Suffering And The Sovereignty Of God

Some of life’s biggest questions come up when we start talking about suffering. Questions like: Why do we suffer and what is the purpose of it?  Where is God when I’m suffering?  And is God good?

So much of my story and testimony of Jesus’ work in my life has come from wrestling with these questions. Today I want to start a little blog series that wrestles with some of these questions. I will not pretend to have all of the answers, but I would love to share some of the things I’ve learned along the way. Let’s start with the sovereignty of God…

God is sovereign over all things. He is even sovereign over suffering.

What I mean by sovereign is that God is the one who exercises supreme authority and power. He is above all others in character, importance, and excellence. He is the one who “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” (Eph 1:11 ESV)

Many people have mistakenly divorced God from suffering. But if we ignore God’s sovereignty and how it plays into our suffering, we will miss being rooted and grounded in the fact that God is with us in our suffering. Scripture clearly shows that God is with us even on the days when our hearts swell with emotions and pain.  

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 says,

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”

God is sovereign over suffering, but that doesn’t mean that suffering isn’t real.

The Bible says that we suffer. It says that we suffer in every way. It says we are perplexed. It says we are persecuted. It says we are struck down….But…. Read 2 Corinthians 4:7

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;

perplexed, but not driven to despair;

persecuted, but not forsaken;

struck down, but not destroyed;

always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

Our suffering is real. It can be puzzling.  It can be physical or even emotional, yet we are not crushed. We are not meant to be destroyed by it. There is a purpose. We are meant to have the life of Jesus manifested in our bodies.

Be encouraged that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2Co 4:17 ESV)

God is sovereign over suffering, but that doesn’t excuse evildoers.

God’s perfect love is both kind and severe. In the beautiful story of redemption, Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” He was crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. And God raised him up. (Act 2:23-24 ESV). This was the kindness of God making a way for people to be set free from sin.

God made a way for salvation. It is only by His kindness that any of us are set free. However if all we knew of God is His gracious side, we would be left with a flat- one-dimensional view. Jim Andrews in his book Polishing God’s Monuments says that, “The love of God, due to human wickedness, necessarily also has “severe” edges in the form of judgment and discipline (105).

 What he is saying is that God will deal with sin because it is impossible for God to do an injustice. Andrews continues by saying, “Divine justice is a crucial component of divine love. A God of love does not forgive, ignore, wink at, or pass over evil.” (Andrews 105). If God overlooked sin that would be an injustice. God cannot and will not let the guilty go unpunished. If we are suffering because of someone’s wrongdoing, we can heed Romans call to “note then the kindness and the severity of God” (11:22 ESV).

So if you are suffering, whether it be big or small, physical or emotional, know that God is sovereign.

He sees you.

Suffering is real.

God knows your situation.

He sees the evil-doer and will act justly.

Know His kindness toward you. He died for your salvation. He is acquainted with suffering. Turn to Him. Cry out to Him. And feel the embrace of His comfort.

Today we addressed the sovereignty of God and suffering. Stay tuned as we wrestle with the questions 1) Is God good? 2) What is the purpose of suffering?

Miracles

Up in the mountains, away from the busyness of our normal routine, Mark and I got some time to celebrate what the Lord has done in our four and a half years of marriage. God has been so faithful to shape us and mold us, and it is so right to celebrate what He has done in an intentional way.

As we sat and talked, we recounted miracles.

Only Jesus could refine our hearts the way He has over the past four years. Only Jesus could help us love one another well. Jesus is the only one who could create the two little lives He has blessed us with. Only Jesus could lead us to repentance and teach us to forgive one another. And Jesus is the only one who could provide the joy and laughter that we have shared together. God deserves glory! For He has done great things!     

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.

(Psalm 77:11-14 ESV)

Write

Mark and I love Southern Seminary. Mark is currently working towards his MDiv and has had a great experience there. He has taken a number of online classes, and on the occasional Saturday I have been caught listening to his lectures with him. I majored in Biblical Studies in college and can’t seem to help myself. I love learning about the Bible!

A neat opportunity came up through the school in July of 2010. A women’s devotional called A Walk Through Psalms was published in order to help fund more women’s scholarships at Southern Seminary. I had the privilege of contributing to the book. I had so much fun writing the devotion for Valentine’s Day.

