The Purpose of Trials

A friend and I have been chatting for a while this morning about the purpose of trials and suffering.  We were led in our discussion to James 1:2-4. God really used this passage to encourage me and prepare my heart once again for the trials and suffering that he has in store for me.  When we are in between sufferings, God gives us conversations like these to build our hearts and get us ready before the fire actually comes, so, for this I am thankful.  I wanted so share some of our reflections and write them to seal it in my own heart and mind.

James says that trials are a testing, a tempering, for the purpose of producing steadfastness.  KJV says that testing produces patience, while the NIV and NASB say, “perseverance” and “endurance,” respectively.  It’s cool what each of these words conjures up in my imagination.  Steadfast makes me think of those old Scottish castles in the highlands.  They have endured through storms, battles, time, and human activity.  Yet… they are firm, still there to awe us and make us feel nostalgic.  Trials and sufferings produce rock solid castles of faith that endure the weathering of life.

Perseverance and endurance remind me of marathon runners.  Running, running, running, to go the long haul.  Building their fortitude.  Able to maintain long and rugged courses.  Withstanding the pressures to achieve the goal.

All of these things are what James has in mind.  He says in vs. 4 that the full effect of steadfastness of faith is perfection and completion.  God turns the heat up in your life and my life to produce a faith in us that will carry us to the goal, the prize, namely, being with God himself.  Like children running to candy as the staple of their diet, we run to the world to satisfy.  God uses suffering and trials to wean us off of that which destroys and make us desire that which satisfies.

Thus, James can say, count it all joy when you meet trials.  God is producing in you something that will last forever and deeply satisfy.  Oh what joy!

 

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What’s in a Name?, Part 1

So, what’s in a name?  What’s the big deal about names?  Why do we spend more money to have certain names on our clothing, cars, televisions, cellphones, entertainment devices, etc?

A name is, of course, an identification.  Its the way we make distinctions.  There are two men.  One’s name is Bob and the other is Gary.  Now I can differentiate between the two.  There are many cities in California.  San Fransisco, LA, San Diego, etc.  Now I can differentiate between them, with a name.  I see 50 books on my shelf.  With their names, I can, differentiate between them.

Not only is a name a way to identify something, names also conjure up all sorts of thoughts and emotions.  For instance, the name Adolf Hitler.  What did you think when you read this name?  What pictures were in your mind?  What feelings did you have?  How about the name, George Washington?  What did you think about when you read that name?  How about Apple?  How about Mercedes?  How about Exxon?  How about Polo?  How about Harry Potter?  How about Osama Bin Laden?  How about London?  How about Moscow?

The power of a name to do this conjuring, comes through the reputation that is attached to the name. Reputation (whether good or bad) is the power of the name.  According to dictionary.com, a reputation is,”The estimation in which a person or thing is held, especially by the community or the public generally.”  What is the popular opinion concerning something?  This is the reputation.

In Isaiah 48:9-11, God brings this whole issue up.  He had called Abraham, made a pledge to him and thus set a people apart for himself.  Later, he identified himself to Moses.  He gave Moses his name: Yahweh.  This name was God’s identifying himself among the other gods, so that he would be distinguished from them.  After all, they had not revealed their names to anyone (their names had been given by their creators), and here was Yahweh identifying himself, making himself distinct.

These set apart people were brought out of slavery through mighty signs and wonders through the power of Yahweh.  The name of Yahweh was gaining a reputation.  Yahweh had saved a people that could not save itself.  He had also given them clear revelation on how to live as his set apart people.  This was in order that Yahweh’sreputation might be displayed before the watching nations.  Yahweh was making his name known and his people were to be the display of that reputation: the God who saves the unsaveable and them existing to show his mighty power and glory, mercy and grace.

They did not do a good job of showing God’s true reputation.  The Old Testament is an account of Yahweh’s people failing to faithfully illuminate to the nation’s Yahweh’s mighty power and glory, mercy and grace.  Yahweh’s reputation was being destroyed and defamed.  This is what he is saying through Isaiah, “For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off.  Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.  For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my NAME BE PROFANED?  My glory I will not give to another.”

When God’s name is mentioned, he wants his reputation to be instantly thought of.  He wants to be known as the mighty God who saves the unsaveable, the One who judges the wicked, the One who is full of grace, truth, mercy, and holiness.  He calls apart a people to accomplish this.  Trophies of grace that testify to this Name.  That increase his reputation.

What is God’s reputation in your life?

