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Archive for February, 2010

Trusting When We Don’t Understand, Believing When We Can’t See

A Guest Post by Nancy Guthrie

My husband and I recently began hosting Respite Retreats, weekend retreats at which we bring together a dozen couples who have faced the loss of a child. Over the weekend we provide a safe place for these couples to share their sorrow with others who understand, and we bring the truth of God to bear on what seems unbearable.

The question that haunts most of those who come—in fact most people who experience significant suffering and loss—is, “why?” There is a deep need to be able to determine and articulate the “good” that God has brought or intends to bring out of our loss. For many, until we can identify God’s purpose, it is nearly impossible to believe that he has one or that it is good—at least good enough to balance out our own pain.

Many find the purpose they are looking for in being able to name someone who came to Christ because of their child’s life or death. And certainly God is good to give us glimpses of how he is using our losses for his good purposes in this world in such ways. But ultimately, trusting God with our losses, trusting him to work them together for good is, like everything else, a matter of faith.

The writer to the Hebrews says that faith is being sure of what we hope for and confident in what we cannot see with our eyes. So faith, in the face of significant loss and sorrow, is believing that God can and will use our loss for good, even if we never see it with our eyes or can never explain or define it to our full satisfaction.

Os Guiness speaks to this in his chapter in Be Still My Soul, taken from his book, God in the Dark:

Suffering is the most acute trial that faith can face, and the questions it raises are the sharpest, the most insistent, and the most damaging that faith will meet. Can faith bear the pain and still trust God, suspending judgment and resting in the knowledge that God is there, God is good, and God knows best? Or will the pain be so great that only meaning will make it endurable so that reason must be pressed further and further and judgments must be made? To suffer is one thing, to suffer without meaning is another, but to suffer and choose not to press for any meaning is worst of all. Yet that is the suicidal submission that faith’s suspension of judgment seems to involve. If the Christian’s faith is to be itself and let God be God at such times, it must suspend judgment and say, “Father, I do not understand you, but I trust you.”

At a recent Respite Retreat, one of the participants said, “It comes down to this: Am I willing to trust God with this or not.” And the truth is, this is not just the case for grieving parents. The Christian life is not about the one time we trusted God for something we cannot see—that he will make good on his promise to make us his own for eternity. The Christian life is about an on-going trust and reliance on the promises of God, believing that the day is coming when faith will no longer be needed because our faith will have become sight.

February 26, 2010 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Children / Parenting,Death,Life / Doctrine,Marriage / Family,The Christian Life,Trials / Suffering | Author: Crossway Staff @ 8:23 am | 0 Comments »

The Promise of Full Healing Here and Now: Kindness or Cruelty?

A Guest Post by Nancy Guthrie

Recently I was in conversation with a couple of close friends who were taking a family member to a “healing conference” seeking healing for a chronic illness. Out of desperation, and based on reports of results, they were completely open to whatever the person was teaching, with seemingly little examination of whether or not the teacher was “rightly handling the word of truth.

They looked at me, wanting my thoughts. But really they didn’t want my thoughts. They wanted my endorsement, which I could not offer. And it was awkward. It seems uncaring and close-minded in such situations to take issue with how the scripture is being misused to promise what it does not promise.

My hesitancy is not because I don’t believe that God heals. I know he does. In fact healing is not just something he does; it is who he is. He is Jehovah Rophi, the God Who Heals. But I also know that we simply cannot force into this age the pervasive healing God has reserved for the next.

I suppose the real problem for me is that I often find myself on the other side of these situations—seeking to minister to people who, based on the promises and proclamations of such healing ministries, sought and expected the healing of their loved one. But their loved one died. And so they are left confused and disillusioned. Because they’ve were sold a false gospel, they end up deeply resentful toward what they see as God withholding from them, and sometimes filled with guilt over what they see as their own failure of faith. And so I see those who proclaim a false gospel of full physical healing available here and now for all those with the faith to claim it as ultimately very cruel.

