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Archive for the ‘Suffering’ Category

Coronavirus (2)

On Monday I posted here about how sin being in the world, leads to a world under the judgement of God. This in turn leads on to an expectation that calamities will be known in this sin stricken world. Today I want to consider as to whether we can make a direct connection between the fact that certain sins are promoted today and the giving by God of the coronavirus.

One passage which bears upon our consideration is Luke 13:1-5. The passage read:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Here the Lord is warning against the tendency that we have to categorise sins and sinners. Behind this tendency is the desire to “get ourselves off the hook” because we are not such bad sinners as others. It is very dangerous to engage in such thinking and we put our souls in peril if we do,. Rather as the Lord exhorts in v3 and v5 we should realise we all sin and are sinners and we need to repent.

However, this does not take away from the fact that in the Word of God we see the Lord portrayed as the One who does bring specific judgements as a result of specific sins. The fact that He does this shows that He is not some frenzied tyrant who deals out “the bad stuff” willy-nilly. Rather He is the One who brings just retribution for those involved in the pursuit of ways which are against his will.

Consider the taking away of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC by the Assyrians. The Lord makes it patently clear that He did this because of their specific sins. So we read in 2 kings 17:7-17 how the nation rejected the commandments of the Lord, set up false worship and engaged in child sacrifice. That leads to the conclusion in v18a Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. There is a direct connection between their sin and His judgement.

Further if we go back to the first big judgement after the fall, that of the flood, we see that it was because: the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Gen 6:5).

As a final representation of this principle that specific sin leads to specific judgement consider how the church at Ephesus was threatened with the termination of their existence because they had abandoned their first love (see Rev. 2:4-5).

We seem today to be possessed of a great hesitancy of attributing certain disasters to certain sins. Our forebears were more bold. J.C Ryle writing about the cattle plague of 1865-7 in the UK wrote in respect of the cause thereof:

It has come upon us because of our national sins. God has a controversy with England, because of many things among us which are displeasing in His sight. He would gladly awaken us to a sense of our iniquities. This cattle plague is a message from Heaven.

He then goes on to list the specific national sins. You can read the document here.

Matthew McMahon on The Puritan Board discussion forum here says this: A number of Puritans (including Vincent and Mead), were directly involved in the plagues and fires of London. Mead saw the plague as a direct example of God’s wrath against the city for its sin and wickedness. Vincent saw the great fire in the same way. The reference here is to the Great Plague and Great Fire which occurred in London in 1665 and 1666 respectively.

So what are we to say of the present happenings. I make two observations:

China

The Chinese authorities have set themselves over the last two years to seek to establish total submission from all entities in the country to the Communist party. They want control; they want to take the place of God. The Christian Church is one of the entities which has borne the brunt of the increased repression with church buildings being burnt to the ground for example.

It is interesting that China was the source of the coronavirus infection and has borne the brunt of its effects thus far. The Communist Party which sought to control everything has found itself with a phenomenon that it could not control. Surely we can see the God who truly is, showing that to defy Him has consequences.

LGBT+

The pernicious LGBT+ agenda has rampaged through western societies over the past twenty five years. It has all the capacities if a virus. In fact it is an ideological virus. It has been an attack on two fundamental God given teachings which lead to orderly society and the healthy development of wholesome human interactions. These are that we are born male and female and that marriage is between one man and one woman for life to the exclusion of all others. The desire and intention to indoctrinate all into the new dogmas is being undertaken with a vengeance. Most international organisations have fallen to the might of those propagating these ideas. The promise is that a new freedom will pertain which will release mankind into a new age of security, peace and advance. And woe betide anyone who will not conform!

The fact that the coronavirus has spread throughout the world makes me to ponder upon how God is signifying His disapproval of the LGBT+ virus which is increasingly infecting the whole world. In sending the coronavirus God is saying that the new zeitgeist will not bring in a utopian state. Security, peace and advance only come when He is acknowledged as Lord and His ways are held to as those which are healthy and wholesome.

I suggest that through the coroanvirus God is providentially working out His judgement purposes. To resist God in terms of His role of ultimate authority (exemplified in China), and Him in being the establisher of the way which is most healthy and best for humanity (exemplified by the LGBT+ agenda) is not consequence free.

