Why Not Me?

July 13, 2018

A tragedy or calamity can be difficult to take. In my own case, that difficulty has been the diagnosis of multiple myeloma. Admittedly, there is stress and adjustment that must come. And with it comes a very human question: why me?

But I’ve not allowed myself to dwell on this question. I have felt it one that should be immediately dismissed. The problem with the question is that it is unanswerable, and it leads to self-pity. The question presupposes that calamities should not come into the life of the questioner.

Dismissing the question has meant reflecting on the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. Proverbs 3:16 says this about wisdom:

Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. (Proverbs 3:16, ESV)

The Book of Proverbs presents general truths. In other words, a person who lives according to God’s wisdom is more likely to live longer, be able to take care of material needs, and have a good reputation. Yet we all know that good people die young, that natural calamities can destroy wealth, and that evil people can steal and slander good people. The rest of the wisdom literature helps us nuance these general truths.

The Book of Job lets us know that the righteous person may suffer. Job suffers from the acts of lawless Sabeans, natural calamities, bereavement, and illness. The conflict in the book surrounds Job’s friends’ attempts to convince him that his troubles are the consequence of his own wickedness. The Book of Job confirms that the good person may suffer. But the end of the book doesn’t so much answer our questions as say God knows how to run the creation. Trust him.

Ecclesiastes has its characteristic lament: vanity of vanities. The Hebrew word is hevel which means breath or vapor. The phrase emphasizes that life for all of us is transitory, and it suggests that it can be enigmatic — vapor, think of the fog in a morning, can obscure things from our view. We do not have God’s viewpoint.

Ecclesiastes also reminds us we don’t know why good things come to some and miss others.

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. (Ecclesiastes 9:11, ESV)

We don’t know why certain people are in the wrong place at the wrong time. “But time and chance happen to them all.” In Ecclesiastes 8:14, we find that sometimes the righteous seem to get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked receive what we think the righteous should get. Ecclesiastes in the end asks us to trust God: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, ESV).

For the Christian, the problem of this life is that we live in between the perfection of the Garden of Eden and the perfection of the New Jerusalem when God will wipe away all tears and make everything new. In this in-between time, death, disease, calamities, accidents, and evil deeds happen. And they can happen to all kinds of people: both the good and the bad.

In ministry I’ve been with people as they experienced the most terrible struggles of their lives. I’ve seen people of great faith face the challenges of this in-between time. I’ve witnessed their faith and hope. The interesting thing about difficulties is that people of God often find within these difficulties God’s providential care. So, as I face my own challenges, I’ve come to realize that “Why me?” is the wrong question. Rather the challenge must be faced with faith and hope. If it can happen to the people of faith I know, why not me?


The Best Job

June 15, 2018

We often ask a little boy or girl, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My childhood answers included cowboy and fireman. As you get older, it is easy to entertain many job and career paths, but we eventually choose. Work is honorable and God-given. Work existed even in the Garden of Eden. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15, ESV).

When I was making career choices, my thoughts were not on fatherhood. In the back of mind, of course, there was the idea that someday I would marry, and we would have children. I even took a college course, “Marriage and the Christian Home,” just in case. But job was foremost in my mind.

Work is rewarding. At the bare minimum, there is a paycheck. We may feel satisfaction in creating, producing, growing, or problem solving. (And yes, every job has its drudgery. It is part of the curse on the ground, Genesis 3: 17-19). Employers may reward years of service or ideas to a suggestion box. Although I have personally found work satisfying, how do the rewards compare to fatherhood?

Certainly, fatherhood like everything in life has aspects that don’t seem quite like reward: dirty diapers, crying children in the middle of the night, a defiant three-year-old, or an angry teenager. Yet despite some of the drudgery and struggles that life always brings, I reflect on fatherhood (and now being a grandfather) as the best job in the world.

I’ve witnessed two, wondrous births. Wonder is the right word for it. The stress of labor gives way to those first breaths and that little cry that announces to the world, “I’ve arrived.” A newborn is so small and helpless. You feel the responsibility but also the joy.

I’ve experienced the thrill of first steps and first words. The child begins to stand up alongside chairs and sofas, and then there are those first halting steps. Before you know it, you are racing to keep up. We repeat “Momma” and “Dada” hoping they will be first words. But there is even greater joy when hearing from your child for the first time: “I love you.”

Proud moments are found in sporting events, graduations, and first jobs. Joy is shared in weddings and the birth of grandchildren. But one of the most important and moving moments for me was my children’s baptisms.

Job is important. We spend a lot of time at work. But I’m convinced the best job of all is father and grandfather. It has the greatest joys. We live in a world that sometimes disparages the role of father. We have too many absent fathers. The world needs fatherhood as God intends. We need such fatherhood modeled. Much of society’s ills would find solution in fathers and mothers as God desires. Men need to catch this vision of fatherhood. It’s the best job in the world.

