God Created the Stars For Anxious Hearts

No one really knows how many stars are in the Universe. Even using the best instruments available it is not clear how many stars are in the Milky Way galaxy (our galaxy). Some experts in this field have estimated there may be as many as 2 trillion galaxies with each galaxy containing an average of 100 million stars. Even a conservative estimate would yield more stars than we can fathom.

One question Christ-followers should consider is why did a good and purposeful God create so many stars if we are incapable of seeing all of them or even understanding their multitude?

A Seemingly Infinite Galaxy declares God’s Infinite Glory

One limitation of this question is that it assumes God created the stars exclusively for us. However, this is not the case. Psalm 19:1 teaches that, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (ESV). Simply put, God created stars to declare His glory. There are an incomprehensible amount of stars because His glory is incomprehensible.

The Universe and all of its contents are like a choir declaring God’s glory and the audience is every human being, angelic being, and even God himself. When we gaze into the sky God invites our hearts to join the chorus of the heavens in order to exalt who He is. It is only right that an infinite God with infinite glory deemed it necessary to sing His glory with a seemingly infinite universe. While it is true that God created the stars for His glory a more nuanced look at God’s purpose in creating the stars reveals God’s pastoral care for our anxious hearts.

God’s Word Speaks to those who are Overcome with Anxious Thoughts

In my experience those who struggle with anxious thoughts are often tempted to believe harmful lies which feed back into and compound feelings of anxiety. For instance, anxious hearts tend to believe that they are alone (“No one knows what it’s like to be in my head.”) and also they tend to feel a heightened sense of responsibility to control the future and how things turn out. These examples are anecdotal and anyone who deals with anxiety would be quick to point out that they are not an exhaustive description of what it means and feels like to battle anxiety. That being said, it is helpful to consider how God’s Word speaks to these commonly shared experiences.

In Luke 12 Jesus calls our attention to the Father’s intimate knowledge and care for ravens (v.24) and lilies (v.27). In this instance Jesus speaks to the Father’s awareness and care of relatively lesser created things as a way of soothing anxious hearts. Jesus’ logic is that if the Father knows and takes care of these simple and relatively insignificant things then certainly He will care for us, the crown jewel of His Creation (Psalm 8:3-4). This is good news for those of us struggling with anxious thoughts because it means that we are not alone and also that we do not have to feel the weight of controlling the future. There is One who knows our worries and cares for us and the outcome of our situation beyond what we could ever imagine.

The Soothing Work of God’s Universe

It’s not just knowledge of God’s intricate care for birds and flowers which soothes anxious hearts. A look at what God tells us about those seemingly innumerable stars cast throughout the depths of the Universe is also soothing to our anxious hearts.

In Psalm 147:4 we read a telling statement about the stars, “He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names” (ESV). The seemingly infinite number of stars are included in God’s intimate knowledge. He alone knows their exact number and even more than that He has them named.

Not only is God intimately aware of the stars, He is also present and in control of them. We see this in Isaiah 40:26 which says, “Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing” (ESV). If God is intimately aware and in control of what is going on with flaming balls of gas billions of light years away then certainly He knows and is control of your situation in ways you just cannot fathom. God’s Word is helping us feel the weight of this reality so we can see that God created the stars both for His glory and for our good.

In Closing

I am not suggesting that all it takes to cure and overcome anxious thoughts is a good long look at the stars. Anxiety is complex and the conversation of getting help should involve a multitude of counselors including medical professionals and pastors. That being said, God’s Word provides hope and help for those struggling with anxious feelings and thoughts. One of the ways God provides this hope and help for those struggling with anxious thoughts is by instructing followers of Christ how to interact with the world around us.

While it is important to see that God created the stars for His glory it also important to not miss the truth that one of the ways the God gets glory is when His Saints have their hearts instructed by His Word on how to interact with a created thing like stars and are soothed as a result. When we hear the birds outside chirp, see our neighbors beautifully maintained flower gardens, and pause to gaze into star filled skies we should be comforted. God knows and is in control of these things but is much more concerned for those in Christ.

Credits

Photo by Denis Degioanni on Unsplash

How Many Stars Are In The Universe? By Elizabeth Howell on Space.com (accessed 7 April, 2019).

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Psalm 24 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Help! I’m Irritable Today

What is it that irritates you to no end? Someone using all the hot water in the morning? The WiFi going out? Your favorite team blowing a late-game lead? Traffic? Screaming kids? The opportunities to grow irritable in a day seem endless.

I am often surprised how little it takes to grow frustrated with my circumstances or people around me. In my irritability, there is a major disparity between the size of my problem and the extent of my reaction. I often wonder if I would respond more God-pleasing to a real tragedy in my life than I do when I step on a toy left out by my kids. I’m sure I’m not alone. For many of us, there is a fit of anger lurking just beneath the surface, ready to leap out at the slightest inconvenience. Before we have time to stop and think, we’ve expressed our displeasure with biting words, a darting glare, a disgruntled sigh, or shutting down. We wonder, why am I in such a bad mood? Where is this coming from?

I’ve Had My Coffee and I’m Still Irritated

We’ve all seen and laughed at the coffee jokes on social media:

“Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee.”

“My favorite coworker is the coffee pot.”

“How to approach me before I’ve had coffee: Don’t!”

When it comes to irritability, coffee helps, but it is not the solution. These and other memes like them are lighthearted attempts to pin our irritability on something external to us. Unfortunately, the source of our irritability is more personal. The Bible reminds us that this behavior flows from within us. Solomon made this point in saying, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23 ESV). The hard truth is that we grow irritable when our circumstances and the people around us don’t fall in line with our expectations or desires (James 4:1-2). The people in our lives that God has given us to love become obstacles in the way of getting what we want. When we don’t get our way we lash out with a quick verbal barrage, punish with the silent treatment, seclude ourselves from others, or pout. Our irritability may look different on the outside for each individual, but the root is the same–we wanted something and didn’t get it.

