How can I know God is for me when all this bad stuff is happening?

As conditions worsen with regard to the coronavirus, many people are panicking. In large part, it seems to me that the media is highly responsible for a lot of fear-based decision making. God does not want His children to be driven by fear. He wants us to be driven by faith (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:7). With so many negative reports in the news today, it is challenging to maintain a life of faith. We may succumb to this bombardment of sensationalism and begin to doubt if God is really on our side. A lie that the enemy likes to whisper in a Christian’s ear when bad things are happening is, “God is against you.” Do you ever have thoughts like that? I certainly do.

The truth God has given us to combat this lie is found in Romans 8:31 where the apostle Paul writes: ““If God is for us [and He is], who can be against us” (8:31)? When we think someone is against us, God says, “Since I am for you (and no one is greater than Me), no one can successfully oppose you!” This includes the coronavirus, those in authority over us, family, friends, and even the devil and his demonic armies. As a preacher once said, “One plus God is  always a majority.” Does it always feel this way? No. But our feelings do not always tell the truth.

You may respond, “But God, how do I know You are for me?” Paul writes, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things” (8:32)? When we were enemies of God, He gave us His own Son to die in our place (Romans 5:6-8). If God gave us His best when we were at our worst, how much more will He give us now that we are His beloved children!?!

God the Holy Spirit wants to apply these truths beyond our thoughts to the depths of our soul and spirit so that even when bad and painful things happen to us, we will still know deep down inside that God is for us. He is on our side. God is our biggest fan despite what we hear from our antagonists, including our own flesh. Therefore, there is no longer any reason to live in fear.

How do we replace this lie (and others) with God’s truth? Second Corinthians 10:3-5 instructs us. First, we must rely on God’s power, not our own. This battle for our minds is not “according to the flesh” (10:3). Nothing in our own flesh will help us to live victoriously or draw us closer to the Lord. Since the weapons of our warfare are “mighty in God,” then we must rely  upon the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome Satan’s lies (10:4).

Second, recognize the erroneous thought. This battle is located in our minds because it involves “strongholds,” “arguments,” “knowledge,” and “every thought” (10:4-5). The word “strongholds” pictures a fortress with high walls and towers surrounded by a moat. God says these strongholds must be destroyed which means that God did not build them. A “stronghold” then, is a negative, destructive pattern of thinking that Satan has built in our minds through repetition, trauma, or circumstances. Satan does not put thoughts in our minds. He uses other people’s voices to insert thoughts in our mind. Ungodly thoughts come from us. Christ lives inside us and He does not give us these ungodly thoughts (Galatians 2:20). We will not get very far in this battle for our minds until we acknowledge these satanic strongholds.

Third, release the lie. “Casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God” (10:5a). Dismiss the lie and say, This is not true, therefore, it is a lie and I am not going to pay attention to this. I am not going to entertain these thoughts that say God is against me.”

Fourth, reprogram your mind with the truth, “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (10:5b). How do we bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ? Jesus told us: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). The devil is a liar by nature and he cannot handle the truth (John 6:44). This is why the devil tries to distract us from the truth so that it never gets deep down into the areas where he has a stronghold in our lives.

Persevere in this truth: “God is for me and not against me. The proof? He gave me His best on the cross when I was at my worst.” Review this truth daily. Say it out loud. Find a picture or image that represents this truth and review it throughout the day. This will help download the truth of God’s Word into your right brain where lies are attached to wounds from your past.

Neuroscience teaches us that it takes 2-5 years to develop new neurological pathways in our brain that contain the truth. So keep telling yourself the truth even when you don’t feel like it or see it so you can create and strengthen the new pathway in your brain. Our bodies create new brain cells the more we tell ourselves the truth. The more we tell ourselves the truth, the stronger the pathway becomes between brain cells. When we ignore the lie, the old pathway weakens – those brain cells containing Satan’s lies have less power and strength. You can continue to create new brain cells throughout your life by speaking the truth to yourself. When Paul said, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2), perhaps he not only had a spiritual transformation in mind, but a physiological transformation in mind as well.