I am so excited about how the Lord is using the book. It is encouraging readers and is allowing more women to study God’s word.

To date the devotional has raised $26,000 dollars for scholarships. Southern recently contacted me and the other contributors and asked if we would share about the book. So if you are looking for a yearlong devotional, check out Women at Southern: A Walk Through Psalms. It may be purchased from the LifeWay campus bookstore or by calling 502-897-4506. There are still a few red Women at Southern journals available ($15 value) that are given free (as long as they last) by sending or bringing the receipts to the women’s office, 502-897-4085 or women@sbts.edu.

 

 

 

*Second photo provided by Southern.

 

At A Crossroads

Imagine a father sitting across from his adolescent son. The father stares deep into his son’s eyes and doesn’t beat around the bush. “Listen to me,” he says with loving intensity.

The boy’s dark eyes lock onto his dad, as he speaks. In the moments that follow this loving father paints a picture for his son that will affect the rest of his life. A crossroad is described. There is no middle road, only two paths going in opposite directions.

The Father colors one road as a path to life. It’s as if the father wants to take his son firmly by the hand and lead him on the path that is secure, a path that will add many days and years to his son’s life.

But before the son can get too comfortable on this described path the father quickly adds black onto the white pages of his son’s mind by sketching another path.  He draws for him, the path of death. This path is smeared with foolishness, selfish desire, and scoffing at correction. The son is left at the crossroads and so are you.

As this father and son live on the lines written in Proverbs, they are waiting to be found by us on the pages of Scripture. They invite us to open our Bibles and take our seat as a son. They ask us to listen to our Heavenly Father who stands ready to teach and instruct us.

Today God is offering us a divine invitation to gain wisdom. He is calling us to know the person of Jesus and to worship Him by obeying His commands.

You Are At A Crossroad.

As you open your Bible to Proverbs 9, you must first know that you are at a crossroad. As you stand before two paths, you have a choice to make. You will not be left alone to make your decision because two voices will be calling out to you, both pleading with you to come down their path. One voice shrieks, “There is no God. Do whatever you want.” Fool-heartedly laughing one voice shouts her vulgarities while she waits to seduce you, dare you go near her. This is the voice of folly.

But there is another voice calling. This voice calls you to turn at the Lord’s reproof. The voice of wisdom calls you to leave your simple ways. Being simple is characterized by being young, niave, or easily deceived. Wisdom lovingly pleads with you to quit being deceived and come and dine with her.

It is important to know, that there is no middle road. You will either choose the path of wisdom, or you will choose the way to destruction.

You are given instruction.

Right here you are given instruction, and it may seem obvious which path you should take. But it is important to know that you can’t choose the right path by yourselves. If you choose alone, you will always choose the way to death. Why? Because as shown in Romans 5:18-19 each person is born into sin.

I must stop and tell you right here, the book of Proverbs is not about moral reform. And it sure isn’t a book of manners. This is not a code of ethics or good behavior. This book is about having a new heart- a transformed heart. Only God can give you that. Only He can enable you to walk down the path to life by transforming your inner man. The good news is: God made a way by giving us Jesus. As John 3 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

That is amazing, and therefore you must pay attention to the book of Proverbs because it holds the key to life. It unlocks the door to wisdom and introduces you to the person of Jesus who is wisdom Himself.

Like the son in the book of Proverbs must respond to his father, you too must respond to your Heavenly Father. His correction, instruction, and reproof will meet your life.

What does God’s discipline/ training look like? Training may look like a rebuke from a brother (1 Tim. 5:20). It may appear in the shape of a trial. James 1:2-3 exhorts you to “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”  God’s training is a call to walk in the light. It is a call to speak the truth in love to one another so each one may grow up in the Lord. The Lord’s correction, instruction, and discipline will meet your life and you will respond one of two ways.

You will respond one of two ways.

