Tuesday, January 21, 2014

When Life Breaks Your Heart

“When you can’t see past the tears, trust His heart” – C.H. Spurgeon

Usually when we hear the term “broken heart” we think of it in terms of a broken romantic relationship, but the truth is our heart can be broken when anything our heart has hoped in is disappointed. We hope for a job, promotion, or opportunity and we don’t get it; we hope for a certain direction in life and are dissuaded by sickness, finances, family problems, or who-knows what else; we hope for happiness but often trials and heartache find us instead. Proverbs says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” (Prov 13:12) and when hope is disappointed the heart is indeed as if “sick,” we just tend to use the term “broken”. Emotional pain is very real… and you can’t put a band-aid on it. If it is not dealt with it can lead to depression and even physical illness. And then you can lose hope altogether which is why it has led some to their death or to the taking of their own life. It is possible to die from a broken heart.

However, as a Christian who believes in both the complete sovereignty and perfect goodness of God, I have often sought to understand His purposes for my trials. The path of pain is often mysterious but we do know that in all things God has one ultimate purpose, to conform His children to the image of Christ (Rom 8:28-29). Each time as I have allowed the Lord to work in my heart He has revealed things in my heart that He wanted to correct. This is not to say that we always bring hardship or pain on ourselves because of our sin, although that is sometimes the case. Often the Lord simply allows us to go through hard circumstances in order to grow our faith. If we never struggled, we would never grow. “No pain, no gain” is a motto that the Apostle Paul exemplified.

While there have been many things that I’ve learned through seasons of brokenness, the correction (teaching) has often centered around one question the Spirit whispers to my heart, “Beloved, where is your hope?” Psalm 42:5 says, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted in me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.” I chose to use the KJV here because I love the beautiful language of the command: “Hope thou in God”. In Psalm 27:13-14 it says this, “I would have lost heart unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait I say, on the LORD.” Without hope we lose heart, so we must believe. Believe in what? In the goodness of God! Hold on to your faith that God is good and that one day all will be made right. A.W. Tozer wrote, “Whether we are happy or unhappy at any given time is not important. That we be in the will of God is all that matters. We may safely leave with Him the incident of heartache or happiness. He will know how much we need of either or both.” Yes, feelings matter. And we shouldn’t just dismiss the hurt that someone feels. But feelings are not truth. We must look beyond how we feel to Christ who, by the way, suffered more than we ever could.

Jim and Elisabeth Elliot are two of my heroes. Despite their love and desire to marry they waited about 4 years before Jim finally sensed the Lord’s timing and leading them to be joined. Then, less than 2 ½ years later (when their daughter was only a year old) Jim was killed by the natives he was trying to reach with the Gospel. A few years later Elisabeth spent several years in the jungle with the very men who had murdered her husband teaching them the Scriptures. She remarried fourteen years later but then lost that husband to cancer after only 4 years. Having had her share of intense trials, loss, along with struggles with trusting God and forgiving those who had hurt her, she wrote this, “God never withholds from His child that which His love and wisdom call good. God's refusals are always merciful -- "severe mercies" at times but mercies all the same. God never denies us our hearts desire except to give us something better.”

I am awed by that truth, are you? It’s one of those truths that can be really hard to believe, but yet we must, for it IS true. And there is great comfort in that – that no matter what pain we go through, God has something bigger in mind. May God help us to embrace the hard lessons, for they are the way to growth.

I will close this by sharing my all-time favorite quote. This prayer by Elisabeth Elliot I have often found myself echoing, sometimes amidst tears and feelings of frustration:

Perhaps some future day Lord,
Thy strong hand will lead me to a place where I must stand
Utterly alone.
Alone, O gracious Love
But for Thee;
I shall be satisfied if I can see – Jesus only.
I do not know Thy plans for years to come
My spirit finds its perfect home sufficiency.
Lord, all my desire is before Thee now
Lead on, no matter where, no matter what – I trust in Thee.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Reducing God to a Mathematical Equation

Recently I overheard two people talking. I didn’t catch the beginning of the conversation but they were very evidently discussing how the Calvinist/Reformed view of God’s sovereignty (in sovereignly and decisively electing only some to salvation) was wrong and unbiblical. Being one who didn’t agree with their assessment I curiously listened to what their arguments were, especially since one of them was a pastor whom I knew.