Prayer: Father God, by Your Spirit, please heal my soul of the wound that has the lie attached to it that says, “You are against me.” I cannot heal this wound myself. No doctor, pastor, or therapist can heal me. Only You, Lord God, can heal me. I will need Your grace to replace this lie with Your truth that says, “You are for me. And since no one is greater than You, no one can successfully oppose me.” When I doubt that You are for me, please remind me of the cross that says You gave me Your best when I was at my worst. And since You gave Your best to me when I was at my worst, how much more will You give me through Your Son Jesus now that I am Your beloved child through faith in Him!?! Thank You that I no longer need to live in fear. I can awaken each morning expectant of Your best for me through the Lord Jesus Christ. In His name I pray. Amen.

Revisiting Romans 8:28

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

I am hesitant to share what I learned this morning about this verse because it is so familiar to many of us. But God was gracious to show me some things that really blessed me and I would like to pass them on to you.

In the last half of Chapter 8 of Romans, the apostle Paul talks about suffering (8:18-39). After talking about the Holy Spirit’s intercessory prayer on our behalf when we do not know what to pray amid our suffering (8:26-27), Paul writes, “And we know that all things work together for good” (8:28a). The word “know” (eidō) refers to understanding or acknowledging something that is well known. What is it that is well known to Paul and his readers? “That all things work together for good.” Does “all things” include the good and the bad? The triumphant and the traumatic? Absolutely! Remember in the context Paul has been talking about suffering, so that is what he is primarily focused on here.

Notice that it does not say that “all things are good.” It says “all things work together for good.” Even in the bad things God works “together for good.” That means the Lord never wastes an experience in our lives. Even the bad experiences we bring on ourselves God can use for good. It is like mixing the ingredients of a cake together to make something delicious to eat. If we were just to eat a bowl full of salt or flour by themselves, that would not be so good. But mixing all of the ingredients together in their proper amounts makes something very enjoyable to our taste buds. God takes the good and the bad, the pleasant and the painful in our lives, and He mixes them all together to create something “good.”

The word “good” (agathos) refers to something excelling in any respect, something useful or suited to something honorable. In the context, the “good” that God wants to produce from all the things we have experienced, is seen in verse 29. “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” (8:29a). God wants to take all of life’s experiences – the triumphant and the traumatic, the pleasant and the painful – to make us more like His Son, Jesus Christ.

Does this incredible promise apply to all Christians? Look at the last half of verse 28: “To those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (8:28b). Only those believers who continue to love God above all else and yield to His purpose will experience God conforming them to the image of His Son. The word “called” (klētos) refers to an invitation by God to fulfill His purpose. In the context, the purpose of our suffering is “to be conformed to the image of His Son” (8:29a).

Let me illustrate what I believe the last part of this verse is saying. While living in the Philippines for more than five years, God gave me the opportunity to minister His Word in a provincial jail not far from where we lived just east of Metro Manila. Many of the inmates who came to chapel there were very thankful for their incarceration because God used that difficult time to show them their need for Jesus and His forgiveness and eternal life. Instead of becoming angry and bitter about their incarceration, they humbled themselves and opened their hearts to what God had to say to them. As a result, they put their faith in Christ alone to forgive all their sins and they began to cooperate with Jesus to let Him transform their lives.

Other inmates who also said they believed in Jesus, closed off their hearts to God, and became bitter toward Him. Instead of loving Him and yielding to His purpose for their lives, they withdrew from Him and lost their spiritual vitality. Did Romans 8:28 apply to them? Not as long as they refused to love God and not yield to His purpose for their lives. Did God still love them? Of course He did. And if they believed in Jesus, they still have eternal life, but I don’t believe God could bring good out of their lives and make them more like His Son as long as they remained bitter toward Him and their circumstances.

How do we respond to God when good and bad things happen in our lives? Do we still love Him and put Him first in our lives, yielding to His purpose even though what is happening to us may be very painful and traumatic? Or do we shake our fist at Him and become bitter? Do we listen to the lie that says, “If God really loved you, He would not let this happen to you”?Or do we dismiss the lie and embrace the truth that says, “God loves me so much He let this happen so I could experience His love on a much deeper level”? God wants to love on us and heal the brokenness in our hearts, but He cannot do that if we close our hearts off to Him.

I want to conclude with a story I read today about a six-year-old son asking his father, “If you can’t see God, how do you know that God will help you?” The father answered, “You don’t have to see God to know God is helping you.” Before the father could say more, the son offered his own answer. “God must be like a railroad track. The engineer can’t see a long way ahead, but he keeps driving the train because he knows the track is there.”

Remember the next time you see railroad tracks, that even though you might not feel God’s loving presence in your life, He is there to sustain you and make you more like His Son.

