Thoughts on Suffering

One of the certainties of life is suffering. There is flooding in Texas. In my personal world, a young woman is fighting cancer and treatment is uncertain. Friends lost their 25-year-old brother unexpectedly. Our world is one of pain, grief, loss, disappointment, failure, betrayal, and anxiety. No one is exempt. It may come in different forms, but suffering is certain.

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Relief at all costs: “Curse God and die.” This was Satan’s goal. If Job’s relationship with God was dependent on his circumstances, he would love God when life was good and curse Him when life was bad. Job’s wife, unfortunately, was on Satan’s team for this one. Isn’t it interesting that of all the things Satan asked to take away from Job, his wife was not one of them.Job’s suffering was unexpected and devastating. He lost material wealth, his children, and his health. Like some of us, this is how others responded:

  1. Experience is the solution: “I’ve seen this. It happened to ____.”  Job’s friend, Eliphaz, related Job’s suffering to his own experiences. We may have seen, heard, or experienced things in our lives but that is a) not a comfort someone who is suffering and b) not an accurate measure of who God is or how He works.
  2. Traditional practice is the solution: “If you’d done this (name it) this (name calamity) wouldn’t have happened.” We may not come right out and say it, but it’s easy to carry the same undertone as Zophar ‘s message: “We’ve always done it this way.” In other words, it’s your fault for not following the accepted pattern. “What did you do to bring this on yourself?”
  3. Rules or legalism is the solution: “You can fix this by ____.”  Bildad professes a health, wealth and prosperity doctrine: If you do such and such, you can make it go away. This is another form of, “It’s your fault” with the added burden of changing the circumstances.

None of them were helpful. In fact, they made things worse. On top of external forces, Job battled his thoughts, emotions and the untruths of his “friends.”

These friends were focused on why Job was suffering. If they knew why, they could escape, avoid, or control suffering in their own lives. They pointed the finger, “It’s your fault” as another way of saying, “As long as I don’t do what you did, I’m safe.” There is something threatening about suffering—something ominous, dangerous, and unpleasant—we want to avoid. In reality, we can’t. And we won’t.

What about Job? In the face of disaster and calamity, who, like him, doesn’t want to talk directly to God?(7:20, 10:2, 13:3, 15, 22; 16:21; 23:4, etc.)

Once they ran out of arguments–Job included–Elihu, the youngest, silent observer spoke. Unlike the others, Elihu persisted in presence with a listening ear and keen thoughts. Because he escaped God’s criticism, we would do well to listen to his words and attitudes.

In humility, he admitted his own failures. He found common ground with Job and proved it by sitting through this entire discourse (7 days of silence plus 28 chapters’ worth of discussion). He did not lay blame, tell Job what to do, or criticize him harshly. He practiced what Dr. Bob Kellemen calls, “climbing in the casket.” And after lying in that dark, despairing place with Job, he provides perspective: don’t forget God’s grace and generosity, look for God’s hand and purpose even in suffering, if God controls the lightning, wind and wild beast, He is able to care for you, and remember, God cannot be moved or manipulated by the works of man.

God, in His goodness, wisdom and sovereignty approached Job in chapters 38-41, but not to answer Job’s “why?” Instead, God assured him that He saw, knew, controlled, and governed in might, goodness and wisdom.

Job’s reply?

“I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.

‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’

Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”

‘Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.’

“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:2-6)

Then the Lord spoke to Eliphaz (how terrifying!), “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has” (42:7). They offered sacrifices, Job prayed, and they were forgiven. The Lord returned Job’s wealth and “blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning…” (42:12)

In our suffering—in suffering with others—we may never know why, but we can always know Who.

