God’s Care

Thankful…

I'm thankful for a God who is sovereign, who rules over all circumstances and directs our steps wisely and graciously.

I'm thankful for God's Word, which is true when men are true and remains true when men are not.

I'm thankful for God's provision for us in surprising ways, using means that we don't foresee and abundantly beyond what we expect.

I'm thankful for a wife and children who bring great joy and who are growing in grace and Christlikeness.

I'm thankful for faithful friends who are encouragers, confronters, and comforters. For friends that tell me the truth, even when it hurts. For friends who know how to love by giving “the faithful wound of a friend.”

I'm thankful for an extended family that largely loves the Lord and encourages my immediate family in our pursuit of Christ.

I'm thankful for health and strength and for the opportunity to spend myself for the sake of the gospel.

I'm thankful for Jesus Christ, who gave His life to rescue me, a desperate sinner, from the penalty of my sin.

I'm thankful for the Church and that Jesus died for the Church. I'm glad I get to spend and be spent for the sake of Christ in a local church.

I'm thankful to be alive and enjoying life.

Isn't God good?

1 Thessalonians 5:18 “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

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When Finding Peace Is a Battle

What do we do when it feels like we're trusting God, yet we still feel like we don't have peace? Our anchor for peace is what is taught in Isaiah 26:3-4 and elsewhere: subjective peace requires reliance on God. But what happens when we are asking God for faith to rest in Him, and we still don't seem to be enjoying peace? What do you do when the battle for peace doesn't seem to work?

First, we must never lose our anchor.

We often take our eyes off of God and focus them on our problems. This results in frustration and turmoil. God, our Everlasting Rock, hasn't changed, but our thinking is more informed by our circumstances than our relationship with God. So, look to Jesus, run to God in faith, asking Him for grace to trust Him and peace in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Second, we must never blame our circumstances.

Circumstances are not an excuse for our failure to trust God. It is my fault because I fail to trust God. Sin around us cannot be an excuse for our lack of peace. Think about Paul and Silas in the jail at Philippi. Their circumstances couldn't have been much worse, yet they were singing hymns to God. What is your response when you face difficult circumstances? Do you rest in God, or do you take your eyes off of the Savior?

So … we can't lose our anchor or blame our circumstances. But living at peace with others in this world still requires great wisdom. It is possible to enjoy peace with God, yet not enjoy peace with all men. What do we do at those times?

Romans 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Paul teaches believers that we should pursue peace with everyone with great effort. The point is that being at peace with others requires intentional focus. As much as it up to us, we ought to be at peace with others.

What the New Testament says here, it also says elsewhere. Consider the following passages:

  • Romans 14:19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
    • Paul is referring to something more than a casual nod of the head. He means that having peace with others requires intentional focused effort.
  • Ephesians 4:1-3 1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
    • The eagerness in verse 3 has the idea of expending every effort. We should exercise ourselves toward the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We should give our best effort and be diligent in the pursuit of peace.
  • Hebrews 12:14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
    • “Strive” is the same word for “pursue” in Romans 14:19. It is used negatively to speak of persecution–in other words, persecutors, pursue or chase after believers. We should chase after peace with great zeal.

How do we live at peace with everyone, without getting into man-pleasing? We'll consider that question in the next post.

Self-Assessment for Peace

Isaiah 26:3-4 teaches that we can enjoy peace by resting on God. But how do you know if you actually have peace?

You might not be resting in God if…

  • You worry a lot.
  • You view yourself as a victim of your circumstances, rather than a child of God radically loved by God.
  • You think about your problems more than you talk to God about them.
  • You talk to others about your problems more than you talk to God about them.
  • You struggle to sleep at night because you can't stop thinking about your problems.
  • You try to manipulate situations, rather than trusting God's care for you.
  • Your view of the people around you is big, and your view of God is small (i.e., thinking about people in relation to your problems more than you think about God in relation to your problems).
  • People ask you what's wrong, and you didn't even realize your feelings were showing.
  • You are always believing that other people have it better, that your life is harder than average.
  • You find yourself irritable and impatient, when there is very little provoking you.

If you find yourself in need of peace, what can you do to get peace?