Prayer: Abba Father, thank You for the incredible promise that says You will take all the things I have experienced – the good and the bad, the triumphant and the traumatic – to make me more like Jesus as long as I continue to love You and yield to Your purpose for my life. By Your grace, I open my heart to what You have to say to me. Thank You for loving me more than I ever thought possible. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Renewing our sense of hope

22 Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

The prophet Jeremiah is mourning God’s severe judgment of Jerusalem which had departed from Him, bringing much devastation and destruction (Lam. 1-2). In the midst of his anguish and heartbreak (3:1-20), Jeremiah expresses his hope in the Lord (3:21). 22 Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (3:22-23). Had it not been for “the Lord’s mercies,” the nation of Israel would have been “consumed” and no longer existed as a nation. Because God’s “compassions” never fail even when His people are unfaithful, they can have a renewed sense of hope “every morning.” Since God’s “faithfulness” to His promises is “great,” His people can have a renewed sense of faithfulness to their loyal God.

What about you? Do you feel that God is being unfair to you in the midst of your struggles? Have you lost hope as you watch our country move farther away from the Lord and His ways? Do you believe the Lord is judging His church in America by giving it a lack of influence and a lack of sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading? Is your heart filled with anguish and a lack of hope?

Listen to the voice of truth in Lamentations 3:22-23 and let the Holy Spirit apply it to the depths of your being. 22 Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” God’s “mercies” withhold the judgment and condemnation that would normally consume you. His “compassions” (empathy, kindness, gentleness) never fail. He understands your vulnerabilities and weaknesses and still loves you just as you are. The Lord’s mercies and compassions are “new every morning,” giving you a renewed sense of hope that today God is going to bless you. Why? Because His “faithfulness” is “great” toward you in Jesus Christ (I Cor. 1:9), and is not dependent upon your performance. Soak up God’s mercies, compassions, and faithfulness, and He will fill you with unending hope!

Prayer: Lord God Almighty, I pray You would wake me up each morning making me fully aware of Your mercies, compassions, and faithfulness so that I will turn to You when I am hurting and insecure. Make me sensitive to the fact that Your mercies withhold the judgment and condemnation that I deserve so that I will continue to be open and honest with You even when I fail. Renew my mind to the truth that says Your compassions undertand my vulnerabilities and weaknesses so that I will not hide anything from You. And help me believe that Your faithfulness is great toward me in Christ so that I will be more faithful to You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Does God give me more than I can handle?

I remember hearing the assurance that God will not give us more than we can handle when Christians were talking about I Corinthians 10:13 when it says, “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able.” But this is talking about temptations, not trials. 

The same author of I Corinthians 10:13, the apostle Paul, also wrote 2 Corinthians 1:8 which says, “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8). Notice that Paul says they were burdened beyond their own strength to the point of despair. Paul was in a situation where it seemed hopeless. Whatever he and his mission team were facing, was beyond their own resources to overcome. He felt God had put more on him than he or anyone on his mission team could handle.

Have you ever felt this way? That God has given you more than you can handle? That there is no way you can overcome this situation with your own resources? Your abilities and connections with others cannot rescue you from the hopelessness you are facing? You are tempted to give up because you cannot escape this place of despair? 

Why does God permit this to happen to us? Is He being unloving to us when He allows us to have more than we can handle? Paul also explains why God gives us more than we can handle in 2 Corinthians 1:9,“Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead.” God does give us more than we can handle so “that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead.” What God wants to do in these hopeless situations is to teach us to depend more on Him than on ourselves or others. He wants to “raise the dead” for us. He longs to do what is humanly impossible for us to do. 

This is very difficult for us to accept because we do not like to sit in our pain. Our natural tendency is to withdraw from the pain. We try to avoid pain by turning to a quick fix such as alcohol, busyness, depression, drugs, romance, sarcasm, theology, or even ministry instead of turning to God. But these options only lead to more pain and hopelessness.

God did not originally create people to have to deal with pain. Pain was not Adam and Eve’s experience before the Fall (Genesis 1-2). They lived in a perfect environment and enjoyed perfect fellowship with God and one another because there was no sin and death. Before the Fall, all their needs were met by God in the Garden of Eden. But after the Fall (Genesis 3:1-6), there was a separation from God resulting in fear and shame (Genesis 3:7-10). Adam and Eve’s first response was to fix the pain and shame by covering themselves with fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). But this covering did not remove the effects of their sin. God had to do that when He “made tunics of skin” through the death of an innocent animal (Genesis 3:21). 

