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Thinking on “Natural” Disasters

April 13, 2011

I receive The Banner of Truth magazine and the following appears in its May 2011 edition that I think captures quite a bit of Biblical truth in a brief amount of space concerning this difficult issue:

“In recent times our part of the world has witnessed a series of disasters—unprecedented flooding in Queensland and Victoria, Australia; an earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand; and an earthquake, tsunami,and nuclear radiation in Japan. So far, there have been no reports of pastors reaching for Isaiah 24 or 42, but we must surely ask how Christians are meant to respond to such disasters, and also, if possible, to understand them in the light of God’s sovereignty and will.

“First of all, we are to be people who empathise with human suffering. We are to ‘weep with those who weep’ (Rom. 12:15). If we cannot do that, we had best close our mouths and say nothing. We are not to rejoice when our enemy falls (Prov. 24:17) but seek to do good to all (Gal. 6:10). Whatever else we understand, or think we understand, we have the obligation to relieve suffering as much as we are able.

All things come from God

“The second thing is to realise that all things come from God who does all things well. The Christian response is not that this is simply the result of the forces of nature or that the devil has done this. Those things are true, so far as they go, but God is not just sovereign over good things but over all things. ‘Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?’ (Amos 3:6b). ‘Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?’ (Lam. 3:38). God declares his sovereign power and purpose in all that takes place: ‘I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things’ (Isa. 45:7). We may say that his judgments are unsearchable and his ways inscrutable (Rom. 11:33), but we cannot say that they do notbelong to him. God is at work, even in floods, earthquakes, tsunamis,and nuclear accidents.

“The final point to make is that all disasters are to teach us the lesson of the seven bowls of God’s wrath in Revelation 16. We are fallen and fragile people, and the various afflictions recorded there are meant to awaken people so that they repent and give glory to God. Jesus specifically forbids us to draw the conclusion that those who perish in disasters—whether man-made or ‘natural’—are worse sinners than ourselves (Luke 13:1-5). However, the Lord does say that such disasters serve as a solemn call to repent or we too will perish (Luke 13:3, 5).By nature, we tend to believe that this world is what we can be sure of, whereas the next one is uncertain. By grace, we learn that it is theother way around. It is the kingdom of God that cannot be shaken (Heb.12:28). And in the words of Augustine of Hippo: ‘He will be the goal of all our longings; and we shall see him forever; we shall love him without satiety; we shall praise him without wearying. This will be the duty, the delight, the activity of all, shared by all who share the life of eternity . . . For what is our end but to reach that kingdom which has no end?'”

Peter Barnes, Disasters, Weak Human Beings and A Sovereign God, “The Banner of Truth,” May 2011.

The Plague of His Own Heart

April 12, 2011

I love the life, ministry and preaching of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981). Now I am especially grateful as well for an anthology of some of his best thinking in quotations which have been culled by Tony Sargent in Gems From Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I’ve quoted from this work before and do so again here with this thought from “the Doctor”:

The truly godly man is never a showman. He knows enough about the plague of his own heart never to be guilty of that.

Grace Coming and Grace Going

April 11, 2011

The single best treatment on the subject of sanctification (the growing life of Christ within the believer) I’ve read is John Piper’s Future Grace–I commend it to you for help for your journey with Christ. In it, he meditates upon what may be the significance of the invariable pattern found in every one of Paul’s letter whereby he begins by wishing “Grace [be] to you” and he ends by wishing “Grace be with you.” Here are his thoughts:

There is another remarkable thing about these blessings of future grace. Without exception the blessings at the beginning of Paul’s letters say “Grace [be] to you,” while the blessings at the end of the letters say, “Grace [be] with you.” This is so consistent through thirteen letters that it must mean something.

The meaning I would suggest is this: at the beginning of his letters Paul has in mind that the letter itself is a channel of God’s grace to the readers. Grace is about to flow “from God” through Paul’s writing to the Christians. So he says, “Grace to you.” That is, grace is now active and is about to flow from God through my inspired writing to you as you read:  “grace [be] to you.”