Mark

We have been studying through the Gospel according to Mark on Wed nights.  Through Mark’s account we are being challenged to compare three different interpretations of Jesus: what does the culture say, what do we say, and what does Mark say concerning the person of Jesus.  The question then arises, whose word do we accept as true?  Will we accept what the culture says (majority rule)?  Will we accept what we say and experience (subjective)?  Will we accept what Mark says (objective)?  Or, will we have a hodgepodge of belief concerning who Jesus is?

Mark’s plea is that we will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the very Son of God (vs.1).  Then, he goes about giving us his account (a record of Peter’s account, we believe) to show us why this claim is true.  Will we believe him?  Join us on Wed night as we go through this gospel and learn more about who Jesus was and what went on during his life.

A Great Luther Hymn

I forgot how much I love the words to this hymn.  I hope you find encouragement in this dialogue between the Father and the Son.

1 Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice,
With exultation springing,
And with united heart and voice
And holy rapture singing,
Proclaim the wonders God has done,
How His right arm the vict’ry won;
What price our ransom cost Him!

2 Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay;
Death brooded darkly o’er me.
Sin was my torment night and day;
In sin my mother bore me.
But daily deeper still I fell;
My life became a living hell,
So firmly sin possessed me.

3 My own good works all came to naught,
No grace or merit gaining;
Free will against God’s jugment fought,
Dead to all good remaining.
My fears increased till sheer despair
Left only death to be my share;
The pangs of hell I suffered.

4 But God had seen my wretched state
Before the world’s foundation,
And mindful of His mercies great,
He planned for my salvation.
He turned to me a father’s heart;
He did not choose the easy part
But gave His dearest treasure.

5 God said to His beloved Son:
“It’s time to have compassion.
Then go, bright jewel of My crown,
And bring to all salvation.
From sin and sorrow set them free;
Slay bitter death for them that they
May live with You forever.”

6 The Son obeyed His Father’s will,
Was born of virgin mother;
And God’s good pleasure to fulfill,
He came to be my brother.
His royal pow’r disguised He bore;
A servant’s form, like mine, He wore
To lead the devil captive.

7 To me He said: “Stay close to Me,
I am your rock and castle.
Your ransom I Myself will be;
For you I strive and wrestle.
For I am yours, and you are Mine,
And where I am you may remain;
The foe shall not divide us.

8 “Though he will shed My precious blood,
Me of My life bereaving,
All this I suffer for your good;
Be steadfast and believing.
Life will from death the vict’ry win;
My innocence shall bear your sin,
And you are blest forever.

9 “Now to My Father I depart,
From earth to heav’n ascending,
And, heav’nly wisdom to impart,
The Holy Spirit sending;
In trouble He will comfort you
And teach you always to be true
And into truth shall guide you.

10 “What I on earth have done and taught,
Guide all your life and teaching;
So shall the kingdom’s work be wrought
And honored in your preaching.
But watch lest foes with base alloy
The heav’nly treausre should destroy;
This final word I leave you.”

Good News

In Seminary, one of my favorite professors had us sing this old Isaac Watts hymn at the beginning of class.  It’s amazing to me to reflect back on that time now and meditate briefly on the words.  How much more is this ingrained into my thinking now.  How much more do these words ring true in my heart.

I’m especially interested in the last verse right now as the battle over who to believe rages.  My soul no more attempt to draw, thy life and comfort from the law…  It’s all to easy because it is oh so natural.  I need rules and regulations to give me hope that I’m doing something worthwhile and correctly.

During a conversation I had recently, someone asked me if I missed my old job at Starbucks.  I told them yes and no.  I told them that in retail you know what is expected and can go above and beyond as you physically see the needs of the moment.  In ministry, you never really know where you stand until people start complaining.  It’s harder to gauge where you are at.  So… I like to institute my own checklist for approval.  It’s my source of comfort and eventually is what I begin to lean on for salvation.  This is idolatry.

Fly to the hope that the Gospel gives!  The man who trusts the promise lives.  God, grant me trust in what you say about me through your Son, Jesus Christ.  Nothing else points me to your declaration.  Let me declare the world a liar and you the truth teller.

I hope the words of this hymn encourage you as they do me:

The Law commands and makes us know
What duties to our God we owe;
But ’tis the Gospel must reveal
Where lies our strength to do His will.

The Law discovers guilt and sin
And shows how vile our hearts have been;
The Gospel only can express
Forgiving love and cleansing grace.

What curses doth the Law denounce
Against the man that fails but once!
But in the Gospel Christ appears,
Pard’ning the guilt of numerous years.