Behold, the Lord God will come with might,
With His arm ruling for Him.
Behold, His reward is with Him
And His recompense before Him.
11 Like a shepherd He will tend His flock,
In His arm He will gather the lambs
And carry them in His bosom;
He will gently lead the nursing ewes.
12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
And marked off the heavens by the span,
And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure,
And weighed the mountains in a balance
And the hills in a pair of scales?
13 Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
14 With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?
15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
And are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales;
Behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust.
16 Even Lebanon is not enough to burn,
Nor its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
17 All the nations are as nothing before Him,
They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.
18 To whom then will you liken God?
Or what likeness will you compare with Him?
19 As for the idol, a craftsman casts it,
A goldsmith plates it with gold,
And a silversmith fashions chains of silver.
20 He who is too impoverished for such an offering
Selects a tree that does not rot;
He seeks out for himself a skillful craftsman
To prepare an idol that will not totter.
21 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
23 He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
24 Scarcely have they been planted,
Scarcely have they been sown,
Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,
But He merely blows on them, and they wither,
And the storm carries them away like stubble.
25 “To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power,
Not one of them is missing.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”?
28 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
29 He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
30 Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
31 Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary. (Isaiah 40)

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Marriage – Design and Dysfunction

In God’s Word, we see His design for marriage but in our lives and world we don’t have to look far to realize something has gone wrong. What do we see when we look at God’s design? 

Design: 

In the first 3 chapters of Genesis, we must start with recognizing that both man and woman are created in the image of God. They both reflect the nature of who God is in their own unique ways. 

 

We see God’s design is for marriage to be between one man and one woman. This was God’s design from the beginning and is still His plan. 

We see Adam and Eve worshipping and walking with God and they are at peace with God, each other, and God’s creation. 

Then we see that they have an enemy, the Devil. He is their enemy, because he is God’s enemy and they belong to God. 

Later we see the woman and the man fail to live up to what God has called them to do and give into the lie that God is not as good as He says He is. That He did not really say what they think He said. That autonomy from God will provide freedom. 

When they eat of the tree and go against God’s plan, Word, and design, they are ashamed. Broken. Sad. They then are scared of the voice of God. They used to receive joy from God, one another and creation. Now there is no peace with any of the 3. 

They are now told 2 things about the future. 

  1. That their relationship and their work will be marred and marked by sin and suffering.  
  2. That God has a plan to redeem their lives and His people through their far-off offspring, Jesus. 

In the rest of the Old Testament we see 2 things that mark the marriages of God’s people.

  1. Their sin and the natural, God given, consequences of breaking God’s design for marriage. 
  2. God’s faithfulness to them and His promises despite their sin. 

In the New Testament we see Paul use marriage as a metaphor for the love that the Father has for His church. 

This is remarkable in a number of ways, but is instructive both theologically and practically for our marriages today. 

First, it shows that marriage is a picture of something bigger than our human institution. It is to be the most apt human picture of God’s love for His people. 

Second, it gives us a model for how to love in the context of marriage. 

Third, we see that marriage is to be a covenant, as the Father has made with us, and not a contract that is law based. 

Fourth, the passages in Colossians and Ephesians speak of Gospel-centered marriage as being a covenant between 2 people that are first submitted to their God. 

In 1 John 4:7-21, we see God’s definition for love. Love is not defined by feelings, contracts, romance, or human institutions. Love is defined for us in verse 10. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Love does not start or end with us. It starts and is perpetuated, recaptured, and defined by God’s loving action towards us. Our love for Him and for others is a response to He who first loved us! This is the supernatural power that brings marriages back from the dead just as it raises our dead in the flesh life out of the grave to give us spiritual life. 

What a glorious truth, but this is not the end of the scriptures and it is not the end of God’s story of marriage. 

In Revelation 19 we see the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. We are told that the Bride, His church, is prepared for the marriage feast. Who is the Groom? Who is the one the feast is about? It’s about the lone heavenly father and the sacrifice of the lamb, Jesus. Our marriages are to point to this moment in the future when God is ultimately glorified and we are most satisfied as we were in the very beginning in the garden. 

This theology and quick survey of scripture should inform our marriage counseling. 

We can get lost in the “he-said, she-said” part of marriage counseling where we find ourselves refereeing a couples latest conflict. We can find ourselves buried under the sheer volume of sin and suffering that a couple is experiencing and not even know where to start. 

We can reach a point where we find ourselves (sometimes rightly) taking sides and lose sight of the point and power behind marriage. 

When we look at God’s word and the reality of ALL of our marriages, we see that something has gone wrong.

We need to go back to God’s word to find not only biblical principles for marriage, but the power of the Gospel for marriage.  

Written by:
Jason Blackley
Grace Community Church

What if I fail?

