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Bless-ed! 52 Blessings You Have As a Believer! (Blessing #4)

Blessing #4: The Blessing of a Proper View of Suffering

“The believer in God must explain one thing, the existence of suffering; the nonbeliever, however, must explain the existence of everything else.” (Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin, The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism)

I thank the Lord for my friend Mike. He does not know the Lord — yet — as his Savior, but God is using him to remind me of the many blessings which I have “in Christ.” This study is multi-faceted and is helping me enormously in taking stock of what I have as a follower of Jesus. And I purpose to not simply coast through my Christian life, oblivious to the many gifts which being in God’s family has given me.

The next “blessing” we want to consider might seem odd, but it is a really critical one. This is a broken world; we are broken as people; terrible tragedies and catastrophes happen on this planet (and to us) under the watchful eye of a sovereign God. How are we to understand pain and tragedy? Thankfully, as believers in Christ —

4. WE POSSESS A PROPER VIEW OF SUFFERING!

THE BLESSING The Bible does not sugar-coat this world’s fallenness with all its effects of “natural disasters” (earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, etc.) and man-made evil (crime, betrayal, anger, revenge, injustice, prejudice, greed, etc.). But how are we to understand this world’s suffering in light of the Bible’s picture of a God of love?

Scholars refer to this effort at understanding evil as a theodicy (a defense of God’s justice in the face of evil’s reality). Some religious systems deny the reality of evil (the cult Christian Science is an example), compromise God’s omnipotence or omniscience (Rabbi Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People is an example of the former; Greg Boyd’s open theism an example of the latter), or resign themselves to a kind of deterministic fatalism about evil (Islam is an example of this approach).

THE BIBLE The Bible provides the very best theodicy, for it affirms the real existence of evil and suffering while setting forth the goodness and justice of the biblical God. And God’s Word does not hesitate to show us godly people who had wrong views about suffering. One thinks of Job and his friends who were sure either Job had sinned greatly (and deserved what he was getting) or God was unfairly making Job His target (and needed to be sued in court for His [God’s] mistake). Even Jesus’ disciples cut to the chase theologically and thought the man-born-blind’s condition was because of sin (either his or his parents). Jesus corrects them by saying that “this happened so that the works of God would be displayed in his life” (John 9:3).

As God-manifest-in-the-flesh, Jesus allows death to take his friend Lazarus even though He had the power to keep him from dying (John 11). I’ve worked on this passage and entitled it “Friends Don’t Let Friends . . . Die!” But Jesus did.

One classic passage on the issue of evil and suffering is Luke 13 where we read —
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

This brief theodicy by the Lord Jesus covers two areas of suffering and evil in our world. Notice the victims of a vicious crime in verses 1-3. Notice also the victims of a violent accident in verses 4-5.  Neither the sin of the Galileans nor the guilt of those killed by the falling tower were the cause of their catastrophe. One man’s depravity (Pilate’s) and one tower’s gravity illustrate a basic fact: life is dangerous! Make sure you are right with God!

ACTION STEPS 1. A bit of homework: There is much more in God’s Word that prepares us for suffering. See such texts as: 2 Corinthians 1:5-7; Phil. 1:29; 3:10; Col. 1:24; I Thes. 1:6; 2 Thes. 1:5; 2 Tim. 1:8; 2:3; Heb. 2:18; 10:34; James 5:10; all of I Peter; Rev. 1:9; 2:10. Take some notes on these passages this week.
2. Interview a believing friend this week who is going through severe suffering (cancer, loss of a loved one, marital unfaithfulness). Ask them carefully what God is teaching them in their trial. Then offer to pray with them.
3. Read the excellent book by Chris Tiegreen entitled Why a Suffering World Makes Sense. Perhaps offer a small group study of the book in your church.
PRAYER 4. Pray for yourself to live a life of faith even in the midst of trials and pain. And ask the Holy Spirit to use whatever challenge comes in your friend’s life that he might see his need of getting right with the Lord.

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2022 in blessings

 

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Bless-ed! 52 Blessings Your Lost Friend Doesn’t Have . . . And What You Can Do About It! (Part 23)

I thank the Lord for my friend Mike. He does not know the Lord — yet — as his Savior, but God is using him to remind me of the many blessings which I have “in Christ.” This study is multi-faceted and is helping me enormously in taking stock of what I have as a follower of Jesus. And I purpose to not simply coast through my Christian life, oblivious to the many gifts which being in God’s family has given me.

