Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category
Posted on March 11th, 2014 by David Burnette
Sure, the gospel is necessary for our conversion, but what role does it play after that? How does it shape our everyday lives? Pastor and author J.D. Greear has answered a few questions for us on this very topic. J.D. is a pastor at The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, as well as an author and a blogger.
1. How should a recovery of the gospel affect everyday tasks, responsibilities, and routines?
For years now I have begun every day with “The Gospel Prayer” (see below), a tool that I’ve found helpful in steeping my mind and heart in the truths of the gospel.
Sometimes people in the gospel-centered movement seem ill-at-ease with spiritual disciplines, as if forcing yourself into a habit automatically spells legalism. True, devoid of the gospel, such disciplines will become legalistic and empty. But the entire purpose of daily disciplines is to give us an opportunity to think about, and meditate on, and move within the gospel. Practicing spiritual disciplines is like cutting furrows that faith in the gospel can fill with new life. The discipline has no power in itself, but provides a context in which God form the affections of faith. And ironically enough, our obedience to God when we don’t “feel” like it can even be an act of faith in and of itself, a cry to God can change our hearts.
2. How can we tell from a practical standpoint if we’re not being motivated by the gospel in our everyday routines?
Well, start each day with the assumption that overnight your heart got re-steeped in idolatry. John Calvin said that the human heart is an “idol factory,” constantly coming up with new things to replace God, new ways to have a life of happiness and power without God.
Ask yourself some diagnostic questions: What one thing do I have to have today to be happy? What made me feel the most significant yesterday? Where did I turn for comfort when things weren’t going well? These questions can reveal certain patterns in our lives—where our heart runs for meaning, satisfaction, and comfort. As St. Augustine said, things like worry, fear, sadness, and jealousy are “smoke from the fires” rising from the altars of our idolatry. Follow the trail of that smoke and you’ll see where you have substituted the gospel for something else.
3. How would you counsel a believer who is beginning to notice that his daily life is disconnected from the truths of the gospel?
Our hearts are hard-wired towards works-righteousness, so we need to constantly saturate ourselves in the gospel. If we don’t, our natural drift will always be away from those crucial truths. As I said in question 1, I’ve prayed a specific prayer every day for years now to remind myself of the gospel. I simply call it, “The Gospel Prayer.” It’s not magical, but it’s a tool to train your mind in the patterns of the gospel:
- In Christ, there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less.
- Your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy.
- As You have been to me, so I will be to others.
- As I pray, I’ll measure Your compassion by the cross and Your power by the resurrection.
To register for Secret Church 14, “The Cross and Everyday Life,” and to get more information about Secret Church, go to www.secretchurch.org.
Posted on March 5th, 2014 by Paul
Pillar 1: Shahada (The Witness)
What is the Shahada?
“There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” This confession is the first thing whispered into the ear of a newborn Muslim baby and the last thing heard and spoken at death. This basic confession defines what it means to be Muslim. These words set Islam apart from the other monotheistic religions: Christianity and Judaism. If one desires to be Muslim, the starting point is a sincere confession of the Shahada.
At its core, Islam is a religion that demands devotion to one God, Allah. The Arabic word for God is “Allah.” The word Allah was used in reference to God in Arab culture since before the birth of Muhammad in 570 AD. The Shahada begins with God. It assumes that there is one God who created all things and sustains all things. Muslims around the world strive to live a life of submission and surrender to this one God, Allah.
According to Islam, Allah sent humanity many prophets to lead them towards God. The final prophet he sent was Muhammad. Muhammad, though he was human, served as a role model and messenger from God. In their daily lives, Muslims are to emulate and follow the example set by Muhammad while he lived on the earth. The explicit mention of Muhammad as the “messenger of Allah” in the Shahada stands again in contrast to both Christianity and Judaism, who do not recognize Muhammad as a prophet sent from God.
For Muslims, the Shahada serves as a guide to life. It encapsulates both belief in Allah as the one true God and also points Muslims to Muhammad as the definitive example of what it means to be submit and surrender to God. The Shahada is a statement of both faith and practice and serves as the foundational statement for the 1.2 billion Muslims around the world.
What is the significance of the Shahada for Muslims in Turkey?
For many Muslims in Turkey today, the Shahada functions merely as a traditional saying that brings order and structure to Turkish society. The day-to-day implications of the Shahada are minimal for many Muslims in Turkey. Having been to Turkey several times the past few years, I am always surprised by the indifference expressed by Muslims towards Islam. Operation World estimates that Turkey is over 96% Muslim. In fact, the Turks proudly say that “to be Turk is to be Muslim.” Yet, in reality, when it comes to Islam as a whole and the confession of the Shahada in particular, there might be a lot of intellectual ascent, but little heart felt devotion to God, Muhammad, and this confessional statement.
