Sunday, October 4, 2015

Shattered Dreams and Shaken Faith

An exceptionally wise and honest meditation from Vaneetha Rendall at Desiring God Ministries:

Sometimes my faith is shaken when my dreams are shattered.

I wonder where God is in the midst of my suffering. I cannot sense his presence. I feel alone and afraid. My faith wavers.

I question what I have long believed. I wonder what is real, especially when my experience doesn’t match my expectations.

This wavering deeply troubles me. I have tasted God’s goodness, enjoyed close fellowship with him, rested in his tender care. I have known both his power and his love. Yet in the midst of profound struggle, I have no answers. Just questions.

John the Baptist understood this struggle as he waited in prison. He, above all men, knew who Jesus was. Even in the womb, he leapt for joy in the presence of the unborn Savior. At the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, before any of his miracles, John declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). He baptized Jesus and saw God’s Spirit descend on him, testifying that he indeed was the Son of God.

And yet, at the height of Jesus’s ministry, John sent word to him from prison, asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2–3).

At one point, John was sure that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus further confirmed his divinity by performing miracles, yet now John was wondering what was true.


Unfulfilled Expectations

John knew from Scripture that he who gave the blind sight, made the lame walk, and preached good news to the poor could surely “open the prison of those who were bound” as prophesied in Isaiah 61:1. But Jesus didn’t do that for John.

So perhaps at this point, John doubted what he knew. If Jesus was indeed the Messiah, John probably expected to have a role in his earthly kingdom. He wouldn’t have expected to start with such a high calling, preparing the way of the Lord in the wilderness, only to end his life and his ministry in a small prison cell. Besides, John preached that the Messiah would come with an unquenchable fire. With judgment. With power. He likely expected that to be in his lifetime.

None of those expectations coincided with reality. And that may have caused John to doubt. Unfulfilled expectations often elicit that response in me. Especially when I’ve been faithful.

Jesus doesn’t condemn John for his doubts. He even says that no one greater than John has ever lived. He understands why John is asking the question. And Jesus’s response to him reinforces what John already knows: that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.

At the same time, Jesus knows that John’s public ministry is over. Just like the saints in Hebrews 11, John wouldn’t receive all God’s promises but could only greet them from afar. He would not serve with Jesus or see the fulfillment of God’s kingdom. But one day he would. One day he would see his glorious part in God’s magnificent plan. He, the last of the old covenant prophets, would see how God used him to prepare the world to receive Jesus.

And John would rejoice.

But for now, John has to accept the Messiah’s plans for his life. Plans that are different than what he envisioned. He has to dwell on what he knows to be true rather than fixate on his circumstances. He has to remember who God is and trust him from a dark prison.

And so it is with me.

When Your Plans Crumble

When my plans crumble and God takes me away from my dreams, I must trust in God’s infinite wisdom. When my cup of suffering seems too much to bear, I need to rest in his immeasurable love. When my life spins out of control, I need to remember God’s absolute sovereignty.

I may not understand what is happening. But I cannot stop talking to him. Or turn away in fear. I must simply go to Jesus and tell him my doubts. Ask him to help me see.

John’s doubts are the same as mine. I wonder if God is who he says he is. And if everything is under his control. And if he truly loves me.

And when I doubt, God calls me, as he did John, to trust what I know to be true. To trust the bedrock principles that I know from Scripture and from experience. That God is completely sovereign. And loving. And wise. Not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from his will.

In this life, I may never see how God is using my trials. But one day I will be grateful for them. All I can do now is trust that he who made the lame walk and the blind see, who died on a cross so I could spend eternity with him, is going to do the very best thing for me.

It all comes down to trust. Will I trust my circumstances that constantly change? Or will I trust God who is unchanging?

On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.

-- Vaneetha Rendall

Saturday, October 3, 2015

A Faith That Works

This passage from Charles Hodge, to me, compellingly makes the case that true, saving faith will necessarily be transformative, thus securing the link between God-given genuine faith and the believer’s inevitable (though imperfect/incomplete in this life) allegiance/obedience (new affections and new actions), as the fruit of faith.  And so, the Reformed maxim is true:  faith alone saves (more accurately, Christ saves through faith alone), but the faith/believing that saves will not remain alone, but will bear fruit in new affections/obedience/good works.

“But that faith which is the gift of God, which arises from his opening our eyes to see the excellence of the truth, is attended with joy and love. These feelings are as immediately and necessarily attendant on this kind of faith, as pleasure is on the perception of beauty. Hence faith is said to work by love. And as all revealed truth is the object of the faith of which we now speak, every truth must, in proportion to the strength of our faith, produce its appropriate effect upon the heart. A belief of the being and perfections of God, founded upon the apprehension of his glory, must produce love, reverence and confidence, with a desire to be conformed to his image. Hence the apostle says: We all, with open face, beholding, as in a glass, the glory of God, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the spirit of the Lord, (2 Corinthians 3: 18).

“Faith in his threatenings, founded upon a perception of their justice, their harmony with his perfections, and the ill-desert of sin, must produce fear and trembling. His people, therefore, are described as those who tremble at his Word. Faith in his promises, founded upon the apprehension of his faithfulness and power, their harmony with all his revealed purposes, their suitableness to our nature and necessities, must produce confidence, joy and hope.