By providing a covering with animal skins, God provided forgiveness through the “shedding of blood” (Hebrews 9:22). God later provided forgiveness through the Old Testament sacrificial system which pointed ahead to the ultimate sacrifice of God’s perfect Son, Jesus Christ (John 1:29; Hebrews 9:23-10:25). Like that first animal that was sacrificed for Adam and Eve, Jesus Christ would also be innocent and without sin because He was and is God (John 1:1, 14, 17; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; I Peter 3:18). And like that first sacrificial animal, Jesus was born to die for the sins of others (John 1:29; Romans 5:8; I John 4:9), that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). 

Like Adam and Eve, we have a natural tendency to turn to other things to remove our pain. But God wants us to sit in our pain so we will draw closer to Him. If we do not sit in the pain, we do not need to go to God for comfort and strength. 

Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Christ does not say to “Come to a religion or to your pastor, priest, parents, or peers.” No, He says, “Come to Me.” Nor does He say, “Come to Me and I will give you fear, guilt and shame.” No, Jesus says to come to Him in faith and He “will give you rest.” The rest Jesus offers here refers to a state of mind that exists when a non-Christian realizes he or she does not have to earn or work for their salvation. This refers to the positional rest of eternal life that is based on trusting in Christ’s accomplishment on the cross. 

If you do not know for sure that you have eternal life and will go to heaven when you die, accept Jesus’ invitation and come to Him just as you are for spiritual rest by believing in Jesus for His gift of eternal life (11:28; cf. John 3:16). Then He can give you the comfort and strength you need when you face more than you can handle.

If you have believed in Jesus for everlasting life, understand that there will be times when He gives you more than you can handle so you will learn to draw near to Him and depend on Him to do what you could never do on your own (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). He wants to take you deeper in your relationship with Him so you can experience His resurrection power. 

Reasons why Christians are not to Lose Heart

The apostle Paul gives Christians several reasons in 2 Corinthians 3-5 why they are not to lose heart in the ministry:

1. Because God has made them sufficient to be “ministers of the new covenant” ministry through His Spirit which “gives life” in contrast to “the letter” of the Law which “kills” (3:5-6). 

2. Because God has given them a ministry in which God’s Spirit transforms peoples’ lives from the inside out through His written word (3:15-18) and removes Satanic barriers that keep people from believing the gospel (4:1-6). 

3. Because God has placed “this treasure” of the gospel “in earthen vessels” (frail bodies of believers) in order to show the “power” of His “grace” working in and through their sufferings and service (4:7-12). 

4. Because God has given them the hope of sharing in Jesus’ resurrection (“He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus”) in the future (4:13-15).

5. Because even though their physical bodies are deteriorating through the aging process and sufferings (“our outward man is perishing”), their inward spiritual lives are still developing (“the inward man is being renewed day by day”) by God’s grace (4:16). 

6. Because their sufferings (“our light affliction, which is but for a moment”) for Christ’s sake, result in “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (eternal rewards) in the future (4:17).

7. Because their sufferings teach them to focus on what is “eternal” and “not seen,” rather than on what is “temporary” and “seen” (4:18).

8. Because all Christians who die will receive an immortal body (“we have a building from God…eternal in the heavens”) from the Lord (5:1).

9. Because all Christians possess “the Spirit as a guarantee” of their future immortal body in heaven (4:2-5).

10. Because death (“absent from the body”) begins a new existence for Christians in the presence of the Lord Jesus in heaven (“present with the Lord”) that is far superior to their present existence on earth (5:6-8).

11.  Because ministry is about being “well pleasing” to the Lord who is realistic in His expectations of His children, not people who tend to be unrealistic in their expectations of others (5:9).

12. Because “all” Christians will “appear before the judgment seat of Christ” to receive rewards from Christ on the basis of their works (“according to what he has done”) for Him in the ministry (5:10). 

How can a Loving God Allow Pain and Suffering?

This is a question asked by many in the wake of Hurricane Florence in the USA and Typhoon Ompong in the Philippines as they see innocent children swept away in a landslide or drowned during a hurricane. While I cannot claim to know all of God’s reasons for allowing tragedies to take place in our world, I do want to provide some biblical answers to some basic questions about the topic of pain and suffering. 

Q1: Did God create the world with sin and suffering in it?