This is part 1 of a 5 part series on the 5 Pillars of Islam. Be sure to check back here for the other parts over the next 2 weeks.
Posted on March 4th, 2014 by David Burnette
We don’t usually think about busyness as a spiritual issue, but as pastor and author Kevin DeYoung reminds us in his latest book, Crazy Busy, we need to stop and consider what is for many believers today a massive problem.
Kevin is a pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. He has authored several books and his blog over at TGC - “DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed” – is worth visiting regularly.
The fact that busyness affects how we follow Jesus on an everyday basis makes it extremely relevant to our upcoming Secret Church 14, “The Cross and Everyday Life.” That’s another reason we’re glad Pastor Kevin was willing to answer the following questions on this important topic.
1. How can someone determine whether their level of busyness is normal or an indication of a deeper problem?
Busyness itself is not the problem. God made Adam to labor in the Garden and He made it good. We have been created for good works, which means we have work to do. Any Christian who cares about people will seek to bear the burdens of others. Clearly, inactivity is not the goal of godliness.
Having said all that, obviously some busyness is problematic. We all know and feel that—some of us every day. To determine what is healthy busyness and what is not, I’d start by looking for sin’s symptoms. Am I losing my patience more than I used to? Do I find myself easily angered? Have I lost the joy of my salvation? Then I would take a look at the patterns in my life. Am I taking a regular Sabbath? Do I have habits of feasting and fasting, work and rest, leisure and labor? Do I seem to be working all the time and actually getting less done? Finally, I try to ask myself this simple diagnostic question: am I trying to do good to others or look good before others? If we’re honest, so much of our busyness is about people-pleasing, pride, and positioning ourselves for earthly applause.
2. How is our busyness, or at least our feeling of busyness, a gospel issue?
It could be a gospel issue in a number of ways. If busyness chokes out the seed of God’s word (like in the parable of the sower and the soils), that’s a gospel issue. If busyness is a convenient way to cover up the rot in my own soul—or make me forget that I even have a soul—that’s a gospel issue. If I am trying to do everything for God to such an extent that I don’t find any joy in God, that’s a gospel issue. And perhaps most seriously, busyness is a gospel issue when I keep running at breakneck speed just to prove myself to my parents, prove myself to the world, or prove myself to God. If we can’t come to Christ, take his light and easy yoke upon us and rest in him, then we haven’t understood the gospel at all.
3. In your book Crazy Busy you mention one thing busy people (and all people) must do. Can you summarize that one thing?
The one thing we must do is sit at the feet of Jesus. I know that sounds super-spiritual, or worse, like one more thing to do. But it’s the point of Jesus’ interaction with Mary and Martha in Luke 10. Martha is trying to be a great host, but all her preparations matter for nothing if she neglects the Host in our midst. Jesus gently rebukes Martha for being frazzled and bothered by lesser things, when Mary has chosen the better part, namely, to listen to Jesus and learn from him. It’s not a silver bullet, but I really believe if we could make it a priority to take an hour each day, or 20 minutes, or a regular five minutes to slowly read the Bible and pray, we would begin to see Spirit-prompted changes. It’s no accident that Luke was inspired to put the Mary-Martha story at the end of chapter 10, after the sending out of the 72 disciples for powerful ministry and after the parable of the Good Samaritan. It’s the Lord’s way of telling us: look, you can cast out demons, you can preach, you can heal, you can stop by the side of the road to help the sick and dying, but if you don’t spend time with me, you are neglecting the very thing I want most from you: to sit at my feet.
In the wake of Super Bowl XLVIII, Albert Mohler commented on a recent essay published in The Washington Post titled “Is Religion Losing Ground To Sports?” Their answer was yes, and so was Mohler’s. According to him,
The fastest-growing segment of the American public in terms of religious identification is the ‘nones,’ designating those who identify with no religious tradition at all. At the same time, a religious dedication to sports has been growing. While correlation does not prove causation, the links between these two developments are haunting.
How is it haunting? Mohler pointed out the undying devotion of adolescent athletes and their parents who scarcely miss a practice, much less a game, while simultaneously, “team sports activities or other forms of organized athletics have taken many evangelical families away from church activities.” What is the object of our worship? To top off this sobering comparison, he metaphorically referred to the stadium in which next year’s already-anticipated Super Bowl will be held as a “cathedral” and the travel of the masses to it as a “pilgrimage.”
Given the wild popularity of athletics in our cultural climate today, this is one of the topics that David Platt will focus on in the upcoming Secret Church simulcast, “The Cross and Everyday Life.” As you’ll see in the below clip, though he is not opposed to sports, he resonates with Albert Mohler when it comes to the haunting correlation between the (often idolatrous) devotion people have to sports and the seeming lack of devotion they have to the church. Register for the April 18 simulcast to hear him unpack this a little bit more and explain how the gospel compels us to engage in sports in a healthy way.
