I invite you to look at--

My Website where you will find: ordering information and chapter summaries for The Beauty of God for a Broken World; audio sermons; a few poems and hymns; and some other essays.

My Videos where you will find a few two-minute videos on various subjects related to The Beauty of God for a Broken World.


Monday, August 12, 2013

The Silence of God

Over thirty years ago, I sat with a woman who had lost her husband and her only daughter. Both of them were hospitalized for about four months before they died. She said, “I can pray for other people, but I can’t pray for myself. My prayers seem to go no higher than the ceiling.”
She felt as if God had deserted her. She could not sense His presence. God did not seem to be listening to her.
I assured her that her feelings were not abnormal. She was not a bad Christian. Some of God’s choicest servants have felt the same way, as we see in the Psalms.
David, a man after God’s own heart, cried out, “To You, O Lord, I call; my rock, do not be deaf to me, for if You are silent to me, I will become like those who go down to the pit” (Psalm 28:1). “I stretch out my hands to You; my soul longs for You, as a parched land. Answer me quickly, O Lord, my spirit fails; do not hide Your face from me, or I will become like those who go down to the pit” (Psalm 143:6-7). Another psalmist complained, “I will say to God my rock, ‘Why have You forgotten me?’” (Psalm 42:9).
Such feelings of abandonment come most often in times of great distress or sorrow. The suffering believer prays, but his circumstances do not change, and the medicine bottle of divine comfort seems empty.

The thing that surprises me about the ancient Hebrew poets is how often their psalms of lament close on a note of confidence, even before their situation improves. For example, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God” (Psalm 42:11).
In the apparent silence of God, they discovered that the Lord was speaking more loudly than when life was sweet. He was calling out to them, “Trust Me when you can neither hear nor see Me,” and they answered, “Yes, I will.”
We see this trust pre-eminently in the Lord Jesus Christ. From the cross, He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” followed a short time later by, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Mark 15:34; Luke 23:46). Jesus was truly forsaken by God for a time as He bore the wrath of God for our sins. As a result, no believer in Jesus will ever be truly forsaken. Jesus took our forsakenness on Himself that we might have the continual presence of God through the Holy Spirit.
The night before His crucifixion, Jesus said, "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).
One of the ministries of the Spirit is to help us pray when we are so distressed that we cannot pray for ourselves. “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).
To the dear lady I mentioned earlier I said, “I know you feel deserted, as many of God’s beloved children have felt, but the Holy Spirit is in you, and He is turning your groans into a more beautiful prayer than you have ever uttered with your lips.” And she was comforted.

(This essay first appeared in the Allentown Morning Call on June 22, 2013.)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Jesus' Death Was Not a Defeat

Several years ago, a Muslim man told me that according to his religion, Jesus did not die on the cross. He said that Jesus was a righteous prophet, and that God would never allow such a good man to suffer so horribly.

That is a natural way of looking at the world. We instinctively think that nice things should happen to good people, and unpleasant things should happen to bad people. Of course, this sin-damaged world does not work that way. I deal with the larger problem of evil in my book, The Beauty of God for a Broken World. In this column, I want to address the more limited question implied by the challenge above: Was the death of Jesus compatible with God’s moral government of the world?

1) God didn’t allow Jesus to be captured and killed. God planned it. The apostle Peter said that Jesus, who was “delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23).

2) The greatest suffering of Jesus was not His physical agony, but the wrath of God poured out on Him for our sins. “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.... The Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief” (Isaiah 53:5, 10).

3) Jesus was not captured and killed against His will. He said, “I lay down My life for the sheep.... I lay down my life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:15, 17-18).

4) Jesus was not just a man picked by God for this fate. He was God who took on our human nature in order to save us. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14).

5) By His death and resurrection, Jesus accomplished two great works: First, He paid the debt of sin for all who trust in Him. Second, He trounced the devil and all his demons. “He cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them” (Colossians 2:14-15). Jesus’ death was not a defeat. It was the first move in a grand victory.

6) Therefore, the crucifixion of Jesus was not an example of God deserting a good man to a horrible fate. It was God’s way of taking on Himself the punishment we deserve so that He was able to uphold His own moral law and yet save those who deserved to die. The cross demonstrated God’s “righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 6:26).

The death of Christ on the cross was not a failure of God’s moral government. Praise God! It was the upholding of that government along with incredible mercy and love. As we approach Good Friday and Easter, I urge you to enter by faith into a saving relationship with the crucified, risen Lord Jesus.

[This post first appeared with one minor difference in the Allentown Morning Call on March 9th, 2013 In that post I did not identify the religion of the man who objected to the death of Christ.]