A1: No, God created the heavens (universe) and earth without sin as He concluded that what He originally made was “good” and “very good” (Genesis 1:3, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). This includes all the angels created by God (Colossians 1:16). However, Lucifer, God’s highest-ranking angel, rebelled and sinned against God (Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:11-19) prior to tempting Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:1-6). Lucifer, or Satan, also led one third of God’s angels to join him in his rebellion so that they (fallen angels and/or demons) now oppose God and His people (Ezekiel 28:16, 18; Revelation 12:4, 7-10).

Q2: When did sin and suffering begin on the earth?

A2: When Adam and Eve sinned against God in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-6; Romans 5:12). Their decision to sin also adversely effected creation (Genesis 3:14-19) which now “groans  and labors with birth pangs together until now” (Romans 8:18-22).

Q3: Does God cause sin and suffering in the world today?

A3: No, the Bible says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone” (James 1:13). Temptations come from our own sinful flesh, the world, or from Satan (cf. Matthew 4:1-11; James 1:14; I John 2:16). God’s love gives each human being the ability to choose. If people could not choose between good and evil, that would not be love. Much suffering takes place in the world today because of circumstances beyond our control. Some suffering is because of our own sinful decisions or the decisions of others.

Q4: When people suffer, how do they know that God is in control?

A4: When Job suffered greatly, he asked God why He had even allowed him to be born (Job 3:11). Job cried out to God. “For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me, and what I dreaded has happened to me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet, I have no rest, for trouble comes”(Job 3:25-26). God chose not to reveal His motives for allowing Job to suffer. He never told him why, but He did answer him. He answered Job by describing Himself as all powerful and in control (Job 38:1-41:34). So, we know that God is in control in the midst of suffering because He has told us in His Word (cf. Romans 8:28). 

Q5: How does God feel about those who do suffer?

A5: When people suffer, God wants them to know that He cares. He is concerned about every pain and tear. He encourages us to “cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you”(I Peter 5:7). Sometimes God demonstrates His care by not removing our suffering but by comforting us in the midst of it (2 Corinthians 1:3-11). God will help us through whatever suffering we face, if we look to Him. It is with this kind of suffering that God helps us through but He does not necessarily remove it.  However, there is a kind of suffering that God wants to eliminate which is eternal. 

Q6: How can God love people if He sends them to hell to suffer forever?

A6: First of all, God does not send anyone to hell. People send themselves to hell when they refuse to believe in God’s Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16-19; Revelation 20:15) who suffered and died in our place on the cross and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:1-6). After all, God is holy and hates sin, and must punish it (Psalm 5:4; Isaiah 6:1-5; 59:2; Romans 3:23; 6:23b). The Bible tells us that all people must face God as their Judge – “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment”(Hebrews 9:27). So, whether we have sinned once or a thousand times, sin’s consequences are forever. 

Q7: How can people escape eternal suffering?

A7: Their eternal suffering can be removed, not by any works or words they do or speak (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5), but by accepting what God did for them on the cross. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”(Romans 5:8). God now invites all people to believe or trust in His perfect Son, Jesus Christ, for His free gift of everlasting life. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Our good works and religious efforts will not save us because they are all like “filthy garments”in the sight of a holy God (Isaiah 64:6). We must trust in Christ alone as our only way to heaven. The moment we do, God gives us eternal life as a gift and we are His forever (John 10:28-29). 

A day is coming when all those who have believed or trusted in Jesus alone for His gift of everlasting life will be with Him in heaven where there will be no more suffering. The Bible says, “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying…”(Revelation 21:4). Those who have believed in Christ recognize that there is suffering in this life, but they take comfort in God’s promise that one day all suffering will be gone forever. Those people will not suffer eternally. 

If you have never understood and believed this, why not trust in Jesus Christ alone right now as your only way to heaven? Here is how you could tell God in prayer what you are doing.

Dear God, I come to you now as a sinner. I know my sins deserve to be punished forever. But I now understand that Jesus Christ died for me and rose from the dead. I am now placing my trust in Christ alone as my only way to heaven. Thank You for the gift of forgiveness and eternal life I just received. In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

When you believed in Jesus, the Bible says you now have everlasting life (John 3:16) and you can “know” it. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life”(I John 5:13). God now wants to use you to tell others this good news. As you learn to follow Jesus, He can show you how to tell others how to escape eternal suffering before it is too late for them (Matthew 4:19).