Posted on January 29th, 2014 by David Burnette
One of the striking features of our great heroes of the faith, these men and women who shut the mouths of lions, conquered foreign armies, and helped rescue God’s people, is … their flaws. And by flaws I mean their sins and weaknesses.
I was recently reminded of this reading through Genesis 15-16. Abraham, the man who was counted righteous by believing God’s miraculous promise of countless descendants and worldwide blessing, turns around in the very next chapter and tries to help God out by having a child with a woman who was not his wife. Go and figure.
And it’s not just Abraham: Noah got drunk right after being delivered through a worldwide flood of destruction; Moses got impatient with the God who had parted the Red Sea; David committed adultery and murder after being promised an eternal dynasty. The list goes on and on.
Things don’t get any better when you turn to the New Testament. Jesus’ disciples heard His teaching and saw His miracles, but the Gospels are filled with accounts of their hard-hearted lack of faith. They even got to perform healings and exercise demons in Jesus’ name (Matt 10:5-10), yet they abandoned the Savior in his dying hour. Not exactly encouraging.
So what are we to make of these way-less-than-perfect characters? I want to suggest five benefits of noticing the flaws of the “heroes” we encounter in Scripture:
1. Flawed characters help us personally identify with the truth.
When we only think of biblical characters in terms of their highlight reels, it’s easy to get discouraged. Their experience feels like it’s from another planet. But a careful reading of these biblical accounts leaves us with a different picture: we read of people who committed terrible sins and showed surprisingly little faith despite all God’s blessings. It’s people like you and me. Their weaknesses help us identify with what we’re reading. God can and will work in us too.
2. Flawed characters put God’s mercy on display.
Sinful characters help us see how patient God is. He uses people, not because of their righteousness and devotion, but because of his undeserved love. King David’s courage is inspiring, to be sure, but God’s forgiveness of David’s illicit affair and subsequent arranged murder is simply stunning. It’s mercy through and through.
3. Flawed characters remind us of God’s transforming power.
Once we cue in to the flaws and ingrained sin of the biblical characters, their faith and obedience is even more amazing. Think about it: these former rebels stepped into fiery furnaces, walked on water, and got sawn in two (see Hebrews 11). That’s a testimony to the power of God’s saving work. He overcomes our sinful nature and gives us a faith that overcomes the world (1 Jn 5:4).
4. Flawed characters remind us that God is supreme.
When our heroes are unmasked for who they really are, we are less tempted to exalt them. It is God who is making a great name for himself. We may march around the city, be He is the one who tears down Jericho’s walls. In fact, God has told us that he chooses the weak and the despised so that we can’t brag about our accomplishments (1 Cor 1:26-31). He is supreme.
5. Flawed characters point us to Jesus.
Against the backdrop of all these flawed characters in Scripture, Jesus stands out like a diamond on a backdrop of black velvet. His power, His wisdom, His compassion, and His unflinching devotion to God. We never see Jesus stumble in thought, word, or deed. He alone fulfilled God’s law, always walking in obedience to His Father. Seeing other biblical characters fail reminds us that we must put our trust in Another. Only Jesus can say without qualification, “Follow Me.”
Posted on January 21st, 2014 by David Burnette
Some of the most unforgettable encounters with Jesus in Scripture involve someone forsaking everything to follow Him. Of course, every believer is called to renounce everything for Christ (Lk 14:33), but I’m talking about those accounts where someone tangibly gives up his occupation or his earthly possessions.
Think of Zacchaeus giving away half his goods, Matthew leaving his tax booth, or Peter, James, and John saying goodbye to their fishing nets and their families. The lesson from Scripture is clear: when we come to Jesus, He takes priority over everyone and everything else in our lives.
These encounters with Jesus are vivid pictures of His authority and the response we owe Him, truths which we must continue to trumpet in a culture, even a Christian culture, that thinks lightly of Christ’s lordship. However, it’s possible for us to read these encounters (out of context) and get the wrong impression: a one-time resolution to surrender everything for Jesus is not the whole of the Christian life.
Following Jesus is a daily pursuit. Simply look at the lives of His disciples, these men who left everything to follow their Lord, and you’ll find individuals who continued to struggle with sin, unbelief, and treasuring Christ above the opinions of men. Even after Pentecost, Peter had to be soundly and publicly rebuked by Paul for his hypocrisy (Gal 2:11-14). Not exactly a picture of a fully sanctified man!
Jesus speaks of this everyday aspect of following Him in Luke 9:23: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Taking up your cross is a day-in, day-out process that involves repenting of sin and trusting in Christ’s promises. It means continually putting to death your selfish desires and pursuing that which brings glory to Christ. And the good news is that God empowers us to do this with joy by His grace in the gospel. He declares us to be righteous once and for all at the moment of our conversion, but the process of becoming more like Jesus plays out over a lifetime.