In Biblical Counseling, as in the rest of life, we fear failing. Before we start counseling one of our biggest fears is failing.
If we are honest, even after counseling for years we can fear failure. There are things about counseling that make fear a difficult thing to shake. We are trying to help people at their most vulnerable point. They are sharing things with us that they have never shared with anyone. We are helping them overcome some of the hardest things they have ever gone through. We are meeting them at a time they are desperate and possibly feel as though they are at rock bottom. Talk about pressure! No wonder we are afraid. So what do we do to overcome the fear of failure as a Biblical Counselor?
  1. Realize we will fail – You. Will. Fail. You will not always turn to the Bible and will use your own wisdom. You will forget to pray for and with your counselee. You will forget what homework you gave them last session. You will misquote verses. You will give them counsel that they will follow and it will blow up in their face. We are sinners counseling sinners in a sinful and fallen world. Our own sin, inexperience and fallen brains will make mistakes. When we realize this, it is freeing! It reminds us of our need for Grace. It makes us dependent and prayerful and we remember that we need to be saturated in God’s word and walking in his spirit.
  2. Remember grace – His grace is sufficient. You are accepted and loved by God, through Christ’’s work on the cross not because of your ability, or fruit as a Biblical counselor. Let that sink deep within your soul.
  3. Pray – Fear of failure is just one of the symptoms of a lack of prayer with and for counselees. If we are not praying, we are trying to change people with our wisdom, education, experience and words. If it is up to us, we SHOULD be sacred! We cannot do the work of the Spirit.
  4. Fail – It seems nonsensical but something that has helped my fear of failure, is failing. Making mistakes. Erring. Forgetting. Misplacing. Not walking in the Spirit. I have learned so much from my own mistakes, and by God’s grace, he has made his strength known through my weakness. Our mistakes drive us to the Gospel and drive us to learn and grow.
Let’s be sure that as Biblical Counselors we are believing the same gospel that we are proclaiming to others.
Written by Jason Blackley

Benefits of Record Keeping

When a friend from church asked if I would help her with spiritual growth I said of course, then paused. “I’ve been to a couple of conferences on biblical counseling but I’m not sure how it works. Could I practice on you?” She said yes and we got started.

I didn’t know much about biblical counseling, but I had seen a case report form (found on this page) used by the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and decided to give it a try. Here are some things I discovered along the way.

Recording answers to the questions on this form

  • Provided otherwise elusive answers. By recording changes a counselee made, what we talked about, unbiblical thoughts and patterns, and present circumstances, I was able to pray and think more intentionally about how to help biblically.
  • Gave future direction. As I considered progress made and topics discussed, I was able to prayerfully consider future growth and direction for each counselee.
  • Allowed me to see subtle patterns and habits I might have missed or left unaddressed.
  • Provided a consistent, objective way to present information to a counselee’s pastor, small group leader and/or my direct supervisor as needed.
  • Became a guide for each session, helping me lead with purpose and an end goal in mind.

The original form, helpful as it was, was tedious. I could only review one session at a time and struggled to create transitions and consistency. After praying and thinking, I put each question in one column of a spreadsheet and filled it in from top to bottom. When I needed a reminder or quick orientation, I could pull it up and scan a number of sessions at once. The spreadsheet format makes it possible to scroll through multiple entries of past teaching, homework assignments and changes (template HERE)

There is nothing magical about record keeping, but as people who reflect our Creator-God, we have the ability to communicate, plan, be intentional, and orderly. May He use us as instruments for His pleasure and glory as we minister to the lives of those He sends our way.

Written by Sydney Millage

The Role of Prayer in Biblical Counseling

If we are Biblical Counselors we all agree that prayer has a role in Biblical Counseling. However, if you are like me, sometimes it is relegated to the role of opening, or closing a session of counseling and possibly throwing up a prayer when you know you are really in trouble as a counselor.
There is nothing wrong with praying to open and/or close a counseling session and we have all prayed the “God help me know what to do here” prayers.  I have found over time, however, that if this is the only role that prayer plays in my counseling, there will be negative consequences and an overall lack of power in the counsel I give. Here are some thoughts on the role that prayer should play in our counseling.