I know that many people who will read Be Still My Soul: Embracing God’s Purpose and Provision in Suffering will be on this road of asking for healing, but seeking to trust God with physical illness and disability. That is why I included the insight of J. I. Packer who writes:

It is true that salvation embraces both body and soul. And there is indeed, as some put it, healing for the body in the atonement. But perfect physical health is not promised for this life. It is promised for heaven as part of the resurrection glory that awaits us in the day when Christ “will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Full physical well-being is presented as a future blessing of salvation rather than a present one. What God has promised and when he will give it are separate questions.

The day is coming when our God Who Heals will consummate his kingdom where there will be no more sickness. Till then, we wait in faith, grateful that he is good to give us tastes and glimpses of the plenteous and pervasive healing to come on that day.

February 25, 2010 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Life / Doctrine,The Christian Life,Trials / Suffering | Author: Crossway Staff @ 8:22 am | (2) Comments »

Must We Be Hurt Deeply to Be Used Significantly?

Guest Post by Nancy Guthrie

My husband David remembers sitting in chapel in Bible college when a speaker said that a person can not be used significantly by God until he has been hurt deeply. David also remembers feeling that if significant suffering is what is required to be used significantly by God, then perhaps he would rather not be used.

Most of us who are honest feel the same way. We want to be used by God and we might be willing to suffer some, but we want to determine the timing and intensity and method. The truth is, we want our grand abilities and keen insights to make us usable to God, not our broken hearts and crippling weaknesses.

I’ve heard variations of the same statement David heard in chapel throughout the years, and when putting together a collection of material by classic and contemporary theologians and Bible teachers about suffering for Be Still My Soul: Embracing God’s Purpose and Provision in Suffering, I looked for where this quote might have originated.

I found something similar by A.W. Tozer, included in his book, The Root of the Righteous where he wrote, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.” What I found most intriguing is the context in which Tozer makes the statement. He draws a picture that helps us to see the sense in his hard-hitting proposition:

The flaming desire to be rid of every unholy thing and to put on the likeness of Christ at any cost is not often found among us. We expect to enter the everlasting kingdom of our Father and to sit down around the table with sages, saints and martyrs; and through the grace of God, maybe we shall; yes maybe we shall. But for the most of us it could prove at first an embarrassing experience. Ours might be the silence of the untried soldier in the presence of the battle-hardened heroes who have fought the fight and won the victory and who have scars to prove that they were present when the battle was joined.

Tozer continues by saying that it is “necessary” for God to use suffering in his holy work of preparing his saints, adding, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.”

I don’t think this means that we are to look for experiences of suffering if we want to be used by God. Living in this broken world, few of us have to look for it. It finds us. But then we have the choice—will we see this as God being unkind or uncaring toward us? Or will we see in our suffering the loving hand of God preparing us for usefulness in this world, and purifying us for an eternity in his presence?

Do you know of another variation on this quote from someone other than Tozer?

February 24, 2010 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Life / Doctrine,The Christian Life,Trials / Suffering | Author: Crossway Staff @ 8:22 am | (4) Comments »

Behind the Book: “Learning Evangelism from Jesus”

A Word from Jerram Barrs

As we mentioned yesterday, we’re thrilled here at Crossway about the announcement of Jerram Barrs’ Outreach Magazine Evangelism Book of the Year Award for Learning Evangelism from Jesus!

We recently had the opportunity to ask Barrs about his heart behind the book. (We look forward to pointing to the full interview when it’s available in Outreach Magazine).

What or who inspired you to write Learning Evangelism from Jesus?

Several years ago I was teaching a Bible Study series for a Women’s Ministry in a local church here in St. Louis on ‘Conversations with Jesus’ from the Gospels. As I was preparing I realized that many of the conversations between Jesus and individuals and also those between Jesus and groups of people are with men and women who are not yet believers. I also discovered that in most of the commentaries this ‘evangelistic aspect’ of these conversations was not discussed. Instead, the commentator usually moved to the application of these encounters for our lives as believers.

