Posts Tagged With: trials

“You Can Do All Things”: When God Does Not Follow Our Rules

“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2–6; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version).

Creation gives us a mere glimpse of God’s glory, power, and sovereignty. Photo from PxHere.

“I know that you can do all things.” The believer’s statement of faith accepts God’s omnipotence and sovereignty as part of his life.

Job came to understand this. The book that bears his name is 42 chapters long, but it is easy to summarize in a few brief paragraphs. Job was a faithful and righteous man, and God had blessed him because of his faithfulness. He had a large family and many possessions.

One day, Satan came before God and questioned Job’s faith. He claimed that Job was not really so righteous but merely worshiped God from selfish motives: Take away his wealth, and he will curse God. So, God allowed Satan to take away everything Job had: his sheep, other livestock, and even his children. (See Job 1.) Despite all of this tragedy, Job did not question God:

“And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’” (Job 1:21).

In chapter 2, Satan raised the ante:

“Then Satan answered the Lord and said, ‘Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.’ And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life’” (Job 2:4–6).

So, Satan inflicted Job with painful sores. This pushed Job to the brink of despair. Even his wife gave up and urged him to “curse God and die.” This began the great temptation, as others began to challenge and question his faith.

Job’s friends accusing him of some secret sin, which they assumed must have been the reason for his suffering. From William Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job (published in 1826, now in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

For most of the rest of the book (chapters 3-37), Job finds himself in an argument with a group of friends who had come to comfort him in his time of suffering. However, instead of offering true comfort, they tried to offer explanations: “Job, it’s obvious. You have sinned. God is angry at you. You need to admit what you did wrong.” Job would essentially respond, “No! It’s not my fault! God needs to explain Himself to me! God, why are you picking on me?” (Neither of these passages are from the ESV, but are the “Michael E. Lynch Brief Summary Paraphrased Edition.”)

God would finally answer in chapters 38-42. However, He did not directly answer Job’s challenge or his friends’ accusations:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2).

For the next four chapters, God basically asked Job: “Do you have any idea what you are talking about? Were you there when I created the universe? Can you explain why animals do the things they do? If you can understand what I have done and what I have created, then I will answer you.”

We think we can explain how God works and why He does the things He does. God essentially tells Job—and the rest of us—that we do not know all that we think we know.

One does not follow Christ for too long without realizing that life does not always fulfill our expectations. Financial difficulties may come. We may lose our jobs. We may make financial decisions that backfire on us. Loved ones may die suddenly. We may pray for sick family members who do not recover. Our own health may fail, even though we claim our healing in Jesus’ name. Those who love us may say and do things, perhaps even with the best intentions, to discourage our faith.

Job had been through all of that, and yet he could say, “I know you can do all things,” even though God had chosen not to do everything he expected. When we understand Who God is and how great and powerful He is, we can begin to recognize how small we are and how little we know. We see our current situation: God sees how our choices today will affect the lives of those around us, including generations who have not been born yet. We might see two or three ways to handle a problem; God sees related problems that we have not considered.

God sees our personal weaknesses that we have chosen to ignore. Sometimes, He allows hard times to bring our character defects to light so that we can confess our sins, repent of them, and grow in faith and godliness. God is working in these situations, even if He is not doing the things we expect or want Him to do.

Faith in God recognizes that He is sovereign and all-powerful. However, it also acknowledges that He will not always do everything we want Him to do. Genuine faith recognizes that God is working and in control even we do not see Him working. Even when Satan seems to have the upper hand, God is in control.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Majestic Attributes, God's Nature and Personality, Omnipotence | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Your Best Life, NOT Now—Second Corinthians 4:16–18

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (Second Corinthians 4:16–18).

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The first time the Bible mentions St. Paul, he is participating in the execution of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, who was not experiencing his “best life now.” Painting by Rembrandt (public domain), via Wikimedia Commons.