In their conversation they made it clear that they believed God “sovereignly” chose to give man free will to choose salvation. That He “knew what I would choose” and He then apparently just helped things along. One of them made the statement, “I’ve made the choices I’ve made” and that anything that happened was the result of their own choosing. My pastor-friend then proceeded to compare the scope of atonement to a mathematical equation and election to physics – as if they could be explained using x+y=z.

I was shocked. Can we reduce God to a mathematical equation?

More that that, can we, SHOULD we, trust a God who has no real control over our lives? If we truly have free will than our choices are not really under God’s control… so when bad things happen it’s simply the result of someone else's free will and God just stood by rather helplessly? Or, maybe God allowed it simply because we chose it? Does God “will” things based on our choice, or based on His infinite wisdom? What about Proverbs 16:33 that says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”
And then there’s Isaiah who records God saying,

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways," says the Lord. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

The Transcendence of God

“Transcendence” is defined as “Very excellent; superior or supreme in excellence; surpassing others” (Webster’s 1828 dictionary). God is infinitely bigger than our ability to understand. He cannot be explained by human logic or explanation. Psalm 113:4-6 says this about God:

The Lord is high above all nations, His glory above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, Who dwells on high, Who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in the heavens and in the earth?

This last phrase is what we mean when we speak of God’s “condescension”. God came down to our level. He “stooped” to our plane of understanding and comprehension. There’s a theological term that we use when God refers to Himself it human terms it’s an anthropomorphism. Just because God describes Himself as a man with human feelings, emotions etc. does not mean that’s how we should take Him. He is not a god after our image. He is not like us.

In seeking to understand God, we cannot be reduced to human reasoning. We must have a proper fear of God – that is, a proper awe, respect and humility. One definition Ed Welch gives of the fear of the Lord is that “it goes further than an intellectual understanding.”  (Addictions, p. 175) We must see God as bigger and higher than what we can put into our minds and we must look at Scripture and accept it as so even when we do not understand it.

Is Christ fully man or fully God? Yes. Is God just or is He merciful? Yes. Are the Scriptures written by God or man? Yes. Is God completely sovereign or does He give man free will? Yes. The Scriptures are full of mystery, paradoxes abound, but we must seek to say yes to Scripture and not silence any of it! I love how John Piper put it in his book Does God Desire All to Be Saved?: “The Scriptures lead us again and again to affirm that God’s will is sometimes spoken of as an expression of His moral standards for human behavior and sometimes as an expression of His sovereign control even over acts that are contrary to that standard.” (p. 35) R.C. Sproul writes, “…divine sovereignty is not an issue peculiar to Calvinism, or even to Christianity. Without sovereignty God cannot be God. If we reject divine sovereignty than we must embrace atheism. This is the problem we all face. We must hold tightly to God’s sovereignty. Yet we must do it in such a way so as not to violate human freedom.”

To go back to the conversation I overheard, I will mention at this point that not once during this conversation did I hear these two friends quote or even allude to Scripture. Their arguments were based entirely on their own reason and logic. This also amazed me. When you start off basing your theological arguments on human logic rather than Scripture, you are on shallow ground. Now, they probably could have brought Scripture to the table if questioned, although their answers, I suspect, would probably contradict their belief system that they just tried to build. Why? Because God just does not make sense! His ways cannot be explained using human logic.

At the time I didn’t say anything to either of these people, partly from shock, but mostly I thought it wise to hold my tongue since I probably would have been a little more irritated than loving in my response. But I was rather dying to ask them a few questions…. If what you say is true, than why should I trust Him? Why on earth should I pray? Why should I ask God to guide me? If He just looks through time and sees my choices why do I need Him? Should I just take the gift of salvation and move through life on my own? I doubt they would agree with this, so, Why not? If God is not in control over my life why should put my dependence on Him?