Our next “blessing” might seem odd, but it is a really critical one. This is a broken world; we are broken as people; terrible tragedies and catastrophes happen on this planet (and to us) under the watchful eye of a sovereign God. How are we to understand pain and tragedy? Sadly, my unsaved friends —

23. THEY DON’T POSSESS A PROPER VIEW OF SUFFERING!

The Bible does not sugar-coat this world’s fallenness with all its effects of “natural disasters” (earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, etc.) and man-made evil (crime, betrayal, anger, revenge, injustice, prejudice, greed, etc.). But how are we to understand this world’s suffering in light of the Bible’s picture of a God of love?

Scholars refer to this effort at understanding evil as a theodicy (a defense of God’s justice in the face of evil’s reality). Some religious systems deny the reality of evil (the cult Christian Science is an example), compromise God’s omnipotence or omniscience (Rabbi Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People is an example of the former; Greg Boyd’s open theism an example of the latter), or resign themselves to a kind of deterministic fatalism about evil (Islam is an example of this approach).

The Bible provides the very best theodicy, for it affirms the real existence of evil and suffering while setting forth the goodness and justice of the biblical God. And God’s Word does not hesitate to show us godly people who had wrong views about suffering. One thinks of Job and his friends who were sure either Job had sinned greatly (and deserved what he was getting) or God was unfairly making Job His target (and needed to be sued in court for His [God’s] mistake). Even Jesus’ disciples cut to the chase theologically and thought the man-born-blind’s condition was because of sin (either his or his parents). Jesus corrects them by saying that “this happened so that the works of God would be displayed in his life” (John 9:3).

As God-manifest-in-the-flesh, Jesus allows death to take his friend Lazarus even though He had the power to keep him from dying (John 11). I’ve worked on this passage and entitled it “Friends Don’t Let Friends . . . Die!” But Jesus did.

One classic passage on the issue of suffering is Luke 13 where we read —

This brief theodicy by the Lord Jesus covers two areas of suffering and evil in our world. Notice the victims of a vicious crime in verses 1-3. Notice also the victims of a violent accident in verses 4-5.  Neither the sin of the Galileans nor the guilt of those killed by the falling tower were the cause of their catastrophe. An evil man (Pilate) and the effects of gravity (the tower) illustrate one basic fact: life is dangerous! Make sure you are right with God!

There is much more in God’s Word that prepares us for suffering. See such texts as: 2 Corinthians 1:5-7; Phil. 1:29; 3:10; Col. 1:24; I Thes. 1:6; 2 Thes. 1:5; 2 Tim. 1:8; 2:3; Heb. 2:18; 10:34; James 5:10; all of I Peter; Rev. 1:9; 2:10; etc. We can fight suffering and evil without fighting God. As salt and light in our culture we stand up for what is right and oppose what is wrong. But, contrary to the devilish perspective of prosperity theology, we are not guaranteed a life with no suffering or deprivation.

So, how do I pray for my unsaved friend? I model for him a life of faith even in the midst of trials and pain. And I ask the Holy Spirit to use whatever challenge comes in his life that he might see his need of getting right with the Lord. (to be continued)

 

 

 
 

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Got a High Priest? 
(A Look at Hebrews 4:14-16) Part 3

My friends and I have been reading through the book of Hebrews. This week we’re reading Hebrews 4 together. I describe our Bible-reading covenant here and recommend that you consider doing the same with a few of your friends!

As we continue our discussion of the Lord Jesus as our great High Priest, we read the following in Hebrews 4 —

We’ve seen in our first two posts that: (1) Jesus is our “great” high priest — and we need to focus on Him! (2) That He has ascended into heaven (v. 14) and is at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us! (3) That His role as our high priest should motivate us to “hold firmly to the faith we profess” (v. 14). (4) and that we must notice what we don’t have! We don’t have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses!

Let’s make two other observations from our text. (5) We see that our great high priest has been tempted in every way like we are — yet without sin (v. 15)! Temptation is not sin. If you need a really good book on temptation and sin, well . . . I tried to write a good one a few years ago entitled When Temptation Strikes! (And I’ll send you a free copy if you ask me).