My soul, no more attempt to draw
Thy life and comfort from the Law.
Fly to the hope the Gospel gives;
The man that trusts the promise lives.

Who is Jesus?

We started studying through the Gospel of Mark on Wed nights in youth group.  Its been a lot of fun preparing and studying.  What we are trying to do is compare what and who we think Jesus is, who our culture says he is, and who Mark presents him as.  Each lesson ends with the question, “Who is Jesus?”

One of the most revealing things during this study has been the surprise from the students themselves.  They think the know who Jesus is.  They have these caricatures based upon what they have learned from their parents, in church, etc.  Not only do we have these caricatures, but these caricatures drive us to apathy.  Who cares about studying who Jesus is?

But already in the first chapter of Mark, Mark begins to challenge what we believe about Jesus and how our lives reflect our understanding.  He makes the statement that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God.  Then, working though the prologue section of his account, we see John’s response to who Jesus was, we see God’s testimony and anointing of his Son’s ministry, and we see Jesus make the preliminary assault on the Kingdom of the World.

John calls Jesus the “Mightier One”.  John says, “Hey everyone, I am not even worthy to stoop down and take this guy’s crusty, dirty, filthy sandals off his dirty feet.  That is how much mightier than me this guy is.”  What is your response?  Who is Jesus?  Is he someone that makes you feel warm and fuzzy about yourself?  Is he a nice guy with some nice things to say about nice people?  Is Jesus some rebel, just trying to shake up the religious world of his day up?  Is Mark right?  Is Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One coming to bring God’s presence back to dwell with his people?  Is Jesus the Living God’s Son?  Or are we too sensible for such metaphysical philosophizing?

We are being challenged through Mark to correct our thinking about who Jesus is.  We thank the Lord for providing us with a faithful record of his Son that we might become familiar with him.  Oh that we would long for the day to see him face to face!

The Four Rules of Communication

I remember when I was doing some extra training in Biblical Counseling doing a session on communication.  This morning I decided to look up that session, because I knew for sure I had remembered a series on the four rules of communication.  Sure enough, in the middle of my binder, there they were.  I wanted to post these and some notes that we took during the class, hoping it would encourage you as well as help you grow in an area where many of us struggle at some point in each of our relationships.  Randy Patten was the course instructor, so there notes come from a handout he gave us.

These come from Ephesians 4:25-32.

1.  BE HONEST — Speak the truth lovingly. (vs.25)

  • Speak:  You must use verbal communication
  • Speak Truth:  Be honest in verbal communication:  avoid lying and deceit, in-congruency (saying one things while acting another), and disguised communication (saying one thing to point to another thing – under the table communication)
  • Speak Truth Lovingly:  Saying what needs to be said with the other person’s needs in mind

2.  KEEP CURRENT (vs.26-27)

  • Anger is energy to be used in solving problems
  • Anger used unbiblically attacks others or oneself.
  • Failure to solve today’s problems today means you are: 1) Guilty of sin  2) Opening the door to resentment and hatred  3) Endangering your sexual relationship (in marriage)  4) Setting the stage for future problems to be distorted.

3.  ATTACK PROBLEMS, NOT PEOPLE (vs.29-30)

  • Unwholesome words attack character, bypass the real issue and grieve the Holy Spirit
  • Edifying communication encourages, builds up, centers on personal responsibility and gives grace to those who hear it.
  • Focus on unbiblical thinking and behavior
  • Seek to understand goals and motives
  • Unwholesome:  destructive, misunderstanding, persecutor, salvos, creates problems
  • Edifying: constructive, understanding, pal, solutions, solves problems

4.  ACT!  DON’T REACT (vs.31-32)

  • Typical reactions of our flesh not getting what it wants are:
  • Bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, malice
  • Attitudes and Actions you must put on to replace the reactions:
  • Kindness, tenderheartedness, forgiveness
  • Put off and then put on

I hope this encourages you and at least gives you a pause to think through how you communicate with people.  Think about some good experiences and then some bad experiences.  What was missing from these rules in the bad?  How were each of these touched in the good?

Bang!

Bang! is one of my favorite games to play.  I was itching to play this weekend, but time constraints and responsibilities won out.  Having been each of the roles at some point, I have decided playing the Outlaw is my favorite as I seem to only win when I am them.  Sean Mallory has become one of my favorite characters now that I have learned some of the more subtleties of the game.