In light of these truths, we don’t simply need to think of grand resolutions we plan to make for the kingdom someday (not a bad thing necessarily), but perhaps more importantly we need to ask questions like…
Am I daily dying to my sinful desires?
Am I daily trusting in Christ’s death and resurrection for my standing with God?
Am I resting in God’s provision instead of seeking security and happiness in other things?
These are the kinds of questions we’ll be led to ask in this upcoming Secret Church, “The Cross and Everyday Life.” We’ll be exploring how the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection affects everything about us, from the time we roll out of bed in the morning to the time our head hits the pillow at night. This is what it means to follow Jesus.
Will you join us in thinking through these important questions?
Posted on January 9th, 2014 by David Burnette
On the important topic of orphan care and reaching out to vulnerable children, be sure to check out the Know More Orphans Conference 2014. This conference will be held on March 7-8, 2014, at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL. The speakers include:
- David Platt
- Bryan Loritts
- Rick Morton
- Tony Merida
- Michael Monroe
- Maridel Sandberg
Here's an excerpt from the website:
The Church has always been God’s plan for building his kingdom, and this includes securing justice for the poor and most vulnerable. Altar 84 desires to work intimately with the Body of Christ to care for the least of these, the orphan. On Friday, March 7th and Saturday March 8th, 2014, Altar84’s kNOw More Orphans Conference will seek to unite the church community for the call to care for orphans and vulnerable children - right here and around the world. The conference will provide AWARENESS of God’s Word and his command to take ACTION.
Go here to register. Early Bird pricing ends January 17, 2014.
Posted on January 2nd, 2014 by Jonathan
Last month, the issue of Christian persecution was brought before the UK House of Commons. To those of you who, like me, may initially find it puzzling that such a topic would be discussed and debated in the British Parliament, this sobering statistic will make it clear why: an estimated 200 million Christians will be persecuted this year, while around 500 million live in “dangerous neighborhoods.” In the words of Member of Parliament Bob Neill, specifically addressing persecution of Christians living in the Arab world (perhaps the most dangerous of “neighborhoods”), “It is legitimate, as a matter of policy, for us to seek to use our leverage to change that situation.” However the issue is addressed, it is here before us all as 2014 begins.
Thankfully, this global issue is catching the eye of more than just the British Parliament. Recently on BreakPoint, Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet discussed a new book by John Allen titled The Global War on Christians. In a short four-part series (part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4) Metaxas and Stonestreet discussed a variety of topics covered in the book, ranging from the millions of Christians living in Muslim contexts, to Christian persecution from people with varied religious beliefs, to the rise of persecution in the West. If this short series doesn’t make you want to read Allen’s book, it will at least awaken your heart to the suffering of our brothers and sisters for whom persecution is far from myth or rumor.
And there are many who call persecution of Christians just that: myth and rumor. In reality, the notion that Christians aren’t persecuted or marginalized is the real myth. Timothy Shah (Fox News) recently showed this in an article that pinpointed some of the things that “cloud popular thinking” and make the general public blind to the hostility that Christians all over the world must endure on a daily basis.
All this in mind, here are some reminders for us this January:
- Persecution is real. Let’s be prayerful. (Jam 5:13) (1 Thes 5:17)
- Persecution is growing. Let’s be watchful. (Matt 24:9-13) (Col 4:2)
- Persecution is temporary. Let’s be hopeful. (Rom 8:18)
- Persecution is sometimes a sign of gospel advance. Let’s be thankful. (Phil 1:12-13) (Matt 24:14)
- Persecution is part of our identity with Christ. Let’s be joyful. (Rom 8:16-17)
This post was originally published on the Secret Church blog. Be sure to check it out of updates and information on the persecuted church as well as Secret Church simulcasts.
Posted on December 13th, 2013 by David Platt
(This post originally appeared the day after the tragedy in Newtown, CT on Dec. 14, 2012)
As a father of four children, the oldest one in first grade and the youngest one born just last week, my heart has been profoundly heavy since I first heard of the heinous massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. Like many others, I’m sure, my emotions have swung from sadness to anger and from shock to disbelief. Along with many others, I’ve found myself asking, “How do we respond to the story of a 20-year-old young man walking into an elementary school and in a matter of moments murdering 28 people, including 20 children? How do we react to such unexplainable horror amidst such indescribable grief?”
Inevitably, many people turn to God. Leaders from every arena of public life seem to offer their support and prayers to the families of victims. People participate in candlelight vigils, assemble for prayer gatherings, and stream into churches for counseling. Yet these apparent outward attempts to turn to God are often accompanied by deep inward struggles concerning the reality of God. At one moment, we find ourselves turning to God, yet in the next moment we find ourselves wondering, “Where is God? Does He even exist? And if He does, what kind of God is He to let this kind of thing happen?”