Our sixth observation is — (6) We have every reason to approach God’s throne of grace with confidence (v. 16)! How can that be? We are sinners who are tempted, who need to be told to “hold firmly” to the faith, who often fail. But His throne is a “throne of grace” — and that’s what I need.

Today’s Challenge: Do you ever find yourself thinking, “Jesus just wouldn’t understand what I’m going through right now!”? Well, with all the pastoral kindness I can muster, REPENT of that thought! And thank God for your great high priest who has been tempted in every way that you are tempted. And stands ready to help you with the grace that only He can provide!

 

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2021 in Hebrews 4

 

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Got a High Priest? 
(A Look at Hebrews 4:14-16) Part 2

My friends and I have been reading through the book of Hebrews. This week we’re reading Hebrews 4 together. I describe our Bible-reading covenant here and recommend that you consider doing the same with a few of your friends!

Let’s continue our discussion of the Lord Jesus as our great High Priest! Here’s what we read in Hebrews 4 —

We’ve made two observations in our first post: (1) Jesus is our “great” high priest — and we need to focus on Him! (2) The second observation is that He has ascended into heaven (v. 14). We have an ascended High Priest who is at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us!

Let’s notice this morning —

(3) His role as our high priest should motivate us to “hold firmly to the faith we profess” (v. 14). By “the faith” the writer to the Hebrews means the total content of the Christian faith. And we are to “hold firmly” to that. Two people that I love have chosen to abandon their spouses and have (even though they don’t think so) abandoned the Christian faith. Really. They’ve turned away from God’s teaching about marriage and faithfulness and suffering. And they think they are still in God’s will. Whenever you or I choose our own way instead of God’s, we are doing the same! We are to “hold firmly” to this faith we profess!

(4) Observation #4 is that we must notice what we don’t have! We don’t have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses! That’s a lot of negatives, isn’t it? In other words, our great high priest can sympathize, can empathize with our temptations and weaknesses and struggles. We dare not think otherwise.

Today’s Challenge: Are you holding firmly to the faith you profess? How can you tell? And are you grateful for your high priest who is with you in your challenges and trials? Praise Him this morning for Who He is.

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2021 in Hebrews 4

 

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IF THE GOSPEL REALLY IS TRUE . . . We Have a HOPE! (Part 8 Final)

I don’t agree with Karl Barth on much, but his question — “Is it true? Is the Christian faith true?” is essential to biblical Christianity. We’ve seen that certain conclusions follow IF Christianity is true. For example, we have a message for the world which is both good news and bad news. Second, we have every reason to challenge other worldviews and religions as to their response to the gospel. Third, if the gospel is true, we have a complete justification to make the Bible our absolute guidebook for life. Fourth, we agreed that we desperately need the people of God, the church. Our fifth conclusion was that we can honestly face the suffering in the world without becoming cynical or callous. We have a theodicy which helps us understand evil and suffering.

Let’s look at a sixth — and final — conclusion and it is this —

IF THE GOSPEL IS TRUE, THEN . . .

We can be biblically hopeful about the future because our God is sovereign. Someone has posted the following on Facebook —

I think that’s a terrific way of thinking about the Christian life! Despite life’s challenges, the follower of Jesus is, in a sense, neither a pessimist nor an optimist. He or she is a realist who is eternally grateful that his cup “runneth over”!
%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%We have an eternal hope that God will wrap up history, exercise righteous judgment, reward the godly, forever separate the ungodly from His kingdom, and will usher us into an eternity of worshiping and serving our blessed Savior! There is no greater hope, is there?

What might be some characteristics of one who is biblically hopeful? Several occur to me: (1) We will not overestimate man’s abilities to solve his own problems. We will care about our world and cooperate to alleviate man’s suffering, but will recognize that only the Lord can meet a person’s deepest needs;
(2) We will cling tightly to the truths of Scripture and allow its worldview to be our worldview. This means identifying and rejecting the “wisdom of the world” and being determined to stand with God’s people, even when they are suffering;
(3) We will affirm with the Apostle Paul that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Cor. 4:17) What’s the “them” in that text? Logically, the “them” refers to our troubles, our outwardly “wasting away” (v. 16)

Today’s Challenge: Do a bit of a word study of the term “hope” in the Scriptures. What are several truths you can share with those who read this blog?


