The Love of God—a Difficult Doctrine

February 2015 marks the one-year anniversary of the suicide of my friend, Tommy. This is all too surreal. I still cannot wrap my mind around this. My brother from another mother, a preacher of the gospel, and faithful husband and father—gone at 54. Is this evidence of a loving God to permit this to happen?

In the summer of 2009, my wife was diagnosed with lupus, then three week later her father died of a heart attack at the age of 56. If God is a God of love, then where was He?

All of you have had hurts and heartaches happen that risk crushing you. The Scriptures’ teaching on the love of God bring comfort to many—and well it should. We immediately recognize God’s love in sending His Son into the world, bringing eternal life to those who believe (John 3:16).

Yet, for others, reading about a loving God brings difficulty. You hear it in sentences that begin, “If God is truly a loving God, then why __________?” Seeing so much poverty, sickness, famine, war, and all sorts of suffering does not seem to line up with a loving God that oversees all creation. Since God is good, why do bad things happen? Is there some defect or limitation in God’s love? Or maybe God is not loving after all? How we answer will show what we really believe about God and what He’s revealed of Himself in Scripture. For there are times when God does not simply permit suffering, but also sends suffering.

So when we speak of a doctrine of God’s love, we must realize how many (maybe even you) process this doctrine where it doesn’t make sense by what they see and how they process. So, given that this is the month where many celebrate Valentine’s Day (and it’s also the 17th anniversary of when Cindy said yes to my proposal of marriage), let’s look at a number of ways to process God’s love in a suffering world.

Before I continue, I’m grateful for D.A. Carson’s book on this subject called The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God which you can get in pdf for free

  1. We must see God’s love in conjunction with His holiness, His rule over all things, His justice, His providence, and His mercy. We must allow Scripture to define God’s love; otherwise we fail to grasp the full measure of what He seeks to accomplish, remembering that God works all things for good for the believer (Romans 8:28).
  2. God did not create the world with sickness and sin, but He created it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). The world was created without blemish because God is without blemish.
  3. By Adam and Eve’s choice of listening to Satan’s word rather than God’s Word (Genesis 3:1-8), they brought the curse of sin into the world and in our hearts (Genesis 3:9-21). God made them in His image, and gave them a choice—but they chose self over the All-Sufficient One, something that blights the world to this day.
  4. God’s love is made manifest in that, even in our sin, He sent His Son to rescue us. He demonstrates His love for us by sending Christ to die, even as we were sinners (Romans 5:8). It is by the love of God that we become children of God (1 John 3:1).
  5. It is by the love of God that He sends suffering into the world, in order to show us the futility of this life (Job 38-42); knowing that suffering produces character and hope (Romans 5:1-5; James 1:2-8), and also to judge sin
  6. Related to #3, the love of God provides an escape from our temptations to sin (1 Corinthians 10:12-13), but that we often love our sin more than the God who delivers from sin (1 John 2:15-17).
  7. It is by the love of God that we have hope that this world’s system will not endure for eternity (Romans 8:18-25; Revelation 17-18), but that an eternal hope with Christ exists (Rev. 21-22).

We tend to believe that God is in control of the good things and Satan is in control of the bad things. But in reading through the Scriptures, we see that God’s love is not restricted to when good things happen and for the believer works all things for our good. We may not see it now. We may not understand His love now, but we will one day. In the meantime, we trust in God’s lovingkindness in His holiness, justice, and providence—not just His mercy.

I pray this has been of some help. Blessings to you this February.

(Originally published in the February 2015 edition of The Challenger, the monthly newsletter of Arapahoe Road Baptist Church, Centennial, CO.)

Residing in the Right Shadow: What Lessons Do Suffering Bring?

  1. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.

The risk we run is to camp out in the shadow of our afflictions. If we take residence there, the fallout will be harrowing:

  • We become engrossed in the hurt, replaying the issues in our heads over and over.
  • Then, we act out in that hurt in blasting toward those who we feel are responsible, and (worst of all)…
  • Deflect all responsibility that needs to lie at our doorstep, failing to see any the part we played in those unfolding events.
  • We become bitter, angry, narcissistic, anxious–and dangerous.  To others.  To self.

I’ve been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.  And it leaves you a hot mess that stinks to such a degree that others won’t want to be around you.  In fact, you may not want to be around you.  See what I mean?  Dangerous!

Edwards gives us perspective.  Wednesday night, we looked at Edwards’ Resolutions on the subject of ‘Suffering and the Glory of God.’  With Resolution #67, Edwards does not deny that afflictions will come. And none of us should deny them as well.