This loving call/correction from the Lord will find you in one of two states. First, you may be a transformed believer who knows Jesus. You would be characterized as a wise person because you turn at the Lord’s reproof. This will look like, 1) You not taking God’s discipline lightly, and you don’t become unglued when reproved by Him (Heb. 12:5). 2) You believe the truth. You believe His word which says, “For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life, (Pr. 6:23). 3) You obey God. (Pr. 9:9) 4) You do not scoff and hate those who deliver the Lord’s rebuke (Pr.9:8)

If this is you, the book of Proverbs paints you as one who grows in wisdom. Proverbs 9:9 says it best, “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.” Matthew 13:12a puts it this way, “For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance.” If this is you, you are one who is no longer dead, but now alive in Christ.

Yet there is another response. Second, you are in rebellion against God, and are walking in hatred toward Him. When the correction comes, or the reproof meets your life, you scoff. You incur injury on those who correct you and you seethe with hated toward the one giving correction.

Here’s your result:

Your choice is a life and death matter. The results of your choice are literally the difference between eternal life and everlasting death. If you listen to wisdom, you will be one who fears the Lord (Pr. 9:10). If you are known by Jesus, and are obedient to His word, which is walking in wisdom, your result will good. Your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life (Pr. 9:11) But if you scorn, ridicule, and sneer at the ways of God, you alone will bear it.  For when you smirk and mock God to his face, you rebel against him. And you alone will bear the punishment.

Which way will you walk?

Whose voice will you listen to? Whose feast will you attend? Will you obey God’s instructions? Will you let God’s word master your life? Or will you scorn his discipline and walk in rebellion? The crossroad is before you. I implore you to let wisdom leave its signature on your life.

P.S. If you are wondering if you truly know God and are asking “How do I know that the Lord has given me a new heart?”

Some great questions are: Do I repent? Do I turn? Do I love God?  Do I die to myself? Do I obey God?

 

 

*Some of this material was taken from a Wednesday morning prayer meeting taught by Kathy Tarr.

I Am Amazed!

As Easter approaches, I can not help but think about how amazing Jesus is. His sacrifice is astounding. Jesus gave himself up for our sins (Rom. 8:32; Gal. 1:3-4). He did the unthinkable. He came and made a way for mankind to be redeemed. He made a way for us to live!

“Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us…” (Eph. 5:2). Because Jesus died and is alive, I have seen Him move so much this year. I have seen the Lord bring freedom. He has opened blind eyes. He has changed people’s hearts. He has given life. He answered prayer. He has moved in so many ways. I am amazed at Jesus.

His sacrifice matters so much to me. He has turned my hard heart into a heart that can love Him. He has revealed Himself through His word. All I can say is when you see Jesus you will never be the same. I will never be the same!

I pray that my sweet boys will encounter Jesus like this.

God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. The word  is near you, in your mouth and heart. because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!

 

 

*(Romans 2:4b, 5:6, 10:8-9, 10:13)

Elias Grey’s Story

Just a few short days ago, on February 5, 2012 a baby named Elias Grey Rush was born and went to be with Jesus due to hydrops.

Elias Grey, though his life was short, had a huge purpose. This little one is pointing people to Jesus. Through his parents’ (Trisha and Ruben) testimony, we see how God is our strength in times of great trial.

I am captured by Elias’ story for many reasons. One being that he shares the same name as my son. And if that wasn’t enough to grab my attention, he was born one day apart from my firstborn.

My heart is drawn to him because of these things, but also because I know his mommy, and I feel for her. But what I have seen amazes me. The real compelling part of his story is the faith I see in his parents.

(photo source)

In the midst of this extrodinary loss his mom, Trisha, said, “I believe God’s promise to me, that He will never leave me or forsake me. I believe that suffering will bring about joy. I do. I haven’t lost hope in Jesus, in my Savior.” Trisha’s testimony is amazing! Read her prayer. “My prayer has been that God would get the glory and that somehow, lives would be changed through Elias’ story on earth, however long his stay is.” I believe Trisha’s prayer is being answered. Lives are being touched. God is building faith. And God has given us a beautiful example of how He is our strength in the midst of incredible pain.

If you’d like you can read about Elias’ birthday . Also read Trisha’s post on Purposeful Pain.

If you are willing, please stop for a few moments and pray for Trisha and Ruben. They have a great Savior who is working all things together for their good, but they are still feeling tremendous loss and could use our prayers. Thank you for parntering with them in this way!