The Christian satire website The Babylon Bee recently commemorated the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey by posting an article claiming that Joel Osteen sailed his luxury yacht through the flooded streets of Houston after that storm, distributing free copies of his bestselling book, Your Best Life Now. Another recent gem from that site imagined a Christian humanitarian relief organization responding to famine in East Africa by dropping crates of prosperity-gospel books into Ethiopia. Both articles highlighted an unfortunate irony of a popular brand of Christian thinking, that believes that faith in Jesus Christ guarantees health, wealth, and comfort in this world.

Let me begin by stating that my purpose in this article is not merely to attack Osteen’s book. To be honest, I have not read any of his books. My grievance is against the school of thought that believes Christians can experience “your best life now.” This is an unbiblical worldview that would sound absurd to the writers of both the Old and New Testaments and their initial readership. Ancient Israel was a small nation with a troubled history, frequently under foreign oppression. The early church was viewed as a radical fringe sect within Judaism, during a particularly repressive period of Israel’s history. Early Christians would not believe they were experiencing their best life now.

American Christianity has bought into many of the ideals of modern commercialism. We buy cars that we think will make us look prosperous. We buy cologne, perfume, clothing, and alcoholic beverages because commercials promise that this particular brand will make us popular with the opposite sex. Then, we baptize this mentality into a watered-down gospel, believing that the promises of Jesus include not only forgiveness of sins and everlasting life, but also financial wealth, perfect health, whiter teeth, fresh breath, and sex appeal. Since we want the best things in life, we demand that God offer us His best blessings in this world.

Early in my Christian walk, I learned a method of evangelism that involved sharing “The Four Spiritual Laws” with people. This was a tract, providing a brief summary of the gospel and inviting the reader to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. It was a great little booklet, written by Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright. According to Bright, the first law was “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” To support this claim, he quoted John 3:16 and John 10:10—

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b).

Fortunately, Bright kept a proper biblical balance here, emphasizing spiritual blessings and everlasting life. However, many modern people read our own hopes and desires into that first law. We are thrilled to hear that God has a wonderful plan for our life, but that does not mean that His plan is our plan! God’s wonderful plan for your life recognizes that we are eternal beings. After our earthly bodies die, our spirits will live on. It is in that life next phase of life—heaven or hell—where God will bring His wonderful plan for our lives to fruition.

My self-made plan for my life includes health, happiness, comfort, and wealth. Instead, like most people, I experience hard times. There are days when I am not healthy. Sometimes, the universe does not submit to my personal agenda. There are times when unexpected expenses arise and I wonder how I can pay those bills. Clearly, if God has a wonderful plan for my life, it is not “Sit around all day, taking it easy, while millions of dollars just roll in from nowhere.” Today, I know deeply-committed Christians, men and women with deep faith in Christ, who are struggling with illness, affliction, and suffering, and some who are facing imminent death. I would hope that today’s circumstances are not their best life.

When St. Paul listed his accomplishments and proof of his genuine anointing as an apostle, it read like this:

“Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?” (II Corinthians 11:23–29).

Many Bible scholars believe Paul also endured problems with his eyesight and would be considered legally blind today. Several Bible verses hint at this possibility, including the fact that the Galatians would have gouged out their own eyes to give them to him (Galatians 4:15): judging from what he says elsewhere in his letter to that church, one cannot imagine him commending such self-mutilation unless it would have served a meaningful purpose.

Thus, one can safely say that St. Paul did not expect his best life in this world. God loved Paul and had a wonderful plan for his life—but His plan was not one of ease and comfort. Likewise, God loves each of us and has a wonderful plan for our lives, but it does not match the plans we devise when we put ourselves first.

God’s plan for us does include this world, but it is not what we can take out of it. Instead, it is the legacy we can leave behind. God’s plan for our lives includes our faith in Him. It includes the people to whom we witness, who will join us when we see Him face to face in heaven. It includes the people we disciple, minister to, encourage, and exhort. It includes all of the lives that are changed for the better when we live in obedience to Him.

