God and Lemonade

For many of us, we have made peace with the idea of God’s Sovereignty in unbiblical ways.  We use phrases like “God didn’t mean for this to happen, but he can work it for good!” and “God didn’t cause this, but he sure can turn it around!”  In saying (and thinking) these things, we think we’ve found comfort and peace, but if stretched to their logical conclusions, this way of thinking offers neither.  We will have created a God who is absent and/or powerless to stop hard things, but is good and strong enough to make it all work out in the end.  We will have created the kind of God who can offer us neither comfort nor peace.  Thankfully this is not the God of the Scriptures.

Instead, the Bible speaks much differently about God’s character and his authority over all events.  Here are two examples, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.

In the book of Job, God seeks Satan out and lifts Job up as an example of faithfulness.  Satan asks God to allow him to afflict Job in increasingly horrific ways, in order to prove that Job’s faithfulness is only hinged on God’s material and physical blessings.  God tells Satan that he can do anything except kill Job.  Over time, Satan kills his livestock, his children (and their families), and afflicts Job with disease.  At the end of this sequence of events, Job’s wife says something that we would all likely want to say.  Notice Job’s response and also the inspired writer’s comment:

“Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” Job 2:9-10

Do not miss what Job said there.  Even though Satan has been the direct cause of Job’s suffering, Job rightly attributes all of it to God.  Lest we think he was mistaken, the Bible confirms that “Job did not sin” in all that he said.  Satan was the agent, but he is on a leash.  God was the one behind Job’s suffering.

In the book of Acts, Peter is preaching to a large gathering and makes this statement about what happened to Jesus.

“Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”

Even though Herod, Pilate and all of the people who participated in the murder of Jesus were the direct cause of Jesus’ death, Peter rightly attributes all of it to God.  It was planned in advance, and carried out by the willing participation of all involved.  People have sinned against Jesus in murdering him, but they are on a leash.  God was the one behind Jesus’ suffering.

God does not take lemons and make lemonade.  To say that his interaction for our good begins after the fact is not faithful to scripture nor is it comforting.  If God has no wisdom, thoughtfulness, or power in what suffering I experience, how can His wisdom, thoughtfulness, or power be trusted to work it for my good?  Instead, the Bible calls us to trust that all suffering is from Him and is intended to make us more like Christ.  It calls us to believe that God will cause all of these things to work together for our eternal good.

May we be so full of faith that we can say with Job, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Praise God that He makes the lemons and the lemonade.

Contributed by Mike Marquez

Jesus Loved Mary, Martha & Lazarus so He Stayed Two Days Longer

“This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” (John 11:4–6 ESV)

Wow!  Jesus said the illness would not lead to death, but Lazarus died.  Jesus knew that God was going to use the physical death of Lazarus to bring Himself more glory by raising him from the dead.  The interesting thing is that verse 6 tells us that he loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus so he decided to stay where he was for two additional days.  What?  If you love me, come and deliver me!  If you love me, spare me from this pain!  If you love me, help me now!  Jesus loved them, so He let Lazarus die and let Mary and Martha grieve and mourn?  Yes.  This is hard for our western minds to comprehend!  Then He says, ““Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”” (John 11:14–15 ESV).  Jesus knew that allowing Mary, Martha and the disciples to go through such heart wrenching pain would lead them to a deeper and more abiding truth.  Deeper faith that leads to joy is in focus here, not their immediate comfort.  Suffering has a way of moving us in to closer proximity to Jesus because it causes us to depend upon Him more; it often times reveals our complete lack of control over our lives and world.  Martha, Ms. Type “A”, meets Jesus before He even made it into town and said “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” (John 11:21–22 ESV)  She has real faith as she proclaims “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (John 11:27 ESV).
In one of the most encouraging passages in the New Testament, we see Jesus “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled,” (John 11:33), weeping (verse 35) and again in verse 38 He is described as being “deeply moved.”  He felt deeply and strongly.  Jesus mourns over the pain and difficulty of loss of His friend and for Mary and Martha.  This passage is encouraging because He did not tell them to “have faith,” “suck it up,” “stop crying,” or “just trust.”  No, he entered in and wept with them.  What a great pattern for us to model when we are engaging others in deep despair.  Sometimes, we just need to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).  Undoubtedly, Jesus was thinking “this is not how I created things to be; death and the separation and grief that it causes was not part of the design!”  Lazarus’ died because sin entered the world and the harmonious rhythm of the perfect paradise of Eden was fractured (Genesis 3).  God’s original design was broken and we now are forced to mourn deeply because of this fracture, because of sin.  But, Jesus came to destroy death (1 Corinthians 15:23-28), “wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away,” (Revelation 21:4) and “make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).  No more pain, no more brokenness, no more agony.  Jesus came to remake the perfect paradise of Eden.  There is coming a day when this world, and all of its brokeness will pass away.  Suffering helps us to recalibrate our heart’s affections and the object of our hope!