  • Ask God for grace to trust Him more. “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!”
  • Read and meditate on God's Word, focusing on the person and work of God. Ask yourself what you're doubting about God's character.
  • Stop. Listen to God and His Word, pleading with Him for faith. Psalm 62:8 Pour out your heart before the Lord; God is a refuge for us.

 

Benefits of Peace

Resting on God brings peace to God's children. What are the benefits of peace?

Peace doesn't mean that life will be easy, that God will make us rich and give us an easy life. It does mean that in the midst of life, God will be actively caring for us. The blessing of peace includes the benefit of God's intense care and guarding. Paul talks about the peace of God this way: Philippians 4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. God guards His people with peace. When you are weary and want to give up, trust in the Lord who guards your heart and mind with His peace.

God ordains peace and acts for His people, working in our behalf. How can we see God acting for His people? The greatest evidence of this is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ–bearing our sins in His body on the tree, intervening between God's wrath and God's people. As we act, relying on God, He is actively working in us and through us. In the book of Hebrews, Christ sat down, after He accomplished the atonement for our sins. We rest in God, complete in Christ, who has credited all of His good works to us. But there are other ways that God actively cares for His people.

What does it mean for God to care for and act for us?

  • Child-rearing – we seek to raise our children faithfully, but make mistakes; God is working for us; perhaps you have a child who has left your home, turned his back on God, and now all you can do is pray.
  • Sharing the gospel – we share it in our feeble way, and God acts for us.
  • Difficult situation at work – we try to resolve an unresolvable situation; God gives us grace to persevere.
  • Peace in marital relationship – as we trust the Lord, He will act for us, bringing peace in ways that we never anticipated.
  • Peace when we're afraid – as we rest in the Lord, He will guard us, acting as our protector.
  • Peace for the single person – as you wonder when God will bring a spouse and are tempted to trust in that one, to trust in that wedding day, God will be your peace; you are complete in Christ.
  • Decision making – we are finite and imperfect and will make many wrong decisions, humanly speaking; yet, in the midst of those, God is there, working in our behalf, sanctifying us, acting for His people.

 

Obstacles to Peace

We can enjoy peace by resting on God. But what about the times we don't have peace? What keeps us from enjoying true peace? To what sorts of things do we look for peace, other than to God Himself?

Alternative sources of peace:

  • Addiction: we may use sexual addiction, drunkenness, or drug addiction as a means of temporarily forgetting about life's troubles.
  • Distraction: some of us lose ourselves in music, movies, video games, or other entertainment.
  • Workaholism: we may work ourselves to the bone, trying to forget about the rest of the noise in our life.
  • Family: family relationships–a very good thing–can be a way of escaping from heartache around us. Our society is more frenetic than it's ever been, and we use the pace of life as a way of escaping.
  • Busyness: some live life so busy that we don't have time to stop and think about our problems?

Even when we don't “create” other sources of peace, we often lack peace. What gets in the way of our peace?

Obstacles to peace:

  • Lack of faith/trust in God (child)
  • Failure to obey God in areas that are clear
  • Harbored secret sin
  • Conflict with others
  • Replacing trust in God with trust in men

Any time we replace our trust in the Lord with reliance on men, we set ourselves up for disappointment.

Have you replaced God, the Everlasting Rock, with little human rocks? Human leaders will fail, whether they are leaders in the political arena or in your local church or in your family. If you're a parent, you know the taste of failure quite well.

Saying that leaders fail isn't a defense of failure and sin or saying that human leadership shouldn't be held accountable. They should be. The fact that we should be enjoying peace isn't an excuse for human leaders, meaning they can get away with what they want, since we should be experiencing feelings of peace and harmony. However, if human failure is shaking your confidence in God, then you've got your confidence in the wrong place. You're not leaning on God; you're leaning on your own understanding and on the people around you. Leaders are accountable to God and before God, and you stand accountable before God too.

God is the source of our peace, and the way to peace is trust and reliance on Him. The result of that should be a sense of rest before God and a sense of rest in our place in the world. Perfect peace is God's gift to those who rest on Him. The leaning into, the resting is passive. In other words, God works in our behalf as we rest in Him. It's sort of like needing surgery–it's something you have done, but it's something that you rest in the power of another to accomplish.

