Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
Without delving into the minutiae of my medical history, suffice it to say I’ve been through a lot. Consequently, I could not accomplish all I hoped and dreamed to do in life. If you were to ask others about my legacy, you might well hear expressions of admiration about how I deal with adversity. Had I the righteousness of Job and could imagine my plight the consequence of a conversation between God and the adversary, in which God allowed the latter to test me, then I might find a little bit of solace in the thought. Stripping away the complimentary aspect of those words, though, people are telling me I suffer well. Nevertheless, I suppose it permits me a small measure of wisdom, rooted in Scripture, I can share with others.
Jesus calls us to complete submission. As gracious as His invitation is (Matthew 11:28-30), it requires acceptance of a yoke. Though ours is not an agrarian society, we remain familiar with a yoke’s purpose. Yokes enable control over beasts of burden. Agriculturally-engaged animals experience harm, despite benevolent masters, only when fighting the guidance of said masters. (Consider Jesus’ words to Saul on the road to Damascus about kicking against the goads in Acts 9:5; 26:14.)
How many realize that with acceptance of a celestial yoke, one agrees to give up any pretense of control he had over his life? I am not referring to self-control, in which we govern our passions. We should discipline our bodies (1 Corinthians 9:27). Yet, we’ve been told it is hubris to make plans with disregard to Divine will (James 4:13-15). Hence, Robert Burns’ maxim: “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” There are too many factors beyond our purview to speak confidently of anything aside from that established in God’s word. Sadly, because of false confidence, it takes only tragedy to remind us of reality.
How then should we act? Obviously, we cannot be like the Thessalonians who seemingly gave up on life as they awaited the perceived imminent return of Christ. There are responsibilities that are ours alone. For example, a man must work to eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12). Outside of what is our concern alone, though, everything falls to the Will of God. Even the politics over which we too often become preoccupied is a matter of God’s will for the nations of the earth (Daniel 2:21; Acts 1:6-7; Romans 13:1). And what of life’s length? Barring our Lord’s return, we even have an upcoming appointment with death we cannot change (Hebrews 9:27). These truths drive home Solomon’s inspired observation:
“The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 NASB)
Thus, despite how glib it may sound, lesson one is: “Let go and let God.”
God’s people around our nation are praying for our brethren at the West Freeway church of Christ outside Fort Worth, Texas. Most congregations I know have long since devised church security solutions, including security cameras, personnel to watch at entrances, and procedures for handling potential threats. In likely every congregation, there are a number of individuals both with concealed and visible firearms. Though this is a politically divisive issue, the fact that a gunman disrupted the most sacred moment of worship makes this preeminently relevant. You likely feel very strongly about this matter, regardless of where you stand on it.
Whatever your position on the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution, did you know that the Bible commands us to be armed? Consider what the Holy Spirit through various writers has to say regarding something that transcends time and earth. Wherever we go, we must not be without these weapons for our spiritual warfare.
–“Be armed with the purpose of suffering” (1 Peter 4:1). This word means to take up arms. It is in the context of suffering righteously for Christ’s sake. In a world filled with people who are aimless, Christians have the ultimate purpose. In fulfilling that purpose, we will be opposed, threatened, and tempted to quit. Only by preparing ourselves for the Christ-life will we survive whoever or whatever attempts to destroy our faith.
–“Be armed with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left” (2 Cor. 6:7). Paul did not want Corinth to receive the grace of God in vain. That is, He wanted the sacrifice of Jesus and the hope of heaven to benefit these Christians. Part of that required them to live lives which didn’t discredit their ministry (3) and commended themselves as servants of God (4). One of several ways they could do that was by being armed with the weapons of righteousness. What are these? Well, Paul will address that in 2 Corinthians 10:1ff as well as in his writing to the church at Ephesus (6:10ff). In simplest terms, righteousness itself is a powerful weapon. We are made right (5:21) to do right (6:7). In a world of darkness, light stands out. In a world going wrong, doing right and being right is powerful!