It is necessary to admit that our irritability is an internal sin problem, not an external people problem. This admission is an important step towards change. When we know the source of our problem, we can find real solutions. For instance, my oldest son Brennan once shut his brother’s left hand in the sliding glass door. Harrison began screaming in pain as his hand was still stuck. Brennan, aware that something was wrong, began fervently looking his brother over to figure out what was causing the distress. Brennan looked over every square inch of Harrison except the hand that was stuck. Since Brennan couldn’t identify the real source of the problem, his solutions were inadequate. The same is true with our growth in Christ. If we identify irritability as a problem outside of us, we will work to change our circumstances, or worse, we will demand that people conform themselves to our agenda. Knowing the true problem leads to real solutions, and to that we now turn.

Where to begin

Remember the hope of the gospel. Irritability is necessarily self-centered. Thankfully, In Christ, we are free from living for self and empowered to live like him—patient, kind, meek, etc (1 Corinthians 5:15). Because of Christ, we can please God even amidst difficult circumstances or people. For more on this, consider a previous post from Tyler about our freedom from sin’s power.

Ask good questions. Seek to discern what exactly you are wanting when you are irritated. As G.I. Joe would say, “knowing is half the battle.” Asking simple questions like, “what is it that I’m desiring right now?” Or “what is the one thing that would change my mood right now if I could snap my fingers and get it?” The answer for me is usually comfort. I want to live a life of uninterrupted ease. When that gets compromised–I have 3 young boys; it gets compromised–I can grow irritable. For others it could be an over-desire for respect, love, attention, success, safety, order, etc. that leads to irritability.

Turn away. Knowing the heart motive behind your irritability allows you to repent more specifically to God and others. Saying, “Forgive me for desiring comfort so much that I became frustrated when you needed my help” is more helpful than simply apologizing. It acknowledges the real sin and keeps you from blaming others or the pressures you were facing.

Put on thankfulness. It is hard to be thankful and moody at the same time. When the Apostle Paul wanted to urge the Colossian believers to “bear with one another” he mentions thankfulness 3 times (see Colossians 3:12-17). Even if everything has fallen apart around you, you can be thankful for Christ, his gospel, The Spirit’s sanctifying work in you, the Father’s care and concern for you, among many other blessings we have in Christ.

In Closing

In the recently released documentary Free Solo, Alex Honnold climbs 3,000 feet straight up the granite rock face of Yosemite’s El Capitan. He does this all without the safety of ropes and anchors. In other words, one slip, one mistake and he plummets to his death. Naturally, many have asked him about controlling his fear while hanging from a cliff thousands of feet above the valley floor. He said that his goal is not to push the fear out, but to expand his comfort zone. For him, focusing on removing fear is ineffective. Instead, he pours himself into preparation, practice, and planning to a point that he is comfortable with the most dangerous situations. Focusing on removing fear, creates more fear.

Similarly, focusing on the circumstances and people surrounding our irritability just exacerbates the problem. We can’t fight our irritability by merely focusing on our irritability. Instead, we ought to focus on Christ, his work for us and in us, all the blessings he has given to us, and we might just find that our irritability cannot thrive next to joy in Christ.

Credits

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Proverbs 4:23 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

United to Christ and Free from Sin, but Still Sinning?

If you are reading this it is likely because your experience with sin doesn’t make sense to you. This is the case for many of us. We read passages like Romans 6:18 (“and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”) and we are confused. We wonder how it is that we, who Christ has set free from sin, still have such strong urges to keep on sinning. Shouldn’t it be easy for those who have freedom from sin to stop sinning? The answer is, no, and Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 6, makes sense of our struggle.

Sin is a master

Paul speaks of sin as if it is a king or a master who cruelly reigns over people. He uses the words “dominion” (v. 9, 14) and “reign” (v. 12) to talk about sin’s power over people and likewise the words “slaves” (v. 20) and “enslaved” (v. 6) to talk about people’s experience living under the reign of sin.

We are born under sin’s enslavement and sin totally dominates us (v. 14). Being enslaved to sin does not mean that we are as sinful as we could be but it does mean that prior to personal salvation sin taints even our good and moral behavior. This imagery is important to consider if we want to understand why it is those of us who are free from sin still sin.

In Christ we have a new Master

The two most significant words in the New Testament are: in Christ.  Being in Christ is more than just letters added after our names signaling our credentials (i.e. MD, PhD, MA, MDiv), it is a transformation of who we once were. These words speak of the identity we take on at our personal salvation.

God miraculously brings us into Christ when we place our faith in Christ. When God brings us into Christ it marks a spiritual union with Christ. When Paul says we have been “baptized into Christ” (v.3) he means that we have been spiritually “united with Christ” (v.5). The result of this spiritual union is that we are made new creatures and old things pass away (2 Corinthians 5:17). To use the language of Romans 6:18 we have become “slaves of righteousness.” Before being in Christ our master was sin but in Christ we have a new master and that master is Jesus. No longer does sin totally dominate us. We now have the choice to not sin.

Why do we still struggle with sin?

For those of us in Christ we have a new master reigning over us and the claim of our old master, sin, has been broken. But why do we still desire to sin and participate in sin? The answer is that our old master, sin, is in a fight till the bitter end. We still feel the presence of sin long after its rule and reign has concluded because sin refuses to acknowledge defeat.

Even though you are in Christ (if you have placed your faith in Christ) sin is continuing to compete for the throne of your heart. Sin still gives orders for you to follow and is in a massive marketing campaign trying to convince you to submit yourself again to its cruel reign. Often times its commands, pleas, and promises are unfortunately successful and we sin.