At the core of each of Edwards’ Resolutions is a denial of self.  In this instance, Edwards refuses to camp out in its shadow, playing the blame game.  He refused to be victimized.  He would not wallow in the pool of pity.  And he refused to commiserate with people who would fan those flames and feed that pity.  Romans 8:28 was an active ingredient in his spiritual life.

He realized that afflictions are often the canvas God uses to show His glory in a fallen world.  Good comes out of these.  Painful lessons for our benefit emerge once we move past ourselves away from the shadow of afflictions (and bitters, anxiety, pity, and narcissism) and into the shadow of His throne, where we can find mercy and grace in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).  Afflictions and suffering develop character, endurance and hope (Romans 5:1-5).  James has the audacity to tell us to count it all joy when we face trials of various kinds, because of the benefits that come from those trials (James 1:2-8).

As I stood behind the podium in our chapel Wednesday night, I remembered the emptiness and hopelessness I felt when my wife was diagnosed with lupus, a disease for which there is no known cure, and wondering how much longer I would have her with me (thanks, WebMD, for listing all the possibilities).  I remembered how three weeks after her diagnosis, her father died at a young age.  Hoo-boy!

I then looked out an saw:

  • One who is struggling with a significant form of cancer, but is still glorifying and praising God in the midst of asking God to heal and grant wisdom for the decisions ahead.
  • Others who groan at troublesome family issues, but aren’t just groaning but praying and praising.
  • Another whom doctors thought would not live past infancy but just celebrated his 47th birthday this past Monday–and never misses a worship gathering time.
  • Another who still grieves over the loss of her husband and daughter that’s taken place in the last seven years, along with others who have lost children as well.
  • Another who is sight-impaired, but still leads our singing on Wednesday nights with a contagious joy.

And this was in a room of 25 people.  If I cast the net to the church proper, you’d be here reading endless commentaries of our people’s hearts of how God brought glory through adversity.  The maturity and spiritual stability that the cross and resurrection bring give testimony that suffering has a purpose and can bring glory to God.  Our Teacher longs to teach us lessons during suffering that we would never learn otherwise.

You have a choice.  You can choose camping in victimhood and blaming all others and even God for what’s happened, or claiming the victory that Christ has purchased for you, knowing that God is in control and has you in the palm of His hand.

Reflect on your adversities and afflictions and look at “how I am better for them.”  Whether now or later, you’ll be amazed at how none of this surprised God.



Your Prayers Matter, Church: The Connection Between Praying and Not Losing Heart (or Not Praying and Losing Heart)

In reading through Luke 18 this morning, Luke tells us the point of the upcoming parable of Jesus by saying, “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).  I believe this connection is lost on many populating the pews in our churches–and maybe even the pulpits as well.

When we fail to pray, we fail to connect with the perspective and purpose of our Heavenly Father.  Therefore, all we focus on are the frailties, failings, and foibles that happen in us in all around us.

I love what the study notes in the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible say:

Our perspective is limited and our vision is clouded.  Holy Scripture continually reminds us that God is truly for us in Jesus.  We need this constant reminder of God’s kind heart and great power toward us as we fight against our inherent unbelief.  We now belong to him.  He is our advocate.  He delights to care for us and to defend us.

Without Christ-centered prayer focused on God’s will and way, we leave ourselves to our own devices.  We, in essence, believe we are “god enough” (if you will) to handle the day-to-days.  We rest in our own knowledge, rely on our own wisdom, and recognize our own wonder in moving things forward.

And yet, when our failings rise, we could listen to Osteen who would tell us basically to draw deep from our own goodness and destiny that God has planted in us.  How unsustainable!  We can take his advice and plow our own future–and lose heart when we come to the end of that highway (and yes, I said when–it will happen).

Or we can pray out of our frailties, feebleness, failings, and foibles, trusting in the One who is able, and not lose heart because our rest is in Him.  He is our Father and will listen to us (Luke 18:8).

In a beautiful scene in Revelation 8, the Lamb is opening the seventh seal–after which heaven was silent for one-half hour.  The seven angels stood before God and were given seven trumpets.  But verse 3 is a joy to read:

And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throneand the smoke of the incense with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.

I cannot add to what John Piper preached in a sermon on this very topic, and rejoice that not only does God hear our prayers, but they are an instrument for the judgment to come at the end of the world.

The utterly astonishing thing about this text is that it portrays the prayers of the saints as the instrument God uses to usher in the end of the world with great divine judgments. It pictures the prayers of the saints accumulating on the altar before the throne of God until the appointed time when they are taken up like fire from the altar and thrown upon the earth to bring about the consummation of God’s kingdom.