You may feel I have overstated my case in this post. That may be so. But I do want us to be aware that God is not indifferent to the rejection of Himself and His ways on His planet. He sovereignly governs for His own glory.

If I am guilty of drawing too many connections that does not take away from the poignancy of the connections made. If you and I only take heed to the principles that to submit to God as Lord and to embrace His way as the way of life, stability, peace and advance that will be good.

And finally to be aware that sin leads to catastrophe will always be edifying for us. In fact it is a mercy of God to know that He is stepping in to show us the consequences of our errors. This all forewarns us of an eternal reality. For in hell the message resounds loud and clear, and that eternally, that ultimate outcome of sin is catastrophe upon catastrophe. As we have a sniff of these realities in the present judgement of the coronavirus let us urgently flee from the wrath to come.

 

 

 

Hard Times

The hard stuff of life will either make you bitter or blessed; it will either do you good or do you bad. The key thing in all this is how you (and me) respond to the hard stuff.

Zechariah was struck dumb in Luke 1 on account of him failing to believe what Gabriel said to him. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” (Luke 1:20.) It seems from the sign making in v62 that he was also left deaf through the judgment.

Now Zechariah was a priest and an essential part of his calling was to speak. It must have been so hard for him to endure those nine months of enforced silence. Effectively he was indisposed from his duties; his whole identity was being messed up.

Moreover, he could have legitimately argued that it was all a bit of an overreaction by God to take away his speech. After all he had only had a question about how it was all going to happen; that is how Elizabeth would have a baby.

Notwithstanding the pain of the experience and the apparent harshness of the way of God Zechariah was a man who consecrated all of this hard experience to God for good.

It is in this context we read the beautiful words And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God (v64). The experience that Zechariah had been through was consecrated unto blessing. His mouth proved it. He knew the good workings of the Lord, he could see such was the case with his happy wife and beautiful baby in front of his eyes. But more than that he knew all was in the purpose of God. It is this latter appreciation which made him joy in God as was proven in his song of vv67-79

Here are striking things for ourselves. In the hard circumstances of life we will be saved from bitterness of soul when we realise that God has purpose in our sufferings. We may not full understand, but we can believe that He has good purposes.

Zechariah went into his dumbness not believing; he came out of it full of faith. May we come out of all our hard situations of life full of faith.

And finally just to note that hard stuff never leaves us neutral. It will always change us. and that can be for bad or for good, Are your trials making you bitter or better?

 

Pig-Head or Snowflake

Criticism comes in the normal course of life. Criticism comes in seeking to serve the Lord. There should be no surprise that if the master suffered criticism then won’t that be true of his servants as well? So we read in Matthew 10:24-25:

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.

But what do we do when criticism comes? Are we “pig-heads” or “snowflakes”?

Pig-Heads say “Stuff you with whatever you say, I am going to do it this way and if you don’t like it you will have to lump it.”

Snowflakes says “If you have said it, it must be right. I must do what you say straight-away. I will do whatever you say, yes sir, no sir; three bags full sir.”

So where do each of us sit with these responses. I suggest we are all somewhere on a spectrum here between pig-heads and snowflakes.

But how should we respond to criticism. I have written about how we should respond to a rebuke here. I post some further thoughts;

  • Always listen to what the person has to say. Seek calcification if necessary, but don’t pursue every detail ad nauseam.
  • Listen courteously and thank them for their observations which have very likely not been easy to deliver.
  • Consider what has been said and pray over it.
  • Seek advice and other counsel from those you trust.
  • Consider who has made the criticism and of what character, wisdom and maturity they are.
  • Respond and adopt the observations which you think are legitimate.
  • Reject those which you believe do not hold up.

Then move on with your life.  We need to embrace something of Paul’s attitude: But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.(Phil 3:13b-14).  Continually revisiting what has been said can keep you from the task in hand which is to serve God and be for Him.

 

We Know Where You Are?

Yesterday was a fine spring day in Feltham. Accordingly,given the clemency of the weather, we went for a walk in the late afternoon to the nearby disused running track. Later in the evening I saw a message on my phone saying: “How was Feltham Running Track?” Presumably, I had had my phone in my coat pocket and my location had been logged.