My six year old daughter loves to play with putty. It molds and takes shape as she desires and commands. The thing about putty is that long after my daughter releases her grip it maintains the markings and impressions of her hands. The reign of sin is like this. Although sin’s powerful grip has been broken, we feel its impression, contours, and indents long after the fact.

Romans 6 and Juneteenth

Trip Barefield (Trip Lee) preached a sermon at Capitol Hill Baptist Church titled The Living Dead where he likens Paul’s message in Romans chapter 6 to something known as Juneteenth (do yourself a favor and go listen to his sermon). He explains that in January 1863 Abraham Lincoln brought into effect the Emancipation Proclamation formally ending slavery but that, sadly, the news of this freedom did not initially reach slaves in Texas. It was not until almost two and a half years later that slaves in Texas became aware of the status of freedom they already had. This day was June 19th, 1865 and became known as Juneteenth.

Paul is writing to believers set free from sin. Romans chapter 6 serves as an announcement of that Good News. What Paul knows is that in order for us to “consider [ourselves] dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” we must be reminded of who we are in Christ and what we are to be in Christ.

In Closing

As we look back again at the phrase in v. 18, “have become slaves of righteousness”, there are two observations I want to make in closing. First, becoming a slave of righteousness is an identity bestowed upon us immediately at our conversion. At the moment we place our faith in Christ we are “freed (lit. ‘justified’) from sin” (v. 7) and we have a new master reigning over us. Second, becoming a slave of righteousness is something we grow into throughout our lives in Christ. This becoming a slave of righteousness is a progressive work of God (Philippians 2:12-13) as you refuse to let sin “reign in your mortal body” and instead you “present” yourself as an instrument of righteousness to God (v. 13).

May God be gracious to us as we “so now present [our] members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (v. 19).

Credits

Photo by Filip Zrnzević on Unsplash

The sermon titled The Living Dead by Trip Barefield can be found here.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Psalm 24 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

5 Common Reasons for Quitting Church and Why We Should Reject Them

The following list is not a scientific poll. it is anecdotal. It is experiential. These are the most common reasons I’ve heard for why once faithful attendees no longer participate in church. These reasons are, however, unconvincing in the end. After all, if active involvement in a theologically robust, God-glorifying, people-loving church is God’s will for every believer, then there really are no good reasons to quit going to church. There may be good cause to move to another church, but quitting church altogether is never God’s desire for anyone. With that said, what are some of the most common reasons given for giving up on the church?

1) “There are hypocrites in church.”

Yes, there are hypocrites in every church. And it is certainly easy to grow weary of those who say one thing and do another. It is also easy to forget that we are often just as guilty of hypocrisy. There are many ways that we fail to even live up to our own expectations of ourselves, much less God’s will for us. Thankfully, God’s love for us is not based on our ability to do what we know is best in every moment. In fact, God saves those who are willing to admit that they are often hypocrites and acknowledge they are in need of God’s grace. So, to those decrying all the hypocrites inside the church, God’s invitation is that there is always room for one more.

2) “I’ve been hurt by someone at church.”

The church is a family and like most families, there will be hurt along the way. For many, it is ordinary relational difficulty that produces a root of bitterness; that root grows into resentment and eventually results in total avoidance. God’s Word anticipates this kind of division and calls us to protect unity (Ephesians 4:3), forgive those who hurt us (Colossians 3:13), and restore broken relationships (Matthew 5:24).

For others, the hurt is more severe such as abuse or assault. These greivous sins ought not to be taken lightly and are not taken so by God. However, God’s plan for upholding those who have been terribly sinned against includes the church (1 Thessalonians 5:14), not fleeing from the church. This is not to say that one must remain in the same church in which they were abused/assaulted, in many cases they should not.

3) “I can’t find a church that meets all my needs”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned against the danger of desiring a church that is a perfect fit, “He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial. God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly.”

It feels good to believe that we are so spiritual that no church can attain our standards, but Bonhoeffer reminds us that this attitude flows from pride. He provokes the question, “Is it truly our super-spirituality which leads us to believe no church is good enough for us? Or, is that the best excuse we can find to stop gathering with the church while easing our consciences?”

4) “I don’t need the church.”

Many assume the church is nothing more than a spiritual pep rally to get us through the week ahead. It is unsurprising then that so many see the church as unimportant or unnecessary. After all, we have our Bibles and we have Jesus, so who needs the church? The obvious problem is that this directly contradicts the teaching of Scripture. God actually designed us in such a way that we need one another. We need teaching, accountability, encouragement, love, prayer, fellowship, singing, etc. and gathering regularly in church is God’s plan for providing these opportunities for us (Ephesians 4:1-16).

5) “I’m too busy to go to church.”

In a sermon series concerning the church, Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones admonished those whom he called “trippers”–those who regularly found better things to do than gather with the church. He told his congregation, “Unless you feel that something is being offered and given to you here [at church] which no other institution can offer or equal, well then, in the name of Heaven, go out into the country or to the seaside. The church of Christ is a church of believers, an association of people banded together by a common belief and a common love. You don’t believe? Well, above all, don’t pretend that you do, go to the country and the seaside. All I ask of you is, be consistent. When someone dies in your family, do not come to ask the church in which you do not believe to come bury him. Go to the seaside for consolation…”

Why is Martyn Lloyd-Jones so strong with his words? Because he understood the importance of the church in the life of the believer. He knew that the church is a group of believers “banded together.” He believed that one of the evidences of genuine faith in Christ is a love for God, a love for God’s Word, and a love for God’s people.

We tend to make time for what we consider important. For Martyn Lloyd-Jones, few things were more important than gathering with other Christians and sitting under the preaching of God’s Word.

Does God Really Desire Faithfulness in Church?

The temptation to give up on the church is not a new one. The original recipients of the letter written to the Hebrews were tempted to stop gathering with the church out of fear—fear of persecution and fear of social contempt. The personal safety and reputation of these churchgoers were on the line. To these beleaguered Christians, the author writes, “… let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some…” (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV). In other words, God’s agenda for you will never involve giving up on regularly gathering in a local church.


