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From Confusion to Confidence: Who We Are

From Confusion to Confidence (Intro to Habakkuk)Suffering and evil–why does it exist? More importantly, how do we account for it as believers, people who say there is an all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing God? The problem of suffering and evil is one of, if not, the largest problems of the Christian faith/worldview. We all face the problem of evil and suffering at some point in our lives. Typically we face this issue very early in life due to:

  • Loss of a grandparent,
  • Injury to ourselves,
  • Loved one being diagnosed with cancer,
  • Divorce,
  • Suicide,
  • Tornados,
  • Hurricanes,
  • Famine,
  • Job Loss,

And the list could go on and on and on. The truth remains: there is suffering and evil in our world. There is injustice and perversion in our world. Yet here we sit, as Christians, believing in an all-good, all-loving, all-powerful God. How? Maybe a better question to ask is, “Why?” We have all had moments in life when it does not makes sense, moments when difficult times hit; mom and dad get divorced, grandma dies, our brother has cancer, a person who has harmed us goes free, or the bills far outweigh the paycheck. The question we want answered in these times is “Why? Why now God? Why me, God? Why this, God?”

It is in these times that frustration sets in. It is in these times when depression can become a reality. It is in these times that confusion reigns. But, as believers in Jesus Christ, we want to trust God. We know we should trust God. We want to have confidence in God…but how? How can Christians go from confusion to confidence? We go from confusion to confidence by understanding the sovereignty of God and three truths it involves. The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk is going to be our guide. Habakkuk is not just going to be our guide, but we are going to vicariously live through him. We are going to walk in his shoes, think his thoughts, and live his life to fully understand how God’s sovereignty can cause us to go from confusion to confidence.

The first truth we must understand to go from confusion to confidence is who Habakkuk is, and by doing so, understanding who we are. As with most minor prophets, God has Habakkuk identify himself. The identity of the man is important. However, his responsibility is just as important. Habakkuk’s responsibility is not supposed to be hidden by his identity. Habakkuk is supposed to perform his responsibility as part of his identity, but he struggles with this. Bruce Wayne struggles with this same issue.

batman-logoHe is a multi-billion dollar man. Owner and chief executive of his deceased parents corporation, Wayne has not had to struggle with much in life, except the unexpected killing of his parents (which he witnessed). So Bruce has a major identity crisis, traveling around the world, stealing, killing, fighting, and being imprisoned to find out who he really is. He is in turmoil within himself. He wants to avenge his parents death, but does not know how as a multi-billion dollar corporation owner. So after years of fleeing and some “in the hills, recon, black ninja” training, he returns to Gotham City to seek revenge on his parents murderer. However, he masks his real identity by becoming Batman! However, at the end of the movie “Batman Begins” Batman has another problem. He cannot separate his responsibility as Batman from his identity as Bruce Wayne.

Habakkuk has the same issue. His responsibility is part of his identity. As a prophet Habakkuk was to be identified as God before the people. This is true for every prophet God appointed starting with Moses (Exodus 7:1-2). A true prophet from God not only represented God to the people, he would speak as God. And speaking as God meant that every word had to be true and the prophet could not presume to speak his own words as God’s (Deuteronomy 18:18-20). So Habakkuk’s responsibility was to speak God’s Word–to speak it truthfully, to speak it entirely. But Habakkuk’s responsibility was in turmoil with his identity.

Habakkuk’s name shows us his true identity. Habakkuk means to “wrestle” or “embrace”. And it becomes evident quite quickly in the book of Habakkuk that the one with whom Habakkuk wrestles is God. Habakkuk does not wrestle God physically like Jacob, but theologically. Habakkuk is confused and upset with his understanding of God and the way he perceives God working. And as this wrestling match continues Habakkuk only gets more confused. But at the end of the book we see that through all this wrestling Habakkuk embraces God as well. Habakkuk wrestles with God’s justice, but embraces God’s sovereignty. Habakkuk wrestles with God’s judgment, but embraces God’s control. Habakkuk was a wrestler. But Habakkuk was also an embracer.

