Dependence

By Lori Beard

Recently I have been studying Isaiah.  It has been revealing to say the least.  It has also been very convicting.  It appears to me that the overarching theme of Isaiah is our dependence on ourselves as opposed to God.

God tells us in so many places in the Bible to depend upon Him and not ourselves.  Proverbs 3:5-6 says to lean not on your own understanding but to trust in the Lord.  2 Cor 1:9 says to trust in the Lord God and not ourselves.  But as I read through Isaiah, I see that Israel did not trust God well.  And often I do not trust God.

Isaiah 29 speaks of the Potter and the clay.  Clearly God is the Potter.  I am the clay.  But I don’t always act like He’s the Potter.  And I certainly don’t live like I am the clay.  Often I live just the opposite.

In Isaiah, God uses practical examples to show how Israel is not trusting in Him.  When they were being attacked, they trusted in swift horses and fleeing.  In other words, they trusted strong horses and running instead of God.  Good grief!  This is so like me.  I often look for my strength in things besides God.  When a struggle comes, what I might do first is get a plan in my mind of how to fix it.  The problem with that plan is that often I have not consulted God first, by prayer or time in the Word.

Isaiah 29-30 talks about this very thing.  It says Israel’s hearts have been hardened and they don’t listen to God’s Word coming through His prophet anymore.  They don’t read or heed His Word.  This is what depending on your own strength and plans looks like.  It is the result of a hardened heart.

God forgive me.  I do not want to be a hard-hearted Christian.  I often am so proud of my own strength and my own ideas and my own ways that I refuse to look to Jesus first.  Somehow I think it makes me look weak.  But the Bible says God is made strong in my weakness!  So why do I fight dependence upon God so much?  Why?  I don’t really know why I fight it.  But I guess the answer is sin.  Specifically, the sin of pride.

I am so proud of myself and my strength.  I am arrogant.  Ugly sin.  But I do know how to battle sin, thank God.  1 Cor 10:13 says no temptation will come to us that God has not provided a way of escape.  So, I know that the answer to the sin of trusting in myself is just to trust in God.  It is to cry out to Him to help me and humble me.  So that’s what I intend to do.  I imagine I’m not the only Christian struggling with this matter.  I imagine there are people in our church family and in our circles of brothers and sisters who struggle with self-strength.  I hope that we love each another enough to pray for each other and to call out pride when we see it.  To speak to each other with love and gentleness – words of life and truth.

And those words would probably sounds something like:

You cannot do this by yourself.  Have you prayed about this sister or brother?  What does the Bible say?  Have you studied the Word in this matter?

Self-strength is ugly.  But it can be attractive even to the Christian.  It causes us to believe that we are sufficient in a way the Bible says we are not.  I love Isaiah.  Because Isaiah does not let you believe that lie.  It knocks down all those deceptions and defenses and speaks truth instead.  And the truth is that God is the only sufficient One.  He is the only One with all the answers.  He is the Truth.  He is the only Hope.  I am absolutely nothing and incapable of living rightly or wisely without His help.

This is God’s truth.  I am not strong.  You are not strong.  We are not strong unless and until we put our whole hope in God.

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Texas Tragedy

Texas is bearing more than her fair share of heartache and suffering these days.

Just a month or so ago, we watched in horror as Houston was submerged in hurricane flood waters.  And now, we mourn with Texans who lost precious loved ones in a senseless act of murderous violence against worshipers gathered at First Baptist Church of Sutherland.

What are we, as Christians, to say to such things?  How are we to process and think about such loss of life?

Well, first, we must know what not to say and what not to think.  For instance, we must not think what an atheist would think.  And we must not say what an atheist would say.  Since there is no god, there really cannot be any objective definition of evil.  Humans are cosmic accidents.  A surprisingly well-organized coagulation of atoms, evolved from lower life forms over billions of years.  So, nothing we can do to stop those “lower animal genes” from sometimes expressing themselves.  And really no way to place blame.  Though Darwinians and atheists might not like to admit it, if they follow their worldview to its logical (or illogical) conclusions, they have nothing of substance to say to grieving Texans right now, except perhaps “better luck next time.”

And we must not say or think what some Eastern religions, or a New-Ager or a Christian Scientist might think and say.  All of life is really just an illusion.  Pain and suffering aren’t really real.  The best you can hope for is to be reabsorbed back into the universe someday where you will be blissfully “non-existent.”  This kind of religious non-sense is only more hurtful to the husband mourning the loss of his wife who was pregnant with their first child.

And we must not think or say what a follower of Islam or some warped versions of Christianity might think or say.  God is judging Texans for their sin and rebellion.  They are only getting what’s coming to them.  The Bible Book of Job serves as a massive trumpet blast warning against this very myopic  and shallow theological view of the world.