We will experience hardship in this world. But, that hardship is creating for us an “eternal weight of glory.” Let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles (Hebrews 12:1) so that we can take on the eternal weight of glory that God is preparing for us. God has a wonderful plan for our lives. We do not see it now, but we will see it when we behold Jesus face to face. We do not live our best lives now, but we can behold our best life by faith as we look to those things that are unseen.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Remaining Alert—Luke 21:34–36

“Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34–36, NASB).

 

A few weeks ago, I was concluding a blog post when a friend called on the phone. To allow myself time to finish my article, I let the call go to my answering machine. We spoke a night or two later, and he asked a question he has asked several times in the past: Someone told me that Sharia law is coming to America. Do you think that will happen? (On other occasions, he has asked questions like “Do you think ________ is the antichrist? My friend said he is.”)

In response to such questions, I usually repeat my belief that Sharia law will not come to America in the foreseeable future. I also express my doubts that the evil-politician-of-the-month is the antichrist. During my 33 years as a disciple of Jesus, I have lived through too many second comings, raptures, and antichrists. Numerous “prophecy experts” has made false pronouncements. This is a major reason why I generally avoid getting involved in debates about end-times prophecies. They can be divisive, and people get passionate about things that end up never occurring.

Such conjecture also distracts believers from the here-and-now. We can be overly concerned about living through the Great Tribulation, but first we need to survive the temptations of today. If we cannot overcome sin and Satan in today’s small conflicts, how can we overcome if full-blown persecution comes to our country?

Christians in America have enjoyed an unusual history. Unlike many of our brethren throughout the world, we have experienced limited hardship. The New Testament was written by and for people who were familiar with persecution. John the Baptist was beheaded; Jesus was crucified; almost all of the apostles died violent deaths for the faith; and many ordinary Christians faced death because of their beliefs. The Christian life was not easy by any means.

To this day, Christians throughout much of the world face many of the same dangers. While American preachers sell books promising “your best life now,” followers of Christ in many countries remain steadfast in their faith realizing that their best life will come beyond the grave. In America, though, we are complacent.

We face numerous temptations that may lure us away from Jesus. He warned his disciples that they must be on guard so that they will not be weighed down by “dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life.”

The Greek words for dissipation and drunkenness (κραιπάλη and μέθῃ) have similar meanings. Some Greek lexicons suggest that they are essentially two different words for “drunkenness.” Jamieson-Fausset-Brown’s commentary describes “surfeiting, and drunkenness” (the KJV’s translation for these two words) as “All animal excesses, quenching spirituality.” Jesus may have emphasized overuse of alcohol or other intoxicating substances here, but He frequently warned against the misuse of any natural pleasures. Many people who would never abuse drugs or alcohol may be lulled into complacency by sports, music, television, social media, or a host of other earthly pleasures. Even though they may be essentially harmless in moderation, they can become addictions that distract us from following Christ.

We can also be distracted by the “cares of this life.” We have bills, responsibilities, and needs. We need money to meet our basic daily necessities, and this usually requires work. However, some people get caught up in workaholism or other drastic approaches to solve their problems in their own strength. Some may become so concerned about paying their bills that they work two or three jobs, neglecting their relationships with God and their family. Their marriage may collapse and faith may be shipwrecked. Our obsession with our pleasures and problems can distract us from following Christ and doing His will.

Christ urges us to remain on our guard, to keep alert at all times, and to pray. Trials and temptations will come. The earliest disciples did not avoid hardship by becoming Christians. In fact, the life of faith brought extra problems. They prayed, not for the problems to go away, but for the strength to remain faithful to Christ in the midst of crises. (See Acts 4:24–31, where we see how the disciples prayed when they were threatened.) We should pray, not to avoid problems, but to have the strength to endure and persevere.

Hard times and trials will come. We will face them in our daily lives. In the Lord’s Prayer, we say “Give us this day our daily bread.” That same one-day-at-a-time urgency applies also when we pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” We will face temptation and evil today. Let us face today’s temptations before focusing on the trials and tribulations that may (or may not) come in the future. God will give us the strength to persevere in the trials we face today. As we develop faithfulness and perseverance, we will be prepared if and when harder times come.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I Can Do All Things

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

This week’s Scripture Sabbath challenge was inspired by an article on the Christian satire website, The Babylon Bee, declaring that the context of Philippians 4:13 has been officially abandoned. Context (a biblical verse or passage’s relationship to surrounding Scripture and the rest of the Bible) matters, and it is spiritual laziness to read and apply a passage without considering how it fits into its own paragraph. Many Christians claim “promises” that God never offered simply by making their own desires the context of a passage, instead of looking at the context where God spoke something.