–“Be armed with divinely powerful weapons for the destruction of fortresses … against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Paul contrasts the flesh and spirit, identifying this as the ultimate battlefield. How do you win against such frightening foes and forces? Arm yourself with the only weapon that is divine and destructive. What it destroys is what stands against God. Don’t think fleshly (or bodily). This goes beyond that.
I fear that the gun rights-gun control debate will rage on in the culture of politics and the politics of culture. But, do not be distracted! There is an eternal war going on which requires every one of us to be equipped. Do not dare be unarmed for that fight!
Problems aren’t inherently negative. Will you remember that? The middle-aged man with the persistent pain goes to the doctor, who discovers the malignant mass and gets him to the surgeon. The man’s life is saved by pain. The teenage Christian girl who endures the hurt of breaking up with the boy who is ungodly but who she loves feels pain. Eventually, though, as she raises her four children and enjoys marriage with a strong Christian man, she thanks God for that former pain. Illustrations of this point are endless.
How do you view your pain? By human nature, we tend to view suffering as the very worst thing that could happen to us. The anxiety of the medical test, the chronic disease that impacts every portion of our day and life, the permanent loss of a loved one through whatever events, or a rift in the family all can seem unbearable.
Will you remember that, as with the physical body and the emotional makeup, pain in our spiritual lives can have a positive benefit? We can learn from the painful thing. Pain can cause us to grow. Pain can serve as a spiritual refinery. After all, problems aren’t inherently negative. It is how we respond to the problems that makes all the difference. If we give up due to the problems we face, it’s devastating. If we sin in response to our pain, we fail and inflict damage on ourselves and others. If we blame God, we are in danger of allowing our pain to conquer us.
Despite those possibilities, though, none of these things have to occur. The encouraging thing is that how we respond to our problems is fully under our own control. We can be the example, in our suffering, that leads a lost soul to Christ or an erring Christian back home. We can be the role models others remember when they go down the road of trouble. We can bring glory to God by faithfully enduring such things.
Problems aren’t inherently negative! Thank God for this.
“Three babies are crying across the auditorium… Somebody dropped a songbook… Everybody has a cough today… Oh, good… brother So ‘N So sure prayers nice prayers… My big toe sure is bother me… I think I forgot to write out the check for the giving again… Better do… Wow! Are we done already?”
That scenario probably happens in many a mind more frequently than we care to admit. The greatest memorial of all time can also provide one of the greatest mountains to climb– concentration and distraction. The Lord’s Supper is a congregational activity, but it is participated in by individuals. What does it take to maintain concentration on the significance of this feast?
Examination. See 1 Corinthians 11:28. We should examine our state of mind, taking care to dwell on Christ’s suffering sacrifice, His triumphant resurrection, our debt to Him, the depth of heaven’s love shown in this sacrifice, and the joyful hope we have through His act. We should examine our lives and see where we can live better and eliminate sin–checking our motives, morals, and mindset. Self-examination should mark this time.
Forgetting. We should forget the daily, mundane affairs of life. We are focusing on something of much greater and eternal significance. Other things should be shut out of the mind. This is the Lord’s time.
Fellowship. We take the Supper with every other saint present. This is a special moment of fellowship (Acts 2:42). In a sense, we are also taking it with all our brothers and sisters throughout the world. The communion provides a bond of fellowship that has special meaning and ties together all baptized believers in fellowship with Christ.
One. We commemorate the Lord in the one body according to the instructions of the one Spirit with the one hope that Christ’s atonement saves us and gives us access to the Father. We honor that one Lord and follow the one faith in obedience to the will of the one God. the Supper unites us with God as well as each other (Eph. 4:4-6).
Remembrance. The Lord’s Supper is a time to reflect on the cross with its manifold significance. Until He comes again, the Lord’s Supper is an appointed, weekly, and mental trip back to His death (1 Cor. 11:26). One remembers, with the help of the gospel writers, the body wounded on the tree and the saving blood flowing from the body of God in the flesh.
