ll run to.  

I don’t want to make a good thing an idol on that day.  I don’t want to just work a bunch of hours to drown out my pain, or go for a hundred hikes all over tri-state parks while praying little and worshiping less.  I don’t want to (merely) cook or write or play games.  

I want to prepare myself now to run to my Father on that day.  

The promises of God in the person and Gospel of Jesus Christ are the purest hope for a Christian who just found out he has brain cancer.  They are what sustained Paul awaiting his execution, what gave Peter and John boldness to proclaim the Good News though they were threatened with death by the authorities in Jerusalem, and what sent our Savior to the Cross on our behalf.  

The promise of rescue and eternal life for all who trust in Jesus.  

When I’m told terrible news or drowning in terrible thoughts, I want to flee to the certain promise of God that when I die I will be with King Jesus.  That when He returns, my body will be resurrected, shed of all its rust and bruises and glistening like clear dew under a new sun.  

Sure, I might write and take a hike and learn to cook a new dish, too.  But the only thing that’ll slow my heart in the middle of the night, the background music that’ll make the worst of my sufferings less terrifying, is the promise of God in Christ.  

After all, if Christ isn’t resurrected, then I of all men should be most pitied when that terminal diagnosis comes.  

But praise be to God that lying is one thing this Father can’t do. 

A Marriage, a Death, and a Public Faith

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Abraham was not always a perfect husband. He was, at least twice, pretty despicable as far as husbandry is concerned. He gave his wife Sarah away in order to save his own skin, first to Pharaoh in Egypt and then to King Abimilech in Gerar. He also relented to his wife’s momentary faithlessness (shadows of Adam and Eve, perhaps?), submitting to her plan to have a son by his slave woman rather than wait on the birth of the promised son. By not putting the brakes on his wife’s plan, he harmed his family and at least two other lives. Then he even washed his hands of the slave woman who bore the resulting son once Sarah changed her mind in envy or anger.

But despite the sins of our flawed spiritual father, he was a man of great and Godly faith. And even though she committed her own transgressions, Sarah was a good match for him in that sense. The New Testament confirms Sarah as a faithful woman in instructing Christian women to “let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:4-6). Sarah hoped in God, she believed and trusted in her eternal city (Hebrews 11:11-16), and she submitted to her husband in Godliness.

At the beginning of Genesis 23, this woman of faith dies, and her husband of about a century is left to bury her in still-strange soil, far from the pagan place of their births. He probably mourned for a time right near her body (23:2), and he may have even buried her with his own hands.

I can’t imagine. I mean I really cannot even successfully recreate in my mind and my heart what it would be like to lose your companion of a hundred years (for perspective, a hundred years ago as I write this World War I was going on and the airplane was a 12-year-old invention). I have no idea what it would feel like to see such a relationship succumb to the curse of death after decades and decades marriage. And for Abraham and Sarah it was a marriage spent walking a strange land as Abraham spoke with God directly of His promises and His ways. God has made us so that when we marry we leave our former families and cling to our spouses, and when that relationship is ended by death it is heartbreaking. When it happens in a strange place where you’re wandering for God’s sake, it would have to be nearly devastating.

Abraham mourns for his wife at the beginning of Genesis 23. But then he rises and goes to the sons of Heth, the Hittites. These are the people of the land there at Hebron (not far from where Jerusalem would later be). He humbly asks some of them if he can purchase a tomb there to bury his dead wife, and the Hittites, believing (or at least saying that they believe) that Abraham is a prince of God, are happy to oblige.

Abraham does not haggle over the price of the tomb he asks to buy, nor the field that it is in. While we’re not given any of the state of his mind by Moses, the author of Genesis, it’s reasonable to assume this man who one chapter earlier faithfully took his boy to Moriah to sacrifice him by God’s command, this man who simply believed God would provide the ram once he arrived at Moriah, was trusting God here as well. No need to scheme, manipulate, maneuver. God had made the promise of a son and kept it. He had made the promise of home and was keeping it. Abraham didn’t have to manufacture a great business deal, here, in buying this tomb. God had blessed him with riches in Egypt (despite his sin), blessed him financially again in Gerar (despite his sin), and it would appear that God’s repeated provision and Abraham’s repeated faith had now left him in a position of humble, peaceful trust. He appears to be one who could mourn with hope, could grieve with belief.

And all of this was done in public. The Hittites saw him bury his wife this way. His son (we would have to assume) saw him mourn while behaving with humble honor. His household and slaves would have been witnesses to their master’s faith and his trust in the God of the Promise.

Abraham believed in the God of Jesus Christ. He had faith in the Gospel that was preached to him beforehand, as well as in the specific promises made to him there in Canaan. And that faith, that obedient belief in God, shaped his heart and life and circumstances in wonderful ways.

Abraham shows us it is possible to publicly bury your spouse in a manner that glorifies God. But only by faith. It’s possible to mourn and be a sojourner and suffer in such a way that God in Christ is made to look good, but only by belief and trust in His goodness and Gospel.

By faith we can live as the humble, hopeful, public people of King Jesus. By faith we can have good lives, good deaths, and eternal inheritances.

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Two Ways to Love Our Cities

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In Acts 2-4 Peter and John love their city in a Godly way by (at least) doing two things. Two things that most of the people around me in 21st century America would tell me are irreconcilable. Diametrically opposed.

1) They care for some among the city’s weak.
2) They proclaim to those in the city their sins.

For what it’s worth, I’m proof that both are vital. I needed love and affection and compassion in my broken and out moments, but I also needed someone who had seen the light to boldly tell me of my evils. I can tell you from experience that a narcissistic drunk doesn’t just need a friend. He also needs someone to tell him that drunkenness leads to death, wrath, and judgment. Peter had Godly affection for the weak of his city of Jerusalem, and he also told the people of his city that they had sinfully killed the Savior.

Here’s some of Peter from those chapters:

“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and the elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead – by Him this man is standing before you well.”

“You denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of Life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And His name – by faith in His name – has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in presence of you all.”

“This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Hatred, indifference, greed, homosexuality, idolatry: It is unloving or cowardly to leave our city in the dark about the death they bring and the wrath they store up. We help sinners by telling them that God has saved us from our sins, and that He can save them from theirs. We do not help them by hoping that they’ll somehow figure out on their own that they are sinners and that Jesus offers them salvation.

But Peter and John also loved this crippled man outside the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. When he asked Peter for money Peter didn’t disdainfully tell him to get a job, or uncomfortably look the other way. Godly love is bold enough to call sin sin, to proclaim the Good News to its neighbors, and to care for the overlooked or incapable. It is true enough and big enough to do things the world doesn’t believe should go together. After all, the world doesn’t understand how a judge can be a Father.

It is an incomplete Christian who will not take a stand, when given a chance, on sin and the only One who can wipe it away. And it is an incomplete Christian who will not ever lift a finger or open his wallet for those who have little or no way to help themselves.

Nursing homes, foster homes, mental disability facilities, middle schools, and drug treatment centers in our cities are filled with people who could use a Christian hand or our Christian sweat. And office buildings, construction sites, restaurants, and city halls in our cities are filled with people who desperately need to repent of their sins and believe in Jesus of Nazareth.

Peter demonstrates two ways a Jesus-follower can love his city in a truly Godly way, here. We should courageously warn sinners of the wages of their sins and the free Gospel offered to them, and we should reach a merciful hand out to those image bearers who can’t help themselves. Our cities may not know that both are loving, but those who are added to our number will be singing gratefully with us into eternity. And that’s more than enough.