Philippians 4:13 is one of those verses. A few other victims of context elimination include Jeremiah 29:11 and Matthew 7:1 (probably the worst case of all). Some of these will demand upcoming posts.

Without considering a verse’s context, we make the individual reader the final authority about what the Bible means, and thus the reader becomes the final authority about truth. Essentially, the reader creates a god in his or her own image.

Take those words in Philippians 4:13 exactly as written and ignore the context. See how absurd it can become. “I can do all things!” Just think of some of the things I have wished I could do in my life:

  • I want to be a professional hockey player and break all of Wayne Gretzky’s records. Guess what? I can! I can do all things!
  • I want to become a successful musician, have more number-one hits than the Beatles and Elvis Presley—COMBINED—win a few dozen Grammy Awards, and play every instrument on my album. Guess what? I can! I can do all things!
  • I can become the Supreme Emperor of our planet and clean up our political mess, because I can do all things!
  • I can fly like Superman! Because I can do all things!

Obviously, those were all pretty absurd, but that is my point. Take Philippians 4:13 out of context, and people can claim ridiculous things. In my younger days, I would rely on it to justify my attempts at making a living in sales. The only problem was that I simply do not have the personality to be a high-pressure salesman. That is not what God molded me to become. Other people may try to apply that verse to claim success in other endeavors where they do not belong. Besides that, even if every person declares that they can do all things through Christ, only one act will win the Grammy for Song of the Year, only one person will win the 2016 Presidential election, and I doubt any of us will ever fly like Superman.

So, let us look at that verse again, in context. Note that I usually remove italics and other emphasis when posting verses from the New American Standard Bible on my blog, but I will leave them in this time. In the NASB and KJV, which both attempt to translate the original Greek and Hebrew as literally as possible, italic words indicate that the translators added the words for clarity. With all of this in mind, let us look at Philippians 4:10–14:

“But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.”

As we read it now, it does not offer a promise to do the impossible or to be the world’s greatest at anything. The Greek phrase translated “I can do all things” is only two words:  παντα ισχυω. Word-for-word, that is “Everything I am strong.” Paul is thanking the Philippians for sending him material resources (food, money, probably other necessities) while he was imprisoned. Paul has had money, and he has been broke in jail. He has travelled freely, and he has survived in chains. He has learned to be content in all circumstances. Whatever problems he may face, he knew he could get through it. He was strong enough for everything through Christ who strengthened him.

So, there is a great promise in Philippians 4:13, but it is not the one that many people claim. It is not a promise that you can achieve any wild fantasy that enters your mind, or accomplish some great goal that will make you rich, powerful, and popular. It is the promise that, whatever difficulties you face in life, Christ can give you the power to get through it. He will give you the strength you need to get through all of your trials.

Upcoming Scripture Sabbath challenge posts will probably address some of those other context-often-ignored passages of the Bible. I am sure I can handle those through Christ who strengthens me.

This post was written as part of the Scripture Sabbath Challenge.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Faithfulness in Hard Times

This is a revised and updated version of an article I originally published on my blog in 2010.

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if {anyone suffers} as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. For {it is} time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if {it} {begins} with us first, what {will be} the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER? Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” (1 Peter 4:12-19.)

Sometimes, it is not easy to apply certain passages of the Word of God to our daily lives. For example, exhortations like this one do not really relate too heavily with American culture. Sure, a Christian might be accused of being intolerant, backwards, a religious fanatic, or something like that. I’ve been called all of those and more. However, I have never been arrested for my faith. I have never gone to church wondering if the police would barge in and drag people to prison because we were praying.