Thanksgiving. The Lord’s Supper is a time for deep appreciation and gratitude. Because He suffered, we can have peace. Because He died, we can have eternal life. Because He arose, we can rise from sin to newness of life.
Paul had to remind Corinth that the Lord’s Supper was not just another meal (1 Cor. 11:20-34). Modern Christians, too, need always to keep that fact in mind when we lose focus and concentration or forget why we’re partaking. What we need, despite the distractions, is EFFORT! May the Lord’s Supper never grow old for any of us!
This statement in Psalm 104:10 is spoken literally of God’s physical provision for His creatures. But, have you ever thought about how that is true for you and me when we find ourselves in the valleys of life? In between the mountaintops of successes and happy days, we can find ourselves seemingly down in the valley of the shadow of death (cf. 23:4). I am so thankful that in those moments that might seem dry and thirsty, God sends forth springs in the valleys of life. Whatever creates the valley for us, it can seem like a deep place hard to climb out of. How does God send forth spiritual and emotional springs for us, even in the valleys of life?
Many years ago, I heard Franklin Camp talk about the valleys of his life and how he overcame. His young daughter accidentally burned to death in a brush fire. He faced other huge losses in life, but brother Camp through it all was a man who had his eyes fixed on the ultimate mountaintop experience. In the valleys of life, let us look for the springs God sends. They will refresh, renew, and relieve us until our journey is complete.
Springtime in the plains is a notorious time for storms. I was driving through northwest Texas near the time when three storm chasers were killed southwest of me on Tuesday afternoon. They died pursuing the storm, not directly because of it. They were there because conditions were ripe for tornadoes. 17 people were killed by tornadoes in 2016, but 24 have already died in them this year. Hollywood has captured our awe and fascination with them since The Wizard Of Oz. We view storms as mysterious, ominous, powerful, and frightening. They come in so many forms—hurricanes, floods, blizzards, cyclones, and more. But “storms” are synonymous with fear and sorrow.
Wouldn’t you classify some of the major, traumatic events of your life as storms. They build and threaten, they strike, then they leave aftermath. The storm may take but a moment, but recovery can take days, months, or even years. Not surprisingly, the Bible uses the storm metaphorically to describe such moments in our lives. David wrote, “I would hasten to my place of refuge from the stormy wind and tempest” (Psa. 55:8). The man we most associate with such figurative storms, Job, laments, “You lift up the wind and cause me to ride; And you dissolve me in a storm” (30:22). Most frequently, the Bible uses storms representatively to describe God’s judgment. But, as Job and David show, sometimes storms strike the innocent and undeserving.
What do we do when facing a storm? We heed precautions. We take shelter. We wait and endure. We ask for and trust God’s protection.
The world is full of people riding out storms today. That includes Christians. These storms are assaulting their bodies, bank accounts, relationships, spiritual strength, and spirits. Some feel safely sheltered, while others feel as if they are barely holding on. How do we face our storms?
* Seek help from others (Heb. 12:12-13; Ecc. 4:9-10).
* Search for possible benefits from it (Psa. 66:10; Rev. 21:3-4; Js. 1:2-4; etc.).
* See God’s power to help in it (Psa. 18:19; Rom. 8:28-38; 2 Pet. 2:9a).
* Shelter in the place of safety (Exo. 33:22; Psa. 91:1; Mat. 7:24-27).
God doesn’t cause evil or sin, but He allows it. We will always struggle with the “why” of this. But, we can grow our dependence on our great, perfect God when we are being battered. He is faithful. He wants to help. Lean on Him through your storms!
Have you ever had a problem or struggle that started out small but kept growing until it was larger than life? Did it come to consume your thoughts, keep you up at night, and become an overwhelming obsession? Maybe you devoted a lot of emotion to it.
Just by virtue of living on this earth, we will struggle (Job 14:1-2). Job knew struggle and turmoil! He lost one thing after another. His life seemed to unravel before his eyes. Teddy Roosevelt is credited with saying, “When you are at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.” Have you ever found yourself struggling at the end of your rope of faith? You are certainly far from alone in that. We certainly see Job dangling there, asking, “Why was I ever born?” (3:11) and “Why can’t I go ahead and die?” (3:20-22). David was there (Psa. 22:1). So was Jeremiah (ch. 37-38).