This all just alerted me to the fact that technology has made it so easy for us all to be traced. Similar experiences occur after a search has been made online to purchase a certain product. From this ensues the popping up on my screen, of all kinds of adverts for the product I had been searching for.

Now I do not want to get overly paranoid about these happenings, but it does provoke me to muse upon the amount of surveillance there is around. Through my online activity, use of mobile phone, bank/credit card use and car use so much data is available to the authorities about me, my movements, my interests and my activities.

Two thoughts arise:

  • I should be careful of my behaviour. Of course that should always be the case given that we are being watched by our all-seeing and all-knowing God. But, what of our living out of His grace in our lives? We should make sure that nothing could be recorded, with or without the knowledge of ourselves which would mar our testimony for the Lord.
  • With all this information available should the authorities turn hostile towards us as Christians (or for any other group for that matter), they could soon trace us and our activities and connections. Such leads on to some natural fear about what may be ahead. But we should be simultaneously reminded of how God knows all and watches over His people for their good.

 

Labouring Unto Joy.

Why are we expending mental and emotional energy as we lovingly engage ourselves in the lives of others with all tehir intricate and perplexing problems? More generally why are we going through difficulties in the service of Christ? It is easy to default to the thinking that we are called to suffering and that is how it is and we have to get on with it. But such an attitude can soon lead to the “martyr complex” which means that we glory in how much we are suffering.

Paul would not let us have this focus. His focus was on joy. So we see in 2 Corinthians 2:1-4 a little taste of Paul’s attitude to ministry. He is wanting the Corinthians to deal with the sin in their midst (see 1 Cor. 5:1-5). The fact that there is this sin in the church is causing him great distress. So we read in v4 For I wrote to you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you. And he only inflicts pain on the Corinthians because he wants the matter dealt with and so they can share joy. So we read of gladness (v2) and joy (v3).

Paul’s goal is joy. He wants sin dealt with in the church because there can never be joy when sin is around. And he will get distressed and seek to distress others so that sin is dealt with. But his goal is not the distress and the suffering. Rather, joy is his settled purpose.

Are we similarly set on this goal of labouring for joy? In all this we remember the ministry of our Saviour who went through the ultimate sin dealing with suffering so as to enter into the ultimate joy. Let us ponder upon the immense implications of how our Saviour Fixing our eyes on the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

Oh Lord please save me form a martyr complex and fix my being on labouring for joy and gladness.

Suffering.

Paul writes to the Philippians and speaks to them about believing and suffering. He says For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for him, (Phil 1:29)How do we respond to that scripture? We might say that believing is wonderful, but we’re not so sure about the suffering? We are so happy that the Lord grants us to believe, but are not so comfortable with being granted to suffer.

As we come to ponder upon this we note that it is not suffering because of being awkward or odd. Rather it is suffering for His sake. So when we take a stand for the gospel, and when we seek to honour Jesus Christ, then we can expect suffering.

Moreover, there is an inherent connection between exercising faith and suffering. We suffer because by faith we have entered another world. That heavenly world has different values. Accordingly this world does not like us standing in Christ (and with Christ) and so we suffer. We are in this present evil age, which is under the sway of the evil one, and this world is set against the beautiful ways of Jesus Christ. So as we affiliate with Jesus Christ by faith, we can expect the onslaughts of the evil realm. Faith brings suffering.

How is it then as regards to my situation and my experience of suffering? Our Lord says: Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets (Luke 6:26). A Christ-less life will be a comfortable life. A faithless life will be a comfortable life. But both end in death. Oh, for Christ, oh, for faith and when those are present with all the glorious things we possess thereby we will surely be happy to suffer with Him, in Him, and for Him.

Real Service

I read “The Joy of Service” by Julian Hardyman recently. It is available here. I feel it should be re-titled “Real Service”. Julian Hardyman is refreshingly honest about his weakness and the struggles of ministry.

It is a good easy-to-read book. It tells of a man whose character and ministry has been formed in the crucible of life. Well worth a read.

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