Do We Really Want To Be Better Comforters?

Sharing today from Penetrating the Darkness.

Do We Really Want To Be Better Comforters?

What factors deepen and expand our ministry to hurting people?

Valid answers include a sound grasp of Bible knowledge, identification and exercise of our spiritual gift(s), and a willingness to sacrifice our convenience and time precisely when others most need help. But there’s one answer I’d put first: our own suffering.

Whether our affliction comes in the form of physical maladies, adverse circumstances outside of our control, or emotional anguish (such as major depression), our pain brims with the potential to serve others more effectively. The late pastor and author Ron Dunn went so far as to say, “Your greatest area of usefulness may stem from your greatest area of pain.”

Why is that the case?  Suffering that does not make us bitter makes us better. It breaks our hearts, increasing our empathy with others who hurt. We’re more likely to show compassion when we’ve “been there, done that.”

Allow me to illustrate.

Examples of Pain’s Potential to Expand Our Ministry

While strolling alone on a beach near his home, the forlorn pastor considered suicide. He thought to himself, “I can’t take any more hard knocks. I can’t imagine how things will get any better.”

A worried friend of the pastor showed up at the beach, knowing that’s where the pastor went when he needed to sort things out. The friend didn’t condemn his depressed companion for lack of faith, or dish out superficial solutions. Instead, he walked alongside him for a long time, listened as the pastor vented, told him he loved him and prayed for him.

The friend’s presence incarnated God’s love and instilled hope within the distraught pastor. Here’s how the pastor described the effect: “Within minutes, my life started coming together again. I started thinking clearly for a change. A ray of hope burst through the dark clouds that had been hovering over me. I began seeing solutions to some of the things harassing me, and believed again that God would help me.”

What prompted the compassionate response of the pastor’s friend?

His own past experience with pain.

The comforter had gone through a rough patch in his life a couple of years before. He knew firsthand how downcast a person of faith could feel, and had experienced the sustaining power of God’s Spirit. He remembered how God had mobilized people in the body of Christ to reach out to him when his own future seemed hopeless. The comforter’s own brokenness had kept him from a self-righteous, judgmental attitude toward his hurting friend. Instead of offering glib, snap-out-of-it advice, his listening posture and heartfelt prayer lifted the rocks off his friend’s chest.

*******

Joni Eareckson Tada has been a quadriplegic since a diving accident in her teens. God chose not to heal her body. Yet over the decades, she has written best selling books offering a sound theology of suffering, interspersed with stories from her life of God’s sustenance. She has shared the gospel of Christ in speaking engagements all over the globe. She founded Joni and Friends, an organization that provides support and resources for disabled persons and their caregivers. Her organization also trains local church leaders on ways to care for the disabled within their own community. Her ministry to needy people isn’t huge in spite of her disability, but because of it. In her case, God has received more glory by redeeming her pain, rather than by eradicating it.

Read the rest here.

When God Calls You to Stay

Today I’m sharing from Set Apart.

When God Calls You to Stay

By Linda Green [Guest Contributor]

God’s Word is full of commands for His people to go. These divine calls, while varied in nature, require both trust and obedience that are not only costly, but utterly impossible apart from God.

God called Abraham to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you; and I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” Genesis 12:1-3.

Going for Abraham meant leaving his very comfortable life to go to an unknown place and face countless trials and tests. “So Abram went, as the LORD had told him…”

God called Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand he let His people go.

Moses had settled into a comfortable and secure life in the wilderness where he had fled for his life 40 years earlier, but that is not what caused him to push back at God’s call to return to Egypt. Moses simply felt unqualified and unable to do the seemingly impossible job God was asking of him. Yet Scripture records: “Moses took his wife and his sons…and wentback to the land of Egypt,” Exodus 3-4.

God called Jonah to “go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before Me.”

The Ninevites were Israel’s fierce and cruel enemies and Jonah had zero interest in sacrificing his own life for the sake of utterly undeserving people! And so he ran away from God, (or at least tried to). But God caused Jonah, along with all of his fears and rebellion, to be swallowed by a giant fish before being spit out on the ground.  Three long days later, this God ordained trial resulted in a significantly humbled man who was ready to obey Almighty God. “So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD” Jonah 3:1-2.