Prayer for Us
If you are a human being, and not Jesus himself, you need prayer. There are sins to confess. Anxieties to “cast on him.” Things that scare you. Pride that its hidden. False motives to be exposed. Fear of man issues. Fatigue. Our busy mindedness. These are just to name a few. If we do not have a healthy thriving prayer life, we will not give prayer the proper role in our counseling.

Prayer for Counselees
I have found over time that when I am not praying for counselees, I am trying to fix them on my own. This leads to lack of power, pride, or anxiety.
Lack of Power: If we are not taping into, and relying on the supernatural power of the Spirit, we are trying to fix people with our techniques, wisdom, and experience. We also start to see a pattern of not knowing what to say, not understanding what others are saying, and a lack of lasting fruit.
Pride: Sometimes (often) the Spirit works in spite of us and does a work in the lives of those we are trying to help even if we are not praying for the power of God to do the work. If this happens, and we are not praying for our counselees, we are tempted to become prideful and think that we did something to bring about change. God help us if we try and take credit for what only God can do.
Anxiety: This is the most acute symptom I experience when I am not praying for counselees. I have come to realize that anxiety is actually an appropriate response if we are trying to fix people in our own strength. In 2 Corinthians, chapter 2:15-16 we read, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?”

Prayer During the Session (Out Loud) 
There are at least 3 occasions in which prayer during the counseling session is helpful. All 3, and any more that we can think of, show the importance to our counselee, and remind us of the same.
Opening: When we open a counseling session with prayer, we set a foundation for the session and send a message to the counselee that we recognize that the Wonderful Counselor is the one whom we need to hear from during the next 60-90 minutes.
During: There are many occasions in which praying out loud during the session might be helpful, but in particular, when we are stuck, struggling, or having trouble understanding something is a great time to stop, and pray. This does a number of things to benefit our counsel and counselee. It communicates what we should do as believers when we are stuck and in need of power and wisdom. It shows were wisdom and power come from. It can change the course of our conversation as the power of God is invited into the discussion afresh.
Conclusion: When we end our session in prayer it reminds every one in the room that any insight that comes from the time together and the homework is the work of God. This also helps everyone remember that the time together in the counseling room is actually not the most important time of the cousnelees life. Their time spent in the word, prayer, community, and mission during the week will have more long lasting ramifications for them than anything we say in the counseling room.

Prayer During the Session (Silent)
There is an account in the book of Nehemiah where Nehemiah is about to request of King Artaxerxes the time to go and rebuild the wall in Jerusalem. In between the King asking him why he was sad and what his request was, and the actual request of Nehemiah, we read in 2:4, “So I prayed to God in heaven.” This is a quick, silent, cry of help to God. This can and should be happening as we try and help others, with anything! We are in desperate need of the power of God in each and every conversation, particularly when we are trying to help someone.

Let’s make sure that we are not relegating prayer to the role of opening and closing our counseling.
Now, lets close in prayer…

Written by Jason Blackley

Recommended Reading! Punting on First Down by Mark Shaw

This article written by Mark Shaw is a timely word to the church about caring for those with self harm issues, specifically addictions who need biblical guidance and support through this difficult time in their lives. I find it timely because, now more than ever, we have people in our churches who are struggling with these issues. In addition on November 10th -11th  the EIBCC will be hosting a weekend workshop entitled “Dealing With Self Harm Issues in the Church”. This workshop is for all the leaders in your church and will be focused on equipping them to know how to care for a shepherd those people who are struggling with addictions and self harm so we won’t ‘Punt on First Down”.
– Dave Kirk

Article originally posted on the Biblical Counseling Coalition website.

Punting on First Down

Got Faith?

We tend to put faith in the domain of the unknown and unseen. It has a mysterious, nebulous component. After all, how do you define faith? You can’t see or feel it. Isn’t faith something you hope for that hasn’t even happened? Yes…and no.

When we view faith as something “out there” and distant, we are free to live life however we want. If it can’t be measured or quantified, I say I have faith–or think I have faith–without obligation. In other words, I can believe (in my head). I can say I’m a Christian. I can say or think I have faith. And I can move on with my life.

I would argue that faith is real, it’s a concrete doing, not just an empty set of words. For instance, when you visited your Facebook page, sent a text or made plans for this afternoon, what motivated you? Why did you do what you did?