Every human being must live for something

“Paul summarized the history of the human race in one sentence: “They worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). Every human being must live for something. Something must capture our imaginations, our heart’s most fundamental allegiance and hope. But, the Bible tells us, without the intervention of the Holy Spirit, that object will never be God himself.”  Counterfeit God’s by Tim Keller (location 232, Kindle edition)

No One is Able to Snatch Them Out of the Father’s Hand

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me,is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”” (John 10:25–33 ESV)

Jesus is in a heated discussion with the self righteous, religious elite in John 10.  In verse 24, they ask “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are ithe Christ, tell us plainly,” to which Jesus answered that He had told them, but they did not believe.  Why didn’t they believe since they were very religious men?  They did not believe because they were not sheep.  Don’t read past that.  Jesus said that His sheep, that God gave to Him, hear His voice and follow Him; furthermore, He knows His sheep and gives them eternal life.  There is not much mention of their choice; God had chosen them and given them to Jesus.  Jesus then goes on and provides GREAT comfort to the Christian when He says, “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”  This paints a portrait of God’s activity in the hearts of men, He is not distant or disconnected.  The religious elite’s response was to stone Him, not because of His good works, but because they knew what He was claiming.  He was claiming to be God, He was claiming that He was the messiah.
This section provides us with much encouragement to share our faith because sheep will hear the beautiful message of the Gospel and respond in God’s timing.  It does not depend upon our ability to articulate everything correctly, it depends upon God’s effectual call in the life of His sheep.  This is freeing and liberating!  Sheep hear His voice and follow Him and He knows them and gives them eternal life and “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand!”  That is good news!

Only Grace Redeems and Restores

“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:1–3:3 ESV)

Paul views his life as Christ’s and lives on mission to accomplish his calling by reminding himself that Christ lives in him and loved him and died for him.  Gospel logic drives Paul.  He ferociously reminds himself of Christ’s sacrifice to empty himself so he can be filled with the Holy Spirit.  “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”  Galatians 2:20-3:3.  Paul then presses in to the Galatians this same thought process.  The Galatian Christians had left the Gospel of Grace and gravitated to a works centered sanctification, which is our natural proclivity because we always like to add something of our own.  They implemented rules and regulations (laws) to change – Paul asks them, “who has bewitched you,” and prompts them to continue in the Spirit of Grace.  You started by the Spirit of Grace and are sanctified by that Spirit.  Gospel threads are in focus here.  The One who began the good work in them was the One that would be faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6).

The law (our moral obedience to God) reveals sin (Romans 3:20-26) and functions to restrain it’s effects, but it is powerless to redeem and restore the soul – only Grace redeems and restores.  Our white knuckled obedience to God is powerless to produce love and affection.  You can obey God’s laws and commandments without trusting him, but you can’t trust God without obeying Him. One involves a contrite heart, and one involves a self righteous heart.  Which one is yours?

“What does this mean? It means that we not only want our school to be a place of learning, but a culture of grace as well. Rules and regulations are necessary because they work to reveal and restrain sin, but they cannot rescue us from it. It is only God’s grace that has the power to change a person’s heart. So we must always make sure, that in the classrooms and hallways of our schools, that we are not asking the law to do what only grace can accomplish.”  http://www.paultrippministries.org/yourchristianschoolacultureofgrace

The Disciplines are Powerless to Irrigate Our Dry Souls

Undoubtedly if you have been in the faith very long you have have experienced dry periods in your walk with God.  But, if your walk with God has become characterized by drought then something is wrong.  If you have little affection for Jesus then something is not right.  The common answer is that we should join a Bible Study, pray more, serve more, get in a small group, and the list goes on.  But we know that the disciplines, on their own, are powerless to irrigate our dry souls, we need something much more to satiate our longings.  We need to be captivated; we need to move from a marginalized faith to one that is impacting and fully engaged – and because we want to, not because we have to.  CS Lewis’ quote from the Weight of Glory puts it this way:  “Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”  Affection or desire is a crucial component to our faith; John Piper puts it this way:  “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”  If you want to be truly filled and satisfied, then your life must be reflecting the glory of God – that is God’s created purpose and the way the universe works.  There is no system or formula to produce affection or desire, it is by constantly reminding ourselves of God’s great love and mercy for us that our affections are stirred.  The more we understand the gap between our holy sovereign Creator and us and that He was willing to bridge that gap, the more our worship and appreciation increases.  This grace is the fuel for Christian growth.

"Not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard"