Category Archives: Scripture Meditation

Learning Obedience through Suffering

“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him…But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭5:8-9, 14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This is one of those passages in the Bible that is deceptively complex. I’ve read this passage before, but I think I have often missed some of the crucial truths buried within this passage. First of all, let’s take a closer look at some crucial parts of this passage.First of all, notice that the writer of Hebrews is talking about Jesus–the perfect, sinless God-man who always obeyed his Father. Second, allow me to highlight some important words in this passage:

“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect…”

Some important and puzzling questions arise from these words. Wasn’t Jesus already obedient to the Father? How can someone who is perfect and omniscient learn obedience? Doesn’t that imply that he was not sufficiently obedient at one point in time? How can someone who never sinned be made perfect? How could Jesus be more perfect than he already was? Does this mean that he lacked some aspect of perfection?

I think the key lies in the type of perfection and obedience that is being described here. Of course, Jesus was in one sense already perfect and obedient. He never sinned, even in his youth, and he never disobeyed the Father. But I don’t think the author is primarily talking about sin here–he is talking about the perfection of faith. To be sure, sinlessness and perfect faith are related very closely, but they’re not the same.

Sin is, to put it simply, doing something God forbids. But faith is taking an action or attitude that is rooted in a trust or belief that God will do what he says.  We see this in the definition of faith provided by the writer of Hebrews himself:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭11:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬

We see in this definition that belief is a crucial part of faith, but we also know from James that “Faith without works is dead.”  Furthermore, when we read on in the examples of faith provided by the author of the letter to the Hebrews we can see that all of his examples are people who demonstrated their belief with an action or attitude:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac…
By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph…

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents…

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin…

By faith [Moses] left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.

By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land…
[These people] through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭11:1, 17, 21, 23-25, 27-29, 33-38‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Notice that all of these examples of faith use action verbs (I.e., “offered, blessed, crossed, etc.”).  Faith is not merely belief, it is belief that results in action.  Jesus, while he was sinless, had to learn obedience and be made perfect just as we do because the perfection the author is talking about is perfection of faith.  Jesus’ faith was perfected through suffering.  He suffered as a homeless man trying to find food and shelter.  He suffered the rejection and persecution of the religious and political leaders of his time.  He suffered constant temptation by Satan, and no doubt, the temptations that accompany the lifestyle of a single man.  He suffered rejection and disbelief by his family and close friends.  He suffered the stresses of ministry and constant relocation.  He suffered the frustration of having to wait to begin his ministry until he was 3o.  He suffered knowing that many of his followers were only there for the miracles and free bread.  He suffered the weight of the knowledge of what was to come on the cross.  If ever a man on earth knew suffering, it was Jesus.  Isaiah describes the Messiah as “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3 ESV)

When Jesus began his ministry, he was perfectly sinless.  But he had not yet reached perfection of his faith.  That may sound strange, but perfect faith only comes through trials (See James 1:2-4 below).  Furthermore, Hebrews 5:14 seems to indicate that these trials (or “opportunities to practice discernment”) will be constant.  Why?  Because faith, unlike belief, requires action to be made complete.  For example, you can’t really say that you have faith that God will provide for your finances if you’ve never had to choose between being obedient to God in your finances (I.e., tithing) and paying your bills.  If there is no action accompanying the belief, then it’s just a hypothetical belief at best, or dead faith at worst.

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?…So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead…For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”

‭‭James‬ ‭2:14, 17, 26‬ ‭ESV‬‬

There is a significant lesson for us to learn in Hebrews 5.

If Jesus, the God-incarnate Messiah, was required to undergo trials of such severity and frequency in order to achieve the perfection of faith necessary to be obedient in the mission that the Father gave him, how much more trials are required for sinners such as you and I!

So many times when we undergo trials, we’re surprised by it.  Oftentimes it seems like pointless pain and suffering.  But for the believer, there is no such thing as pointless suffering!  All suffering, in the life of a believer, is designed by God to bring us in conformity to the image of his Son.  So, whatever suffering you may be enduring right now, know that God is with you in the midst of it and there’s a purpose behind it all.

Let these words of scripture sink into your heart as you meditate on what God is doing in your life:

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”

‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭4:12-13‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“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.”

‭‭James‬ ‭1:2-4‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. 

Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans‬ ‭8:16-39‬ ‭ESV

What verses or passages from scripture give you comfort when you’re suffering?  Share them with us in the comments below!

In Awe of His Grace!


For the past few months, we have prayed and prayed that God would help us to reach our goals and make the move to GIAL in July. But, as of June, we seemed to be a very long ways from that goal. While we originally felt like God was leading us to GIAL in July, the numbers simply weren’t adding up, and so we felt God had effectively shut that door.  This, in turn, left me a bit discouraged at the prospect of having to delay our training another six months, especially since balancing my job with my ministry and family had become increasingly difficult and was placing a lot of strain on our family. It seemed as if we were battling an unseen force that simply did not want us moving forward in our ministry!

But God’s timing is immaculate. About the time that I was struggling with all of this, I read a book that just so happened to discuss spiritual warfare (And the Word Came With Power, by Joanne Shetler). Then, our men’s ministry began a study on spiritual warfare called “The Invisible War.” Then our pastor began a sermon series on spiritual warfare! I’ve learned not to believe in coincidences, especially when they happen in rapid succession and in multiples. So, I realized that clearly God was trying to teach me an important lesson about spiritual warfare.

One night in men’s ministry, we briefly discussed a passage from Daniel 10, where Daniel has a vision of an angel after having fasted for 21 days. (“Coincidentally,” I did a 21 day fast modeled after Daniel’s fast in this passage earlier this year, which is the only fast I have ever done of that type and duration.)   In Daniel’s vision, the angel gives the reason for his delayed response, which gives a telling insight into the nature of spiritual warfare and answered prayers:

“Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia…”

Daniel 10:12-13 (ESV)

What I could not see in the midst of my struggles was that “from the first day that [I] set [my] heart to understand and humbled [myself] before [my] God, [my] words [had] been heard.” God had already answered my prayers. Perhaps he even dispatched an angel or two on my behalf!  Only heaven knows, but clearly there is a biblical precedent for such an idea. Whether God’s messengers were battling demons in the past couple months in order to bring about the next step in our ministry or not, I can’t be certain. But, I think that would explain a lot of the things that have been going on in our lives recently. Regardless, God has answered our prayers.

On Sunday, July 12, a generous ministry partner made a sizeable donation to our Wycliffe ministry. What they did not know was that their gift was exactly the difference between what we needed for our first semester of tuition, fees, and books at GIAL and what we had saved! The very next morning (Monday), I received an email from the Admissions department at GIAL, offering me a $1,200 scholarship if I would begin classes next week (July 22)! Jennifer and I were blown away. Could God really be moving things so that we could go to GIAL in July, like we had prayed? We prayed about it, thought about it, and consulted some of our partners for advice and prayers.  While we had enough money for our first semester, we wouldn’t have any for the second semester. Plus, we were only at 49% of our ministry budget, and we needed to be at 80% to afford our living expenses. On top of that, the fully furnished home we had reserved was rented out, and wouldn’t be available until December 21. There were other concerns we had, but those were the big ones. When we went to sleep that night, we were still very unsure about where God was leading us.

Tuesday morning we received a lot of feedback from our partners. Some encouraged us to “Go for it!” while others advised caution. Their advice was extremely helpful, but definitely served to illustrate the conundrum we were in. Around noon on Tuesday, we had found a possible housing solution, but it wasn’t great, and we had also discovered that childcare would be expensive. Fearing that this would place an even greater strain on our already greatly stretched budget, we were about to decide that we would just stay in Arkansas. And then the phone rang. It was the GIAL Housing department calling to inform us that a generous homeowner had just called in his home for rent while he was in China for a year. It was 3 bedrooms, 2 baths with a garage and a yard. Best of all, he wanted some Wycliffe missionaries to stay in it RENT FREE and just pay utilities!!! We were completely blown away. The drastic reduction in our expenses meant that we could afford to live off of about 60% of our budget while we were at GIAL! Just that day, one new partner had joined, and another increased their giving, putting us at 53%, well within range of what we would need and be able to raise in the next couple months. Plus, that meant that we would soon have a surplus, which we could save for our second semester tuition and our other launching expenses! Jennifer and I knew that we couldn’t say “no” to that, so we accepted and began making arrangements to move to Dallas in less than a week.

I sit here tonight having finished one day of packing, with only three more days to finish packing for the move to Dallas, completely flabbergasted at God’s provision. Why he would care for little old me is completely beyond my understanding. I’ve been humbled to the point of tears several times today. Today, a friend from church came and folded and stuffed our paper newsletters for us, Jennifer’s mom and aunt helped us pack, another church friend gave us $200 for moving expenses and took our newsletters to be stamped and delivered, and the men’s ministry at church prayed over me.

I am in awe of God’s grace. I don’t deserve this kind of lavish grace! I’m just a sinner! Who am I that God should bless me like this!?!? I’m nobody! I feel like Isaiah in chapter six when he was confronted with God’s glory: “I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” I’m so humbled by his grace.

Why would we give our lives to serve as missionaries in the jungles of Papua New Guinea? It’s not just because there are lost people out there.  There are lost people here, too.  It’s not because we’re adventurous–we’re not, really. It’s because this is the kind of God we serve, and we want our lives to show that he’s worth it!   He’s the kind of God who lavishes grace on “such a wretch as I.” And once you’ve met Jesus, there’s just nothing worth living for but him. He has saved me, given me a hope and a future, given me a purpose in life, forgiven my unforgivable sins, and adopted me as a son into his family, granting me an inheritance that is beyond comprehension! And just like Isaiah, the only response I can give to his grace is: “Here am I, Lord, send me!”
***Update: Since writing this post last night, we found out that I have been granted an additional $500 scholarship, and another new monthly partner just joined out team!  God is good.

What God is teaching me in the wait

Let’s face it–nobody likes to wait.  But waiting is a part of life.  Since I felt God calling me into the ministry when I was 14, I’ve been waiting to see exactly what that ministry would look like.  In the following 12 years, God has begun to reveal some of the details about the ministry he has for me, but we still have not yet began the actual process of translating scripture, and won’t for some time.  God has called us to serve in Bible translation with Wycliffe Bible Translators, but there are many steps in the journey before we can begin the process of translation.

Waiting can be frustrating at times.  “God, why can’t I just ________?  Why am I waiting right now?  What am I waiting for?  Why aren’t things happening when I thought they would?”  But, through the years and even the past few months of waiting, God has taught me some valuable lessons about waiting that I’d like to share with you so that perhaps you might be encouraged by the thread of grace in your wait.

1.  God’s timing is perfect.

It may seem cliche’, but it’s true.  To quote one of my favorite Bible teachers in my church, David Wagnon, “We’re just not that smart!”  You and I simply do not have see all the pieces in this grand puzzle called life.  In hindsight, I’m very grateful that God made me wait for some things.  Had God followed my timeline instead of his divine plan, I would not be married to my wonderful wife.  I would not have been given this wonderful ministry.  Frankly, my life would be a wreck!   Galatians 4:4 says, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son…”  The Earth waited thousands of years for the perfect timing of the Messiah.  Jennifer and I will get to the mission field exactly when God plans–not a moment sooner, nor a moment later.  God is always right on time.

2.  God is glorified most when things go by HIS schedule, not OURS.

Think about the Exodus.  The Hebrews were rejoicing that God had finally freed them from the tyranny of their Egyptian masters.  Then, while their backs are up against the Red Sea, here comes the Egyptian horde!  Now, of course we know how the story ends.  God parts the Red Sea and the Hebrews walk through on dry ground with the Egyptian army close on their tail.  Just as the Hebrews clear the sea, God releases the waters and the Egyptian army is destroyed.  (I’m particularly fond of the portrayal of this scene in the animated film Moses: Prince of Egypt.)

Now here’s a question you may have never thought to ask–couldn’t God have parted the Red Sea before the Hebrews arrived so that they could have just meandered through at a more leisurely pace without the Egyptian army breathing down their necks?  The Egyptian army would have arrived just in time to see Israel safely on the other side of the sea with absolutely no way of pursuing them.  (No doubt they would have been puzzled at how two million Hebrews crossed such a body of water!)  God’s people still would have been saved, and they wouldn’t have had to face the threat of death.  Why did God wait until the last moment, when it seemed there was absolutely no hope of escape?  I think the answer lies in Romans 9:17, “For Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.'”

Our lives serve one primary purpose–to bring glory and honor to our Creator.  For those like Pharaoh who spurn him, God gets glory in their perfectly timed and executed judgment.  For those like Moses who seek his face, God gets glory in their salvation in his perfect timing.  God gets glory when things happen on his seemingly impossible timeline!  Have you ever experienced an Exodus moment, where just in the nick of time God provides exactly what you needed?  That is God using you for what you were created–to bring him glory.

Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible. There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible. Faith begins where man’s power ends.  –George Mueller

3.  God has placed you in this time and location in history for a ministry that only you can do.

Despite the fact that I am not yet in the process of translating scripture for a Bibleless people group, that doesn’t mean that I have not yet begun my ministry.  One important lesson that I’ve learned over the years is that I am NEVER to wait to begin my ministry.  It is true that I am waiting in a sense–waiting to move to Dallas to begin linguistic training, then waiting to move overseas and begin translation, and then I’ll be waiting to learn the language, etc.  But, I am not to sit idly by and wish I could be doing ministry!  Every time I share with individuals and churches about the need of Bibleless people groups, I am ministering–both as an advocate for the Bibleless and as an encourager to the church in America!  That’s ministry, and it’s an awesome ministry!  While it is true that I have not yet begun the next phase of my ministry, I cannot fall into the trap of thinking of my ministry as some future destination–it’s more of a journey with many different phases along the way.

God has gifted every single Christian with spiritual gifts that he intends for us to use wherever and whenever he has placed us.  In that sense, we should never be “waiting” to serve, but rather look for opportunities to serve right where we are, even in the midst of the waiting.  If you currently feel like you’re “waiting” to start your ministry, I encourage you to ask yourself this question: “What ministry opportunities might God be wanting me to take advantage of right here and now?  Who has God placed in my life to whom I can minister?  How can I use my spiritual gifts right where I am?”  

4.  Slow down, be patient, and be thankful for this time in your life.  It will soon be gone. 

Our natural instinct when waiting is to try to find a way to make the waiting happen more quickly.  But in so doing, we often miss a lot of important blessings that God has put in our wait.  For instance, Jennifer and I are currently waiting to begin our training in Dallas, TX at the Graduate Institute for Applied Linguistics (GIAL).  We had originally hoped to begin our training in July, but we have shifted our goal back to January in order to give us enough time to more fully develop our team of ministry partners.  While I am anxious to get to PNG soon so that we can begin the process of Bible translation, six months is not a lot of time and it will pass quickly.  I could look at this time as just a delay, or I could choose to see it as a blessing.

We have precious little time left here with our family, friends, and our church.  Once we’re gone, it could be more than three years until we see many of those people again–and some we may never see again this side of heaven.  We have counted the cost and we’re aware of the sacrifices, but perhaps it’s God’s grace that we be delayed a little while so that Jennifer can have our second little boy (Isaiah James Hill, eta Septwmber 22!) while we are here in Arkansas, surrounded by family and loved ones. Perhaps it’s God’s grace giving us six more months here with the family, friends, and church we love.  Something tells me that there will be days ahead when we will long for a few extra moments with loved ones.

5.  God uses times of waiting to strengthen us and mold us into the servants he needs us to be. 

Think of the godliest people in the Bible.  Who comes to mind?  Moses?  David?  Jesus?  Paul?  Do you know what they all have in common?  Every single one of them went through a long period of waiting to begin their ministry.  

Moses waited 40 years in Midian before beginning his ministry of leading the Hebrews out of Egypt.  Then, he wandered in the wilderness with them for another 40 years (because of their disobedience) and ultimately died in the wilderness without ever entering the Promised Land.  According to  II Samuel 5:4, “David was thirty years old when he began to reign” and he was probably about 15 when Samuel first anointed him king, which means that David waited 15 years to become king of Judah, and then an additional seven years to rule over Israel!  Jesus himself didn’t begin his official ministry until he was 30!  Paul waited over three years after his conversion to go back to Jerusalem (Galatians 1), and didn’t begin his missionary journeys for several years after that.  I could go on…

Why is it that all of the godliest men in the Bible waited to begin their ministry?  Of all people, why did Jesus himself wait so long?  He knew exactly what ministry he was called to–couldn’t he have started when he was 20?

Hebrews 5:7-9 gives us an important–and startling–explanation:

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.  Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.  And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him..”

Pay close attention to what you just read–Jesus learned obedience and was made perfect…Does that surprise you?  Wasn’t Jesus already obedient?  Wasn’t he already perfect?  Here’s another surprising verse from  Luke 2:40:

“And the child [Jesus] grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.”

Now it’s no surprise that Jesus grew–he was human, after all.  But this verse seems to indicate that Jesus grew in wisdom, too.  Jesus learned obedience, was made perfect, and became strong and filled with wisdom.  Wasn’t Jesus already perfect?  In the sense of “sinlessness,” yes–absolutely.  Wasn’t Jesus already obedient?  To the commands he had received at that point in time, yes.  Wasn’t Jesus already wise?  For his age, yes.  But there were bigger commands and tougher temptations yet to come.  Jesus had not yet been tested with the cross.  Before he would be ready to endure the shame and agony of the cross, he had to endure the agony of a 40 day fast.  Before he could perfectly obey his heavenly Father as an adult, he had to obey his earthly father as a child.  Before he could fulfill his ultimate Ministry to the world, he had to be faithful in his immediate ministry to his family.  Just as a good earthly father does not give his 5 year old son a 100 lb. load to carry, the Heavenly Father, out of his love, never gave his Son more than he could handle at that point in his physical and spiritual development.

So here’s the point:

If it was necessary for Christ himself to undergo 30 years of waiting, trials, and refinement to become the person that the Father needed him to be to endure his ministry and the cross, how much more waiting and refinement do you and I need!  In our zeal, we are eager to do God’s will–and rightly so!  But we can’t begrudge the times of refinement that God uses to develop us into the person that we need to be in order to carry out that will!  God knows the type of character we need for the ministry he has given us, and he oftentimes uses the periods of waiting in our lives to prepare us.  We may think we’re ready, but only God knows when we’re truly ready, for only he knows what the future holds.

So what is God trying to do in your life to prepare you for the next step?  What character traits is he trying to develop in you?  What sins is he trying to purge from your life?  How is he teaching you to depend upon Him?

Waiting is not always pleasant, but perhaps if you look hard enough, you’ll see the thread of grace in your wait.

Something worth giving your life for

In the last few weeks, I have been surprised to find that there are actually quite a few people out there who are as crazy as we are.  I’m growing quite accustomed to puzzled looks when I tell people that we’re missionaries and plan to move to the jungles of Papua New Guinea.  I’m getting used to people describing our ministry as a “mission trip,” as if we will only be gone for a couple weeks, and I usually just laugh it off when someone incredulously replies, “You’re going to be gone how long?!?!
But in the past few weeks, there have been a couple of responses that have surprised me.  After speaking briefly with one lady, I was shocked to hear her reply: “I know you’re not supposed to envy, but I can’t help but wish I could go back to my 20’s and do what you’re doing!  Another man I spoke with lamented how he’d always wanted to go into missions, but was unable to do so because his wife had left him and remarried, and the mission agency he was interested in wouldn’t accept divorcees.
Not long ago, a group of people were getting a tour of the Wycliffe JAARS center for aviation in Waxhaw, North Carolina. The host showed a film and told how the Bible translators were entering a new language group every nine days and publishing a New Testament every 17 days. She told stories of how the translated Word of God had power to transform lives, and in many places was transforming whole communities.
At the end of her presentation she asked if there were any questions. An old gentleman stood up in the back of the room. His eyes were brimming with tears. It took him a moment to compose himself so he could speak.
“Yes, I have a question,” he said, “What do you do when you are 85 years old and for the first time learn about something worth giving your life to?”

As a young Wycliffe member, I’ve had to ponder my response to situations like these.  My heart breaks for the old man who finds himself nearing the end of his life only to realize his life has been wasted in vain pursuits.  And for the lady who regretfully wishes she had followed a different path in life.  And for the man who finds himself thrust into a position where he is disqualified for the ministry he longs for.  What can you say?

After the Israelites had conquered most of the promised land under Joshua’s lead, Joshua began portioning out the land to the 12 tribes.  In Joshua chapter 14, Caleb comes to Joshua with a special request.  Caleb recounts the story of how, when he was forty years old, he had spied out the land under Moses’ lead and brought back a favorable report.  While the other spies bemoaned the impossibility of the task, Caleb confidently asserted, “God will be with us!  We can do this!”  Nevertheless, the Israelites fearfully and disobediently refused to obey God, and God cursed them to wander in the wilderness for forty years until the entire generation, except Caleb and Joshua, died off.  Because of his obedience and faith, Moses promised a section of hill country to Caleb as his inheritance.  Now an old man, Caleb cashes in the promise:
“Now then, just as the LORD promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the wilderness. So here I am today, eighty-five years old!  I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then.  Now give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.”
Joshua 14:10-12
Whether or not Caleb could actually still bench press what he could when he was 40, his faith was every bit as strong.  He knew that God was the source of victory, not his own might, and that God could use an 85 year old man just as well as he could a 40 year old man.  Instead of looking back on the 45 years wasted wandering around in the desert, Caleb looked up at the fortified hill and said, “See that hill up there?  Let’s go take it for God.”
If you’re reading this, then you’re life is not over.  You may have regrets and you may wish you had spent your life differently.  But if you’re still breathing, then God has a purpose for your life.  Perhaps God will enable you to give more generously than you ever thought possible.  Perhaps he will lead you to be a prayer warrior like Joshua, whose prayer for the sun to stand still in Joshua 10 was granted!  Or, perhaps God will lead you to pack up your bags at the ripe old age of 85 and move overseas!  Regardless, when God reveals something worth giving your life for, then give your life for it.  Charge the hill for Jesus.

Where is your treasure?

When we lived in Louisville, I delivered pizzas part time to help make ends meet while I was taking classes at Seminary.  I got to meet all kinds of people and it was, oddly enough, a pretty enjoyable job!  But, let’s face it–pizza delivery isn’t going to make you rich.  After paying for tuition and books, I usually felt like the little boy with two fish desperately hoping God would somehow multiply my meager earnings so we could just pay the bills.

So, over time I began to struggle with jealousy.  I often delivered pizzas to homes that were quite extravagant.  And while I couldn’t always tell whether or not the owner was a believer, sometimes it was quite clear that they weren’t!  (Or at least weren’t acting like one at the time!)   Here I was trying to serve God and follow his lead, and it was all I could do just to pay the bills!  I remember one house that was especially lavish.  It had all the custom trimmings, a perfectly manicured and landscaped lawn, and you couldn’t help but be intimidated by its grand entryway.  Yet for all its extravagance, it sat in the shadow of the house across the street.  Literally.  The neighborhood was in a hilly area of town and the house across the street sat up much higher on the hill, so when the sun set the home literally sat in the shadow of the castle across the street.  It kind of made me chuckle a bit.  These folks had spent who knows how many years accumulating their wealth and saving up to build their dream home, and then along comes the Jones’ who build an even bigger house on the hill!  Every time they walk out the front door, they have to crane their neck upwards and block the sun with their hand just to see their neighbor’s home.

Now there’s nothing wrong with being rich.  Job was rich, and he was a godly man.  Furthermore, there’s not necessarily any spiritual benefit to being dirt poor.  There’s nothing necessarily unspiritual about owning stuff–as long as your stuff doesn’t own you.  And, on the flip side, there’s nothing necessarily spiritual about NOT owning stuff, because your NOT owning stuff CAN own you.

Just take a look at the warnings Jesus gives in Matthew 6:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” [Mat 6:19-25, 31-34 ESV]

Jesus’ warnings here don’t only apply to the wealthy.  In fact, who is more likely to worry about where their next meal is going to come from or what they will wear tomorrow–the rich or the poor?  Jesus isn’t only warning against piling up treasures on earth, but also against coveting such treasures.  Jesus’ focus was on what< you treasure, not on how much treasure you have.  I’ve met relatively poor people who treasure material possessions and worldly comfort more than some rich people!  (And I have been such a person, too.)

The reason that Jesus spends so much time talking about money is because money and material possessions betray our true passions in life.  The way we spend our time and money reveals a lot about what we value, or “treasure,” here on earth.  It reveals our perspective on life.  Many people skip over verses 22-23 , because they’re difficult to understand, but they state exactly that:

The eye (i.e.–perspective on money) is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye (i.e.–perspective on money) is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye (i.e.–perspective on money) is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.

How many of us walk around filled with worldly darkness with our spiritual growth stunted because our “eye” is bad?  Oh that God would open our eyes to see the way he sees!  Why do we treasure money and material comforts which will all be destroyed instead of treasuring the eternal God?  We ought to treasure him and the things which he treasures, namely, human souls!

As Jennifer and I are preparing for service with Wycliffe, one of the obstacles we have to overcome is our debt.  Some of our debt is from educational loans, but some of it is from chasing our own little American dream.  After years of praying for God to reveal his will to me for my career path in ministry, God finally revealed it this January at Total it Up (A weeklong Wycliffe “orientation” of sorts).  Unfortunately, because of my “bad eye” in the past, our ability to move forward with Wycliffe has been delayed until we can pay down our debt.  Suddenly this passage came to life. I began to hear God asking me, “Jason, what do you treasure? Do you treasure me and following my will, or do you treasure your gas-guzzling four wheel drive truck? What about your comfort–could you live in a smaller place if it meant being able to get the gospel to those who have never heard sooner?” My accumulation of worldly treasures was preventing me from inheriting the eternal treasures God had promised. I wrestled with it it for a while, until I read this:

And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”‘ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” [Luke 12:15-21 ESV]

I don’t ever want to face God and hear the words, “You fool!”  Could we get to the field without having to sell our possessions?  Perhaps eventually, but how many of the people to whom we will be sent would perish without having heard the gospel in that time?  If my soul is required of me tonight, do I want to be still clutching to my stuff when I face God, knowing that I treasured money instead of God?

… 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. 32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. [Luke 12:31-32 ESV]

Over the last couple years, God has slowly replaced the worldly treasures in my life with himself.  It’s been a slow, and at times, painful process.  But the difference is astounding.  Once I finally let go of those possessions that possessed me, the jealousy that had consumed me was replaced with a fiery passion to see the gospel go to the nations. It was so freeing!  The idea that years from now I might possibly have the privilege of handing a completed New Testament to a people who previously had no scripture is beyond my capability to express in words.  Now, my passion is God, his Word, and his Kingdom.  I think that were I able to trade lives with those whom I coveted before I would find myself saying, “This is it?  This is what I wanted?  I’m supposed to be satisfied with this?!?!”  I don’t want to settle for the American Dream.  I want God’s Dream.  The American Dream is too small.  I’ve been given a taste of God’s passion for the nations and I can’t imagine settling for anything less. But, it took God prying away those idols from my life so that he could change my unwilling heart into a heart that he could use. Please don’t misunderstand–I had nothing to do with this.  God alone deserves the credit.  But by God’s grace, I now treasure him–not as I should, of course, but more than I once did.

God has a purpose for your life, and it’s not for you to fulfill your American Dream.  He has bigger plans for you than that.  He wants to give you the Kingdom!  Don’t settle for fool’s gold.  He alone is the true treasure, the only thing worth living for.  What’s your treasure?

 

Please excuse any ads that may appear below my posts.  I cannot control them or prevent them from appearing, and I know that sometimes they can be offensive.

Suffering Well

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.

Job 1:20-22

This Thanksgiving, we take time to be grateful for all that we have been blessed with.  But for many, the holiday season is not such a joyful time.  Many people around us are suffering through tragic losses and difficult times.  Each of us, at some point in our lives, will go through similar experiences of suffering.  All of us will, most likely, suffer financial difficulty, health problems, and the loss of loved ones.  It’s not really a matter of “if,” but “when.”  But isn’t it interesting that we don’t all react the same way, even when our problems are basically the same as everyone else’s?  Why is it that some people seem to collapse when tragedy strikes, while others blossom?

There’s a few things from the story of Job in the Old Testament that we can learn about suffering.  But first, let’s take note of a few of the most important details in the story.  First of all, notice that Job’s suffering was not a result of sin that he had committed.  Job is described as being “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” (v. 1) We shouldn’t assume from that truth that our own suffering is never a result of our sin—oftentimes it is!  Take a speeding ticket, for example.  Ultimately, all suffering is indirectly caused by sin, because sin has ravaged the perfect creation that God made.  But suffering is not always caused directly by our sin.  Sometimes bad things happen to godly people.

Secondly, notice what Job lost.  First, Job lost his oxen and donkeys.  Oxen were the combines of that day, so this loss would be similar to loosing one’s livelihood and food source simultaneously.  No oxen, no food.  Secondly, Job lost his sheep.  Sheep were used for sacrifices to God, clothing (from the wool), and perhaps for food as well.  The third thing Job lost was his camels—his primary mode of transportation.  Last, and most importantly, Job lost his family.  All seven sons and three daughters were killed when the roof over their head collapsed during a feast.  And, while he was still mourning the loss of these, he was stricken with boils on his skin.  In the span of just moments, Job lost his job, his food, his clothing, his transportation, his children, and his health.

Thirdly, notice that there were things going on “behind the scenes,” in the spiritual realm, that Job was not privy to.  Now, we don’t know for sure why God allowed Satan to afflict Job.  Certainly God could have prevented Satan from doing so, but for whatever reason, he decided to permit Satan to afflict Job to a certain extent.  Perhaps God was trying to grow Job’s faith.  That certainly is one of the outcomes of this whole ordeal.  But while that may be the case, I tend to think that the purpose of Job’s afflictions was for our spiritual benefit.  We get a behind the scenes look at suffering that we don’t get anywhere else in scripture.  So perhaps one of the greatest lessons we learn through Job is that sometimes our suffering is the means God uses to encourage others during their suffering.  Because of the introduction of sin into the world, suffering is an inevitable part of life.  But when Christians endure suffering well, we show through our testimony that there is hope in the midst of crisis for those who are in Christ.

But how do we “suffer well?”  The answer lies in Job’s response to his suffering.  Job’s first reaction to suffering was both grief and worship.  Now Job’s grieving comes as no surprise to us, given all that he had lost.  But worship?!?!  God had just allowed unspeakable disaster to strike Job, and all Job had ever done was live a godly life!  Of course, Job wasn’t without sin, but even God himself describes Job as “blameless and upright.”  How could Job resist the incredible urge to blame God for his suffering?  Job was able to suffer well because he had developed a godly character long before tragedy struck.  Job didn’t wait around for disaster to hit and then look in the “What to read when you are suffering” appendix in his Bible.  Job didn’t have to frantically scramble around asking advice from godly people on how to endure suffering.  Job didn’t wonder what kind of God would allow such suffering.  Job didn’t question God’s character because Job already knew God’s character.  The time to figure out how to handle suffering is not when you’re in the middle of it—the best time to figure that out is when things are good.  Job could worship God in the middle of suffering because he had made up his mind long beforehand that he would do so.  Job had a faith “emergency fund” that he’d been saving up for years, funded by the realization that every blessing was a gift from God.

Job recognized that “the Lord gave…” When times were good, Job didn’t take it for granted.  Job realized that his oxen, sheep, camels, servants, wealth, health, and family were all gifts from God that he didn’t deserve.  That’s why Job prayed for his children after every feast—because he realized that his family’s health and wellbeing was simply a product of God’s grace and mercy.  Job was able to weather the storm because he practiced a lifestyle of thanksgiving.  Job didn’t worship God because God had taken all of these blessings away from him; Job worshiped God because that’s just what Job did—he worshiped God.  Every day.  Continually.  Every blessing that Job received he praised God for.  Every ox, every donkey, every sheep, every servant, every penny of his wealth, every son, every daughter, every moment, every hour.

You see, when we stop taking things for granted and start praising God for every blessing we have, then our attitude changes.  Instead of feeling that God owes us all these things—that we’re entitled to God’s blessings—we begin to see God’s blessings for what they are: grace.  Blessings from God are his grace—unmerited favor.  Suffering is not when God steals things from us that belong to us (our health, family, wealth, etc.), it’s when God simply takes back what was rightfully his to begin with.  If the Lord gave, then the Lord has the right to take away.  And it helps to keep in mind the truth of 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 never takes back his blessings just for the fun of it.  There’s always a purpose, and it always works together for our good.