Jesus called his disciples (and us) to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-20). There are countless examples of those who have obeyed this call to make disciples of all nations. Though it cost many their lives or the lives of those they loved, they went out of love and obedience to Christ.

  • Abraham walked by faith and came to know God Almighty who keeps His promises.  God made him the father of many nations, teaching him (and us) that we can take God at His Word. 
  • Moses returned to Pharaoh in Egypt by faith and came to know God as LORD, being witness to His powerful display of authority, power, provision, and deliveranceGod taught his servant Moses (and us) to trust that nothing is impossible with God, even when everything looks completely hopeless.
  • Jonah went in obedience and faith and witnessed a revival in Ninevah! God’s lessons to Jonah (and us) reveal a God who is patient, merciful, and slow to anger, but also disciplines those He loves.
  • Throughout the centuries, God’s people have gone to dark places to proclaim the gospel; from cities to jungles, from college campuses to dark countries oppressed by communism. As grateful recipients of redemption, they have gone out in obedience and faith to proclaim God’s saving power through the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. God taught them (and us) that apart from Him we can do nothing.

Like those who have gone before us, God’s call to go is costly, requiring utter dependence on Christ’s power, presence, and provision. Going always requires laying down selfish ambitions, plans, and worldly expectations in order to receive the higher call of Christ. But they also go expectantly, as participants in God’s story for their eternal joy and His glory.

But sometimes God calls us to stay.

As a women’s ministry director in a large church, I have met more than a few women who, in their darkest moments, dream of a call to go, because the call to stay feels impossibly hard and costly. Consider these women who have obeyed the call to stay in the midst of painful and often, unfathomable, circumstances. For example;

I think of a wife, married to an unloving, self-absorbed man who spends his time and money in grievous ungodly pursuits. She imagines her life would be happier if she left him, but knows God has called her to stay that she might display the power of the gospel through the persevering love of Christ. 

I think of a woman in the workplace who is a victim of hurtful and damaging gossip, unjustly treated because of her faith. She yearns to tell her boss she quits, but for now she believes God has called her to stay so that she might display the gospel’s power through grace-filled humility. 

I think of a woman who lives next door to an angry and revengeful neighbor. She and her husband have considered moving, but remember how God led them to this neighborhood. For now, they know they are to stay, that they might display the gospel’s power through forgiveness.

I know a single woman who feels isolated and lonely in her seemingly family-oriented church, but believes God has called her to stay and reach out to others, that she might display the unity of Christ.

Finally, I think of my own daughter who battles chronic Lyme’s disease along with her four young children who suffer with it as well. This insidious disease has wreaked havoc in their family through chronic pain, explosive behaviors, excessive crying and whining, night terrors, and skewed emotions. Her husband’s job loss has only exacerbated financial pressures, delayed medical treatment, and the normal stresses of marriage and parenting young children. This young mom, who never feels well herself, imagines a quieter less stressful life. Yet, God has called her to stay to display the power of God through the sufficiency of Christ.

Read the rest here.

Search for One

Search for One

By Pat Knight

Mink do not usually expose themselves to humans, especially during daylight hours. One splendid, warm, summer day there were seven of us engaged in activities near the lake. While our three young grandsons were captivated fishing, the adults glimpsed a sleek, black, lithe creature slithering its way around the children’s sandal-clad feet on the dock. Our son commanded his boys to stand motionless, using only their eyes to observe the bizarre oddity of nature. 

The wet, glistening mink investigated the boy’s footgear and wet socks draped on a rock to dry. The mink’s nose never stopped sniffing, as it wove its body among every human foot firmly planted on the dock. Its conical snout, incessantly wriggling, was on a mission. What was bothering the mink so much that it would voluntarily wander among the enemy? We talked quietly. Then the mink slinked away as quickly as it had appeared. Our activity resumed in slow motion. The boys continued to fish, as they cast a wary eye in the direction of the intruder, wondering if it would return.

Soon, mother mink emerged, this time on a new quest. She had previously disappeared into the rocks near the shoreline, to the left of the dock, probably the location of her den. Now, with a limp kit helplessly dangling from her mouth, mama mink hastily scampered across the dock, without stopping to socialize, and plunged into the water, bound for the cribwork on the opposite side of the dock. There she remained with her kit, in an area her instincts told her would be much safer than their last home, far out of range of human activity. We weren’t privileged to see the mother mink or her kit again. Their short performance was astonishing, albeit, entertaining.

Jesus told a parable to His disciples: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:3-7).

Jesus taught truths using familiar objects his audience could understand. One hundred sheep comprised a typical modest flock for a shepherd of that day. Shepherds often worked in teams, so it would not be irresponsible for one shepherd to leave ninety-nine sheep safely in the open field for his companions to oversee. The shepherds would not take the remainder of their herd home until the lost lamb was found.

Throughout Scripture, Jesus is portrayed as the Good Shepherd; believers are His individual sheep or His collective flock. Sheep are without direction in life. They must be led to good grazing grounds and protected from danger. They are passive animals, unequipped to find their own food or to fight predators. A good shepherd supplies his sheep’s needs.

The picture we see in Jesus’ parable is one of the Good Shepherd protecting His own. He was willing to leave His glorious throne in heaven to search for the one who is lost. When that person is found, Jesus places His beloved on His shoulders—the place of strength—and rejoins the lost with the rest of His flock. Jesus always rejoices when His people turn to Him for salvation, safety, and guidance throughout life. 

The mother mink protected her one kit, going to great lengths and endangering her life by carrying her offspring past the enemy to safety. If need be, she was willing to fight fiercely for the security of her young. Though the scene of the kit dangling from its mother’s mouth looked pathetic to us, the instinctive submission and obedience of the kit saved its life. Though Jesus handles us much more gently, He requires our posture to be one of complete trust and reliance upon His care, submitting to His will for our lives. “‘I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down,’ declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak … I will shepherd the flock with justice’” (Ezekiel 34:15-16).

When confronting danger, are we willing to put our lives in the hands of the Great Shepherd, who incessantly rescues His wayward children from harm, one individual life at a time? Trust Jesus explicitly, as He readily enfolds you beneath His protective arms and leads you to safety. “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27).

Jesus went further than risking His life for our protection. He came to earth with the express goal to die a heinous death of crucifixion: His one perfect life given for mankind, to redeem us from our sins, and to carry us on His shoulders to refuge in heaven for eternity.

“Jesus said, ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’” (John 10:11). Jesus’ mission on earth was unselfish. He sacrificed His pure, unblemished life to save His sinful children, one-by-one. The Good Shepherd came to secure eternal victory for His wayward ones. Submit to Him, for His plans are always perfect.

10 Key Bible Verses on God’s Sovereignty

Today I’m sharing from Crossway.org.

10 Key Bible Verses on God’s Sovereignty

God Over All

When life feels out of control, it can be comforting to remember that we’re never out of the sight of our Creator—and he never loses control. Be encouraged by the following Scriptures about God’s sovereignty with commentary from the ESV Study Bible and rest knowing he rules over all.

Ephesians 1:11

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will . . .

Making those who believe in him heirs with Christ was not an ad hoc event; God had planned it from all eternity. By definition God is sovereign, directing all things freely according to his royal counsel. This is in sharp contrast with the pagan gods of the time, who were understood to be often fickle or bound by an inscrutable and arbitrary fate. God’s predestination gives his people tremendous comfort, for they know that all who come to Christ do so through God’s enabling grace and appointment (Eph. 2:8–10). Who works all things according to the counsel of his will is best understood to mean that every single event that occurs is in some sense predestined by God. At the same time, Paul emphasizes the importance of human responsibility, as is evident in all of the moral commands later in Ephesians 4–6 and in all of Paul’s letters. As Paul demonstrated in all of his remarkable efforts in spreading the gospel (Acts 13–28; cf. 2 Cor. 11:23–28), he believed that doing personal evangelism and making conscious choices to obey God are also absolutely essential in fulfilling God’s plan. God uses human means to fulfill what he has ordained. With regard to tragedies and evil, Paul and the other biblical writers never blame God for them (cf. Rom. 5:122 Tim. 4:14; also Job 1:21–22). Rather, they see the doctrine of God’s sovereignty as a means of comfort and assurance (cf. Rom. 8:28–30), confident that evil will not triumph, and that God’s good plans for his people will be fulfilled. How God’s sovereignty and human responsibility work together in the world is a mystery no one can fully understand.