Persevere: No Maternity Leave For Me

I’ve decided being a stay-at-home wife could be a full time job. I could spend weeks just organizing my closet. I could probably spend days just trying to find homes for all of my shoes. Let’s not even talk about it I tried to keep the pantry and fridge in perfect order.

I could literally spend my whole life trying to keep my house looking perfect. So what happens when I add children to this already full time job? For me, the goal changes. My goal is simple. Keep the children alive. Side note: I think it is a miracle that any child survives. I can’t tell you how many times Elias has nearly killed himself by bouncing off the couch head first or by face planting into a coffee table. It breaks my heart when he does this, but he has proven to be very resilient, and he is still breathing!

Between keeping the kids alive, feeding a baby every three hours, doing laundry, changing diapers, and tackling dishes there isn’t a whole lot of free time in my day.

My question for today is:

How do you keep your heart alive and in love with Jesus amidst the business? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Because I  can’t take a maternity leave from God, I have had to find new ways to be in His word when time is limited. Here are a few things that have helped me..

  1. Listen to the Bible. You can listen to the Bible here.
  2. Listen to sermons. You can listen to great sermons here or here.
  3. Listen to books on tape.
  4. Listen to worship music.
  5. Read a short devotional like Daily Light by Anne Graham Lotz.
  6. Memorize Scripture. I am currently memorizing in James.

While these things should not replace Bible study, they are still incredibly helpful. When I fill my mind with truth my day goes better. When I hear the Word of God my heart perseveres.

I love Jude’s call to press on. He says, “But you, beloved, building yourself up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 22).

Jude’s call to persevere is clear. And ultimately God is the one who helps us. He keeps us from stumbling.  And He will present us before the presence of His glory with great joy (Jude 24).

God will do His part, now let’s obey God’s word and do our part in persevering.

Pilgrim’s Progress

By: Mark Baker

Charles Spurgeon, the 19th Century “Prince of Preachers,” loved John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. He referred to the work often in his preaching. He read it at least once a year. It is said that he read the work over one hundred times in the course of his life. Many newer Christian books have become popular and quickly soared to the top of the charts, but Pilgrim’s progress still holds the record of the best-selling book of all time second to the Bible. Since its publishing date in 1678, it has been translated in over two hundred languages. It has never gone out of print. For many popular Christian books, the verdict is still out as to whether or not it is truly a good and profitable book. For Pilgrim’s Progress, time has already given the verdict: Bunyan’s work is a timeless classic. Now it is up to us to read it and receive the benefits from this monumental work.

(Photo Source)

John Bunyan was imprisoned multiple times for preaching the gospel. He spent over twelve years in jail. He had a series of dreams during his imprisonment that depicted the events that he tells in the book. I suppose if there is any way to receive inspiration for your next writing project, this is the way to go! The beauty of the work is how instantly relatable it is to any Christian. For example, in one of the most moving and powerful scenes in the book, Christian loses his burden as he gazes upon the cross of Christ. No other remedy or treatment had worked; only the power of the crucified and risen Christ could loose Christian from his burden! However, as Christian then proceeds on the way to the Celestial City, he soon finds himself trapped in the “Slough of Despondency.” He looks to his right and his left and sees others who are living in the City of Destruction who seem to be having an easier time than he is, even though he is trying to live according to God’s plan. Christian is finally pulled out by a man named Help, who shows Christian that God has heard his cries (Psalm 40:2). These allegorical stories are ones that every Christian will be able to relate to, and they will serve as a great encouragement to believers who, like Christian, are on the “way” to God’s Celestial City.

A Spoonful Of Insight: Family Worship Part 4

By: Mark Baker

In a previous post, I outlined the three basic elements of family worship: Read, Pray, Sing. This final post in the Family Worship series will detail two other suggestions for a fruitful and substantive family worship experience.