So how do you suffer well?  You start right now—especially if things are going well.  You live a life of thanksgiving—not just one day every year.  You suffer well by making every day Thanksgiving Day.  And then when tragedy strikes you simply repeat what you say every day: “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Your Problem is Worse Than You Think

“He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’ He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”(Mark 7:6, 7, 20-23 NIV)

Today as I was reading Mark 6-7, this passage where Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for their traditionalism jumped out at me. The Pharisees have just criticized Jesus and his disciples for ignoring the tradition of ceremonial hand washing before eating, which symbolized spiritual cleanness. Jesus responds by rebuking their philosophy of traditionalism and their propensity toward substituting their traditions for the commands of God. He also states that it is not what one brings into their body which defiles a person, but what comes out of their body which defiles a person.
Since this passage mainly deals with the errors of traditionalism, I have often missed a more subtle but profound truth hidden in these verses. Jesus says that sin–and he cites the examples of adultery, sexual immorality, murder, greed, etc.–comes from the heart, not from things external to oneself.

This reminds me of a very helpful sermon illustration that I believe John Piper once used. I have adapted it here. Imagine going to a doctor because of a fast heart rate. You tell the doctor, “Doc, I think I may have high blood pressure or something. I just can’t seem to get my heart to calm down.” The doctor reviews your symptoms and takes your blood pressure. He replies, “Well, your blood pressure is a little off, so why don’t we run an MRI just to see what we can find.” You feel that’s entirely unnecessary–you’re guessing that you just have high cholesterol and need to eat better and exercise more–but you consent because the doctor says so.

A few days later, the Doc calls you into the clinic to discuss the results. Imagine your horror to discover that it’s not high cholesterol, but a deformed, diseased heart which is causing your symptoms. Most of us would agree that this discovery is very bad news.

Here’s the thrust of what Jesus was saying to the Pharisees, and to you and me: we have a dangerous tendency to downplay the severity of our sin. We tend to think, like the Pharisees, that we can simply perform a few ceremonial rituals (i.e., go to church, tithe, etc.) and be declared clean in God’s sight. Or, like the cardiology patient, we tend to self-medicate our sin with diet and exercise in a futile attempt to lower our blood pressure or relieve the symptoms. If we are willing to admit that we have sin–and often we are not–we usually fail to see its severity and, therefore, resort to inadequate means of dealing with our sin. We go to church, read self-help books (even Christian ones!), and we try to eliminate external temptations for our sins. All of these things are good, but they fail to address the root of the problem of our sin. By themselves, they’re no more effective than taking ibuprofen for a brain tumor or changing your diet to fix a deformed heart.
Jesus said that our sins cannot simply be washed off in a ceremonial cleansing. The horrible news is that our condition before God is far, far worse than we could have ever imagined. We have a sinful, deformed heart. We don’t need medication, we need a heart transplant. Without such a transplant, the result of our sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Do you struggle with “sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly?” Jesus says “it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come.” You and I struggle with sin because we have sick hearts and we are in desperate need of the Healer.

While this is decidedly bad news, there is an element of hope in it. At least now that we know the severity of our true condition we can properly treat it! At least now we know better than to expect diet and exercise alone to fix our heart. What you and I need is for God to give us a new heart. We need new desires, new passions, new eyes to see and new ears to hear.
The good news? That’s exactly the business in which Jesus thrives.

When we give our lives to Christ, Jesus gives us a new, restored heart with new desires and longings. I was, at first, puzzled by the name of John Piper’s ministry: Desiring God. I used to think it was an odd name for a ministry. But, I’ve since come to realize that a burning passion and desire for God is exactly how you and I can live our lives in such a way that brings us the most happiness and God the most glory. Why? Because we desire sin least when we desire God most. But, unfortunately, that heart is still often plagued by sin. We live in a fallen world, and until we are reunited with Christ in heaven, we will always struggle with sin. But, rather than give up, we ought to pray for a renewed heart every day–a heart for God and His glory.

I struggle with sin every day. I battle it. And, I need those external temptations removed; I need diet and exercise for the soul. But that alone will not suffice. Washing my hands won’t clean my heart. My external religious observances are necessary and good, but they are worthless unless they proceed from a clean and pure heart. Let us recognize the severity of our state before an almighty and holy God, lay aside our futile efforts to wash away our sins externally, and pray as David did when he had sinned:

Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me … You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:9, 10, 16, 17 NIV)

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart… (Psalm 24:3, 4 NIV)

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. (Matthew 23:25, 26 NIV)