In the face of tragic evil, we naturally begin to ask two historic and personal questions—historic because they have been asked for centuries, and personal because they strike deep at the core of who we are…and who God is.
On one hand, we begin questioning God’s greatness, wondering, “Can He prevent evil?” Is God able to stop things like this from happening? This question was vocalized clearly in a bestselling book years ago by Rabbi Harold Kushner entitled When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Kushner had lost his son, and his grief drove him to question his traditional Jewish faith. Though a rabbi, Kushner came to believe that God simply didn’t have power to prevent his son’s death. Kushner wrote: “I can worship a God who hates suffering but cannot eliminate it, more easily than I can worship a God who chooses to make children suffer and die.” In the end, Kushner argued that God is doing the best He can under the circumstances, but He lacks the power to change what happens in this life. A similar idea drives various theologians today who believe that God hates evil, but He has no power to do anything about it. According to some, God is limited in the face of evil.
But even for those who affirm God’s limitless greatness, this answer seemingly leads us to question God’s goodness as we wonder, “Why does God permit evil?” After all, if God has the power to prevent evil, then why doesn’t He do it? If God had the power to stop the merciless killing of elementary school children, then why did He let it happen? On a larger scale, why would a good God allow millions of Jews or Chinese or Soviets to be systematically killed as they have been in world history? Or on a smaller scale, why does a good God allow horrible suffering that you may have personally experienced in your life?
These are questions that go far back in history. Epicurus, the Fourth Century philosopher, made the famous statement: “Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to…If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, and does not want to, he is wicked. But, if God both can and wants to abolish evil, then [why do we have] evil in the world?”
Now let me be clear: I’m not presuming to come on the scene of human history to solve this age-old problem and answer this age-old question. Nor am I assuming that what is needed in Newtown right now is a deep theological discussion on the problem of evil in the world. Particularly for moms, dads, family members, and friends who are mourning the loss of precious children and the priceless teachers who cared for them, what they need most is prayer and presence—the prayers of men and women across the church, and the presence of men and women who will love them, listen to them, weep with them, and walk with them through the long journey ahead.
Yet at the same time, moments like these often lead even Bible-believing Christians, in an effort to find explanations for what has happened, to unbiblical conclusions regarding what has happened. Amidst the emotional weight of our questions, we can unknowingly and subtly begin to undercut the biblical foundations that God has given us to stand on in this fallen world. So as many people grapple today (and as many pastors prepare to preach tomorrow) on these age-old questions, here is my humble attempt to identify four age-old truths that the Bible gives us to stand upon in times like these. These truths are grounded primarily in the biblical story of Job as he heard news of the sudden death of every one of his children, yet these truths extend throughout Scripture and apply throughout history. Listen to the story of Job, and then consider the truth of God’s Word.
Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and there came a messenger to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”
In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD. And the LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.”
So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes.
Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
1. Evil is tragically real.
This truth seems basic, almost too obvious to even need pointing out, but it is key. The Bible does not gloss over the tragic reality of evil. All over the Bible, and even here in the first two chapters of Job, we see both natural evil and moral evil. Natural evil includes events like natural disasters: hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis, many of which bring catastrophic losses of life. When we think about natural evil, we also think about suffering and death due to cancer, AIDS, other diseases. All of this is natural evil—evil that is not directly connected to something someone does to another person. That sort of evil would be moral evil, which is the category where we would put things such as wars, crimes, offenses, terrorist attacks…and school shootings.
Natural evil and moral evil are both involved here in Job’s story. In Chapter 2 it’s sores and disease all over Job’s body, and in Chapter 1 we see everything from foreign armies attacking Job’s property to a windstorm that collapses the house where his children are celebrating, killing all of them.
So first and foremost, we need to realize as we approach God’ Word that Scripture is not giving us trite answers here that suppose things are not all that bad. Scripture makes clear that things are that bad, and this is a world that is filled with evil on multiple levels.
Now it’s worth noting at this point that many people, in response to evil in the world, simply assume that there must not be a God. But the reality is that the very existence of evil actually points us to the existence of God. The existence of a conscience ingrained upon our minds and a moral law written upon our hearts is one of the classic proofs for the existence of God. If evil exists, it necessarily follows that good exists. The existence of good and evil then point us to a moral law which exists by which we understand (and classify) what is good and what is evil. This sense of morality (this sense of understanding the difference between good and evil) points us to a God who put this moral law on our hearts in the first place. Paul makes clear in Romans 2:12-16 that we all know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, because God has instilled this within us. The moral law written on our hearts points us to a Moral Law-Giver, God, who put it there. In this way, the very presence of evil (along with good and the differentiation between the two) points us to the existence of God.