All of us have heard many sermons that have done precisely this. The sermon text is, for example, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, or the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and while there may be an invitation to unbelievers at the end of the sermon, the sermon is primarily about lessons for us as Christian believers that we can learn from these passages, but the context of the original setting of these parables is often completely disregarded in the exposition and application. I don’t think I have ever heard a sermon on one of these ‘conversations with Jesus’ in which the application was lessons we can learn in our communication of the Gospel to unbelievers.

In addition, I was intrigued by these conversations because I found Jesus ignoring most approaches to evangelism that are taught today! Jesus had no set formula, no particular method, no one technique that he applied in every situation. I did not discover Jesus manipulating conversations to ‘close the deal’ as quickly as possible. On the contrary I found several situations where Jesus avoided answering direct questions about how to inherit eternal life. I also saw that many of these encounters ended without the person or group being converted on the spot (though it is evident that many became believers later). I found the studies very encouraging in all kinds of ways both for me as a teacher and for those who were learning with me.

I also preached on several of these passages at many different churches in diverse denominational settings. The reaction was invariably interest, surprise, encouragement and liberation. In my experience most Christians feel both inadequate and incompetent when it comes to evangelism – indeed, I have often been told that instruction on evangelism commonly has the impact of making people feel even more guilty than they already felt before the series or seminar began. Another way to put this was that being led to examine the example of Jesus was an experience of grace rather than of judgment. Jesus sets us free to be ourselves, rather than to have to change our personality to become an ‘evangelist’ type. He encourages us to speak to people where they are at, in the strengths, weaknesses, joys and sorrows of their lives. He teaches us to be gracious, vulnerable and respectful and calls us to be discerning about the deep idols of the heart.

It was the encouragement of students in class and of believers in the churches where I preached on these passages in the Gospels that led me to turn these studies into a book.

February 23, 2010 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Book News,News | Author: Crossway Staff @ 9:30 am | (6) Comments »

Learning to Understand the Real God

A Guest Post from Nancy Guthrie

Because of the writing and speaking I have done about the loss of two of our three children, I interact with many people who are struggling to make sense of significant loss. God has simply not lived up to who they thought he was. He has not done what they thought they could count on him to do—protect them from significant suffering in this life. And so they are confused and oftentimes angry.

When I read what Abraham Kuyper wrote in Near Unto God about what happens when we suffer, first published in 1908, I realize that doing battle with the God we’ve created in our own mind is nothing new. Though he wrote one hundred years ago, Kuyper completely captures the modern mind-set and experience:

At first what our heart feels is that we cannot square this with our God as we imagined Him, as we had dreamed Him to be. The God we had, we lose, and then it costs so much bitter conflict of soul, before refined and purified in our knowledge of God, we grasp another, and now the only true God in the place thereof . . .

We fancy ourselves the main object at stake; it is our happiness, our honor, our future and God added in. According to our idea we are the center of things, and God is there to make us happy. The Father is for the sake of the child. And God’s confessed Almightiness is solely and alone to serve our interest. This is an idea of God which is false through and through, which turns the order around and, taken in its real sense, makes self God, and God our servant . . .

Cast down by your sorrow and grief, you become suddenly aware that this great God does not measure nor direct the course of things according to your desire; that in His plan there are other motives that operate entirely outside of your preferences. Then you must submit, you must bend . . .

This is the discovery of God’s reality, of His Majesty which utterly overwhelms you, of an Almightiness which absorbs within itself you and everything you call yours. And for the first time you feel what it is to confront the living God. And then begins the new endeavor of the soul, to learn to understand this real God.

Every time I use this quote when I speak, even though it is very lengthy, invariably someone comes up to me and wants it in print. And so I am glad it is now in print in one of my favorite chapters in Be Still My Soul: Embracing God’s Purpose and Provision in Suffering. It articulates the radical paradigm shift that must come to all those who seek to make sense of suffering—that we recognize that we are not the center of things and God’s job is not to hover nearby to assure our temporal happiness. Most significantly Kuyper articulates the gift given to every hurting person who turns toward God in his or her suffering rather than away from him—a deeper and truer knowledge of God that transforms our losses into gains.

| Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Life / Doctrine,The Christian Life,Trials / Suffering | Author: Crossway Staff @ 9:00 am | 1 Comment »