Of course, trouble takes on many forms and comes from many directions. Any number of passages can help us cope with the struggle of trouble, but consider Psalm 10. It refers to the wicked seven times and to the afflicted four times. It also speaks synonymously of the wicked as the greedy (13), evildoer (15), and those of the earth (18). It speaks of the afflicted as the unfortunate (8,10,14), humble (14), the orphan and oppressed (14,18). We know that our trouble can come from the wicked, but it can also come from no one source we can identify though it hurts just the same. Consider this Psalm about our troubles and what we can do about them.
Our perception in times of trouble (1-11). Our vision can become blurry by tears or rage, but our point of view is altered when trouble comes. The psalmist goes through this. He sees God as being distant (1). He saw the wicked as being in control or prospering (2-11). God seemed far away and life seemed unfair. The majority of every generation is wicked, and each generation of God’s faithful must reconcile the seeming success of the wicked and oppression of the affilicted righteous. We don’t begrudge the psalmist for his struggle to see through spiritual eyes. We can relate.
Our prayers in times of trouble (12-15). The psalmist admits his own struggle, then he shows us how to overcome it. His first response is to pray. He asks God to deliver (12). He asks God to remember (12-14). Finally, he asks God to vindicate (15).
Our praise in times of trouble (16). Before the prayer he’s perplexed and indignant. Afterward, he has insight, peace, and greater confidence. He springs from his knees with new perspective. Doesn’t prayer do that for us? The psalmist acknowledges God’s nature—“Lord” (Jehovah, five times in the Psalm), position—“King”, and duration—“forever and ever.” Do we spend more time focusing on the source of our troubles than on the solution?
Our proper perspective in times of trouble (17-18). The psalmist is confident at the end of this psalm, saying, “you have heard” and “you will strengthen and listen.” Do you approach God that confident in His ability and desire to do what is best? We can be as confident as he is that God hears and helps when we hurt.
What is the greatest trouble we can face in this life? A disfiguring accident? Financial ruin? Loss of a parent, spouse, or child? The deterioration of health? The fall of our nation? Through Christ, none of these are too difficult to overcome. This Psalm reminds me that God still cares and He won’t abandon me. You and I can look at the cross and the church and be reassured of that. We know we can trust God (Rom. 8:28). God is able and willing to help us through every trouble.
She was born the year after the Civil War. Her mother died when she was three. Her father dropped her and her newborn sister off at the home of the widow of an army friend. Unable to care for the girls, the widow ultimately transferred care to a sweet, religious couple in the community. The girls spent happy years through their school days, but the older sister came to suffer from rheumatoid arthritis as a teenager. It steadily grew worse until she could not walk. Their adopted parents died within months of each other, and the young women were poor and had little prospect of earning money for themselves. Before her affliction, she had developed aspirations as a concert pianist and shown great promise as a poet and writer. Arthritis robbed her on the musical dreams, but she flourished as a poet and hymn writer. Rather than seek relief from her pain through suicide, she channeled her suffering into beautiful writing that continues to comfort others as it did in her lifetime. Ravi Zacharias summarized her suffering, saying, “Her body was embarrassed by incontinence, weakened by cancer, and twisted and deformed by rheumatoid arthritis. She was incapacitated for so long that according to one eyewitness she needed seven or eight pillows around her body just to cushion the raw sores she suffered from being bedridden” (“The Cry For A Reason In Suffering,” np; other information from The Story of Annie Johnson Flint, Rowland Bingham). Her poetry and songs are not riddled with bitterness or even soul-wrenching questions of why. You’ll find titles like “The Grace Of God,” “Not Down, But Through,” “Rest, Tired Heart,” “Grace Sufficient,” “He Giveth More Grace,” “He’s Helping Me Now,” and on the hopeful, positive compositions flow.