Credits

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Hebrews 10:24-25 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Life Together, trans. John W. Doberstein (San Francisco: Harper, 1954), 27.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones quoted in Iaian Murray. The Life of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: 1899-1981 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2013).

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

The Image of God and Your Social Media Engagement

Remember the good ole’ days when your social media timelines were filled with balanced, useful, and encouraging words from all your friends and family? Yeah, me neither! I find myself commonly thinking two thoughts as I scroll social media: (1) What were you thinking when you posted this?, and (2) What was I thinking when I posted this?

I don’t want to be overly optimistic but there is hope for social media. If we are going to notice any real change on our timelines it has to start with each one of us having some theological awareness. Specifically, what I am arguing for is that we discipline ourselves to filter our social media habits through the theological truth known as the image of God.

What does it mean to be created in the image of God?

When we talk about the image of God we are talking about how God’s likeness is imprinted in us as created beings (Genesis 1:26). Human beings stand alone as beings created in the image of God (Psalm 8). No other being, whether it be an animal or angelic being, is created in the image of God. That being said, to be created in the image of God means that we are like God, not that we are God.

In a 2016 ERLC post titled ‘What does it mean to be made in God’s Image?’ David Closson convincingly argues that the image of God in man boils down to both who man is and what man does. First, when we think of the image of God in man as who man is we are talking about our capacities. Specifically, we have in mind our intellectual, emotional, and relational capacities. These are all things that are possessed by us because they are true of God, whose image we are created in. Second, being created in the image of God has to do with what we do. God not only gives us certain capacities He has designed us to use those capacities for His glory. Kyle Gangel summarized this aspect well in his post ‘My Worth and My Unworthiness’ when he says that God “commands each person to reflect his image by obeying his Word. […] We were created in the likeness of God, so that we might represent him as living, breathing pictures (images) of him.”

As a result of mankind’s fall into sin (Genesis 3) the image of God has been negatively impacted. We still retain the image of God in some sense (James 3:9) but imperfectly so. Rather than use our God given likeness to love God and serve God, we use our image bearing qualities to love and serve self. God transforms us through the Spirit to be more like Christ to restore image of God in us because Christ is the perfect image of God (Colossians 1:15-16).  

How does the image of God impact the “big” things?

Being theologically aware that we are created in the image of God impacts how we see and interact with the world around us. For instance, as Christians we are quick to point out that the basis for racial equality and protection for the unborn is that all people are created in God’s image. Because we are made in the image of God every human life has intrinsic value, dignity, and worth. If being created in the image of God impacts how we see and do everything, its relevance cannot be isolated to just these particular big issues. We have to allow this theology to work its way through all dark areas of our lives and bring us into the light.

How does the image of God impact the “small” things?

One area we often fail to see the relevance of the image of God is how it changes our engagement on social media. The people we disagree with, or struggle to get along with, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect on the basis that they are created in the image of God. Our posts, comments, likes, shares, and retweets must be theologically aware of the reality we are engaging with (and about) those who have intrinsic worth.

To mock or ridicule someone through clever memes based on their looks, voice, demeanor, intellect, or personality is to belittle and attack the image of God. Furthermore, to capitalize on a person’s misuse of the image of God by mocking them in their sin is equally unhelpful. At the very least this type of interaction fails to communicate the grace and mercy of the cross. Unfortunately, how funny something is often takes precedence over whether or not it meets any other criteria before being shared. As image bearers we can choose to function better than this.

James actually makes a connection between our talk and the image of God in James 3:9, “With [our tongues] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” (ESV, see below). We think our words are a relatively small thing but God has a much different view. Sometimes the things we think are small and insignificant are actually vitally important to God. Our words, memes, and likes are all part of how we communicate and they make up a sizable part of our lives. Our talk matters to God because people matter to God.

Closing Thoughts

God hasn’t called us to police others on social media but he has called speak the truth in love and to help our brothers and sisters in Christ do the same. Here are a couple of questions to consider as we engage on social media:

  1. Does what I’m about to say, like, or share in any way degrade or belittle someone created in the image of God?
  2. Does what I’m about to say, like, or share in any way monopolize on someone else’s failings in order to make a point?
Credits

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Psalm 24 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by ROBIN WORRALL on Unsplash

What Goes Around Comes Around, Sort of

“I have a question,” 47-year-old Susan forced out through the tears. “Is the suffering I’m experiencing now, God’s punishment for making bad decisions when I was a teenager? Like karma?”

For Susan, her view of God and how he works in this world left her defeated and hopeless. Defeated because she couldn’t go back and change her past. Hopeless because she couldn’t escape the judgment she is now experiencing. Her future was accursed and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Susan believed something we are all tempted to believe, that God operates solely on the basis of cause and effect, tit for tat, reward and punishment.

One thought was instantly clear as I considered how to best comfort this hurting lady, “the gospel is superior to karma!” But how?

What Do We Mean When We Talk About Karma?

We’ve all heard people joke about karma or have joked about it ourselves. For instance, a friend makes fun of you for tripping over the curb only to trip over the same curb a few minutes later. You might jokingly respond, “That’s what you get! It’s karma.” Most of the time we are talking about karma not in reference to its Hindu roots but as a kind of cosmic cause and effect. If you are bad today, bad things will happen to you in the future. Alternatively, if you are good today, blessings are in store.

Thankfully, God’s grace (receiving God’s kindness we don’t deserve) and mercy (not receiving God’s judgement we do deserve) move him to act in surprising ways toward us. Specifically, He acted in sending Jesus to die an excruciating death as the wrath-bearing sacrifice in our place. As a result of the gospel, we can experience hope despite our sin and we can find meaning in our suffering.