In other words, what we have in this text is an explanation of what has happened to the millions upon millions of prayers over the last 2,000 years as the saints have cried out again and again, “Thy kingdom come . . . Thy kingdom come.” Not one of these prayers, prayed in faith, has been ignored. Not one is lost or forgotten. Not one has been ineffectual or pointless. They have all been gathering on the altar before the throne of God.

So the continued connection between praying and not losing heart is that not only will God hear, but He will judge in righteousness at the consummation of all things, and will vindicate His people based on His righteousness purchased at the cross and seal at the resurrection.

Do not lose heart, church!  Pray!  God will hear.

A Pastor’s Primary Preoccupation

“When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus” (Acts 18:5).

Pastor have no shortage of issues with which we are occupied.  Sermon preparation, hospital visits, counseling, leadership, strategizing, vision casting, meetings, encouragement, etc.  And, no, I’m not sending out invitations to a pity party–far from it. But I’m continually amazed as I’ve read through Acts over the past week how laser focused Paul was in Macedonia.

Focused on what?  He was “occupied with the word.”  He was occupied with telling others about Jesus.  When the Jews refused to hear, being occupied with other matters of less significance, he shook out his robe and proclaimed that he would go to the Gentiles. He was occupied with the word–and if those to whom he continued to preach refused to share that occupation as listeners, he moved on.

The aforementioned occupations listed can all be accomplished without this preoccupation with the Word.  I can visit, counsel, oversee staff, cast vision, meet, and encourage–all without the Word even being in the neighborhood. But that’s not my calling ultimately.  My ultimate calling is to be, in reading further in Acts, “competent (KJV: mighty) in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24). From the Scriptures flow the issues of the life and the church.

Pastors (and Christians, mind you) easily find themselves preoccupied with other things.  But a pastor’s primary preoccupation is with the Word, which emboldens for the truth, and softens the heart toward those away from truth.  God is more than capable in accomplishing what He desires (Isaiah 55:11-12).

What’s your primary preoccupation? What steps will you take to be occupied with the Word?  What’s keeping you from doing so?

Our Desperate Desire to Justify Ourselves

And yet again I come across that phrase in Luke 10:29, “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?'”  That steady drumbeat of desiring to justify ourselves when confronted by a truth that strikes a bit too close to home.

The context is this: a lawyer stands up with a motive of putting Jesus “to the test,” asking him what he should do to inherit eternal life.  Given the lawyer was an expert in the law, he asked the lawyer what the law said.  “Love God with all you have, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  He got it right!  He knew what the Bible said. He spoke correctly, affirmed it, and passed the test (wait a minute!  Wasn’t Jesus the one who was put to the test?  Well, Jesus would have none of it.).

But that’s not the end of the story.  This is where Luke 10:29 comes in. Did the lawyer become defensive? I’d say so. He wanted to show that, yes, he was truly loving his neighbor in such an appropriate way, that God would welcome in and grant him eternal life. He felt right in his own mind and heart that he was in right standing.

Christ has a way of exposing our hearts.  It’s here the Parable of the Good Samaritan comes in.  A man is beaten and robbed, left on the side of the road for dead.  A priest and a Levite come upon him, but pass him by.  Yet, a hated Samaritan has “compassion.  He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.  Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him” (Luke 10:33b-34).  He even paid his expenses, but present and future!  Clearly, the Samaritan demonstrated what it meant to be a neighbor.

We do not know if this man learned his lesson.  Sure, twice he gave the right answers.  He received a 100%!  But it’s not enough for us to know the right things, but to take that knowledge out of the garage and roll it out on the proverbial highway.  If I know biblical truth, and even hear truth from brothers and sisters all around me about my walk, but continue to justify my actions, I prove that I am blind and not self-aware.  No, I’m self-absorbed.  Justifying myself will stand as my kneejerk reaction!

As Jesus told the lawyer, so He tells all of us, “You, go, and do likewise.”  Go, and do likewise is potent.  That emphasis of “you” puts it over the edge.  I must not justify myself–I must stand in the shadow and listen to the one who is just and who justifies (Romans 3:24).

Brought Forth Into the Clearest Light

But, if many things still remain abstruse to many, this does not arise from obscurity in the Scriptures, but from [our] own blindness or want [i.e. lack] of understanding, who do not go the way to see the all-perfect clearness of the truth… Let, therefore, wretched men cease to impute, with blasphemous perverseness, the darkness and obscurity of their own heart to the all-clear scriptures of God… If you speak of the internal clearness, no man sees one iota in the Scriptures, but he that hath the Spirit of God… If you speak of the external clearness, nothing whatever is left obscure or ambiguous; but all things that are in the Scriptures, are by the Word brought forth into the clearest light, and proclaimed to the whole world.

(Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will)

Taking Private Thoughts Public: Why Some Bloggers Blog

Hello, my name is Matthew Perry, and I’m a blogger.

I confess, I do not read many blogs (below, I’ll give a list of ones I read–it won’t take long), I myself do indeed blog: I blog here and I blog each Monday at a sports blog called Burgundy Wavea blog for my beloved Colorado Rapids.

I often wonder why or any of us who blog do, well, blog? If it’s our job, then there you go–that paycheck is an awfully nice incentive. But most of us do not receive a paycheck.

Through Blogspot, WordPress, Squarespace, and other free (or not-so-free) platforms, anyone may sign up with this service and begin posting.  And post we do. Sure, picking just the right domain name is key, requiring a lot of thought (and for a few bucks, you can purchase a slick domain name that doesn’t have or the like behind), but no matter.  Having that wide open space of an empty blog template is an opportunity to let our thoughts fly.

Ah, yes!  The content. Actually typing out the blog post itself.  What should we write?  Why should we write it?  My intent is not about what we write, but why we write what we write in such a public place–choosing this over, say, a journal or a simple, private, word-processing program.

  1. Some write to inform.  My friend John Divito has a blog that’s written once a month to inform his ‘followers’ about what’s happening with his next steps in ministry.  He informs, then asks for prayer–always lacing the post with Scripture.  Other blogs do this, serving as news outlets.
  2. Some write to sharpen their thinking.  This stands as a significant reason as to why I write, but not the only one.  But I have to ask myself, “Do I need to write on such a public forum to sharpen my own thinking on a matter?  Could I not just pull out my Moleskine or legal pad, or type on a word processing program?  Why do I or any other bloggers feel the need to put these private musings out in public?”
  3. Some write to work out that which stirs in them.  Many times, when the fingers hit that first keystroke, something’s a-stir in the heart and mind of that blogger, and as the writing commences and continues, clarity breaks through the fog (#2 was an intellectual fog, this is an emotional one).  This, again, is difficult in such a public forum.  What’s stirring?  The purple mountains majesty that we in Colorado see out our window every day?  The awful/ awesome movie we saw last night?  The angst we have over an anonymous figure, public or personal?  A passage of Scripture?  A passage of Elizabeth Barrett Browning?  What’s stirring, and (again) why share it publicly?

In taking private thoughts public, what are done inherent dangers?

  1. Inevitably, bloggers seek to draw attention to themselves.  I’m not saying that the motives are always bad–but sometimes they are.  We want to be read.  We hope someone reads us.  Why else would we put our thoughts on the Internet for the world to read?  Some draw attention to themselves in hopes for a response, some affirmation, some attention.  We all love and, yes, need encouragement.  But do we write to engender sympathy when the tone of that post is more melancholy?  Do you write to have people complement us for that scrumptious turn-of-phrase in the second paragraph?  Again, I’m not saying these are the motives of every blogger, but this can certainly come into play, especially given the public nature of this forum.
  2. Some write to draw attention to others.  From venerating to venting, when some write blog posts about others, they (obviously) fall into this range.  Sadly, blogs that have a benevolent tone receive less hits than those with a malevolent tone.  Blogs that have a thread of hurt, melancholy, and even identifying the person that caused the hurt and melancholy (named or otherwise) lures readers who possess a mix of sympathy and morbidity, waiting to see what’s next and, sadly, what train wreck awaits–thus increasing hits.  This doesn’t interest me as a motive.  The only time this happens on this blog is when a public official takes to Scripture or aims to interpret Scripture in a way that is out of bounds hermeneutically (so, hopefully, this will fall into the next category). In fact, writing like this would be better shared in a journal/diary, along with close friends who love and understand.
  3. Some write to help others.  Springboarding off #3, do we write in an effort to help others?  Sorting through your thinking and emotions in a public space can be (can be) helpful if the true end goal is to help others sort through similar issues. This is a fine line, isn’t it? If this isn’t approached deftly, blogs that step past informing about personal ministries or about (in my case) correct understanding of the biblical text could turn into the sad sympathy blog, or the angry soapbox blog–but it can all be under the ‘look-at-me’ umbrella, if as the aim may be to help others.  For while helping others, do we deep down hope readers will say, “Wow!  Look how insightful that writer is in helping others!”  Even this can feed a blogger’s pride.

My goodness, is there no hope?  The narcissistic, self-promoting aspect of gaining a following and building a platform is fraught with danger.  It’s a question every blogger must ask themselves: why do we voluntarily write on a public space?  Is the end goal to truly help others, or to bolster our standing before a watching world?  Writing in journals or other private modes may serve as a more appropriate outlet.

Pride can be a subtle sin. Is it Christ we want others to see …

… or us?