One of the most common reasons for doing or not doing something is because we “feel like it.” We want to do something (or we don’t) and the wanting motivates our decision. My grandmother used to talk about being “in the mood.” If she was in the mood, it got done. If she wasn’t, it had to wait. Fortunately, she was always in the mood for MacDonald’s ice cream.

Here it is: Faith is doing what God says whether I feel like it or not. It’s taking God at His Word and acting on it. Period. That’s real. It’s concrete. It’s not wishy-washy. It’s not nebulous or mysterious. It’s actually straight-forward and obvious. Here are a couple of simple, but hard, ways to apply faith:

– God says marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman for life (Genesis 1-3, Ephesians 5). Faith not only assents it’s true, faith does it. Faith says, “No matter how I feel about this person, I am committed to this relationship. God designed marriage and He wants me to work this out.” Staying married and working through difficulties requires dependence on Him. seeking help, perseverance, forgiveness, and sacrifice. It’s real, walking, talking faith that lies awake at night, prays, gives, serves, and loves. Faith real, concrete acts that reflect Jesus–that believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection–in everyday life through our words, actions and choices.

– God says if we abide in Him, He will abide in us (John 15). Faith spends measureable time reading the Bible, studying, listening to, meditating on and memorizing God’s Word because that’s where we find Him. We must know Christ and His ways to abide in Him. Faith is evident in prayer (abiding). Faith is evident as I wait on God to provide and meet my needs.

– God says He will keep Him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Him because He trusts Him (Isaiah 26:3). Faith refuses to give in to worry or despair. Faith chooses, instead, to think on the character and works of God: His faithfulness, lovingkindness and goodness expressed in Scripture and past experience. Godly faith is demonstrated by peace and steadfastness.

The opposite of faith is my way-seeking relief, comfort, pleasure–in opposition to the revealed will of God in His Word. It happens as we justify, rationalize and excuse our behavior with circumstance instead of turning to God and holding fast. When I simply don’t believe God’s Word is true or will “work,” when I think I have a better idea, or just don’t feel like doing it His way, my unbelief and disobedience result in real consequences. God’s way or my way? It’s that simple.

Got faith?

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6 NASB)

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. (James 2:14-26)

Written by Sydney Millage

The Fear of the Lord; The Beginning of Wisdom

In 1 Samuel we see two men who have many things in common, but with a couple huge differences that make all the difference.
Those 2 differences were:
1. Anointing
2. Fear

 
1. As we know Saul was chosen by the people because of his might. God allowed this with the warning that they would regret it.
David was chosen despite being the smallest of the sons of Jesse.

2. Both men feared, but Saul feared man and David feared God. There are many examples of this, but the one I read this morning was the story of David sparing Saul’s life, twice, after Saul had tried to kill David twice. Here is David’s reasoning from 1 Samuel 26:23-24:

“[23] The LORD rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness, for the LORD gave you into my hand today, and I would not put out my hand against the LORD’s anointed. [24] Behold, as your life was precious this day in my sight, so may my life be precious in the sight of the LORD, and may he deliver me out of all tribulation.”

David says and does 3 things here that show us whom he feared:
– He sees that the LORD is the one who rewards and that is greater than killing the king who wants you dead and whose throne you will take if you do.
– He says Saul is anointed by the LORD. He knows the history, he knows that God allowed the people to have what they wanted. He knows and believes God is in control of history.
– He saw the kings life as precious and that this was an act of worship.

Saul and David both sinned.
Saul and David where both in the same position, king.
Both men where powerful in human terms.
One man was called a man after God’s own heart. The other was judged and found wanting by the King of Kings.

Lets see our identity today through the eyes of God. We are not just Pastors, Directors, Coordinators, Husbands, Wives, Parents, or Counselors today. We are his beloved. Our feelings today will come from whom we fear and who we are. Before this passage and God’s work this morning, I felt like a failure because of small mistakes. I am fighting today to feel like a worshipper who has a great God who is worthy of praise and who holds me, history, his church, and all people in his hands.

– Jason Blackley

When Life Happens

mr2bmagoo2bmanhole0002

Lest this blog get sin-heavy, let me be quick and sure to say that life happens. Suffering happens. There is no escape. It isn’t always tied to our sin and it’s not necessarily a consequence.