Hope Despite Sin

One thing our popular understanding of karma gets right is that sin is serious. The selfish and sinful activities we persist in are not ignored. Sin has definite consequences. However, with karma there is no solution for sin, so the only hope is to do better and be better next time. Stop sinning, start living righteously and maybe we will experience some reward. For those who recognize our continual shortcomings, this doesn’t feel much like hope.

In the gospel we also see sin taken seriously. In fact, sin is such a grave offense it cost Jesus his very life. The hope of the gospel, then, is not that sin is no big deal and is taken lightly by God. Rather, the good news is that “He does not deal with us according to our sin, nor repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10). Grace is the opposite of karma. At the cross, we see that God the Father dealt with God the Son “according to our iniquities,” so that he might deal with us like sons and daughters. Jesus got what was coming to us, so that we might get what was coming to him.

The gospel offers real hope by offering a solution for sin without diminishing the reality and gravity of sin. At the cross we see that this hope doesn’t rest in our ability to create our own good fortune, but is found in the Rescuer, Jesus Christ.

Purpose in Suffering

If our view of God is little more than Christianized karma, we will inevitably view suffering as meaningless punishment for past offenses. We are not alone in wanting to make a straight line connection between our suffering and our sin. Job’s friends were less than helpful in insisting that his difficulty was the direct result of his wrongdoing. The disciples, as well, looked upon a man born blind and wondered aloud, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2 ESV). Certainly, suffering can be the direct result of sin (See Numbers 12; 2 Samuel 12). However, the disciples were so confident that this was the only explanation that they did not ask if this man’s blindness was the result of sin, they asked whose sin caused the blindness.

In response to the simplistic assumption of the disciples, Jesus responds, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3 ESV). Jesus asserts that there is a deeper purpose for this man’s suffering. He is not actually paying the price for his sin or that of his parents. There is more to his circumstances than karma. Instead, his suffering is meant to be a demonstration of the glory of God.

A truly Christian understanding of suffering makes room for multiple purposes for our trials. We see in the gospel that God takes the most undeserved suffering–the sinless Son of God tortured to death–and brings about the ultimate good. Through the cross, God displays his glory in unparalleled fashion in accomplishing our salvation. What might have looked like meaningless suffering from the outside was God’s good plan to demonstrate his grace and mercy to an undeserving world.

We may never know all that God is up to in our suffering. I suppose Joseph wasn’t pondering what it would be like to be one of the most powerful persons in the world while he was being sold into slavery or falsely accused and imprisoned (Genesis 35-50). We may not have all the answers, however, we can rely on two truths to encourage us: 1) God is using trials in our lives as a means to glorify himself by making us like Jesus (Rom. 8:28-29). 2) God is with us and for us, even when our circumstances would suggest otherwise (Rom. 8:35-39).

No suffering is enjoyable, but suffering without purpose is unbearable. The gospel teaches us that God is active in our suffering by making us more like Jesus. Furthermore, God is likely up to more than making us like Jesus. Similar to Joseph’s story, we can trust that God is working in a thousand ways that we may not discern for some time. Finding real meaning in our suffering can flood our hearts with hope even in the darkest moments.

In Closing

The gospel does not mean we can continue sinning and escape any consequences for our disobedience. God will not be mocked (Galatians 6:7). It does mean that God is not sitting in heaven arbitrarily dishing out punishment for sins we committed decades ago. It does mean that there is the hope of real forgiveness because real justice was poured out on Jesus at Calvary. It does mean that God uses suffering to bring about his good agenda of displaying his glory through making us like Christ. The gospel is greater than karma because it provides hope for our sin and meaning in our suffering.


The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (John 9:2-3 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by Greg Jeanneau on Unsplash

Praying for God’s Glory Is Not Easy

We’ve all had those times when we’ve heard someone pray and thought to ourselves, “Geeze…I wish I prayed like that.” I imagine the disciples felt this emotion when they heard Jesus pray His prayer in John 17.

For many of us, when we think of Jesus and prayer our minds go to Luke 11:2-4 (“Father, hallowed by your name. Your kingdom come […]”) where Jesus teaches in three short verses the content that should shape our prayers. If Luke 11 is the Reader’s Digest lesson on prayer then John 17 is Jesus’ unabridged, Magnum Opus. It is 26 theologically rich verses which are unparalleled in their ability to instruct us how to pray. Oddly enough, Jesus doesn’t do any instructing in this prayer. We receive this instruction as flies on the wall catching a glimpse of what a God-honoring prayer sounds like. As we look at Jesus’ prayer we notice it prioritizes God’s glory and that praying for God’s glory may be a bit more difficult than we envision.

Praying for the Glory of God can be Costly

In John 17:1 Jesus has a unique way of praying for God’s glory. He prays that he himself would be glorified (“glorify your Son”) so that God the Father may be glorified (“that the Son may glorify you”). On the surface, this sounds a bit self-centered of Jesus. After all, who goes around praying for their own glory? Well, Jesus’ prayer isn’t so simple. As this prayer comes to fruition in the next several chapters we realize that the Father glorifying the Son happens through Jesus being betrayed, beaten, and crucified for our sins (as well as subsequently being resurrected and ascending into Heaven). Jesus is moved to pray for the glory of God even when He knows it comes at great personal cost.

Praying for the glory of God is doable when we suppose it will not cost us too much or unsettle our version of comfortable. Sometimes though, God, for the sake of His glory, pushes us past the boundaries of our own comfort by taking our children to the mission field or by bringing about hard-to-accept consequences for sin. Understandably, we struggle with praying for the glory of God because the glory of God can be both kind and terrifying. That being said, it is always for the good of those of us in Christ because it is transforming us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-30).