 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2021 in gospel

 

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IF THE GOSPEL REALLY IS TRUE . . . We Have JOY! (Part 7)

I don’t agree with Karl Barth on much, but his question — “Is it true? Is the Christian faith true?” is essential to biblical Christianity. We’ve seen that certain conclusions follow IF Christianity is true, for example, we have a message for the world which is both good news and bad news. Second, we have every reason to challenge other worldviews and religions as to their response to the gospel. Third, if the gospel is true, we have a complete justification to make the Bible our absolute guidebook for life. Fourth, we agreed that we desperately need the people of God, the church. Our fifth conclusion was that we can honestly face the suffering in the world without becoming cynical or callous. We have a theodicy which helps us understand evil and suffering.

Let’s look at a sixth conclusion and it is this —

IF THE GOSPEL IS TRUE, THEN . . .

We can be supernaturally joyful despite the challenges of this fallen universe. I love the statement by the preacher who said that Christians owe it to the world to be supernaturally JOYFUL! Yes, we do! And we owe it to the Lord of joy! The epistle of Philippians emphasizes the issue of JOY in spite of suffering.

2 Corinthians 4:17 says, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” Your present troubles may not see “light” and “momentary,” but they are compared to what our Savior suffered on our behalf. We are to be “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

The follower of Jesus recognizes the tragedy of sin, the effects of the cosmic fall, the sadness of unbelief, but he or she must keep in mind what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 14 — “for the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (Romans 14:17)

Today’s Challenge: Would you describe yourself as full of joy in the Holy Spirit? If not, why not? What are some joy-killers that can drag down the believer and keep him or her from saying “Whoopee!”?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2021 in gospel

 

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IF THE GOSPEL REALLY IS TRUE . . . We Have a THEODICY! (Part 6)

This profound question raised by Karl Barth is fundamental to biblical Christianity. Certain conclusions follow IF Christianity is true, such as we have a message for the world which is both good news and bad news. We’ve also seen that we have every reason to challenge other worldviews and religions as to their response to the gospel. If the gospel is true, we have a complete justification to make the Bible our absolute guidebook for life. We looked at a fourth conclusion which was we desperately need the people of God, the church.

Let’s look at a fifth conclusion and it is this —

IF THE GOSPEL IS TRUE, THEN . . .

We can honestly face the suffering in the world without becoming cynical or callous. Biblical Christianity affirms the reality of suffering. But it also affirms the truth of the goodness of God. Putting those two truths together — which many worldviews deny — is called a theodicy (a defense of God’s justice in the face of evil’s reality).

The “thorns” in our world come in many different varieties. There are self-inflicted thorns; pains produced by others; brokenness inherent in our fallen world. Some thorns are given directly by God (one thinks of 2 Corinthians 12 and Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”); others sovereignly allowed by Him.

Biblical Christianity provides the best theodicy for it acknowledges that this world is fallen (it is not what God intended it to be), mankind is in rebellion against God, and a Savior has been provided for those who turn to Him in faith. He solves the problem of personal evil and suffering and one day will deal with the issue of cosmic brokenness.

In his very helpful book Why a Suffering World Makes Sense, Chris Tiegreen makes the following points:
(1)  He writes: “I will never understand those who believe that spiritual problems can be solved with social programs, that peace can be achieved by treaties, that prejudices can be eliminated by discussion, that rebellious youth can be corrected with heavy doses of esteem and understanding, that scars can be healed through therapy, that wrongs can be righted by litigation, and that diseases can be eliminated by research. Evil is woven into the fabric of humanity, and it’s obvious.”
(2) Philosophically, “I both know that philosophers and theologians have found the existence of evil plus the existence of God more than a little troubling. They have also found the existence of evil plus the theoretical nonexistence of God utterly depressing.”
(3) “The Bible teaches that God is sovereign and that he is love, in spite of clear evidence of rampant evil and excruciating suffering in this world.”