Do you know peace in God? Peace is a gift from God for those who trust in Him.

 

Peace in a Noisy World

We live in a world full of noise. When was the last time you stopped for a moment…just to listen? No music, no headphones, no filling the space with artificial noise–just taking a moment to listen.

There's nothing inherently wrong with noise, but turmoil around us often results in frustration in us. Do you ever feel overwhelmed with the noise of life? What do we use to shut out noise? Typically, we create more noise–like music, video games, or a movie. In a world like that, what can we do to enjoy true peace?

Objective peace with God comes through Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. True peace cannot come through an inner fight for peace or through the offering of imperfect good works to God. God brings peace to those who place their faith in Jesus Christ, His eternal Son.

This objective, external peace between sinners and God that can be accomplished only through the blood of Jesus. But there's also a subjective peace with God that God's redeemed people can experience as we grow in our trust of Him. What about when God's children struggle to find subjective peace? How do we find it? Isaiah 26:3 gives us the answer: we can enjoy peace by resting on God. Isaiah 26:3-4 3 You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. 4 Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.

God keeps us in peace. Peace is something we can and should fight for, but it is ultimately something God brings, not something we can produce ourselves. Our battle for peace is not so much a battle for peace as it is a battle for faith in the true God. As we trust in the Lord, He brings peace.

 

Comfort and Confrontation

“So what do you do all week, anyway?”

If you're a pastor, you've probably heard that question more than once. Some people have the idea that pastors enjoy a six-day weekend, with one day of work on Sunday. Others picture them as spending all day every day reading and studying. Others might have the idea that a pastor meets people, drinks coffee, listens, and talks–almost like a psychologist with a spiritual twist.

Pastoral work might be summarized as “leading and feeding.” Or as shepherding. Or as overseeing. Or as preaching and teaching. A good pastor does all of these things. However you articulate the overall function of a pastor, one of the main areas of any pastor's job is member care–spiritually caring for the souls of the people God has brought to his local church.

What does member care look like? There's a sense in which you can sum it up in these two words: comfort and confrontation. Here's a glimpse into some experiences in a week of member care (none of these are recent, so any similarity to you is a coincidence!!):

Comfort:

  • Praying for members: pastors gathering to pray for each church member by name, systematically and alphabetically; praying specifically and repeatedly for members that are hurting, wandering, or flagrantly sinning.
  • Visiting the family of a church member whose loved one is dying in their home; praying with the family and just being there during the last hours of a beloved saint's life.
  • Calling a church member who is out of state for the funeral of an adult child; encouraging him and letting him know that we love him, are praying for him, and are rallying around him during these difficult days.
  • Meeting for prayer and fellowship with a brother who is earnestly seeking to lead and shepherd his family; praising the Lord for His faithfulness to this brother.
  • Encouraging a father whose child has rejected the Lord and seeking to counsel him about how to evangelize this child who is still at home.

Confrontation:

  • Counseling individuals experiencing significant struggles in their home; confronting sin as it comes to light and calling these brothers and sisters to repentance and to living in light of the gospel.
  • Confronting a brother who is admittedly struggling to lead at home; encouraging him to fulfill his God-given roles and responsibilities; and exhorting him to believe that God has empowered him for this ministry.

Comfort and confrontation involve much more than this, but for the pastor, there is great joy in the process of leading and feeding church members and seeing them grow to be more like Jesus.

 

The Monster Within (Part 2)

Hope for fearful people

Last week, we looked at signs that indicate you may be struggling with the fear of man. This week, we'll focus on hope for those who are struggling with or controlled by the fear of man.

Be honest.

Perhaps the biggest struggle any person has is the battle to recognize sin as “sin.” Because the fear of man can masquerade as love for others (I'm being deferential, not fearful…), it is easy to be self-deceived. How can you tell the difference? Love for others is motivated by a desire for their good. Fear of others is motivated by a desire to be safe, to protect yourself.

Don't fool yourself into thinking that you're loving someone else, when you're actually watching your own back. It doesn't serve you well, and it doesn't serve them in the end either. Over time, people will be able to tell the difference and begin to recognize the fear that characterizes your relationships.