P.S. Yes, I know that mothers have the best job too.


A Spiritual Church

June 2, 2018

The church began on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) with the outpouring of the Spirit and the preaching of the gospel. The miraculous manifestations of the Spirit were to confirm the new revelation given by the Apostles (Hebrews 2:4). Although I do not think we should expect to see in our lifetime the things that were marks of the Apostles (2 Corinthians 12:12), I believe we are to be a spiritual church.

We are to be a spiritual church because our faith is based on the inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Jesus told the Apostles: “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into al the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come” (John 16:12-13, NASB). Scripture comes to us because of “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21).
We are to be a spiritual church because Christians have received the indwelling Spirit when they were baptized (Acts 2:38-39, Acts 5:32). The Spirit is a motive for holiness (1 Corinthians 6:19). The Spirit aids us in our struggle with sin (Romans 8:13). The Spirit is said to produce in us the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

We are to be a spiritual church because of prayer. One of the hallmarks of the church in Acts is prayer (Acts 2:42, 3:1, 4:24, 6:4, 12:12, 13:3, 14:23, 20:36, 21:5).

What we should be and could be is not always what we are. Paul in addressing the problems in Corinth says that he ought to be speaking to spiritual people, but in reality, they were carnal (fleshly), still babes in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:1). May the word of Christ dwell in us richly, may we not grieve the Spirit but mature producing the fruit of the Spirit, and may we learn to pray without ceasing. These are the things that characterize a spiritual church.


A Good Soldier

May 25, 2018

Memorial Day is a national holiday to honor those who have died in military service. John Logan, a U.S. Congressman and Union General during the Civil War, began the memorial. As commander in chief of a Union veterans’ organization he urged the members to decorate soldiers’ graves with flowers on May 30th. Eventually it became a national holiday and extended to all U.S. war dead. Memorial Day is marked by the laying of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Having been at war since 2001, I suspect that we are keenly aware of what soldiers sacrifice—what soldiers do.

I’ve noticed the military imagery found in the New Testament. “Put on the whole armor of God” (Eph 6:11 see also 1 Thess. 5:8), “put on the armor of light” (Rom. 13:12), “the weapons of righteousness” (2 Cor. 6:7), “the weapons of our warfare” (2 Cor. 10:4 3), “fellow soldier” (Phil. 2:25, Phl 2), “wage the good warfare” (1 Tim. 1:18), and “good soldier” (2 Tim. 2:3, ESV). From Paul I learn something about what it means to be a good soldier, and from soldiers I learn something about what it means to be a good Christian.

A good soldier is committed to the mission. Paul expresses it this way: “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits” (2 Timothy 2:4, ESV). A spiritual war is going on, and we must choose sides. Spiritual battles must be fought by those clothed in “the armor of light.” Paul’s choice of the term “entangled” sounds a warning. Other tasks and activities can interfere with what is most important. As one hymn writer has expressed it, “Have done with lesser things; Give heart and mind and soul and strength / To serve the King of kings.”

A good soldier follows orders. “[H]is aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:4, ESV). No doubt you’ve seen television interviews from Afghanistan and Iraq with words like “whatever our Commander in Chief orders us to do, we will do.” Brave words—sacrificial words followed by deeds. We too have marching orders. Put on the whole armor of God. Wage the good warfare. Has the Lordship of Jesus Christ filtered down into your daily life?

A good soldier endures hardship. “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3, ESV). We witnessed it on television: sand storms, lack of sleep, army rations, heat, bio-chem protective suits, wounds, captivity, roadside bombs, and even death. We too are called to something larger than ourselves, greater than our comforts. Jesus warned that discipleship would be costly (see Luke 14:26-35). Are we trying to get by on “cheap grace” and “discipleship-lite”? Our cause is worthy of any sacrifice we may give.

Remember those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom, and learn from them what it means to be “a good soldier” of Christ Jesus.


The Petitions in Psalm 119

February 2, 2018

Getting beyond a few favorite verses from Psalm 119 is a matter of spending some time with the poem and asking some inductive questions. We learned something about the author in the last article. The author was a seeker, who meditated on God’s instructions, and stored it up in his heart. He had strayed from God but returned. He was younger and probably not in the elder class of society. And most importantly, we learn that the psalm comes out of a situation of distress.* These difficulties are the circumstances of the psalm, and we learn something about the author and about praying from examining his petitions to God.

The psalmist asks for understanding.

  • Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. (Psalm 119:18, ESV)
  • Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments. (Psalm 119:66, ESV)
  • Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. (Psalm 119:73, ESV)

We can’t grow in our understanding without searching God’s word, but God may answer this prayer by means of providence: teachers, books, articles, and conversations that help us. I’ve had people come out of a lesson and say I needed that. God may answer this with our sanctification so that we are more sensitive to God’s instructions as we mature.

The psalmist asks for help in living God’s instructions.

  • Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! (Psalm 119:5, ESV)
  • Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me. (Psalm 119:133, ESV)
  • Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. (Psalm 119:37, ESV)

The psalmist asks to be a good example.

  • Let those who fear you turn to me, that they may know your testimonies. May my heart be blameless in your statutes, that I may not be put to shame! (Psalm 119:79-80, ESV)

We are an example to someone, whether we like it or not. We’ve had professional athletes protest that they are not role models, and many of them shouldn’t be. However, the psalmist wants to be a good example, so that looking at his life would lead someone to know God’s instructions and the character of God.

The psalmist asks to be delivered out of his troubles.
We looked at the psalmist’s sufferings and trials last week. It is difficult to be detailed about them given space, but they are a major theme within Psalm 119.

  • Give your servant a pledge of good; let not the insolent oppress me. My eyes long for your salvation and for the fulfillment of your righteous promise. (Psalm 119:122-123, ESV)
  • According to your justice give me life… 119:149
  • Look on my affliction and deliver me… 119:153
    Deliver me 119:153

I’ve learned to pray by praying, but I’ve also learned to pray by listening to and reading the prayers of others. I’ve learned something about what to pray for as I listen to the petitions of Psalm 119.

*https://whiletoday.com/2018/01/25/meeting-the-author-of-psalm-119/


Temporary Residents

June 9, 2017

Peter begins his first letter by addressing it to “those temporarily residing abroad” (1 Peter 1:1, NET). He then goes on to mention the various provinces in which they are scattered. It is likely that many of these Christians had lived in these places all their lives. In what sense could they or we, for that matter, be temporary residents?

The Christian is an alien, a sojourner, or a temporary resident in that his true citizenship is in heaven. This affects the way we approach life, even though we might live in the same house all our earthly life, our values and affections will show that our destination of heaven is what is most important. If we think of ourselves as temporary residents, we will not loose sight of our goal. Our trust will not be in this world. The world in which we live is but a temporary place. The Christian must look beyond it for his true home.

The Epistle of Diognetus has an interesting section on the Christian being a sojourner. The letter is an uninspired, anonymous letter dating from the second century A.D. The writer is attempting to explain the differences of being a Christian instead of a pagan or a Jew. His thoughts make an excellent commentary on what it means to be a temporary resident:

For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric life-style. This teaching of theirs has not been discovered by the thought and reflection of ingenious men, nor do they promote any human doctrine, as some do. But while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign. They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring. They share their food but not their wives. They are “in the flesh,” but they do not live “according to the flesh.” They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. (5:1-9)*

Keeping our eyes on the goal is not always easy. There is much in the world to distract us. The Christian life must be life of watchfulness. Reminding ourselves that we are only temporary residents and sojourners in this world may help us to keep our eyes on the goal.

*Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, p. 541.


One Day at a Time

December 31, 2016

I like the phrase at the end of Matthew chapter 6: “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Jesus is arguing against worry and excessive anxiety. In Matthew 6:34, he is not talking about moral evil, but problems or troubles that come our way each day. The modern versions are quite correct in rendering it: “Each day has enough troubles of its own” (e.g., NIV and NASB). Jesus is urging that we have a deep trust in God and handle our problems one day at a time.

Jesus argues against worry in a number of ways in this passage (Matthew 6:25-34). First, he argues from the greater to the lesser. If God has given us life and a body, will He withhold the lesser things — food and clothing — which are needed to sustain the greater gift? Second, he argues from the lesser to the greater. Jesus teaches that God provides for the birds and the lilies of the field. Since we are more valuable, won’t he provide for us as well. Third, he informs us that the pagans — those without faith — pursue the same things, but our heavenly Father knows that we have need of them. Our perspective should then be: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33).”

Francis C. Ellis tells of a businessman who drew up a worry chart to track his worries. His findings were:

  • 40% probably will never happen
  • 30% concerned that past and couldn’t be changed
  • 12% other’s criticism of him
  • 10% concern over health
  • 8% legitimate concerns changed

This aptly illustrates Jesus’ maxim: “Each day has enough troubles of its own.” We need not borrow problems from the future to ruminate on, let us live each day with trust in God.

Certainly, there are times when disasters come, and anxieties press us down, but the solution is still found in “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33, ESV). Or, as Peter encourages, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, NIV). Only trusting in God will see us through.

One sage has remarked, “The most pleasant and useful persons are those who leave some of the problems of the universe for God to worry about.” Let us take one day at a time.