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.

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. 

Wronger and Dumber than We Think

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In the book of Job, the God of the universe proves Himself right and everyone else in the book wrong.

Job has been given pain by God, even though he had an apparently Godly heart (certainly by the end he does) and did Godly things. So he complains about it.

Then his four friends give some on-the-surface-true counsel (“Sin causes pain, Job, and God is fair”) that is really just self-serving and arrogant (“Poor Job; that would never happen to me”).

And at the end of this thick, poetic dialogue filled with grief, disbelief, and Job’s friends’ pride, God speaks up and reminds them all that He made Earth, ostriches, snow, the balls of burning hydrogen we call “stars,” and the human heart. And that they didn’t.

“Get ready to answer me like a man; when I question you, you will inform Me. Where were you when I established the Earth? Tell me, if you have understanding?” 38:3-4

“Have you ever in your life commanded the morning or assigned the dawn its place?” 38:12

“Can you send out lightning bolts, and they go? Do they report to you: ‘Here we are?’ Who put wisdom in the heart or gave the mind understanding?” 38:35-36

The bad news is that we have no defense. We are sinful. We have rebelled. We complain when we shouldn’t and we are prideful without reason.

We treat ourselves and trust ourselves as gods, believing our own opinions or desires are worthwhile bibles to believe and follow.

Our father Adam and our mother Eve ate from a tree in disobedience, thinking they were smarter than Satan and smarter than God. They thought they knew better than God what would bring true joy and meaning.

And so no, we humans have no case. No defense. Our sins are real and our pride is awful. He is right and we are wrong.

“Would you really challenge my justice? Would you declare Me guilty to justify yourself?” 40:8

He is holy and good and right. We are rebellious and dumb and wicked.

We can pretend or claim we’re not, and that God is wrong in the Bible and in Christ, declaring Him guilty and justifying ourselves. We can walk around with terminal cancer claiming that the diagnosis was wrong and the doctor was just being melodramatic and a buzzkill. Or perhaps in a more appropriate metaphor, sit on death row and play our harmonicas and tell other inmates the judge was too harsh, and that our crimes weren’t really all that bad.

We can do that. We can impotently, meaninglessly try to justify ourselves.

Or…

We can freely have “God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe,” (from Romans 3).

We can pretend we’re not clueless and hopeless and dead in our sins and trespasses, or we can be justified for real by grace through faith, like the New Testament says.

Pretend and die, or repent and live.

Job made his choice, after hearing God from the whirlwind:

“Then Job replied to the Lord: I know that You can do anything and no plan of Yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this who conceals My counsel with ignorance?’ Surely I spoke about things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak. When I question you, you will inform Me.’ I had heard rumors about You, but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I take back my words and repent in dust and ashes.”

We’re rebelliously wrong, and He is wonderfully, gloriously right.

How Salvation is Hard

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What you’re being saved to is very painful, requires a death to self, will involve persecution, and will mean tremendous sacrifice.

Fact: The price for salvation was paid by Jesus Christ.

Fact: The joy of peace with God is far, far, impossibly greater than what you have to give up after being saved by God in Christ.

Fact: You have to give up a lot.

Now, we don’t give things up in order to get or earn salvation. Peace with God, being forgiven of our sins and made right with Him, is a gift.  Eternal life is not of ourselves, but by grace through faith.

So we don’t sacrifice and work to get salvation. We sacrifice and work and suffer because of salvation.

Why?

Well, we are willing to go through it because He is so much better. He is worth the pain. He is worth giving up the sins we wrongfully enjoy. And He is worth giving up a non-sinful thing we love, if and when the moment comes.

We love Him more.

And we must suffer and sacrifice, like Jesus said we would (He said they’d persecute the students as much as the Teacher, and that we’d have a cross to carry like Him) because we live in a world that resists and rebels against God. We live and work and drive around and pay taxes in a world that quite often loves what God hates and that despises (or at the very least is confused by) what God loves. It’s a world that crucified Jesus. A world that, as Jesus said, killed God’s message bearers, His prophets. A world that, as His New Testament tells us, hates the light because it’s evil deeds will be shown.

We have to suffer because we preach repentance to a world that doesn’t think it has anything to repent of and forgiveness to a world that doesn’t think it needs to be forgiven.

And certainly doesn’t enjoy forgiving.

We worship and live for God (a God who demands the whole heart) in a world that loves to worship TV and self and money and fame and security and celebrity and power. We serve a real and jealous God in a world that sells countless idols for next to nothing.

Paul was killed, probably beheaded, for the Faith.

Peter, too.

Stephen was stoned to death for preaching the Gospel.

James was killed by the sword for proclaiming Jesus.

John was exiled to a lonely island for Christ.

We love and worship and pray and serve and minister in hostile territory. We were given grace and a mission in a field that hasn’t yet been reaped. We are called to missionary sacrifice because there is conflict, and there is conflict because there is sin.

Someday the world will be smoothed over, and King Jesus will administer justice from a breathtakingly gorgeous new creation. But for now our saved souls and minds and bones have a chance to bring His grace to still-dead sinners.

There are still rough places that He will allow us to carry His Gospel and our crosses to, places He will use us to smooth.

Some of those places are even inside of us.

Some of the pain and friction of the saved, renewed person’s life are the pain and friction of being made holier. Of repenting of sins we still commit. Of being changed to look more and more like ours Savior. Some of the meaningful and painful struggles we endure as Christians are not simply for the sake of a still-lost world but also against a still-imperfect self.

There are sufferings coming, pains that He will let us endure for the lost and for our own benefit and for His Namesake. And there are rewards coming, wreaths He will let us earn by grace in our eternity with Him.

Someday every tear will be wiped away, but here in this life we still have a chance to shed meaningful ones.

Not in order to attain salvation, but because we have been changed by it.

We don’t carry our own crosses because His didn’t get the job done, but because since it did, we now want to be like Him:  loving, sacrificial, and all about the Father’s business.