Today’s Challenge: There so much that is helpful in Tiegreen’s book that I’ll do the following: For any of you who reads his book, I will send you one of mine free. You can choose from DocTALK, DocWALK, When Temptation Strikes, Unlike Jesus: Let’s Stop Unfriending the World, and even The Other Side of the Good News! Deal?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2021 in gospel

 

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A Great Video . . . on Compassion!

 
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Posted by on June 8, 2021 in compassion

 

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Ruminating on ROMANS! (Some Thoughts on Paul’s Great Epistle) #39 “Critical Imperatives for the Christ-Follower” (A Study of Romans 12) Part 11

Many of you know that my New Jersey friend Frank and I are reading through God’s Word together (described here). We’re now in the book of Romans and are reading chapter 12 each day this week.I count 24 injunctions or commands or imperatives for the believer here in Romans 12. I’m aware that the expression “critical imperative” is redundant, but I think it’s useful for what we see here in this great chapter. Let’s continue our multipart study by looking at verse 12.

We’ve seen that the believer is to offer his body as a living sacrifice, not to conform to the pattern of this world, to be transformed by the renewing of his mind, to think of himself with sober judgment, to use his gifts to build up the body of Christ, to hate as God hates, to be devoted to the body in love, to honor one another beyond yourselves, to keep one’s spiritual fervor, and to be joyful in hope! Whew!

The eleventh critical imperative is —11. Believers are to BE PATIENT IN AFFLICTION (v. 12)!

Ok. Truth time. I don’t care for affliction. Whether it is criticism (deserved or undeserved), athlete’s foot, heart surgery, or a devastating loss in tennis — I don’t really like affliction. None of us do. But we are guaranteed suffering in this world. [For a discussion of our poor theology of suffering, take a look at our post found here.]

Here our critical imperative is to be patient in affliction. Why “patient”? Because I (and, I presume, you) want suffering and affliction O-V-E-R! We want to move on to a state of non-affliction! Right now. And it may be that Paul has in mind affliction over which we have no control. We can’t stop it or avoid it or somehow ignore it. So, we have the option of being patient IN it. And that’s a great reason to drop to our knees and . . . pray (which will be our next critical imperative).

Today’s Challenge: How would you fill in the following blank? “Right now, in my life, I am going through the following affliction: _____________________. And I can’t stop it or avoid it or ignore it. BUT, I can, by God’s grace, be PATIENT in it.

 

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2021 in Romans 12

 

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Ruminating on ROMANS! (Some Thoughts on Paul’s Great Epistle) #18 “Eight Blessings of Belief” (A Study of Romans 5:1-5) Blessing #5c

Many of you know that my New Jersey friend Frank and I are reading through God’s Word together (described here). We’re now in the book of Romans and are reading chapter 5 each day this week. Here is something that I noticed in reading this chapter:

Here are the eight blessings that I see in this passage:

1. Justified through faith (v. 1)

2. Peace with God

3. Gained access into this grace (v. 2)

4. Boasting in the hope of the glory of God

5. Glory in our sufferings (vv. 3-4)

6. A hope that does not put us to shame (v. 5)

7. God’s love poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit

8. The Holy Spirit has been given to us

We will think about each of these blessings — one by one — in subsequent posts. Let’s continue to think about the fifth blessing: WE CAN NOW GLORY IN OUR SUFFERINGS (vv. 3-4)!

In the West we suffer from a poor theology of . . . suffering! We do. We need to get back to the Scriptures and recover a biblical glorying in our suffering!

We listed several clear, biblical statements about the believer’s suffering in our last post. But how do we GLORY in our suffering?

Here in Romans 5 Paul explains a bit more what glorying in our suffering involves. He writes, “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Suffering is productive! It is not wasted. There are results that can come about, presumably only by suffering. Want to persevere more? You need to do some suffering! Want to have your character built to be more like Christ? You’re going to have to go through some suffering! Want to have some biblical, not worldly, hope? Apparently that kind of hope can only come through suffering!

Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t believe Paul is saying that we pursue suffering or that we take a psychologically-twisted joy in suffering. No! But suffering is inevitable as a believer. And the real question is — What will you and I make of our suffering?

May I ask you — how are you suffering right now? The death of a loved one? A struggle at work? Covid-fatigue? Financial challenges? Use your suffering to become more like Christ! And glory in that!

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2021 in Romans 5

 

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