What about you and I? Are we wrestling embracers? Do you wrestle with the deep things of God only to find yourself embracing Him more? There are two positions we can take that are both incomplete. First, we can levitate toward being only an embracer. We do not wrestle to understand our God. We only embrace everything at face value. We do very little deep thinking or meditating about God and His character. The catch phrase for those who tend to be just embracers is “Let go, and let God”. Secondly, we can gravitate toward being only a wrestler. We struggle against God in every area of life. We don’t truly seek Him, instead we only seek to defend our point of view. Those who struggle with being just a wrestler have the motto, “I must understand”.

golgotha-01Which one are you more prone to be: a wrestler or an embracer? Habakkuk reveals to us that we must be both. But while we lived vicariously through Habakkuk in order to understand how to go from confusion to confidence, there is a greater wrestler who came and lived vicariously for us. Jesus came and wrestled sin so that we could embrace Him. Jesus came and wrestled the ultimate injustice of our world, so that we could embrace His life, death, burial, and resurrection. Have you wrestled with Him? Are you embracing Him today?

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Feature Friday (1/31/14)

authentic-large“…this idea that to live out of conformity with how I feel is hypocrisy; but that’s a wrong definition of hypocrisy. To live out of conformity to what I believe is hypocrisy. To live in conformity with what I believe, in spite of what I feel, isn’t hypocrisy; it’s integrity.” – Erik Thoennes quoted in this great article on “Has ‘Authenticity’ Trumped Holiness

As always enjoy time with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s day!

Overwhelming the Overwhelming Feeling

BusyWeekAheadEver have one of those crunch time type of weeks? The kind where you go to work knowing a deadline is looming and it will be a crazy week just to accomplish your goal and get the project done on time? In high school it was the week where you had four tests, a paper and project due, all on top of a rigorous sports schedule. If you are, ever have been, or ever will be, in college, you know exactly the type of week I am referring to: the one where you have two papers, three tests, and a group project all due.  As I left college I remember thinking, “Wow, I am glad I will never have that many deadlines and projects to complete in one week again.” Oh, how young and foolish I was. When we enter the workplace, it seems like every week is another set of deadlines–another set of impossibilities to accomplish.

It is during those types of weeks that panic can set in. We begin to focus on all that is looming ahead of us. The details of the paper we must write seem daunting. The answers to the questions on every test seem to just jump out of our mind as soon as we sit down to take it. The work project is requiring more time than expected. Not to mention the amount of sleep we lose in trying to accomplish our long to do lists. Every morning that we head to school, the classroom, or the office is another reminder of all that is not yet accomplished and still needs to be completed. Life seems as though it is relentless and that we have accomplished little before the cycle starts again. What are we to do?

My answer to that question is the same today as it was before this weekend, but this weekend changed my appreciation of the answer. This past Friday night, at halftime of the BCS Orange Bowl game between Ohio State and Clemson, I was leaving my Senior Pastor’s home. As he followed me out the door, on his way to the dumpster, little did I know my weekend plans would change quickly. A quarter of the way through the parking lot he slipped on ice and fell, tearing his patella tendon in his knee. This meant that my Saturday  became all about preparing a sermon, which I previously was not preparing to give. So what was I to do?The-Unexpected.001

Well, Saturday morning came and I got to work. Digging through many old sermons and lessons that I had prepared and given years prior, I tried to determine what message God would want His people at our church to hear now. Praying through the options and determining which one to do, I began to rework the message. After 8 hours of message prep and retooling, I had completed the sermon preparation. But the question remained…how was I going to do this?

The answer to the question both this past weekend and in other overwhelming experiences was the same…and it was what I had the privilege of preaching yesterday. The answer was that God is sufficient while I am not. The answer is that God is sovereignly in control while I am not. The answer is the gospel. While I am a broken, overwhelmed, insufficient creature, He is the Sovereign, Sufficient, Saving Creator. God is good and I am not. That is the story of Scripture…a just, holy, righteous, and loving God extends grace, mercy, forgiveness, and salvation to unholy, broken, evil, wretched sinners like me. I could not do it on my own, but God provided a way through His Son for me to face overwhelming circumstances victoriously.

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So if you face a hectic, busy, and crazy week ahead, remember, on your own you are not sufficient for every task ahead of you. But also remember that on a hill over 2,000 years ago, a sinless Savior died by crucifixion, was buried, and rose again, so that the wrath of God would be satisfied and that you could come back into a right relationship with Him. Allow the overwhelming feelings throughout the week to remind you of your own sinfulness and insufficiency, yet God’s holiness and sufficiency.