Praying for the Glory of God is Not Passive

Sometimes we assume that our work concludes with “Amen” when praying for the glory of God. However, we are not moviegoers waiting for the show of God’s glory to start. We participate in God’s good plan in displaying His glory. As we walk through John 17 we watch the verbs unfold and find that Jesus “glorified” the Father “having accomplished the work” the Father gave Him to do (v.4). Further, Jesus “manifested” (v.6) the Father’s name to people by “[giving] them the words” given to Him by the Father (v.8). Jesus doesn’t take a backseat and He doesn’t take over. He simply takes action by being obedient to the work God gave Him to do.

Again, the glory of God in prayer has a way of uncomfortably stretching us. Becoming a participant in the glory of God recognizes that we are His instruments. It is for the glory of God that we are called to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), speak “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) and show “hospitality to one another” (1 Peter 4:9). God’s work oftentimes includes our work.

God will be Glorified

Sometimes, we need reminding that God always accomplishes His glory. This doesn’t make us complacent or indifferent. Instead, it fastens our hearts to the solemn reality that God’s glory is in God’s hands, according to God’s plan. The ones whom Jesus was given to preach to (v.2), do indeed keep (v.6), receive (v.8), and believe (v.8) God’s Word. In other words, what happens is exactly what the Father intended to happen. Like Paul, we recognize our part as instruments in God’s hands but we never forget that although some of us may plant and some of us may water it is God who gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).

I love this truth because it reorients my thoughts to see things like God sees things. God calls me to speak and live out the Gospel. He has not given me the ability, or responsibility, to awaken dead hearts or rid human hearts of indwelling sin. These things are the things of the Holy Spirit as He works through the living and abiding Word of God (1 Peter 1:23).

I can lay my head to rest at night because of the truth that God’s Word always accomplishes exactly what God has intended it to accomplish (Isaiah 55:11).

In Closing

Praying for the glory of God may be costly and it will likely require participation on your part but there are no better words to occupy the space of your prayers. Every prayer uttered for the glory of God is a surrender to infinite wisdom and the sovereign plan of the Father who is preparing you for eternity. All that God calls you to be and do is for your joy both now and forever (John 15:11; 17:13). It is always worth it to pray for God’s glory, even when the answer to your prayer pushes you beyond the boundaries of your own comfort and leisure.

Credits

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Psalm 24 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by Siim Lukka on Unsplash

My Worth and My Unworthiness

Imagine King David stepping out onto the roof of his house on a cool, clear evening and staring up into the night sky (having learned his lesson not to stare down at others). As he ponders the magnitude of God’s creation, the thought enters his mind, “… what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” Psalm 8:4-5 (ESV). David is immediately struck by two truths that seem to be in tension with one another:

  1. The insignificance of humanity in relation to God.
  2. The significance bestowed on humanity by God.

Like many doctrines in tension (e.g. God’s sovereignty & man’s free will, God’s love & God’s wrath, etc.), it is easy to sympathize with one above the other. We are tempted to believe we need to diminish one to uphold the other. However, in order to have a proper understanding of who we are, we must affirm both our insignificance and our significance, our unworthiness and our worth, our depravity and our dignity.

What is Man that You Are Mindful of Him?

Two characteristics of humanity cause David to ponder our insignificance. First, we are created. As David considered the ease with which God created the entire universe, he began to wonder why such a powerful God would ever take notice of man. After all, the moon and the stars are the work of God’s fingers. Why would God stoop so low as to care about an individual, even someone as powerful as King David?

Not only are we created beings, but we are rebels against our Creator. Genesis 3 records what is commonly referred to as the Fall. Adam and Eve were given one prohibition not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Naturally, a prohibition seemed intriguing and with a little help from the Tempter, they disobeyed God. Since that tragic moment rebellion has been characteristic of humanity. In light of our rebellion against this all-powerful God, we stand before God as unworthy beings. Certainly, as unworthy beings God views us as worthless, right? Not so fast.

Crowned With Glory and Honor

It is clear from the opening pages of Scripture that man is the crowning glory of God’s creation. The fast-paced creation narrative slows down when it describes the origin of Adam and Eve. God rewinds in Genesis 2 for a closer look at man’s creation. Despite the immensity of the universe, it is man who has been “crowned with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:5). There is something significant about mankind that sets us apart from the rest of creation. The distinctive feature of humanity is that we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Herman Bavinck says it this way, “…among all creatures only man is the image of God, the highest and richest revelation of God and therefore head and crown of the entire creation.”

We are crowned with glory and honor because we are made in the likeness of the King of Glory. It is this high position and calling of being an image bearer that makes humanity dignified above the rest of creation. R. C. Sproul sums it up well, “Man’s dignity rests in God who assigns an inestimable worth to every person. Man’s origin is not an accident, but a profoundly intelligent act by One who has eternal value; by One who stamps His own image on each person.” As those made in the image of the infinitely worthy God, we possess worth and dignity that far surpasses the rest of creation.

Our significance, our worth, and our dignity are grounded in the truth that we are created in the image of God. This is important because many Christians have overreacted to the self-esteem/self-worth movement by insisting that we are worthless. It can sound righteous to say, “we are trash, we are worthless, we are nothing.” However, in affirming both the unworthiness and worth of man, David simultaneously rejects a therapeutic—improve your life by improving your self-worth— view of man and an overly spiritualized—man is totally worthless—view of man.

What does it mean to be created in the image of God?

If our dignity comes from being made in the image of God, we must have a firm grasp of what it means to be an image bearer. There are two primary features of the image of God. First, God created us like himself in many ways. We are not God; we are not little gods; we will never be gods; we are, however, made “in his likeness” (James 3:9). As those who are made in the likeness of God, we can think, feel, speak, desire, choose, create, and relate on a level that is unknown to the rest of creation. This is possible because we are made in the image of God who thinks, speaks, desires, chooses, creates, and relates.