But God CAN be trusted, because He is in control; because He makes promises and acts to fulfill them, and no human will can stand in His way. Isn’t that what gives us confidence? That no matter what He has a plan, and He is going to fulfill it for our good and His glory. And this is why He deserves our worship!

I just want to state in closing that I have many dear friends who reject the Reformed view of God’s sovereignty. I love them dearly and seek to not allow this differing viewpoint to sour our fellowship in the Lord. But I DO think it’s worth arguing about sometimes – especially when it comes down to how we view God. God’s character (don’t you think?) is worth defending. As I quoted above, John Piper wrote an excellent book called Does God Desire All to Be Saved? The answer is yes, but it’s not a simple yes. He goes on to explain and show that just because God “desires” something doesn’t mean He acts to bring it about. It’s the age-old question of “does God have two wills?” If you want to be versed in this debate you need to read this book! Its arguments are important for you to understand and be able to defend/refute. Hint: Read all the footnotes too! I welcome your comments – just please make sure you know what you’re talking about first! I don’t respond to disrespectful, or uneducated (notice I did NOT say unintelligent!) arguments. Although Spurgeon might not agree… but I’m glad he said it and not me. :-)

“The doctrines of original sin, election, effectual calling, final perseverance, and all those great truths which are called Calvinism – though Calvin was not the author of them, but simply an able writer and preacher upon the subject – are, I believe, the essential doctrines of the Gospel that is in Jesus Christ. Now, I do not ask you whether you believe all this – it is possible you may not; but I believe you will before you enter heaven. I am persuaded that as God may have washed your hearts, he will wash your brains before you enter heaven.” -- C.H. Spurgeon

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Reading List! (January 1, 2014)

Happy New Year! December was actually quite a busy month, but I still got a LOT of reading done! And… I got a Kindle for Christmas. I have been quite against digital books because I really like “real” ones, but I must say… I love it! I still say I shall still never give up my real, paper and ink books for digital and there will still be books I shall want to get to hold in my hands and keep on my bookshelf!

“…the only knowledge worth having in the end is knowledge that leads to love – love for God and love for people.” (- John Piper, Does God Desire All to Be Saved? p. 11)

Finished this month:

When I Don’t Desire God – How to Fight for Joy by John Piper
This is my second time reading this book and it’s in my “top 10” list. It’s such an amazing book (unless you’re the kind of Christian who is just happy all the time and you never struggle…). One question he asks is one that I have sometimes struggled over: “How can all these good things serve joy in God, and not usurp the supreme affections of our hearts?” (p.178) This he discusses in some detail for a few chapters and it is very helpful. Convicting, yes, but that’s a good thing.

“… the way we destroy deceitful, joy-killing desires that threaten to overwhelm us with destructive cravings is to hear and believe the Word of God when it says that He and His ways are more to be desired than all that sin can offer.” – John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God, p. 105

The Jefferson Lies – exposing the myths you’ve always believed about Thomas Jefferson by David Barton
If you want to better know who the real Thomas Jefferson was, you should read this book! It’s amazing to me, that even with my classical Christian-based education I’ve still gotten some false information or impressions about Jefferson. It is so sad how so many people have taken his own writing (and other information spoken about him) out of its context and defamed him, his beliefs and character. I could write a whole blog post reviewing these lies… oh wait, I did here….

“My views… [are] very different from the anti-Christian system imputed to me by those who know nothing of my opinions.” (p. 83)

A Call to Spiritual Reformation by D.A Carson
I had started this book quite some time ago and never finished it… so I did! It was really excellent. When I first started it, it was a bit tedious, and then I got distracted by some other books so it got set aside. But it was a great book on prayer; why we should pray, why we don’t often pray, how Paul prayed and how we should imitate him.

