Ever notice this about Hebrews 11:32-38?
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets--who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
There's a dramatic difference between the two parts of that list. As the author challenges the Hebrews with the need to persevere and not turn back, in chapter 11 he calls witnesses to the stand to testify to the reality and significance and possibility of enduring faith. But he doesn't have time or space to tell in detail about every person of faith in their history. So towards the end, he gives a quick summary of some others. That's where we find the shift highlighted above: his list goes from great accomplishments to great suffering.
What distinguishes the two parts of his list? Some might say faith. Christians with strong faith enjoy great triumph and success as they walk through this life. Christians with weak faith are more likely to struggle and suffer.
But that's NOT it (proponents of the prosperity non-gospel and others to the contrary). You know what comes next in this passage? Hebrews 11:39 "And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised..." Fully receiving what was promised awaits the return of Christ. But for our focus in this post notice that faith is not what distinguishes those who are triumphing from those who are suffering. Both groups, rather, are commended through their faith. Some escape the sword (v. 34) by faith and others die by the sword (v. 37) by faith.
Since faith, by definition, looks away from self to the Savior, there is no room for pride or a martyr's complex among people of faith. The one currently accomplishing great things by faith may not look down the one who is suffering great things by faith. The one suffering is not to be envious of the one triumphing. God calls different ones of his children to face different things, and they are all fully dependent upon the object of their faith. The ground at the foot of the cross is level. All believers must wake up in the morning and acknowledge that they can do nothing in their own strength.
Whether intentional or implicit, the propagation of a view that says the distinction between suffering and triumphing is based on the strength of one's faith is dangerous and damaging. It can lead to pride and arrogance for those enjoying good things and despair and hopelessness for those suffering.
The truth is there's great comfort here for sufferers. People of great faith have suffered greatly. And for those triumphing, the glory goes to God alone. God may call a person of faith to accomplish great things or suffer great things or somewhere in between or some of both. All of these are to be commended for their faith, and all can rest in and bring glory to the object of their faith: the faithful God.
All of these are people I am glad to say I knew to some degree or another. But they all departed this life too soon, all within the last five months. I was at three of the funerals and saw part of another online. The brief word given to each of them above can't begin to describe who they were. If any of them were your friends, you know that. The crowded churches at their funerals (in some cases, standing room only) tell you that. What can we say in the face of such loss?
I wish we didn't have to think about death. But praise the sovereign God that we have Christ Jesus the conquering Savior to give us hope as we face that last enemy.
I haven't posted around here for awhile. Nothing since June 27, to be a bit more exact. Remarkably, the world has continued to spin without my musings to get you through the day. So I don't anticipate that this post will be life changing either, but perhaps just an encouragement to continue on the way towards a greater day, relying on the strength of the One alone who can get you there.
Some of you will know that back in 2011 I went into a black hole of a place in my life. I was low: full of doubt, fear, anxiety, worry, and uncertainty. It's not my purpose here to get into what happened and why. Rather I want to give you an example of one of the things that was helpful during that time and in the days since. It could be summed in 3 statements and is the accumulated wisdom of various authors and faithful people in my life. (Some of you have heard this from me before.)
It sounds like the Psalmist (Asaph) is in a black hole of his own. Psalm 77:1-4 "I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints. (Selah) You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak." Been there before? It's scary, isn't it? But I love that the Psalmist doesn't stay there.
Psalm 77:5-6 "I consider the days of old, the years long ago. I said, 'Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.' Then my spirit made a diligent search..." Notice how he talks to himself. And here's something that struck me. Fighting the lie with the truth isn't easy. We have to force ourselves to meditate on the truth. It will require a "diligent search." Fighting fear and depression is war; it takes work to preach truth to yourself.
And then it seems like we get a window into some of the troubling thoughts he was struggling with. Psalm 77:7-9 "'Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?' (Selah)" Ever felt that way? Thankfully, these five questions answer themselves. No. God has not forgotten or failed to love his people. He never has and he never will. But when the doubt and worry come, you'll have to work to remind yourself of that reality.
Psalm 77:10-14 "Then I said, 'I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.' I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples." He goes on to enumerate some of God's mighty deeds. And so should we - examples from Scripture and history and our own lives. It's hard to look back when the present is so overwhelming, but it's worth the effort to realign our perspective
Beautiful example of the struggling psalmist getting a hold of himself and reminding himself of what he knew to be true about God when what he felt was far different. We would do well to do the same.
Have you ever been frustrated with the slow process of sanctification...in someone else? Go ahead, raise your hand. No one's going to see you on your phone or at your computer. Unless you're at Starbucks. But you've been frustrated, right? You see a brother or sister in Christ and you wish that they knew better; or even worse, they do know better but it seems they aren't doing anything about it. They should be much further along in maturity, self-control, serving the saints, Sabbath keeping, honoring their parents or whatever it is that's bothering you. Interestingly we are often quick to spot faults in others which may be relative strengths in our own lives. But we're not so quick to identify our own shortcomings. (Just FYI, someone else is probably frustrated with your and my slow progress in some area too.)