Until Next Time…

50 Reasons for Giving Thanks

christmasIt’s that time of year again. Stores are beginning to play Christmas music. Santa Claus is starting to show up, even in Walmart. And the Black Friday sales are right around the corner. The enjoyment of this season has even hit my own home; yes, my wife is adamant about listening to Christmas music as soon as November is here. If you asked her, she would quickly tell you I am not in favor of all this Christmas celebration so early in November. But I am not just another Scrooge or Grinch–I absolutely love Christmas. I mean who doesn’t? It’s the time of year for family, friends, gifts, food (and lots of it) and the time to remember when God’s only Son, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, was born as a humble babe in Bethlehem. Although my love for Christmas is great, I do have a bit of disdain for the season starting so early. Why? Because in my view, a premature focus on Christmas causes us to overlook one of the greatest holiday seasons of the year…Thanksgiving. So in honor of the Thanksgiving season I thought it would be appropriate to share 50 reasons I have to be thankful this year. I will share 25 this week and 25 next week…

50 Reasons I am Thankful this year #50-26

I am thankful:

50) To know the God of the universe.

49) I live in America, a country known for its freedom.

48) For a healthy body.

47) To have a car that is in good condition and runs well.

46) To know I will have food to eat tomorrow morning.

45) For the food I have had to eat today.

44) For God’s provision of a job.

43) For a job that I enjoy.

42) To live close to where I work.

41) To live in a city with police officers.

40) For a family that loves me.

39) For parents that sacrificed so much to raise me.

38) That my parents cared for me from infancy through adulthood.

37) To have three grandparents still living.

36) Not to have dealt with death much in my family.

35) For siblings who made growing up fun.

34) For an older brother who has stayed in touch over the years.

33) For an older sister who taught me a love for horror movies.

32) That one set of grandparents lived within two miles of my childhood home.

31) To have had good friends throughout my entire life.

30) For Calvary Christian School, where I attended elementary and middle school.

29) My friends’ families who treated me as their own child growing up.

28) For modern comforts, like indoor plumbing, heating, and air conditioning.

27) That I enjoy exercising my body.

26) For the church families that God has provided throughout the years (Calvary Baptist, Summit Baptist Bible, Cornerstone, First Baptist, and Denbigh Baptist).

Thanksgiving2These are the first 25 of 50 things for which I am thankful. Stop by again next week for the final 25. Until then, please add to the list items that you are thankful for this year. Let’s make much of Thanksgiving this year as we anticipate the celebration of the coming of the King of King and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ, this Christmas.

God’s Will: How to do it

the will of god

I grew up in the Midwest–the great state of Ohio to be exact. If you have ever been to the Midwest or know someone from there, you know that mid-westerners have a few quirks and crazy traditions. One of the greatest traditions is the card game, Euchre. Now, I never thought Euchre was weird or abnormal; but rather, a well known, everyone plays it, type of card game…that is, until I went to college in the northeast. At college I quickly became aware of the fact that not everyone knows what Euchre is, let alone how to play it! And sometimes I think that is exactly how believers feel with God’s will. They don’t even know what it is, let alone how to do it! So I want to offer some help on this topic, which is why today I am addressing the subject of God’s Will and how to do it in three steps–Distinguish it above all else, Deem others above yourself, and Delight yourself in it.

The first step in doing God’s will is Distinguishing it above all else. To distinguish God’s will above all else we must first read God’s Word daily. David tells us in Psalms to “meditate” (think about, dwell on) God’s word both day and night (Psalm 1:1-2). In other words, God’s word should be on our minds and hearts all throughout our day, at all times. But Paul tells us in Romans 12:1 that the purpose of this “meditating” is transformation (being changed from the inside out), not just conformation (being pressed into a mold by external pressures). And it is only by a continual dwelling on God’s word, that we can be transformed (Colossians 3:16). But to distinguish God’s will above all else we must also trust God’s Word completely. We must believe and live as though it is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true and good to revive our souls, make wise the simple. It is righteous altogether (Psalm 19:7-9). We must believe and live as though God’s word and God’s Spirit working through His word, can sanctify and make us holy (John 17:17). We must believe it makes us competent and equips us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). And we must believe and live as if  everything for life and godliness has been granted to us in God’s Word (2 Peter 1:3). So if we are going to do God’s will, we must first Distinguish His Word above all else, by reading it daily and trusting it completely. Jonah