In many ways, we are blessed. However, we still face trials and temptations. Circumstances explode into our lives, turning our world upside down, and shaking us to the very core of our souls. Although this may not be persecution in even the broadest sense of the word, it is still a trial. Peter’s words of encouragement can guide us through the trial.

It is easy to say, “Why me? Why are You picking on me, Lord? Don’t You have anything better to do with Your time?” It might not be a good attitude; it is probably not a fair appraisal of the situation, and it is an even worse description of God. However, it is how we feel.

As the apostle points out, we should not be surprised when a fiery ordeal bursts into our lives, “which comes upon you for your testing.” American Christians suffer pretty bland trials. We will probably not starve (even the poorest people in America usually have access to food); at this time, we do not face true religious persecution (although, thanks to some of the laws which Congress has passed in recent years, I do not know if I will be able to say that five years from now). To quote a song by Christian rock band Daniel Amos, “Our trial is which car to buy, temptation is that extra dessert.”

When we face trials, the Bible tells us to “keep on rejoicing.” That is one of the hardest commandments in Scripture, but when you go through trials, it is the most important thing to do. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul writes, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” If I do not rejoice or give thanks, I focus my attention on the problem and magnify it in my mind. I see only the negatives. However, when I rejoice and give thanks, I start to see the ways that God is already answering my prayers. It encourages me to keep on praying and expect God to work in my circumstances.

In February 2010, my car caught fire while I was driving to work. As you can imagine, that was a scary moment, but the trial lasted longer than the fire. It would have cost too much to repair the car (with no guarantee that it could be made safe), so my wife and I had to start shopping. It would have been easy to yell at God and ask, “Why did You permit a freak fire in my car? Couldn’t You pick on somebody who deserves to get torched?”

Yes, it did cost us money that we could have used for other things. But, as I would thank God and rejoice in spite of my circumstances, I could see God at work. We were able to borrow a car so that I could continue to drive to and from work. We were able to pay for another car. At the time of the fire, a volunteer fireman was in a nearby vehicle, and he was able to stop and put the fire out quickly. Most importantly, I was not seriously injured; I still have a few scars on my hand, but those burns were my only injuries.

Notice that I am not thanking God for the fire, or rejoicing because of the fire. I am rejoicing and thanking God in spite of the fire. God has done other things in my life; the fire is just one thing. I focus on the good things in my life, thereby minimizing the impact of the bad things. I am not pretending that the fire was good. I am merely acknowledging that it is just one part of my life.

As I pray, I have to remember the words of Jesus: “yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). I may pray for specific things, and I usually ask for a specific resolution to the problem. However, when I pray, I must remember that God decides how to resolve this situation. While I have needs and desires, and I think I know what is best for me, I must acknowledge that God is in control and has a better plan for my life than I can imagine.

Far too many Christians grow discouraged during a trial because of one of two errors with prayer: (1) We want God to answer our prayers exactly the way we want them answered; and (2) we refuse to do our part. How often do we pray for a financial breakthrough, and then blame God because we wasted the money He gave us! Instead, we should bring our burdens to God, seek His wisdom about our situation (He might direct us to a resolution, but we may need to do something), and allow Him to work things out in His time, according to His will.

First Peter 4:15 reminds us that there is no virtue if we suffer as a murderer, thief, evildoer, or a troublesome meddler. A Christian should suffer as a Christian. If he is persecuted, it should be because he is living by Christ’s values, which conflict with the world’s system. Likewise, we should not allow trials to draw us into sin. Maybe you will not resort to murder or stealing. However, it is easy to be tempted to stop going to church, or fall back into a sinful habit, or just give up in despair, deciding not to do the things God has been leading you to do.

Do not give in. “[T]hose…who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Peter 4:19). When we suffer through trials, our job remains the same: we entrust our lives to God; and we continue to obey Him.

We serve an eternal God who created infinite space and a vast universe. Yet, we often have the audacity to think we can dictate or define the outcome of our obedience. We should try to know and do His will, not try to coerce Him into surrendering to ours.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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