So what should you do if you find yourself frustrated with another's slow growth in grace? Well, Scripture does call us to encourage and exhort one another, to confront others in their sin, and point them to the Savior. But God's Word also gives us some ideas on how to do that. You probably aren't surprised that we are not to encourage and challenge one another as holier-than-thou saints looking down our noses at our morally challenged brothers and sisters. So how should we seek to help one another on the way to glory? Two thoughts.
I'm not saying don't say anything. No! We need to encourage and challenge one another. But we would also do well to remember how patient God has been with our painfully slow growth in grace. We would do well to remember the gentleness of God toward us. And that, friends, requires humility. So go help your brother or sister. But go humbly, recognizing your own weakness. Go gently. Go understanding that change often doesn't happen overnight. Have patience as you remember God's patience with you.
The other day, I did one of the most interesting, fun (and probably some other adjectives) things I've done in a long time: a ride along with a Warsaw Police Department officer. He used to be my neighbor and one day asked if I'd like to come with him on one of his shifts. Of course, I said yes! And so on a Thursday evening from 5pm-10:30pm or so I got to go on patrol in a WPD squad car with one of Warsaw's finest. Here are a few miscellaneous observations from the time. (I loved it, by the way.)
Racial discrimination is not imaginary or a fabrication of the media or politicians. It is a fact. It may well be exacerbated and exaggerated by selective, inflammatory media reporting and camera hungry politicians, but it is not created by them. Racial discrimination comes out of proud, sinful hearts of men. (If you think it is imaginary, travel somewhere in our country or to another country where you are in the racial minority and see how it feels to have certain things assumed about you because of the color of your skin.)
Given this reality, should the church say anything about race and racism? It is the work of the church to proclaim the truth of God's Word. So, does God's Word have anything to say about the issue of race? The answer, of course, is yes. Quite a bit, actually. Here are a few examples. (This is NOT an exhaustive list. All references are from the ESV.)
Here are a few thoughts. They are not the only or the final thoughts or the thoughts to end all others. They are just some thoughts that I hope will be helpful and not hurtful.
First, scriptural principles regarding race we can draw based on the passages above (and others).
Now, a few thoughts on how to apply these principles.
Last Sunday evening, Pastor Jason Webb from Grace Fellowship Church in Bremen, IN (the church that planted GBC) came and preached for us during our Lord's Supper service. What a good word from God he brought to us that night! It was so good that I want to tell you about it. I was foolish enough to neglect to record it, so you can't listen to it, but you can read my limited thoughts on it in this post. I also managed to dig it out of the archives from when he preached that message at GFC and you can listen that iteration here. (What follows is a mixture of Pastor Jason's message and my own thoughts triggered by what he preached.)
In a day when the Lord's Day is largely marginalized and unimportant (and that's among Christians!), it was refreshing to be reminded of what makes for a truly good Sunday evening. Jason opened up John 20:19-20 to show us what happened on the night of the Sunday when Jesus rose from the dead. "On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you.' When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord."
So what makes for a good Sunday evening? John 20:19-20 describes a pretty remarkable one, and we heard 4 things that made it so for the disciples:
It's interesting. When we treat the Lord's Day like it's our day so that we can do more of what we want because we think that will be good for us, we actually miss out on the real blessing of what the Lord's Day should be.
Be careful what you preach. You may have to practice it.
Some time ago, I preached on trusting in the Lord - not our skills, talents, money, houses, alliances, jobs, wisdom, strength, and for good measure I even threw in "the cloud." You see, I tend to trust in the cloud. I feel quite confident in my ability to survive a computer crash because I save most files to the cloud. They're not stored locally on my computer, so I can access them from any computer. But I noted as I preached that even the cloud can fail you. I know that. But even after preaching it, I still trusted the cloud.
And so this past Thursday night before going to bed, I turned on my (not quite 5 month old) computer. Except it didn't turn on. Stone cold dead. No indicator lights. No powering down after holding the power button down. No sign of life. Nothing. Did I panic? Nope. Was it because of my confidence that God was in control. Sadly, no. It was because: the cloud! Sure, earlier that day, I had put together about 7 or 8 pages (out of a usual 12 or so total) of my sermon for the coming Sunday. But I went to bed without qualms. I knew I could fire up my old computer or borrow Erin's and be back in business; finish off the last few pages of the sermon, clean it all up and be good to go for Sunday. I did get out my old computer that night so it could start updating since I hadn't used it in a few months. I was so confident and at peace, that I didn't even try find or open the sermon file that night or even Friday morning, for that matter. I was not pleased that a fairly new computer wasn't working, but figuring out the problem wasn't urgent, and it was still under warranty.
Some time around or after lunch on Friday I got on my old computer and went to the trusted cloud to fetch my sermon and start working on it again. You know that sinking feeling in your gut? The one you get when you're pretty sure something bad has happened, but you're not quite sure. Yup. Sermon wasn't there. I poked around and couldn't find it. I was not a boiling pot of rage, but I was pretty sad and stressed about how to get my sermon done. I'll spare you a blow by blow of my afternoon trying to get my computer on again to find the file, finally giving up (quite aware that all the time I spent running around doing that I could have been re-writing my sermon).