“This was the faith which made Abraham leave his own country, to go to a strange land; which led Moses to esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. This was the faith of David also, of Samuel, and of all the prophets, who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. This is the faith which leads all the people of God to confess that they are strangers and pilgrims upon earth, and that they look for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

“This is the faith which overcomes the world, which leads the believer to set his affections on things above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God; which enables him to glory even in tribulation, while he looks not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal. And what shall we say of a faith in Jesus Christ founded upon the apprehension of the glory of God, as it shines in him; which beholds that glory as the glory of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth; which contemplates the Redeemer as clothed in our nature; the first-born of many brethren; as dying for our sins, rising again for our justification, ascending into heaven and as now seated at the right hand of God, where he ever liveth to make intercession for us?

“Such a faith the apostle tells us, must produce love, for he says, Whom having not seen ye love, and in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. The soul gladly receives him as a Saviour in all the characters and for all the purposes for which he is revealed; and naturally desires to be conformed to his will, and to make known the unsearchable riches of his grace to others. It is no less obvious that no one can believe the representations given in the Scriptures respecting the character of man and the ill-desert of sin, with a faith founded upon right apprehension of the holiness of God and the evil of his own heart, without experiencing self-condemnation, self-abhorrence, and a constant hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Thus of all the truths in the Word of God, it may be said, that so far as they are believed in virtue of this spiritual apprehension, they will exert their appropriate influence upon the heart and consequently upon the life.

“That such a faith should not produce good fruits is as impossible as that the sun should give light without heat.”

-- Charles Hodge,  "The Way of Life" (Kindle Locations 1833-1856). Counted Faithful. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Where All the Beauty Came From

"The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing . . . to find the place where all the beauty came from."

-- C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Sweet Mercies...Full and Durable

"There is in my Father's love every thing desirable; there is the sweetness of all mercies, and that fully and durably." -- John Owen

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The End of Our Idols

"Godly sorrow is the funeral that God puts on for our idols." [see 2 Cor. 7:10]

-- Landry Fields (of the Toronto Raptors)

Freedom of Religion

Heartened to hear Pope Francis, in his speech from Philadelphia, affirm the crucial reality that the right to religious freedom (affirmed in the very first amendment of our Bill of Rights) is by no means restricted to the 'freedom to worship' (the phrase characteristically used by President Obama and Hillary Clinton), but also the freedom to practice and live out one's religious commitments in every sphere of life -- "in the public square", culturally, politically, vocationally, etc.

The conclusion to his speech: "May this country and each of you be renewed in gratitude for the many blessings and freedoms that you enjoy. And may you defend these rights, especially your religious freedom, for it has been given to you by God himself...."

"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance." -- "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights' (via the United Nations"

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Religion: Indelibly Part of Human Life

"Religion is more than dogma and rules. It is a mixture of worldview and praxis that permeates all of peoples’ lives. We should remember that religion has had a prominent place in Australian history, and religious organizations form the backbone of our welfare network. Faith communities and the state can work together for the common good, and religion is an inalienable aspect of human existence, like music, art and literature. What’s more, religion is remarkably robust – it is not going to disappear. So it is far better that we treat religion as indelibly part of human life than as something to be begrudgingly tolerated and excised from public life...." -- Michael Bird

-- from "Whose Religion? Which Secularism?"

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Life's "Interruptions"?

"The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s “own,” or 'real' life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day; what one calls one’s 'real life' is a phantom of one’s own imagination." ~ C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Misuse of Prayer

"...we should remember Augustine's letter to Anicia.  There he says, in short, that you should not begin to pray for all you want until you realize that in God you have all you need.  That is, unless we know that God is the one thing we truly need, our petitions and supplications may become, simply, forms of worry and lust.  We can use prayer as just another way to pursue many things that we want too much.  Not only will  God not hear such prayers (because we ask for things selfishly to spend on our lusts [James 4:2-3]), but the prayers will not reorient our perspective and give us any relief from the melancholy burden of self-absorption."

-- Tim Keller, "Prayer - Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God"  p. 139

Just a Nice Guy?

"Jesus wasn't just a nice guy who did good in the world.  You don't crucify nice guys.  You crucify threats." -- Tim Keller

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Word, Prayer and the Spirit

"Luther expects that we will hear God speak through his Word. Luther will not make the same mistake as George Whitefield, assuming that his inner impressions are revelations from God. God’s communication to us is in the Scripture.

"That does not mean, however, that meditation is merely an exercise of the mind. He expects that the Spirit, as we reflect on the biblical truth before God, will sometimes fill our heart with rich thoughts and ideas that feel poignant and new to us, even when we are thinking about a text or truth that we have heard hundreds of times before.

"Luther is talking about the eyes of our hearts being enlightened (Eph 1: 18) so that things we know with the mind become more fully rooted in our beings’ core."

-- Tim Keller, Timothy "Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God" (pp. 95-96). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Faith That Works?

I cannot think that I have learned much about living a life of faith in God -- in my own case, or in those I seek to minister to -- unless and until such faith bears fruit in the happiness of holiness -- what Paul calls 'righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit' (Rom. 14:17).

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Fear of Man

"It is dangerous to be[too] concerned with what others think of you, but if you trust the Lord, you are safe." -- Proverbs 29:25 (GNT)

Thursday, September 17, 2015


“For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are.”
― C.S. Lewis