Be captivated by God's love.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…. We love because he first loved us.” These words from 1 John 4:18-19 give us the key to living in love, rather than being controlled by the fear of man: recognize that God loves you far more deeply than any human being ever could, and revel in that fact!

You who once were God's enemy have now been made a friend of God. He has made you accepted in Christ (Eph 1:6). No matter who else rejects you, God will not. Nothing can separate you from the love of God which is in Jesus (Rom 8:38-39). You see, when God is for you, it doesn't matter who else is against you.

Conclusion

Are you living in fear or in love? Why don't you ask someone who knows you well?

Are you living in fear and calling it love? Call your fear what God calls it: “sin.” The next time you find yourself lacking the necessary courage to have a difficult conversation, think about the fact that God will accept you, even if that person rejects you. When you are tempted to manipulate others out of fear of failure, remember that even your greatest failures can't separate you from the love of God.

God's love is so great that it produces love for others, even when love requires great courage. Perfect love casts out fear.

See part 1 of this post, for signs that may indicate you struggle with the fear of man.

 

The Monster Within (Part 1)

What Monster?

One of my daughter's favorite books is The Monster at the End of this Book, starring “lovable, furry, old Grover.” It's a fun book for kids … about a monster that doesn't really exist.

I've recently given some thought to a “monster” in our culture: the fear of man. This monster exists in our minds, and it paralyzes many believers. I've sensed it frequently in my own life. How do you know if your life is characterized by an unhealthy fear of man?

The following characteristics might indicate that you are struggling with the fear of man. If you find that these characteristics pervade your life, you may even be experiencing spiritual or emotional paralysis as you are held hostage by these feelings.

Characteristics of the fear of man:

  • Preoccupation with what people think about what you say and do … even people that are “fringe” people in your life
  • A desire to control and manipulate others, so that you won't look bad when they mess up (children, spouse, friends, co-workers)
  • Failure to follow through on conversations you know you should have–both good and bad
  • Oversensitivity to criticism and a tendency to take things personally … even from the people that love you the most
  • Qualifying your statements so much that people aren't quite sure what you're getting at
  • Belligerence that comes across as overconfidence, so that no one will know how insecure you feel inside
  • Utter fear of being a failure or of ever failing at all
  • Judging the motives of others and resenting their success
  • Failure to lead consistently, according to the roles God has given you (church, family, work, etc.)
  • Reluctance to share the gospel consistently–with those who know Christ and with those who don't

You may wonder how I came up with this list. Good question! It's largely because I've seen so many of these characteristics in my own life.

Next week, in part 2, we'll look at hope for those who find themselves ensnared by this monster.

 

When someone loses their dad


A church member recently asked counsel about how to help a young family who lost their dad suddenly and tragically. Here are some thoughts I shared with her:

Thanks so much for your voice mail, and I’m sorry to hear about the passing away of your friends’ dad. That’s a sad day for anyone. I’ll be praying for them and for you, that you’ll have wisdom as you minister to them and encourage them.

As far as thoughts about how to minister to them, every person grieves differently, but here are a few things that come to mind.

  1. Pray, and tell them you are praying. The Holy Spirit can minister to them in ways that you cannot. It will encourage them just to know that you are praying.
  2. Tell them you love them and care about them. Someone they love and were loved by is now gone. It will mean a lot to know that others are loving them as a reflection of God’s love for them.
  3. Listen. As you have opportunity to ask how they are doing, be prepared to listen and to be surprised. They may not cope with grief in the way you expect.
  4. Be a friend. Sometimes the most valuable thing is someone who will just be there during the tough times. Their lives have changed forever, and they will be lonely in ways that they haven’t expected. It means a lot to have friends during lonely times.
  5. Tell them it’s ok to grieve. They loved their dad and will miss him. God created us to have joy in relationships and also to have sorrow. It’s ok for them to be sad and to talk about their sadness to the Lord. Christ Himself grieved when He knew He was about to be separated from His Father.
  6. Try to understand, but don’t assume that you do. Everyone deals with loss differently.

Well, those are some thoughts that come to mind. I will pray for grace and wisdom as you minister to this family.