And we must not think or say what some liberal versions of Christianity or Judaism might think or say.  God is not sovereign.  He’s not actually in control of all things and has to react to these tragedies as best He can.  But, have no fear, He’s pretty good at bringing something good out of these messes.  Maybe there’s some lesson in it for you Texans?

And we must not think or say what some genuine, well-meaning Christians think or say when they ascribe everything to human free will.  God is just letting human freedom run its course.  God will not violate or override a person’s will for any reason.  Well, mass numbers of Christians believe this, but this theology is not biblical nor is it comforting.  If God is sovereign and has all power, why would He not just prevent this act of evil?  Does God really value human will / freedom so highly that He prefers to allow mass murders rather than overriding an evil person’s will?  Make no mistake, friends, what happened in Sutherland yesterday was not an act of “free” will.  Rather, it was an obvious display of the enslaved will of a fallen, lost person living apart from the rescuing grace of Christ.

He who commits sin is a slave of sin” (Jesus as recorded in John 8:34).

So, what should we Christians think or say?  Well the theology of suffering given to us by God in the Bible is actually a complex weaving together of God’s absolute sovereignty and man’s sinful will and man’s accountability before God.  Of Divine judgment against mankind’s sin and of mysterious Divine Providence working all things for the good of His chosen, beloved, redeemed people.  Of hell deserved by all people and of abundant mercy lavished on undeserving sinners who cry out to Jesus for forgiveness.  Of fallen humanity filled with evil and the all-eclipsing glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  We dare not approach these terrible events arrogantly, as if we have this all figured out.  This was the monumental mistake of Job’s friends!  We know so little of how God exercises His sovereign will in this world.  We don’t have all the answers we like to think we have.  But we know enough of who God has revealed Himself to be in the Person of His Son, Jesus, to sustain us through any crisis.

Jesus addressed such matters directly in Luke 13.  Some keen theology students approached Him inquiring about some recent tragedies.  Pilate had slaughtered some poor Galileans and spilled their blood on the temple altar.  And a tower had fallen on eighteen people in Siloam, killing them.  Jesus’ viewpoint is perfect and instructive:

“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered in this way?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.  Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them; do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2-5).

Wow.  How humbling.  We must have compassion on those suffering, for we are no different than they.  No more or less deserving of any good thing from God’s hand than they.  All deserving of God’s wrath.  All in need of God’s mercy.  Truly, “it is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed” (Lamentations 3:22).

So, while we are still given breath by God, let us renounce our sin and cast ourselves upon the mercy of Jesus the Messiah.  And let us pray that suffering Texans will find God true to His promise to be “near the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18).  And let us trust that Holy Spirit God will, as He comforts those grieving, exalt the Lord Jesus who is a “Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).  And may more and more Texans come to know and rejoice in the hope that in Christ Jesus, death loses its sting and grief is never hopeless (1 Cor 15:55; 1 Thess 4:13).

This is what we think and say as followers of the Lord.  And as we wrap our arms around the suffering, and walk alongside our mourning neighbors, we exclaim through tear-stained eyes with the Apostle John, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20)

 

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One Long Day

At 11:27 p.m. on September 13th, I laid my forehead against my Dad’s, said a prayer, then kissed his forehead and told him I loved him.

At 11:30 p.m. I laid my head on the pillow in the bedroom just adjacent to where my Dad was lying.  I said, “Jesus, please let it be tonight.”  I must have been so exhausted I went into a deep sleep almost immediately, because at 11:40 p.m. my youngest brother Kenan shook me awake (and I am a notoriously light sleeper) and said:

“Keith, get up.  He’s gone.  He just stopped breathing.”

I threw on a t-shirt and walked back into the room where my Dad had been laying on his deathbed for three weeks, battling cancer.  As I entered the room, I knew instantly that indeed Dad was “gone.”  My sister was already weeping deeply.  My cousin who was the world’s best caretaker to my Dad over these last nine months was crying softly at the foot of his bed.  My wife was crying at the head of the bed.  I walked toward Dad’s body, my wife shuffled to let me get to him.  I took a moment to console my sister and tell her “It’s alright.  Everything is alright now.”  I laid my right hand on his forehead and my left hand on his neck.  I had the honor and privilege of feeling Dad’s final “pulse,” those final few beats, as they weakened, then stopped.

“I praise You O God!  I praise You O God!  I thank You for the gift of my Dad.  What a gift.  What a gift!”

I am sure I said more through tears, but I distinctly remember saying these words, as my youngest brother said “amens” and “hallelujahs.”  Jesus had answered my prayer that night swiftly!

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15).