Romans 8:28

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

God weaves everything together for good for his children. The “good” in this context does not refer to earthly comfort but conformity to Christ (Rom. 8:29), closer fellowship with God, bearing good fruit for the kingdom, and final glorification (Rom. 8:30). Christians can be assured that all things work together for good: God has always been doing good for them, starting before creation (the distant past), continuing in their conversion (the recent past), and then on to the day of Christ’s return (the future).

Matthew 10:29–31

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Sparrows were customarily thought of as the smallest of creatures, and the penny was one of the least valuable Roman coins (cf. 5:26). apart from your Father. God is sovereign over even the most insignificant events. Fear not, therefore. Since the heavenly Father gives constant sovereign supervision even to seemingly insignificant creatures, surely he will also care for his disciples in their mission to proclaim the good news of the kingdom. more value.

Colossians 1:16–17

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Christ is Lord of creation. Jesus is the Lord, the maker and upholder of all things in the universe. Jesus did not come into existence when he was born of the virgin Mary. He was the agent of creation through whom God made heaven and earth (John 1:3 and note; 1 Cor. 8:6). Jesus cannot be the first thing created (as the ancient Arian heresy claimed) since “all things” without exception were created by him. Paul is using the current Jewish terms for various rankings of angels (although he doesn’t explain their relative ranks). His emphasis here may be on the evil angels, since they play a significant part in this letter (Col. 2:8, 10, 15, 20). This would not mean, however, that Jesus created evil angels; all spiritual powers were created by Jesus, but some later chose to rebel against God and so to become evil. Jesus is not only the agent of creation but is also the goal of creation, for everything was created by him and for him, that is, for his honor and praise. Since Jesus is in this sense the goal of creation, he must be fully God. Christ continually sustains his creation, preventing it from falling into chaos or disintegrating (cf. Heb. 1:3).

Isaiah 45:7–9

I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things. “Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the LORD have created it. Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?

The Lord’s creative will and wise purposes stand behind everything. Therefore, his people should not be discouraged when the appearances of history seem contrary to his promises. Far from a problem to cope with, God’s sovereignty over all things is the only hope for the flowering of salvation and righteousness in this world. Isaiah warns against challenging God’s right to do his will in his own way. Putting God under suspicious scrutiny is a serious offense. Created beings may not demand explanations from him (cf. Rom. 9:19–21).

Read the rest here.

Why the Ascension of Christ Matters For Your Life

Today I’m sharing from Core Christianity

Why the Ascension of Christ
Matters For Your Life

By Matthew Barrett

Christ’s ascension turns humiliation into exaltation.

Christ ascended into heaven, an event we too often overlook, thinking it has little significance. The last thing we read in Luke’s Gospel, and one of the first things we read in his sequel (the book of Acts), is that Jesus ascended into the sky after appearing to his disciples in his resurrected body. As Luke records, Jesus led his disciples as far as Bethany, lifted up his hands to bless them, and while doing so parted from them and was carried up into heaven (Luke 24:51). In response, the disciples worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy (24:52).

Prior to Jesus’s ascension in front of his disciples, he appeared to two of his followers on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24). Believing that he was the one to redeem Israel, they were perplexed as to why Jesus could suffer defeat on a cross. Their confusion only grew when they heard the tomb was empty. Rebuking these two men for their ignorance, Jesus responded, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26). Jesus then took them back to the Old Testament Scriptures and showed them how the entire Old Testament pointed forward to this climactic moment in redemptive history. 

Peter makes a similar point in Acts 3:19-21. He tells his listeners to repent, not only so that their sins might be blotted out, but also that God might send the Christ “appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago” (Acts 2:20-21). 

Both of these passages declare that the ascension was anticipated in the Old Testament as the very means by which the crucified Christ transitioned from his state of humiliation to his state of exaltation. The ascension, in other words, is the mechanism by which Christ is fittingly lifted up as the victorious king. As a result of this ascension, Christ now sits at the right hand of the Father, ruling and reigning over all (Eph. 1:20’21; Heb. 10:12Mark 16:19Acts 2:33). 