And so, the sermon I preached yesterday was not quite the one I originally wrote on Thursday. I am aware that losing 2/3 of a sermon on a Friday afternoon is not the end of the world. Unpleasant as it was, no big deal in the big picture. The point is more that all too often my trust is misplaced. Cloud = peace. No cloud = less peace. Something's wrong with that picture. We're supposed to rest easy in the arms of our faithful Savior who is always with us. If it takes a lost sermon to remind me of that, then good. Hopefully I will learn and grow. We can be thankful for our health, strength, friends, houses, jobs, wisdom, bank accounts, and yes, even the cloud. But if we ultimately trust in those things, we will be disappointed. We have misplaced our trust. That's something that we will never be able to say about faith fixed on our faithful God and Savior. In him our trust is never misplaced and it will never be disappointed.
(For those of you freaking out that you could have found my sermon for me, etc. Here's what I think happened. Thursday I was working at my "other office," Martin's, where I sometimes have trouble connecting to their network. I think that in the absence of an internet connection, files set to save to "the cloud" are saved locally on the computer and synced to the cloud the next time you are online. That' no problem, unless your computer crashes before the next time you connect to the internet. And it looks like the problem with the computer may be the power cord. Time will tell. I'll still use the cloud. But I hope my faith will more truly be in the Lord.)
Recently the Center for Medical Progress has posted a series of undercover videos exposing some of the atrocities being carried out at Planned Parenthood (PP) affiliates across the nation. If you have not seen them, they are painful to watch. It is disgusting and heart rending. But you should watch them anyway. The videos (and more are expected) have pulled back the veil on "pro-choice" rhetoric and euphemisms. And that leads me to what you'll find below. These are certainly not original thoughts, just a compilation of things I've seen from others and my thoughts. These will make more sense if you've seen one or more of the videos.
If it’s just a blob of cells or products of conception...
If it’s just a fetus...
If it’s really about women’s rights and women's health services...
If it’s not about the $...
Now, go through and replace the "If it's..." with "Because it's not..." and you'll have your answer to the "then why..." questions. Please don't be silent on this issue or bury your head in the sand as though you don't know what's going on. The veil has been pulled back. May God use this as a tipping point in our land to bring to an end the evil of killing the unborn. Make no mistake. This is the human rights issue of our time. May we be courageous to give voice to the voiceless. You can sign a petition calling for congressional investigation here.
Add further "If...then..." thoughts in the comments below or on the facebook post.
In the last couple of days, a video exposing a despicable practice of Planned Parenthood selling body parts of aborted babies exploded onto the internet via social media and some news sources. (Here, for example, is World Magazine's story.) Gut-wrenching as it is, you should really watch the video embedded in the story. It is pure evil. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood's senior director of medical services, calmly munches her lunch and talks about crushing babies in the womb in such a way as to preserve the more valuable parts to be sold.
Last night at the ESPYS (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Awards) the Arthur Ashe courage award was given to someone now known as Caitlyn Jenner, who you may remember as the great decathlete Bruce Jenner, for his courage in journeying from maleness to femaleness.
And last month the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges that effectively redefines marriage, making same-sex marriage legal all across our nation.
If you're looking for a woe is us, gloom and doom, the world is over response, look somewhere else. We are not the first Christians to look evil in the eye, wonder if our society is about to be swept away in judgment by a holy God, and we likely won't be the last. But I'm not going to sugar-coat any of this either. Babies are dying and people are making money off of it. People are rejecting God-given roles and definitions. Things in our land are not good, and I want briefly to point to a common source and an appropriate response.
What do Obergefell, Jenner, and Nucatola have in common? When the creatures reject the Creator, the rejection of his good standards and design follows. The theory of Evolution conveniently rids men of the Creator and therefore of any notion of obligation or submission to that Creator. That means his creation of man in his own image, male and female goes out the window. His definition of marriage (one man and one woman for life) can easily be jettisoned. No Creator? No need to listen to or follow the commands of the Creator. If God, the Creator, says the life of human beings is precious, it doesn't matter. If God says he decides gender, it is irrelevant. God defines marriage? No thanks, we'll come up with our own definition. But even in their rejection of God's truth, you see that they can't escape it. Gender re-assignment surgery implies that one's gender was already assigned (by God!). Planned Parenthood apparently argues that providing "fetal tissue" to scientific researchers potentially brings advances in treatment of diseases. It seems they claim to be trying to preserve life. Redefining marriage acknowledges the good gift of marriage. Even when you try to reject the Creator you accidentally affirm that his way is good and right and true.
So what to do? I suppose an entire post could be given to each of these, but here are a few suggestions.
Some miscellaneous musings from Pastor Aaron.
When I quote Scripture In this blog, unless otherwise indicated, the quotations are usually from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission.
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