We have only one of her hymns in our song book, and it is entitled, “The World’s Bible.” These familiar words include the lines, “Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today, He has no feet but our feet to lead men in the way….” I appreciate the living testimony Ms. Flint was of the way one who believes in Christ ought to respond to the tragedies and difficulties that can strike in this fallen world. I pray that I will never be wracked by such suffering, but if I do I would want the world to see the spirit in me that so many saw in her. Her life was one of trust in God’s sufficiency and strength through the darkest moments of life.
Our state (Colorado) was one of a few that has passed physician-assisted, right to die legislation in the recent election cycle. Besides the ethical slippery slope of people, even doctors and patients, selecting when to end life, there is in such an effort a failure to see the intrinsic value of life as well as God’s sovereign right over His creation. Ms. Flint’s situation makes us cringe in discomfort at first blush, but we see the refined beauty of a trusting heart to impart profound comfort despite life’s harshest turns. To persecuted Christians, Peter offers this hope for all strugglers when he writes, “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (1 Pet. 5:10; cf. 1 Pet. 1:6-7). Whatever the trial, we can choose life instead of death, trust in God rather than trust in our own thoughts. Let us live in triumphant expectation, no matter what we may have to endure for the moment (Rom. 8:38-39; Psa. 30:5).
Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10). He is the author of audacity, and he showed it first in Eden. He is at work today through temptation and suffering to try and dismantle our faith. He is a presence in our personal lives (1 Pet. 5:8). If there’s hurt, he’s happy. If there’s sin, he’s satisfied. He can’t force anyone to sin (Js. 1:13-15). He can’t make us fall away (John 10:28-29). But, he’s at work. Paul writes about something that has long mystified the Bible student, in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. In that passage, we have:
Paul reveals Satan’s involvement in that thorn. This troubles me. I have never asked for a thorn in the flesh and I have no reason to think Paul asked for his, but he got one anyway. What do you do when you have a thorn in the flesh? Consider at least three things Paul teaches us in this powerful passage.
No one is immune from thorns. Who’s talking in this text? The great apostle Paul, a man God gave revelations, who’s preaching across the world, converting so many, and achieving name recognition for the best of reasons. If you ever thought anybody would be sheltered for doing right, it would be him. But Paul says there was given to him a thorn in the flesh. That makes me uncomfortable. I need spiritual lessons about God and myself, as Paul and even Job, who Satan was allowed to buffet, did. If a great Old Testament patriarch and great New Testament preacher had thorns to deal with, I know I am not immune.
Sometimes, God lets the thorn stay. We may have to accept that our given affliction may never come to an end as long as we’re on this earth. A recurring or chronic illness, constant adversary, or irreversible limitation may not be removed. I wish I knew why God told Paul “no” and why he sometimes tells us “no” when we ask for our thorns to be removed. But, even if we keep the thorn, God’s grace is sufficient and He can use that very thing to accomplish good through us for the Kingdom. God uses thorns to supply us with humility and grace. If our thorn comes and stays rather than comes and goes, God will use it for our good and to accomplish good if we will properly view it.
Thorns are growth opportunities. If we remain faithful to God through our thorns, we will spiritually grow. Satan is rebuffed and defeated, as he was with Paul and Job. But, for every Paul and Job, how many have let affliction and adversity destroy their faith? We know God’s power eclipses Satan’s. But don’t underestimate this enemy (2 Cor. 2:11; 11:14; 12:7). One of Paul’s final points in the letter is about God’s great power (13:4). Paul was weakened by affliction, but he could endure because of faith. God is more powerful than Satan and Paul’s thorn is but one proof of it. Lyte wrote,
As woods, when shaken by the breeze, take deeper, firmer root,
As winter’s frosts but make the trees abound in summer fruit;
So every Heaven-sent pang and throe that Christian firmness tries,
But nerves us for our work below, and forms us for the skies.
Is it a trial or a blessing in disguise? Doesn’t it depend on how we view it and what we do with it? Satan wants to use afflictions to destroy us, but God is greater. He can transform our tragedies into triumphs. Trust Him through the thorns. The roses will appear!