James 1 comes to mind when I think about “life” happening. Chapter 1, verse 2 says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials…” It’s written to Christians, “brethren,” and it says when you fall, not if. I looked up”fall” in Greek and it means: “to fall; to encounter.”

Think Mr. Magoo. He walks along, minding his own business when, BOOM! he falls in an open manhole. In the same way, trials appear in our path. We don’t see them coming. We don’t “deserve” them. They just happen. I find that both comforting and beautiful. I didn’t plan it, but God did. And it’s part of a bigger, better plan. A plan for my good. God knows. He sees the future–inside out, forward and backward. He is at the end before the beginning, and He’s not One to waste anything.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:2-7 ESV)

As I fall into unexpected trials, based on James 1:2-7, I have started to ask: Am I leaning on Christ or myself? Am I asking for help? For wisdom? Am I growing in trust and patience? This trial is intended to make me steadfast; perfect and complete. Am I fighting God and my difficulty or submitting to Him?If I’m doing it right, it’s not my job to fix the problem, make it go away, or figure out the end. The joy is in knowing that God will use this present difficulty to make me more like Jesus (Romans 8:28-29).

It’s also a good reminder when I see others suffering. Their difficulty or situation may not have anything to do with their personal choices or sin. It could be something they “fell” into–just like I do, by God’s grace. God’s hand is not removed from the situation–it’s all over it.

When you and I “fall into various trials,” we can stop and look for Jesus. In that hard place, we can have joy. Jesus fell into suffering–and look where He ended up!

…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. (Hebrews 12:1-3 NKJV)

Written by Sydney Millage

When Sin Explodes

Sin doesn’t “just” explode. Let me rephrase–sin explodes, and it seems spontaneous, but it isn’t. Solomon captured it well. After describing a naive young man’s journey through town at dusk–and the woman of the night’s many preparations–“all at once” he finds himself in trouble. All at once he is “caught fast,” not knowing it will cost him his life. (Proverbs 7:22-23).

The truth is that he ended up on that street at that time of day by placing one foot after the other. He had thoughts–or failed to reign in thoughts–of pleasure and desire. He made choices to turn right, then left, one step at a time.

Sin is like that. It wasn’t our plan to end up in a pit of despair, under financial burdens, gasping for air in strained or broken relationships. We didn’t know it would feel like this; that it would be like this. The end result wasn’t our choice–but we would have to admit it is the practical end of a series of choices.

How do we escape? What do we do when sin has exploded and  our world is full of shrapnel? In that case there is a hard word and a good word. The hard word is that consequences are consequences. Our sadness and regret doesn’t remove suffering. The good word is that God is always ready and willing to forgive. When we come to God in brokenness, willing to do life His way instead of ours, we can get on right terms because of Jesus. By faith in His death and resurrection, we can give up our “rights,” be reconciled and come near to God. In His death, Jesus became our substitute. He took our punishment and exchanged our sin for His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

In turning back to God and away from our desire to sin–read, “do it my way instead of His”–God will give us the power that raised Jesus from the dead. He wants us to live victoriously! (Romans 6:4) We are free from guilt and shame. We can take our thoughts captive, overcome sinful desires, and put God first. And on and on it goes, asking for grace to make choices that please Him; to live life differently (2 Corinthians 5:15).

durum-wheat-head1So how do I turn it around before it explodes? The apostle Paul says we
reap what we sow. Looking back–step by step–that young man “sowed” a path that led to trouble. We can choose, right now, today, to sow seeds of the Spirit (God’s way) or seeds of the flesh (my way). I can obey and trust God or manipulate people and circumstances to get what I want. Planting spiritual seeds comes in the form of prayer–living dependently on God instead of myself–loving others instead of using them, serving instead of expecting to be served, listening instead of talking, giving instead of taking. It’s living in a way that looks more like Jesus than myself. Seeds are sown in kind, gracious words, a heart that is tender and sees its own faults.

Sinful choices bring gut-wrenching, destructive, deadly fruit. Godly choices result in untold blessing and a clear conscience. We choose what we sow, but we can’t control the fruit. Once filled, the head of grain is what it is. The choice was made over time, step by step. The consequences are out of your hands–for better…or for worse.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:1-10 ESV)

By Sydney Millage