But as the end of the letter approaches, Paul realizes that the reading is almost finished and the question rises, “What becomes of the grace that has been flowing to the readers through the reading of the inspired letter?” He answers with a blessing at the end of every letter: “Grace [be] with you.” With you as you put the letter away and leave the church. With you as you go home to deal with a sick child and an unaffectionate spouse. With you as you go to work and face the temptations of anger and dishonesty and lust. With you as you muster courage to speak up for Christ over lunch.

What then do we learn from Paul’s unbroken pattern of beginning and ending his letters in this way (“Grace be to you.” “Grace be with you.”)? We learn that grace is an unmistakable priority in the Christian life. We learn that it is from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, but that it can come through people. We learn that grace is ready to flow to us every time we take up the inspired Scriptures to read them. And we learn that grace will abide with us when we lay the Bible down and go about our daily living.

In other words, we learn that grace is not merely a past reality but a future one. Every time I reach for the Bible, God’s grace is a reality that will flow to me. Every time I put the Bible down and go about my business, God’s grace will go with me. This is what I mean by future grace.

The Bible Explains It

April 10, 2011

‘Do you believe things like that [the Fall of man into sin and resultant evil] today?’ My dear friend, today’s world is what drives me to believe in it. I do not see a world going upwards, but a world going downwards. I do not understand life apart from the doctrine of the fall, the doctrine of evil, the doctrine of hell, the doctrine of the devil. It is all here in this book. The Bible explains it. It is not accident and chance. God made the world in that perfect manner and it is as it is because of the devil and evil and his influence upon this world of ours.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, I Am Not Ashamed, 66.

Provided For and Never Lost

April 8, 2011

If eternal life cannot make it through a temporal week of my life, who needs it? Jesus Himself said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall *never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Bishop J. C. Ryle would put it this way 1,800 years later:

True Christians shall never perish. Kings of the earth and mighty men shall depart and be no more seen; thrones and dominions and principalities, rich men and honorable men shall be swept into the tomb—but the humblest Christian cottager shall never see death everlasting, and when the heavens shall pass away as a scroll, and earth shall be burned up, that man shall be found to have a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

That man may be poor in this world and lightly esteemed—but I see in him one who shall be a glorious saint, when those who perchance had more of this life’s good things shall be in torment; I am confident that nothing shall ever separate him from the love of Christ. He may have his doubts—but I know he is provided for, he shall never be lost.

— J.C. Ryle, “The Privileges of the True Christian”

HT: Of First Importance

*Never is a double negative in the Greek language, which, though not the way we speak or write in English, is the strongest way in which Jesus could speak of the impossibility of one of his sheep losing the eternal life his has gifted them with in the Greek language.

We Prefer to Be Our Own gods

April 7, 2011

I take it as a given that all of us would prefer to be our own gods than to worship God. The Eden story is reenacted daily, not only generally in the homes and workplaces of our parishoners but quite particularly in the sanctuaries and offices, studies and meeting rooms in which we do our work. The only difference in the dynamics of the serpent’s seduction in the explicitly religious workplace is that when pastors are seduced, our facility with the language provides us with a thesaurus of self-deceiving euphemisms.

Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant, Kindle ed., p. 7, location 129.

The Challenge to Keep Biblical Standards

April 7, 2011

Truth and lies

Rom. 1:25: They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator… (NIV).

It is easy to rationalize sinful thoughts and behaviors when they serve our selfish purposes. Considering the standards of our culture, small compromises may seem insignificant in comparison. As Christian parents, we will be challenged over and over again not to “exchange the truth for a lie.” This may mean saying “no” to our kids regarding certain movies, games, and clothing that our society finds acceptable.

Godly standards may be tough for your child to accept, especially when they long to be “cool” and accepted by their peers. Take time to listen to your children’s thoughts about the pressure to conform that they feel. Ask questions about what’s going on in their world and please don’t dismiss their feelings when they express them. Instead of delivering a lecture, acknowledge their disappointment when you have to say “no” to something that conflicts with God’s standards. It will be easier for your kids to accept your authority when they feel genuinely heard.

Uphold the standards of godly behavior with kindness and love.

Taken from Parenting by Design at Crosswalk.com, April 7, 2011.