Subsequently, the converse reality is true: If God does not exist, then good and evil do not exist. If there is no God, then there is no transcendent basis for understanding good and evil. We are simply products of chance and culture, with no rhyme, reason, ultimate meaning, or transcendent definition of what is good and what is evil. Listen to Richard Dawkins, an avowed atheist from Oxford, who expresses this reality in chilling terms: “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no other good. Nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.” What frightening words. It’s as if he would say, “This gunman in Newtown was neither evil nor good; he was simply dancing to his DNA.”
But we all know instinctively different. We all know that this was a heinous act of evil, and the very fact that we know this points us to the existence of a moral God who has put His law on each of our hearts, helping us to see, feel, and know the difference between that which is right and that which is wrong—that which is good and that which is evil. Scripture is clear: God exists, and evil is tragically real.
2. God is supremely great.
So is God able to prevent evil? Does He have power and authority over evil? Or is this a dualistic Star Wars-type world, where good and evil are fighting one another as equal forces in a cosmic battle? Is God supreme or not?
Scripture resounds with one answer to this question: Absolutely, God is supreme. He is supremely great. This truth is here in Job and all over Scripture. God is sovereign (meaning He has power and authority) over evil nations and rulers. Daniel 2:20-21 says, “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.” Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” When you read Isaiah 37:23-29, you hear God speaking to the Assyrians, and He tells them, “You think you have conquered nations and won wars and you think you are indestructible, but I hold you in my hand, and I am the One who directs your steps.” God has sovereign authority and power over all nations and rulers, including the most evil of them.
And God is sovereign over the devil and demonic spirits. Notice in Job 2 that Satan only does what he does to Job because he has permission. The power of Satan is limited by the prerogative of God. We see this clearly in Christ, for example, in Mark 5:6-10, when a demon-possessed man bows down before Jesus, afraid of Him, and Jesus sends a legion of demonic spirits from this man into a herd of pigs. Jesus speaks, and demons listen. Jesus speaks, and demons obey. For God has sovereign power and authority over the devil and demonic spirits. God is sovereign; Satan is not.
Further, God is sovereign over trials and temptations. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that God is able to keep us from being tempted beyond what we can bear. The trials that come our way, even as with Job, exist under the power and authority of God. Remember Jesus’ words to Simon Peter in Luke 22: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Don’t overlook the reality that Satan is not sovereign in the trials and temptations of Job’s life or Peter’s life or your life. Instead, God is sovereign over our trials and temptations.
Further, the Bible teaches that God is sovereign over both natural disasters and moral atrocities. Again, this is evident in Job 1-2 on both a natural and moral level, and later in the book. In Job 37:10-14, we see these words describing God’s sovereignty over storms: “The breath of God produces ice, and the broad waters become frozen. He loads the clouds with moisture; he scatters his lightning through them. At his direction they swirl around over the face of the whole earth to do whatever he commands them. He brings the clouds to punish men, or to water his earth and show his love. Listen to this, Job; stop and consider God’s wonders.” God, not Satan, is the ultimate ruler of the wind and the waves.
Ultimately, God is sovereign over disease and death. God’s sovereignty over disease is evident in Jesus’ ability to heal the sick throughout the New Testament, and God’s sovereignty over death is evident in the words of Deuteronomy 32:39: “See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand.” Scripture is clear: If the Lord wills, we will live. And if He doesn’t, we will die. Our lives are not ultimately in Satan’s hands; our lives are in God’s hands.
The testimony of Scripture, then, is clear: God is supremely great. It is impossible to believe God’s Word and disbelieve God’s power and authority—His sovereign reign and rule over all things. He is supremely great. So when we ask the question, “Is God great? Can He prevent evil?” the answer is, “Absolutely, God is great, and God is sovereign over evil.”
Now that immediately and inevitably leads us directly to the follow-up question: “Is God good?” And Scripture is just as clear on the answer to that question.
3. God is absolutely good.
But how can God be good, and at the same time, to use Job’s words, we receive evil? Consider how God relates to sin, evil and good in Scripture.
God relates to sin in many ways. At times in Scripture, we see that God prevents sin. There are passages in the Bible where God stops sin from occurring. In Genesis 20:6, God tells Abimilech, “I have kept you from sinning against me.” The psalmist prays in Psalm 19:13, “Keep your servant from willful sins; may they not rule over me.” This is a prayer for God to prevent sin, which God does. In 1 Corinthians 10:13, which we considered earlier, the Bible says that God will provide a way out from sin. He prevents sin.
At the same time, we sometimes see Scripture pointing to how God permits sin. The way this is often phrased in Scripture is in the language of God giving His people over to their sin. In Psalm 81:11-12, God says, “But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.” Then in Romans 1:24, Paul writes, “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another….Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts….Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.” So God permits sin in the sense that He gives us over to our sin.