The Puritan Thomas Watson drives this point home in his book A Body of Divinity. While on earth, Jesus lay in a manger, but now he sits on his throne. On earth, men mocked him, but now angels adore him. On earth, his name was reproached, but now God has given him the name above every name (Phil. 2:9). On earth, he was in the form of a servant (John 13:4:5), but now he is dressed in the robe of a prince and kings cast their crowns before his throne. On earth, he was the man of sorrows (Isa. 53), but now he is anointed with the oil of gladness. On earth, he was crucified, but now he is crowned. On earth, he was forsaken by God (Matt. 27:46), but now he sits at God’s right hand. On earth, he had no physical beauty (Isa. 53:2), but now he is the radiance of the glory of God (Heb. 1:3). Without the ascension, there can be no exaltation of our crucified and risen Lord. Without the ascension, the king returns victorious from battle, but no ancient doors open to receive him into glory. 

Christ’s ascension assures us of our past, present, and future redemption.

Not only is the ascension the indispensable means by which Christ is exalted as Lord and king, but it also demonstrates that his priestly work of redemption is secure. We tend to think of Christ’s priestly work on our behalf as limited to the cross. However, Scripture says his priestly work as mediator continues in heaven (Rom. 8:33:34; 1 Cor. 15Eph. 4; 1 John 2:1). 

Read the rest here.

Peter: Restoration from Shame

Shared from Today in the Word.

Peter: Restoration from Shame

Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you. —John 21:17

Sometimes we wish for a remote control with a giant rewind button. If only we could start the day, the conversation, or the relationship all over again, we would do it differently!

Peter longed for a second chance with Jesus. The unresolved shame of his denial gnawed at him. Jesus understood Peter’s shame and reconstructed the circumstances under which they had first met. The sea, the boat, the long night without fish—all were in place. Jesus called out from the shore and the nets came up overflowing. Peter got the message. Jesus was inviting him for a redo!

This second chance meant confronting the shame of his failure. Peter watched Jesus’ hands breaking bread just as they had that fateful night. The Master he had denied served him breakfast. Reliving those events must have brought all his shame to the surface.

Read the rest here.

A Happy and Blessed Resurrection Sunday!

Sharing today from Got Questions?

Question: “Where does the saying ‘He is risen; He is risen, indeed’ come from?”

Answer: A traditional Easter greeting in the Western church is the exclamation “He is risen!” and the traditional response is “He is risen, indeed!” The words are sometimes accompanied by the exchange of three kisses on alternate cheeks, depending on the church. In the Orthodox and Catholic churches, the greeting is called the “Paschal greeting” and is a very old custom.

The greeting is ultimately based on Luke 24:34. Translations throughout church history, from the Latin Vulgate (c. AD 400) to the ESV (2001) have translated this verse nearly identically: “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” (ESV). Exactly how the saying became a standard greeting in the church is not known, although there are various theories regarding how it came into common usage.

We do know that, at first, the greeting was more common in Eastern and Byzantine liturgies than in the Western church. There is a tradition in the Eastern Orthodox Church that the saying was made popular by Mary Magdalene when she supposedly addressed Emperor Tiberius in Rome with the words “Christ is risen.”

Using this address should be more than an empty tradition. The words “He is risen!” remind us of the joyous news we celebrate at Easter, that Jesus’ death was not in vain, and that He has the power to overcome death. Saying “He is risen!” allows us to share this incredible truth with each other. The resurrection of Christ gives us hope for salvation and for our own resurrection and eternal life.

So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem,
and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying,
“The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”
—Luke 24:33-34

Beloved, Jesus IS our Resurrection HOPE!!! He rose from the dead so that those who trust in His saving grace can enjoy life everlasting in heaven with Him. Hallelujah!

The following song “Christ Our Hope in Life and Death” by Getty Music attests to the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. He deserves every bit of our thankfulness, praise and worship. Yes, and all glory should go to Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by shedding His blood for us.

If you cannot view the video for whatever reason, go here to read the beautiful lyrics (scroll down the page a bit).