God not only endows every person with immense worth by stamping them with his image, but he also commands each person to reflect his image by obeying his Word. This is the second aspect of being made in God’s image. We were created in the likeness of God, so that we might represent him as living, breathing pictures (images) of him. One of the most important ways we were supposed to do this was by reflecting God’s character. We were designed to be holy because God is holy, just because God is just, Kind because God is kind, etc.

Unfortunately, we continually fail to reflect his image. Though we remain image bearers in our essence, we imperfectly mirror him as a result of our sin. The irony of sin is that we use the very abilities we have as image bearers and use them for our sinful gratification. For instance, We abuse our ability to communicate by engaging in slander and gossip. We abuse our ability to reason by rationalizing our sin away. We abuse our ingenuity to find new ways to rebel against him.

Our Ultimate Hope

Needless to say, the answer is not found within ourselves. We needed another to come to our rescue. Surprisingly, the rescuer came in the form of an image bearer. God became a man. He became the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15) and the perfect picture of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3). Our ultimate hope rests in Jesus, the perfect image of God, who himself became a little lower than the angels. Hebrews 2:9 says, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (ESV). He tasted death for us by bearing the wrath of God on the cross that we deserved. He rose from the grave offering forgiveness and reconciliation to all those who would turn away from their sin and rely on his finished work.

In God’s wisdom and grace he begins to transform his followers into the image of Christ. We progressively begin to look more and more like the perfect image-bearer. What was broken at the fall begins to be restored until one day the recreating work of God will be complete as we become fully like Christ when we are with him in eternity (1 John 3:2). We will perfectly image God forever.


Credits

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 8:4-5). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

RC Sproul. In Search of Dignity (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1983), 94.

Herman Bavinck. Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 2: God and Creation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004) 531.

The Subtle Havoc of Pride

If you could choose any one sin for God to immediately and permanently deliver you from what would it be? My guess is that pride is not the first sin which comes to mind. I think the reason that this is so is that the havoc of pride is subtle. Its invasive tentacles slither into every room of your heart with imperceptible movement and its suffocating grip is tolerable over time. But underestimating the toll pride can have on your life is a dangerous miscalculation.

My hope is that as we look together at Psalm 131 God will activate its truths in your heart in order to equip you to better fight pride. Psalm 131 helps us understand the particular havoc pride causes and that there is hope available for those who suffer from this havoc.

1 O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. 2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. 3 O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore. (ESV; see below)

Hints of a Former Life

Listen to how the psalmist describes his current spiritual state in verse 1. His “heart is not lifted up,” his “eyes are not raised too high,” and he does not “occupy [himself] with things too great and too marvelous” (which means he recognizes there are things which only God can be and God can do). All these phrases describe a man who is humble.

Presumably, this was not always the case. There was a time in the past when this man’s heart was proud, his eyes raised too high, and being and doing the things reserved for God controlled him.

One of the graces of Psalm 131 is that it provides an opportunity for us to consider what pride is still lingering in our hearts and the destruction it is causing.  

The Havoc: Spiritual Restlessness

In verse 2 the psalmist speaks of being “calmed” and “quieted.” Obviously, the psalmist experienced havoc which needed to be calmed and quieted. This chaos is not external as if the psalmist is speaking about the world around him. Just the opposite is true. The world is still just as chaotic and restless as it has ever been. Rather, the psalmist has internal chaos; his soul (his inner being), therefore, is in need of being calmed and quieted.

I don’t know what label to attach to this havoc of the soul. But having a label or name is secondary. Those who suffer in this way know that no word can fully capture all that it entails. For the sake of conversation, I will just simply refer to this havoc as spiritual restlessness.

Can Pride Really Cause Spiritual Restlessness?

The most valuable truth I’ve learned from Psalm 131 is that there is a link between pride and spiritual restlessness. Pride doesn’t cause all spiritual restlessness but pride can lead to, and feed into, spiritual restlessness. It pressures you to be and to do things reserved for God alone. Here are four examples of this kind of pride (Zack Eswine in his book ‘The Imperfect Pastor’ helped me understand these pressures):

  • The pressure to have more – “If I just had more time and money all my problems would be solved.
  • The pressure to be more – “If only I could be a better spouse, a better parent, a better employee and a better church member, things would be different.
  • The pressure to do more – “I just wish I just had more energy to do things I need to do.
  • The pressure to know more – “If I just had more information I would have made different decisions and things would be different.”

But here is the thing with all these pressures – God hasn’t designed you to have everything, be everything, do everything, and know everything. God and God alone is all sufficient, holy, and all knowing. These pressures are unnecessary and leave you feeling exasperated and frustrated or you could say spiritually restless. God knows this and his grace is up for the challenge.

The Hope and Source of Soul Quietness

The psalmist experienced something that we all desire for ourselves. This ‘something’ is that he had been “calmed” (Hebrew word meaning to level or make smooth) and “quieted” (Hebrew word meaning to make still). The psalmist calmed and quieted his soul (v.2) by undergoing the spiritual work of humbling his prideful self (v.1). The psalmist understood that calming and quieting his restless soul demanded fighting pride because pride is what fed into his spiritual restlessness. When this pride went unchecked spiritual restlessness flourished in his soul.

Was this growth easy? No way! The pain is like what a baby experiences when being weaned from his mother’s milk. But God’s grace worked in him and he was calmed and quieted as he fought to kill pride. Why wouldn’t a kind and loving God do the same for you?

Hope in God

Fighting pride is more than just putting off pride-filled thought patterns. It also requires putting on hoping in the LORD as the psalmist explains in verse 3. This work of hoping in the LORD requires resting in who He is and what only He can do. This LORD is the one who has “steadfast love” and in Him, there is “plentiful redemption” (Psalm 130:7). This LORD is the one who came to “redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (130:8). Whereas pride turns your hope inward, hoping in the LORD requires you look outside of yourself for safety, certainty, and security.