At the same time, God also limits sin. Even here in Job 1-2, God puts a limit on what the devil and his demons can do to Job. And then God uses sin, meaning that God, in a very real sense, uses even evil to bring about good. This is evident in Genesis 50:19-20 when after Joseph’s brothers had sold him to slavery, Joseph says to his brothers: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” God accomplishes ultimate good even through evil.
Now we must be very careful here, in all of this, to realize that God never sins. God never directly causes sin, and He is never blamed for sin in Scripture. This is clear all over the Bible, and it’s summarized in James 1:13-15: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
This is hugely important. Though God is sovereign over even evil deeds, Scripture nowhere depicts God as directly doing anything evil. God is never stained by evil in any way. He is holy—even when He uses sin. John Calvin once wrote, “God so uses the works of the ungodly, and so bends their minds to carry out his judgments that he remains pure from every stain.” This is extremely significant because if we’re not careful at this point, we will fall off the threshold of Scripture very quickly. If we say that God Himself is evil, then we obviously deny His goodness, His righteousness, and His holiness. At the same time, if we say that God is so removed from evil that He is not in control (i.e., if we say that God was not sovereign over what happened in Newtown), then we say that there is evil in the universe that is not under His control, and in this way, God does not have all power, and His purposes may (or may not) be fulfilled. So we want to be careful to hold to what Scripture says and not to wander into what Scripture doesn’t say.
So then, how do we understand God’s relationship to both good and evil? Scripture is clear that God relates to good and evil in different ways. When it comes to good, as we’ve seen, everything that is good is under his sovereignty. God is good, Psalm 107:1 says. He does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked, but calls them to turn from evil, because He is good (Ezekiel 33:11). This is key: God does not take pleasure in evil, precisely because He is good. And everything that is good is morally attributed to him. In the words of James 1:17, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Everything that is good is morally attributed to Him…not us. When it comes to us, Romans 3:10-12 makes clear that among us “there is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Goodness is not attributed to us; goodness is attributed to God. This doesn’t mean we can’t do anything good, but it does mean that we can only do good because of the goodness of God toward us, in us, and through us. We’re secondary agents, and God is the primary agent in all that is good. Everything that is good is under his sovereignty and is morally attributed to him.
On the other hand, as we’ve already seen, everything that is evil is also under his sovereignty. God is sovereign over it all, which is what Job is pointing out when He says, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Yet while everything that is evil is under God’s sovereignty, nothing that is evil is morally attributed to him, meaning very simply that Scripture never charges God with evil. This is also evident here in Job. Right after Job says, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” verse 10 says, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” In the previous chapter, Job 1:22 says, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” Even amidst evil, which Job received ultimately under the sovereign hand of God, Job did not charge God with wrong. He acknowledged this evil was under the sovereignty of God, but He confessed that it did not impugn the goodness of God. Evil was not in any way attributed, credited, or charged to God.
This is all over Scripture. Evil, which exists under God’s sovereignty, is always charged to secondary agents, causes, and creatures, most notably people and demons (or specifically the devil). Talking about the sin of the people in Isaiah 66:4, God says, “They did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me.” That is key. You may start to think, “Well, that’s not fair. How can I be charged with evil when God is sovereign over evil, and yet God gets all the credit for good?” But this is where we find ourselves approaching the core of the gospel in Scripture, particularly as it pertains to the sinfulness of man. The Bible is clear that we (as men and women in a fallen world) are evil. According to Genesis 8:21, “Every inclination of our heart is evil from childhood.” As we saw in Romans 3, “There is no one righteous, no one who does good, not even one.”
Yes, God is sovereign over sin, but we are responsible for sin. Now there’s mystery when it comes to how God is in control over what we do, and yet the Bible is clear that we are making real choices with real responsibility. This is another one of those questions that has been asked throughout the ages, but Scripture makes clear that God is absolutely, utterly sovereign, and man is completely, totally responsible. So was God sovereign over what was happening when a gunman entered an elementary school? Yes, He was sovereign. At the same time, that gunman was entirely responsible for what he sinfully chose to do.
Evil is real, God is great, and God is good. You say, “Well, where does that leave us? Is there any hope here?” And this is where the gospel comes right to the heart of these questions that we ask in light of Newtown. Evil is tragically real, God is supremely great, God is absolutely good, and…
4. The cross is shockingly glorious.
These first three truths intersect in a shockingly glorious way at the cross of Jesus Christ, for at Calvary, we see tragic evil under the greatness of God in a beautiful display of the goodness of God.
Behold the cross, and see the goodness of God: He is present amidst evil. Oh, the wonder of what we celebrate at Christmas. God Himself enters an evil, sin-sick world and lives among a sin-sick rebellious people. A people who reject Him—who reject Christ, God in the flesh—and nail Him to a cross. And God Himself, in His Son, takes all the payment and punishment due sin and evil in your life and my life upon Himself.