Memorize:

Scripture memory can be a wonderful way for families to center their hearts on the Word. Fighter Verses, a program designed to help Christians memorize Scripture, explains, “Memorization works on our hearts to cultivate Christ-like character, it helps us to resist temptation, and it enhances our prayer and worship. Here are a few more reasons—straight from Scripture. Memorizing …

  • Is one of the most effective ways to “meditate” on the Word of God “day and night” (Joshua 1:8).
  • Helps us treasure God’s Word in our hearts that we might not sin against him (Psalm 119:11).
  • Allows us to meditate on the Lord in the “night watches” (Psalm 63:6) so that we can regard all his ways (Psalm 119:15).
  • Helps us in evangelism making the Word of truth readily available to build our own and others’ faith—since “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).”

Family worship can be the perfect time to rehearse the weekly memory verse and review previous verses. From my experience, if you say your memory verse once a day, you will have it memorized by the end of the week.

Catechize:

One of my favorite classroom activities at the school where I teach is intentionally “stumping” the students. I love asking really difficult theological questions just to see how they wrestle with the ideas. They will wrinkle their brows and toss around many ideas while trying to figure out the answer. Sometimes they will have some bright thoughts, while other times they will come up with some down-right silly ideas! Throughout this process I have noticed one common trend: whenever a student begins to articulate a truly profound idea, he begins by saying, “Remember the catechism we learned a few years ago that says…” Memorizing a catechism is a very simple way to become familiar with the truths of the gospel.

Depending on your background, catechisms may seem strange or foreign to you. Even though you may not have grown up memorizing them, if you give it a try, you will soon find that a catechism is simply a 100-word road-map to right-thinking. Here are some resources to help you get started:

Books

  • Training Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Shorter Catechism by Starr Meade
  • Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way by J.I. Packer and Gary A Parrett

Videos

  • Watch Michael Horton on the benefits of catechesis.
  • Heidelberg Catechism Rap:

Just in case if you missed it here is the whole series on family worship.

A Spoonful Of Insight: Family Worship Part 3

By: Mark Baker

Read, Pray, Sing

In the last post I briefly outlined a helpful structure for family worship through three simple actions: reading, praying and singing. This installment will expand on each of these three elements.

Read

The purpose of family worship is to gather together as a family to glorify God. What better way to glorify God than to do it by being saturated in the Scriptures? Create a Bible reading plan where you work your way through Psalms, Proverbs or the New Testament. Depending on the age of your children, you may want to read one third or one half of a chapter. As your children get older, one way to help engage them in conversation is to ask them to choose one verse that they will explain to you and one verse that you will explain to them. This will keep them paying attention as well as allowing them to verbally process the easier verses and to understand the harder verses with greater clarity.

While secondary literature should never replace the Bible, it can prove to be a helpful and enjoyable supplement. Here is a list to help you get started:

  • The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones. (0-4 years)
  • The Children’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos. (4-10 years)
  • Big Truths for Young Hearts by Bruce Ware. (8-up)

Pray

Prayer is the natural response to reading the Word. Your prayer time is a wonderful opportunity for your children to learn how to pray by hearing you pray and by praying themselves. Try to pray about what you have just read from in the Scriptures. You also may want to include praying for your pastor, friends and family, missionaries and the persecuted church.

  • Voice of the Martyrs is a wonderful (and free!) resource for learning how to pray for the persecuted church.
  • Operation World is a helpful resource that lists specific gospel-oriented prayer needs for every country in the world.

Sing

I have recently gained a new appreciation for worship through song. We are currently singing through the Psalms at the school where I teach. Though I cannot carry a tune in a bucket, sometimes I am required to lead a class or even the entire school in a cappella singing. If there were ever a group of off tune singers, it would be my class when I lead! But I have experienced fresh waves of joy in Jesus and fresh understanding of the Scriptures as I have lifted up my voice in song to the Lord.

It is easy to compile a simple family song book. If your church prints song lyrics in the bulletin, collect several of the extras and put them in a notebook. You might also be able to get your hands on some old hymnals if you so desire.

Conclusion

If this post makes you feel like you are drinking from a fire hydrant, then stop and take a deep breath! You will obviously not be able to incorporate every suggestion into your own time of family worship. Keep these three points as general guidelines for all that you do in family worship: brevity, regularity and flexibility. Remember the goal is not to legalistically accomplish a task, but to glorify God by gathering together as a family to worship on a regular basis.