The second step in doing God’s will is Deeming others above ourselves. To do this we must first consider others as more important than ourselves. Paul reminds us of the greatest example of this when he draws our attention to Christ (Philippians 2:5-8). We must think and reflect the actions of Christ, who thought nothing of Himself, being God, but became a man to die a cruel death in our place. But we must also consider the battle between our “rights” and the well being of others (1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1). God calls us not to do everything that we are “free” or “allowed” to do, but to consider the repercussions it could have on others. All of this caution and restricting ourselves for the betterment of others finds its greatest reason in the death of Christ (1 John 3:16-18).

imagesHowever, we must not only consider others as more important, but we must also consider others input. We must recognize that our hearts can and do deceive us (Jeremiah 17:9). The person easiest to trick and deceive is often ourselves. Proverbs repeatedly calls us to remember and recognize that it is the fool who is right in his own eyes, and because of this often isolates himself for his own self-seeking pleasure (Proverbs 12:15, 18:1, 15:22, 13:20). And Paul reminds us that we all need to make sure we seek “wise” help and company (1 Corinthians 15:33). So if we are going to do God’s will we must also be Deeming others above ourselves, by considering them more important, and considering their input.

The third and final step in doing God’s will is Delighting yourself in it. David tell us in Psalm 37:4 that if we “Delight ourselves in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our heart.” In others words, when our greatest desire is for God, His will, and His glory, we will get our desires, because our desires will match God’s. But to do this we must first, delight in the joy of God’s will (1 Corinthians 10:31). Everything we do must be done to God’s glory and for the joy of seeing Him made much of. Secondly, to delight in God’s will we must delight in the freedom of it. This freedom is a freedom from sin and death and to obedience and righteousness and eternal life (Romans 6:6-7, 14, 17-18). Thirdly, delighting in God’s will means we will Delight in the security of it. Being in God’s will and doing it faithfully means we no longer fear the punishment of judgment because judgment has been dealt with through perfect love (1 John 4:18).

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We now seek not to avoid judgment but to enjoy love. We can freely choose and enjoy a plethora of options without fearing missing God’s will or being punished for the wrong. This is true because the judgment we once feared and wanted to avoid, has been dealt with by perfect love…Jesus Christ’s substitutionary atonement on the cross of Calvary, where He became sin for us, so that we might be the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). So to be doing God’s will we must be Delighting in it by delighting in the joy, freedom, and security of it.

Inevitably, I found a few other mid-westerners while in college who knew the game of Euchre and enjoyed playing it as much as I did. But the greater joy was teaching my future bride and other friends not just what the game was but how to play it. And I believe that God has exponentially greater joy when believers not only realize what His will is revealed in His Word and but also obediently and faithfully do it.

I pray that this post and series has been not only educational, but enjoyable in your understanding and practice of God’s will in your life. If you missed the first post “God’s Will: First Things First“, or second post “God’s Will: Three Wills of God“, or third post “God’s Will: What is it“, you can check them out here.

God’s Will: What is it?

the will of godWhere should I go to college? What should I major in? Who will I marry? Where will we live? Should I change careers, jobs, or locations? All of these questions are ones I have either asked myself or had others ask. However, as a Christian there is one question that quintessentially summarizes all of these inquiries. That summarizing question is: What is God’s will for my life? Most believers and even some unbelievers have probably asked this question at some point in their lives. So what is the will of God really? Can we know it? Is it something different for each person? Before diving in, I must clarify that much of the content below is adapted from John MacArthur’s book, “Found: God’s Will”. While I leaned heavily on this book, it was and is ultimately God’s Word that reveals God’s will (Colossians 1:9; Ephesians 5:17).

First, God’s will is that man Be Saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4). These verses indicate that it is God’s will and desire for all men to be saved. This will of God is described as good and pleasing to God. Salvation is at the heart of God and is thus His will and desire for each and every person. He desires such because it not only pleases Him, but is good for us. The eternal life God wishes for all to participate in is clearly revealed in God’s Word (2 Peter 1:3). God desires people to be saved so greatly, that it is the very reason He is patient in carrying out His wrath and final judgment on the earth (2 Peter 3:9). So God’s will is first that we be saved.