This is shocking. Where else—in what other religious system—do you see the incomprehensibly great, indescribably good Creator taking upon Himself the payment due evil creatures? What love…what mercy…what greatness…what goodness. God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, God’s relationship to good and God’s relationship to evil—they all come together when we understand that God ordained the murder of His Son to be the means of our salvation. Listen to Peter’s words in Acts 2:22-23: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”
Did you see the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man in the murder of Christ? Is God sovereign over Christ’s murder? Yes. But who is responsible? “You crucified him…you killed him,” Peter says. Both are true: God is sovereign and man is responsible. Sinful men chose to crucify Christ under the sovereign wisdom of God. What a mystery…yet God ordains this for the salvation of sinful men. Oh, consider this: the very people who are crucifying Christ, in their sin, are providing for their own salvation. The very sins of the murderers are ultimately the means of their deliverance. This is shockingly glorious—that God is present amidst evil, and that Christ has taken the ultimate payment due sin and evil upon Himself. What goodness and love—that He is present amidst evil. That men, women, children, and families in Newtown, Connecticut, today, and all over a sin-sick world are not alone. God is not distant from us, but present with us. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses….Let us then draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).
And as you behold the cross, see also the greatness of God: He is victorious over evil. In the words of Acts 2:24, “God raised [Jesus] up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” Jesus overcomes the price of sin through the power of resurrection. Paul later exclaims in 1 Corinthians 15, “Death, where is your victory? Where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God, He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” By the power of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, we know that sin and evil do not have the last word in this world. Wars do not have the last word. Tragedy does not have the last word. School shootings do not have the last word. Crazed gunmen do not have the last word. By the power of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, a cosmic, loving Savior King will have the last word in this world.
When we consider all that Scripture teaches about God and evil, we are led inextricably to the gospel: the good news that God has taken the very worst thing that has ever happened in the history of the world (the death of His Son) and He has turned it into the very best thing that has ever happened in the history of the world (the salvation of sinners). Evil is tragically real, God is supremely great, God is absolutely good, and the gospel is shockingly glorious.
Such truths are not intended to rest in the theological realm; they are intended to transform our everyday lives, particularly in the midst of tragedy like we have seen in Newtown. In our contemplations and conversations in the coming days, let’s be careful at every point not to minimize the tragic nature of evil, and let’s be faithful in every opportunity to magnify the glorious character of God—both His greatness and His goodness. And in it all, let’s be intentional to affirm the central tenets of the gospel: that God, in His sovereign grace, has sent His Son into a world of sin to save us from ourselves, and through faith in His life, death, and resurrection, we can know that one day soon, God is going to wipe away every tear from our eyes, and sin and suffering will be no more (Revelation 21). No matter what happens in this world, we are confident that there is coming a day when we will forever worship God in His greatness, we will forever enjoy God in His goodness, and we will never experience evil again.
One other question many may ask in the aftermath of this tragedy pertains to whether young children who die go to heaven. A few years ago, right around Christmas time, I preached a funeral for a young child who died in our church in which I addressed this question. If you are interested in a transcript of this sermon, click HERE.
Posted on December 10th, 2013 by David Burnette
As you reflect on the significance of Christ’s coming this Christmas, allow me to make one suggestion that may actually add to your holiday cheer: Don’t begin in Bethlehem. That may sound scrooge-like, but hear me out.
Bethlehem looms large in our minds during Christmas, and rightfully so. The prophet Micah had predicted centuries earlier that a ruler would hail from this obscure town (Mic 5:2). As King David’s birthplace, Bethlehem would also be the scene of the Messiah’s birth. In that sense, it’s difficult not to think of Bethlehem this time of year. That’s fine, but don’t forget that the Christmas story was set in motion long before the nativity scene.
Bethlehem wasn’t the beginning.
Jesus spoke of the glory he had with the Father “before the world existed” (Jn 17:5). As the Second Person of the Trinity, He was in communion with the Father and the Spirit from all eternity. We’re even told that the world was created through Him (Jn 1:1; Col 1:16). To be sure, He took on flesh at a point in time, but His role in God’s plan of redemption did not begin in a manger in Bethlehem nearly 2000 years ago. Christ was not thrust on the scene unexpectedly. Out of His own free grace He set His sights on rebellious sinners like you and me before the foundation of the world. The eternal Word became flesh for us and for our salvation (Jn 1:14). This is the infinite grace of the Incarnation. And the nativity scene was our first glimpse.
As you reflect on Christ’s birth this Christmas and as you talk about it with others, be sure to include the little town of Bethlehem. But don’t start there: go back, much further back, and marvel at the One who planned the nativity scene from the beginning in order to rescue us from the judgment we deserve. Marvel at the grace of the Son of God who, as Paul says, “loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
Give thanks that in those dark streets of Bethlehem shone the Everlasting Light.
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