Conclusion

We need Psalm 131 as often as we can remind ourselves of it. Pride is always knocking on the door of our hearts. Before we open the door and invite that old friend in again I pray that God would bring at least two truths from Psalm 131 to our remembrance: First, I pray that God will remind us of the ruin pride brings in the form of spiritual restlessness. When God helps us remember sin’s danger it is one of His good graces which help us avoid sin in the first place. Second, I pray that when we find ourselves in this unfortunate state that we would humble ourselves as we hope in God.


Credits

Photo by William Krause on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Psalm 24 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Eswine, Zack (2015). The Imperfect Pastor. Wheaton, IL. Crossway.


Other Resources

If you enjoyed this post you should also check out David Powlison’s chapter titled Peace, Be Stil: Psalm 131 in his book ‘Seeing With New Eyes‘ (P & R Publishing, 2003), and John Piper’s sermon Join Me in Soul-Satisfaction in God on Psalm 131. Both of these resources were a joy to interact with and helped me see the beauty of Psalm 131.

Finding True Assurance of Salvation

“If you are 99% sure you are saved, you are 100% lost.”

“If you don’t remember the day and time you called on Christ, you are lost.”

“That voice in your head saying, ‘you’re not saved’ is not the devil, it is God trying to get your attention.”

These statements might make for “good” preaching at a revival meeting, but they flow from poor theology. For the ones who have struggled with doubts about the genuineness of their faith, assertions like these only bring about further hopelessness and confusion.

Is true assurance of salvation found in feeling saved? Will we find true assurance by analyzing the events of our conversion? Or, do the Scriptures give us a better way forward?

Not surprisingly, there is both help and hope in God’s Word. Let’s start with hope.

You Are Not Alone

In college, I traveled as a member of the basketball team. I spent multiple road trips staring out the window of the travel bus wondering, “if Jesus came back right now, what would happen to me?” I played scenarios in my head. Would I be welcomed by my Savior? Or would I hear the dreaded words, “depart from me, for I never knew you?” Neither outcome would have surprised me.

I was convinced that I alone struggled like this. I assumed the other Christians on my team had it all figured out. Surely they wouldn’t understand if I ever gathered the courage to share my doubts with them. I kept quiet, unaware that many on the bus were pondering the same questions in their hearts.

It is an odd comfort knowing that we are not alone in our doubts. It is not as if we want others to suffer through temptation the way we have. Instead, there is comfort in realizing we’re not some sort of an oddball.

God’s Word shatters our understanding that our temptations are unique. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “no temptation has overtaken you except that which is common to man…” (1 Cor. 10:13). It is an odd comfort knowing that we are not alone in our doubts. It is not as if we want others to suffer through temptation the way we have. Instead, there is comfort in realizing we’re not some sort of an oddball. There is even greater comfort in knowing that many believers throughout the history of the church have faced similar temptations and have walked in faithful obedience.

There is consolation in knowing we are not alone, but our ultimate hope for change rests in the faithfulness of God. The verse goes further, instructing us that “…God is faithful, and will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide a way of escape” (1 Cor. 10:13). One of the ways God has demonstrated his faithfulness is to supply us with every resource in Christ to respond to our temptations in a way that glorifies him.

So, where does change begin for the doubter?

Gospel Assurance

Too often we want to look to ourselves to find assurance. We ask ourselves, “did I really mean it when I called on Christ?” We silently wonder, “was my faith strong enough to truly save me when I asked Jesus to save me?” Soon we convince ourselves that we could say the ‘sinner’s prayer’ again with more faith, more vigor, more earnestness. This time, we surmise, it will actually work because we will mean it more. Our reflections quickly become all about us and we eventually lose sight of the Savior. In seeking to assure ourselves by ourselves we only create more doubt. As Everett (George Clooney) affirms in Oh Brother Where Art Thou, “It’s a fool that looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart.”

If it is foolish to look to ourselves as the primary means of assurance, where do we look? The alternative is to look away from ourselves and toward Christ. In other words, we must learn to rely on the sufficiency of Christ’s death and resurrection instead of relying on a past experience of asking Jesus to save us.


“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 8:1


The gospel is that Jesus has done what we could never do–lived perfectly, died sacrificially, resurrected victoriously–in order to give us what the Law could never give us (forgiveness of sins and a heart to obey God). Let that be our foremost means of assurance. It isn’t about us, our efforts, the strength of our faith. It is about the work of Christ for us. That is news in which we can find rest for our doubting hearts.

The Evidence of Faith

Only after we can affirm that our faith is resting in Christ for our salvation, can we look at our lives for evidences of genuine faith.

In addition to affirming the gospel, our attitude towards sin is one of the greatest indicators of genuine faith. Paul suggests that those who are in Christ experience a desire to put off sin and put on righteousness (Romans 8:4). The Apostle then builds on this assertion, pointing out that these desires for righteousness are not natural, but are the result of the presence and work of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9). Further, everyone who has the indwelling of the Spirit is saved (Romans 8:9-10). Finally, all those who are saved count God as their heavenly Father (Romans 8:15-17).

Working backward then we might put it this way:

  • How can I be confident I’m God’s child? You can be confident you are God’s child if you are saved.
  • How do I know if I’m saved? You can know you are saved if you have the Holy Spirit living inside of you.
  • How do I know if the Holy Spirit is living inside of me? You can know the Spirit is inside of you if you battle sin and desire godliness.

Conclusion

It is not wrong to examine the authenticity of your conversion, in fact, God commands it (2 Corinthians 13:5). However, you do want to avoid examining yourself on grounds the Bible doesn’t commend. Feelings or past experiences are poor evidences of real salvation. Instead, look to the gospel itself and ask if you are truly trusting in Christ’s person and work for your salvation. Further, consider if you are demonstrating an attitude of repentance (turning away from sin) that is consistent with someone who is born again.


Photo by Jez Timms on Unsplash