Jonah

Secondly, God wills that man Be Spirit-filled (Ephesians 5:17-18). Now, this cannot happen unless the first part of God’s will (salvation) has become a reality in our lives. God’s Spirit indwells all those who call Jesus Christ Lord and Savior (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). But once we are saved, God wills that we be not only indwelt by, but also filled with the Holy Spirit. From the context, we see that Paul is comparing the effects of the Spirit to the effects of alcohol. When a person is drunk all his inhibitions are gone because he is controlled by the alcohol. This is the idea of the term “filled”; it means to be controlled by something, to be dominated by it. The believer is to be dominated by God’s Spirit by dwelling on God’s Word (Colossians  3:16). So God’s will is that we be Spirit-filled.

Thirdly, God wills that man Be Sanctified (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). The word “sanctified” simply means to be separated from sin and evil and set apart unto God. In this passage, Paul is speaking to the Thessalonians with regard to handling their bodies in a God-honoring way. As believers, the Thessalonians (and by way of application, us as well) were not to act like the world (unsaved culture) around them. They were not to take advantage of someone else for their own good and pleasure. Instead they were to control their bodies and sanctify themselves to God. This was to be done and can only be done as God’s Word is read, studied, and applied to our individual lives. So God’s will is that we be sanctified.

Fourth, God wills that man Be Submissive (1 Peter 2:13-15). This is definitely one of the two hardest concepts for those of us who live in a Western culture to understand and live out. Peter was writing to believers who were spread throughout the Roman empire (which was known for not being so nice to Christians). It was also during this time that slavery was prominent, and there was no such thing as “labor laws” in place. So the Christians to whom Peter wrote would have had a much more difficult situation in which to live out an attitude of submission. Yet the Apostle did not stutter or hesitate to record God’s will for believers. They were to submit to government, rulers, and even parents (Ephesians 6:1-3). God’s desire in this aspect of His will is simple…to silence critics to Christianity and make people ask why. It was all about God getting the glory. So God’s will is that we be submissive. More

Fifth, God’s will is that man Be willing to Suffer (1 Peter 3:17). This is the second of the two hardest aspects of Gods’ will for us Westerners to follow. We love our comfort, our ease, our pleasure, and our entitlement.  Ask us to suffer and we quickly turn the other way. But notice that in this part of God’s will it is not stated that suffering will be for all. Instead it is stated that we should be willing to suffer, “IF” that be God’s will. But Scripture also tells us that if we desire and obey in following Christ there will be persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). It is in this suffering that we partner and share in Christ’s suffering (Philippians 1:29). So it is God’s will that we be willing to suffer.

Sixth, it is God’s will that man Be Saying thanks (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). In a culture built on entitlement, this may in fact be a lost art form. It is rare to find someone who recognizes that everything they have is ultimately a gift from God. And in a world that is broken and battling it is difficult to find things in which to rejoice. But according to these verses, a believer is to rejoice ALWAYS and give thanks in ALL circumstances. If honesty is the best policy, then I would be going against that policy to say that in every  condition of life I find it easy to give thanks and rejoice. But notice God does not say to give thanks only when life is easy or comfortable. Why does God believe thanksgiving is possible even in the darkest of days? Because real thanksgiving is not a result of circumstances, but of contentment. And contentment is a matter of the heart. God’s will is that we be saying thanks.

So there it is, God’s will for your life: Be Saved, Be Spirit-filled, Be Sanctified, Be Submissive, Be willing to Suffer, and Be Saying thanks. “But…” you say, ” that does not tell me who to marry, where to go to school, where to live, what job to take, or give me the answer to my current tough situation. Truth is there is one more piece and directive in God’s will. And you are going to love this.

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If you are Saved, Spirit-filled, Sanctified, Submissive, willing to Suffer, and Saying thanks, God tells you this one last thing in Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in God and He will give you the desires of your heart”! In other words, if you are obeying God’s will as revealed in God’s Word, DO WHAT YOU WANT!

This was the third lesson in the “God’s Will” series. If you missed the first post “God’s Will: First Things First“, or second post “God’s Will: Three Wills of God“, you can check them out here. Stay tuned for the conclusion of “God’s Will” next week with “God’s Will: How to do it?”.

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