“It takes nothing less than the power of God to enable us to grasp the love of Christ. Part of our deep ‘me-ism’ is manifested in such independence that we do not really want to get so close to God that we feel dependent upon him, swamped by his love. Just as in a marriage a spouse may flee relationships that are too intimate, judging them to be a kind of invasion of privacy when in reality such a reaction is a sign of intense immaturity and selfishness, so also in the spiritual arena: when we are drawn a little closer to the living God, many of us want to back off and stake out our own turf. We want to experience power so that we can be in control…. Our deep and pathetic self-centeredness is precisely why it takes the power of God to transform us…” (p.197)

Choosing Forgiveness by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
I have written a review of this book here. This book was something I really needed. Not only does it delve into forgiveness, but it goes deeper into anger, resentment and bitterness. It's a powerful book that every Christian should read!

“God has grace available to help us deal with the offense and forgive the offender. At that point, we have one of two choices: We can acknowledge our need and humbly reach out to Him for His grace to forgive and release the offender. Or we can resist Him, fail to receive His grace, and hold on to the hurt.” (Choosing Forgiveness p. 75)

Distinguishing Marks of the Spirit of God by Jonathan Edwards
This is the first thing I downloaded on my new Kindle that I got on Christmas day. It was .99! And I read it in 3 days! :-)
In the 1st section he dispels arguments that some use to show that a work is not of the Spirit of God (example: “What the church has been used to, is not a rule by which we are to judge; because there may be new and extraordinary works of God, and he has heretofore evidently wrought in an extraordinary manner.” And “It is not reasonable to determine that a work is not from God’s Holy Spirit because of the extraordinary degree in which the minds of persons are influenced.”). In the 2nd he discusses what clear indicators are that can make us quite sure a work is of God (example: “The surest character of true divine supernatural love – distinguishing it from counterfeits that arise from a natural self love – is, that the Christian virtue of humility shines in it; that which above all others renounces, abases, and annihilates what we term self.”), and the 3rd section is application (here’s a great quote: “Lukewarmness in religion is abominable, and zeal an excellent grace; yet above all other Christian virtues, this needs to be strictly watched and searched; for it is that with which corruption, and particularly pride and human passion, is exceedingly apt to mix unobserved.”)

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
I don’t recall ever reading this before… it was free on my Kindle. A great classic!

“…now, when suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught be to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.” 
– Estella to Pip.

Does God Desire All to Be Saved? by John Piper
This is a short book, but very intellectual. It was rather helpful to me though – and it led me to worship and love God more for His infinite love, wisdom and mercy! The introduction to the book was great – I love Piper’s humility about the whole thing!

“God’s expression of pity and His entreaties have heart in them. There is a genuine inclination in God’s heart to spare those who have committed treason against His kingdom. But His motivation is complex, and not every true element in it rises to the level of effective choice. In His great and mysterious heart, there are kinds of longings and desires that are real – they tell us something true about His character. Yet not all of these longings govern His actions. He is governed by the depth of His wisdom expressed through a plan that no ordinary human deliberation would ever conceive (Rom 11:33-36; 1 Cor 2:9). There are holy and just reasons why the affections of God’s heart have the nature, intensity, and proportion that they do.” (p. 49)

Currently Reading:
On Asking God Why by Elisabeth Elliot
Addictions – A Banquet in the Grave by Edward T. Welch (I was reading this as a study with a friend, and want to finish it this month!)

Additional books I want to read this month:
Temptation by John Owen
Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller
Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton (on my Kindle)
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (another Classic that I’d like to read on my Kindle)

Also, over the next 3 months I am taking a Biblical Counseling course through CCEF (www.ccef.com). The two books I’ll be reading for it are:
Why Does it Have to Hurt? by Dan McCartney & The Christian Life by Sinclair Ferguson

BONUS: If you’d like to know what my “top picks” are for this past year, here they are:
Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris
When People are Big and God is Small by Edward Welch
When I Don’t Desire God – How to Fight for Joy by John Piper
Choosing Forgiveness by Nancy Leigh DeMoss