My sister, one of my brothers, my wife and cousin and I then gathered around my Dad’s body and sang two stanza’s of the hymn “There’s a Land That is Fairer Than Day.”  We were so sad, but so full of joy.  Fighting in the power of the Holy Spirit to see things with God’s eyes.

That was two weeks ago.  It has seemed like one long day.  My wife and girls and I have had moments of deep sadness and moments of laughter at good memories.  My church family has been nothing short of amazing.  And we are finding God really is “near to the brokenhearted.”

I am not sure why I am compelled to write this today.  It’s cathartic for me, I suppose.  I have nothing profound to offer my few readers in this post.  Only to say that Dad was my hero.  Of all humans on this planet, he was at the top of my respect and admiration hierarchy.  My love for him was as pure as love can be in this fallen world.  I was and am so blessed to be chosen by God to be the son of Don W. McWhorter.

But greater still the sheer joy that fills my heart at knowing Dad, and I, are chosen of God to be His adopted sons in Christ Jesus our Lord!  For the last few months of his life, I started a little ritual with Dad.  When I left him, whether for a few days or a few hours, I would say, “Dad, I will see you again.”  His eyes would light up with that fire only those closest to him knew, as he looked at me and said, “That’s right!  That’s right!”

It bolstered both our spirits.  No goodbyes.  No sir!  Jesus made that a thing of the past for His redeemed!

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth . . . and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ (Rev 21:1-4).

O, what a Savior!  What a day that will be when my Jesus I shall see!  And, I will see Dad again too!  And though I am so sad I cannot pick up the phone and hear his voice right now, I know there is coming a day when Dad and I will visit in immortal bodies.  Our minds no longer cluttered by sin.  Our hearts pure in love for God and one another.  Our vocal chords tuned perfectly to sing to our Lord Christ.

And we shall sing, “Worthy is the Lamb!”  Together.  With all the saints from all the ages.

O death, where is your sting?

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Eyes to the Sky

Much of the nation had their eyes to the sky yesterday during the solar eclipse.  Hundreds of thousands converged in various “totality zones” from Oregon to South Carolina to experience a total eclipse of the sun.

Schools let out.  And frankly I do not understand why any school within sight of the eclipse would not have let students freely enjoy the sight with their family and friends.  At bare minimum it should have been an excused absence!  We wonder why interest in science is failing, and then we have schools that will not even embrace one of the most magnificent astrological events most students will ever have an opportunity to witness.

Personally, I set out on an hour drive from my home yesterday morning to the town of Scottsburg, IN.  Discovered the Ace Hardware there had glasses.  That place was packed out!  The business manager there was thinking ahead, because as far as anyone of us in line could tell, he had the only available glasses in all of Southeastern Indiana! It was a unique social event – waiting in line at the hardware store.  I chatted with a gentlemen behind me.  We joked with a woman further back in the line.  And two Mennonite women made their purchase just in front of me.  It was eclectic fun!

And my wife, daughters and I enjoyed popping in and out of the house as we watched the total eclipse live on TV while also enjoying the 95% eclipse in our front yard.  We noticed our neighbors in their yard with no glasses, and several times during the event, we walked over to share the glasses with them.  And we commented to them on the creation glorifying the Creator!  And they agreed.  It was nice sharing that moment with them.

So, just a few observations:

  • The way so many TV scientists referred to this amazing creative act of God was infuriating.  Perhaps even demonic.  I heard noted scientists call this a “cosmic coincidence.”  Yep.  Makes perfect sense that the moon just “happens” to be 400 times closer and 400 times smaller than the sun.  And that’s why we even know of such a thing as a total solar eclipse.  And makes perfect sense that we can predict the exact dates of these events years in advance.  Give me a break!  This thing was no accident or coincidence.  Our cosmos is ordered to reflect the Perfect Orderliness of our Creator.  No wonder kids hate science when we have stripped God’s glory from it and made everything magnificent a mere coincidence of “mother nature.”  But I guess if our kids think they too are just cosmic accidents, then why bother getting excited about just another accident?
  • To gaze at the eclipse yesterday and somehow be able to shut out the radiance of the Creator is a sure sign of spiritual deadness.  And if scientists and teachers and parents and children do not repent of it and cry out to the Creator God in Christ for forgiveness and mercy, there will be hell to pay (Romans 1:18-32).  Christian parents, please tell me you did not miss this opportunity to speak of God and the glory of His salvation in His Son and our Savior?!  So many spiritual analogies could have and should have been made as we stared upward yesterday.
  • Our word “eclipse” derives from a Greek / Latin word meaning “abandoned.”  The ancient Greeks thought the sun was abandoning the earth during such an event.  Now think about this in relation to what God did while His Son, Jesus, hung on the cross for the sins of the world.