I was thinking a few minutes ago, though, how of each of us feels like we are playing some sort of similar role in life.  Not that we are out to eliminate the sheriff, outlaws, or renegades, but that we have a secret identity that must be protected.  We know what is in our heart and don’t want the competitor’s to know.  After all, if someone knew how consistently dark and selfish our thoughts seemed to be at times, they would either think less of us, hate us, or be completely repulsed by us.

Thus, the game continues.  We throw fog and mirrors up.  We feel bent on justifying ourselves to our parents, our spouses, our employers/employees, our children… whoever has the chance to get a glimpse past our veil.  The need to prove why we have the right to exist and that we have something unique to bring to the table elicits actions from us that come most natural.  This, interestingly enough, is but a trickle of our problems concerning our need to be right, seen, heard, loved.  It is a mere trickle compared to the torrent that drives us deeply into the need to feel as if we have to justify ourselves.

Our lives of justification shows us that there is something out there that demands something from us that we have not fulfilled.  The nagging sensation to be in the right comes from a bigger source of discomfort.  This source of discomfort comes from our programming.  We were wired in a certain way and programmed to live a certain way.

Since sin entered the world, God has moved into contention with men.  The Creator, who made man in his own image, has become the looming Judge.  His law is all encompassing.  No person at any time in any place can escape the immanence of the coming judgment.  Our hearts and lives prove this to be true.  We are judged by the Judge, but want to be out from under the ax and thus live lives that will hopefully somehow prove to the Judge that we are not as guilty as, say, perhaps someone else?

Unfortunately and fortunately this Judge is Just and cannot be bought off.  The Law is the law and its condemning power cannot be undone.  Our justifications are futile.  We can justify ourselves to those around us and they may be convinced of our “part” that we play and thus withhold judgment.  But… the Judge is not fooled and will not be deceived.  Our justifications only prove our guilty in the first place.

So what is there that we can do?  If our justifications are futile before God, what is it that we need to have this nagging feeling crushed and defeated?  We need God himself to justify us.  We need God to move on our behalf in his righteous judgment on us.

God, the Holy Judge.  How in the world can he let us “off the hook”?  How can a pure God let a broken, rebellious image be declared “Not guilty!”? It’s because of someone else.  Someone else who had no need to prove himself.  His life was blameless before the condemning law.  God, the Father, himself approved of this man, his very own Son.

Jesus, the Christ, was guiltless before the Law, but exchanged places with those who trust him, under the penalty of the Law.  Jesus was condemned and executed under the judgment of Law, though BLAMELESS.  God justified himself by letting sinners “off the hook”, but substituting Jesus’ death for yours and mine.

It in this justification that we will find peace, through faith that what God says is done, is done in Jesus alone.  God alone can justify our existence.  Trust him!  He alone is true.

The next time you play a round of Bang!, I hope you think about this for a second, and in doing so have a moment of peace as you reflect on your great God and Savior.

New Things

So, here I am.  Sitting in my office, learning all the different ways that people communicate and how behind I am.  I now have a Twitter account, Facebook, and something else on my phone, all of which connects me instantly to everything and everyone it seems.  Here I am blogging so as to help me communicate with everyone better also.

We are in a new city, new job, new people, new expectations, new house, new new new.  At moments it seems to come crashing in all at once in a huge tidal wave of chaos as I try to get my bearings and take care of my responsibilities, the newness of everything.  Its exciting experiencing the new, but as our house comes together, routines get into place, and a groove is found, the world seems to stop spinning for a moment to let us take a breath.

This makes me reflect.  Oh, the excitement and the electricity in the air, when something is new!  From cars, to gifts, to infants, to dare I say, our relationship with Christ?  Dr. Brand, a pastor and professor of mine from Seminary used to say that, “The problem with life, is that it is so daily.”  The routine, the monotony, the daily grind crushes the new into a powder of dusty tedium.

We need life to be breathed into the dust to make it come alive once again.  This is where the power of the Holy Spirit renews us.  Through prayer, worship, and meditation on God’s Word, the Saints before us, around us, and after us will experience the infusing life the Spirit breaths into us from the resurrected Christ.

The resurrected Christ!  What life and power in the face of a defeated and powerless Death!  Meditate on the victory Jesus claimed and won!  How this has been applied to YOU through faith.  Let this knowledge manifest itself in your life as you go to school, work, as you hang out with friends, enemies, family.  Love the unlovable, a radically different mentality than what is around you. Watch the response!  See how the Spirit will breath life into you once again and use you to be the instrument in which life will be breathed into others.  New life.  From cobwebs, grey, dusty bones, to vibrant, colorful, new life!