“Now from the sixth hour to the ninth hour (noon to 3) darkness fell upon the land.  About the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ which means ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'”  Matthew 27:45-46

  • Wow!  Another cosmic coincidence?  No way!  God dimmed the light of the sun for 3 hours as He poured out His wrath against the sins of His people on the body of Christ.  It was my darkness that enveloped my Savior that day.  It was the darkness in our hearts that eclipsed the Light of the World that day.  He was shrouded in our evil, and eclipsed, abandoned.  So that all who trust in Christ alone for salvation might bask in His light and life forever and ever.  Hallelujah!
  • Where I live, we had only about 95% eclipse.  I was actually shocked that it didn’t get any darker than it did.  I expected more wow factor regarding the dimness.  But goodness is that fire ball in the sky powerful.  It was lighting up my world with just a sliver of its rays.  And if you think the sun is powerful, just wait until you turn your eyes to the sky one day to be blinded by the brilliance of the King of Kings who is the Light of Heaven.

“Behold He is coming with the clouds and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him.  So it is to be.  Amen.”  Revelation 1:7

  • Darkness always loses.  Light always wins.  The moon lost the epic battle yesterday.  It looked victorious for a few short minutes or hours.  But nothing can stop the Son!

“He is not here.  He has risen, just as He said.”  Matthew 28:6

“And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war.”  Revelation 19:11

“And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.” Revelation 22:5

Keep your eyes to the sky brothers and sisters!  

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Bitter Women Make Bitter Enemies

By Lori Beard

I have seen bitterness run rampant and destroy marriages and relationships with children in horrible ways.  I have sat with women who are harboring bitterness like a treasure.  They have stored it away in their hearts in a safe place.  They say things like, “It does not affect my life.  I am just not ready to lay it down.  I control my emotions well enough that it does not affect me.”

And these same women admit that they are angry.  But they somehow think it’s not affecting them.

I also sit with women who are there because of countless broken relationships.  Issues in marriage.  Issues with children.  Issues with other women.  These women have not been able to maintain a female friendship ever in their lives.  And when I suggest anger or bitterness as the reason, they deny it.  They are not angry.  They have forgiven and let it go.

I have sometimes responded: “Friend your life does not bear fruit of forgiveness and letting it go.  Bitterness is a seed.  It grows and grows.  It consumes everything in its path.  Often I can see it in a face.  Tight lips.  Furrowed brows.  I can hear it in a voice.  Sharp commanding edges.  Short clipped tones.  I can see it in an attitude.  Short, unhappy, impatient responses.  Attitudes that are ‘superior’ or ‘know it all.’  These repeated behaviors are telling signs of what is happening in a calloused, angry heart.  Bitterness is wicked.  It leaves a mess in its wake.”

I have had occasion to discuss bitterness and anger often over the last few months with my sweet daughter, Becca. She has suffered some tragic hurt in her life and it has left her confused and searching for justice.  The answers she has found, while biblical, have not always been easy to swallow.  She found out that even when treated unjustly, she is not to revile.  Even when insulted she is not to threaten.  Even when cast aside and abandoned she is not to hate.

Oh my word!  How hard the biblical truth of the love of God has been for her to read this last year.  I have watcher her lay down her anger over and over again.  And then find out something new and pick it up again.  Heartbreaking.

The words of God through the Apostle Peter have done her much good.  They have been her anchor in a world gone crazy.

When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats.  Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.  1 Peter 2:23

If the Bible is true, and I know it is, and Becca knows it is, then we are able by sanctifying grace to lay down every hurt or wrong done against us and entrust ourselves to the One who judges justly.  God is just.  He is right.  He makes only right decisions.  He never goes against His nature.  He never does anything unjust.

What truth!  What a beautiful, life-changing truth!  I can trust Him.  Becca can trust Him.  When she is reviled against she can not only not revile back, but also not be angry back.  She can simply say to her just God, “I leave that in Your capable, just hands.”

When she is abandoned and forsaken and left alone, she can recall the precious words of Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  She can count on her capable, just God.

When we live like this, there is no room for anger or bitterness.  There is no place for offense to take foothold because God is in charge and He is just.  He is working every single wound to our good to make us like Christ (Rom 8:28-29). Peace that surpasses understanding is the result of trusting Him more than we trust our own “rights” and above our felt need for vengeance.  God never gets anything wrong.  He is at work on behalf of believers all the time.  Christ and the Holy Spirit are justly interceding on our behalf to make all things right.

This is our anchor and hope.  Praise God for never failing at anything!  He is perfectly right and just.  He is trustworthy!

Lay down your bitterness.  Lay down your anger.  Pray and ask for help.  God is able to bear it for you.  Bitter women make bitter enemies because bitterness is enmity with God.  It has no place in the kingdom of God.  Praise the Lord for real freedom from anger through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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