A Hope That Overwhelms Grief

I have heard it said before that “when things are going well we talk about God, but when things are tough we talk to Him.” I would say this is abundantly accurate.

C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain says “We can ignore pleasure, but pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

In reflecting on my own season of trials, suffering, difficulty, and a slew of circumstances not working out the way I thought they would, I was brought to Genesis 50:20 where Joseph says “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” For me, I know that Satan would want nothing more than for me to functionally “curse God and die” (as it is said in the book of Job) but I know that God is working something greater out, and because of that I can count this present suffering as joy–knowing that I am growing more aware and secure in Christ because of it (see James 1:2-4).

Besides, our God is in the business of turning defeat into victory.

We see this almost entirely throughout the Bible, don’t we? We see this in Genesis with Abraham and Isaac and with the story of Joseph’s abandonment by his brothers; we see this with Moses and the Israelites in Egypt, being delivered from Pharaoh, across the Red Sea, in the wilderness, etc.; in countless battles and struggles in the Old Testament; and most significantly we see this with Jesus on the cross (and ultimately His resurrection, ascension, and promised return)!

It is Truth like this that causes David’s cup to overflow in Psalm 23 while still in the valley. His circumstance has not changed, yet his disposition has been eternally altered.

Tim Keller puts it extremely well when he says “The Christian faith has a hope that overwhelms grief. This hope doesn’t get rid of the grief or pain but sweetens and shifts it.”

Again we say, ‘what Satan intended for evil, God (rightly) redirects for good.’

This is why the author of Hebrews can say “we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” (Hebrews 10:39)

This truth grows in us a trust and a confidence otherwise unattainable. This truth is what propels Paul in Romans 8 to say “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (v.31)

This is why we can echo with 1 Thessalonians 4:13: “(we do not) grieve as others do who have no hope” and with numerous Psalms that proclaim “God is doing all of this so that He alone may be magnified! It is for HIS namesake and HIS glory that He does it!”

With all this in mind a particular quote yields a helpful context: “If we would talk less and pray more things would be better than they are in the world; at least we should be better enabled to bear them.” ~ John Owen.

You see, it is seasons like these that force our eyes off of ourselves and exclusively to Christ. He is the One we turn to; in Him (alone!) we trust, for He is trustworthy. His very self is declared “Faithful” and “True” (Revelation 19:11) and many verses echo the truth proclaimed in 1 Thessalonians 5:24 that says if God promises: “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.”

This is a hope that overwhelms grief.

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Jesus Also Had Unbelieving Family Members

Do you, like me, have family members who do not believe in Jesus? If so, we are in good company. So did Jesus. And I think this is meant to give us hope.

According to the Apostle John, “not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:5). That’s incredible. Those who had lived with Jesus for 30 years really did not know him. Not one of Jesus’ brothers is mentioned as a disciple during his pre-crucifixion ministry. But after his resurrection and ascension, there they are in the upper room worshiping him as God (Acts 1:14).

Why didn’t they believe? And what made them change?

The Bible doesn’t answer the first question. But I’ll bet it was difficult to have Jesus for a brother.

First, Jesus would have been without peer in intellect and wisdom. He was astounding temple rabbis by age 12 (Luke 2:42, 47). A sinful, fallen, gifted sibling can be a hard act to follow. Imagine a perfect, gifted sibling.

Second, Jesus’ consistent and extraordinary moral character must have made him odd and unnerving to be around. His siblings would have grown increasingly self-conscious around him, aware of their own sinful, self-obsessed motives and behavior, while noting that Jesus didn’t seem to exhibit any himself. For sinners, that could be hard to live with.

Third, Jesus was deeply and uniquely loved by Mary and Joseph. How could they not have treated him differently? They knew he was the Lord. Imagine their extraordinary trust in and deference to Jesus as he grew older. No doubt the siblings would have perceived a dimension to the relationship between the oldest child and their parents that was different from what they experienced.

And when swapping family stories it would have been hard to match a star appearing at your brother’s birth.

Jesus out-classed his siblings in every category. How could anyone with an active sin nature not resent being eclipsed by such a phenom-brother? Familiarity breeds contempt when pride rules the heart.

More pain than we know must have been behind Jesus’ words, “a prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household” (Matthew 13:57).

So as we assess the role our weak, stumbling witness plays in our family members’ unbelief, let’s remember Jesus — not even a perfect witness guarantees that loved ones will see and embrace the gospel. We must humble ourselves and repent when we sin. But let’s remember that the god of this world and indwelling sin is what blinds the minds of unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:4).

The story of Jesus’ brothers can actually give us hope for our loved ones. At the time his brothers claimed that Jesus was “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21), it must have appeared very unlikely that they would ever become his disciples. But eventually they did! And not only followers, but leaders and martyrs in the early church.

The God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” shone in their hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of their brother, Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:6).

So take heart! Don’t give up praying for unbelieving family members. Don’t take their resistance as the final word. They may yet believe, and be used significantly in the kingdom!

And while they resist, or if they have died apparently unbelieving, we can trust them to the Judge of all the earth who will be perfectly just (Genesis 18:25). Jesus does not promise that every parent, sibling, or child of a Christian will believe, but does painfully promise that some families will divide over him (Matthew 10:34-39). We can trust him when it happens.

It is moving to hear James refer to his brother as “our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory” (James 2:1). Can you imagine what this phrase meant for James? The Lord of glory had once slept beside him, ate at his dinner table, played with his friends, spoke to him like a brother, endured his unbelief, paid the debt of his sin, and then brought him to faith.

It may have taken 20-30 years of faithful, prayerful witness by the Son of God, but the miracle occurred: his brothers believed. May the Lord of glory grant the same grace to our beloved unbelievers.

Posted originally on the Desiring God blog here: http://ow.ly/bak7B

That I May Know Him

(7) But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. (8) Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (9) and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—(10) that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, (11) that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)

This verse brings me great joy and great confidence. I’m not sure if any other set of verses in the Bible provides much more confidence than this one does for me. The power in which Paul proclaims these truths in these verses is astounding, and the sheer Gospel-centrality of them is enough to bring me to my knees before a Holy God. But not only is He a Holy God, He’s MY God. And Ephesians 1 says that God has chosen me, and all those who profess faith in Him, for adoption as sons. We, an evil (Genesis 6:5), wicked (Jeremiah 17:9), idolatrous (Romans 1:22-25), lying (Romans 3:4), adulterous (James 4:4, Matthew 5:28), greedy (Matthew 23:25) people are brought near to God, through Jesus (Hebrews 4:14-16), and proclaimed clean (1 John 1:7), righteous (Romans 3:22), holy (Hebrews 10:10), blameless (Ephesians 1:4), and empowered by God Himself (1 John 4:15).

Romans 3:10-12 says that no one is righteous, and yet Christ died to reconcile us to God (Ephesians 2:16, Colossians 1:20).

Do you feel the weight of this? It’s not that we were so lovable that Christ came and cuddled with us because we were so cute. Christ came to reconcile us, despite us, and this should lead us to deep gratitude and worship.

Paul says above in verse 8 that every gain he had (which, by the way, was a lot) he counted as nothing for the sake of knowing Christ. He even says later in the verse that he considers it rubbish when compared to Christ! Matt Chandler paints this picture well. He talks about how we so eagerly go after the next big thing–that new TV, the new car, the next iPhone–and how all of the things we spend so much time pursuing ends up being “stuff of future garage sales, dumps, and storage units.”

Let us have a unity of focus like Paul does in this passage in Ephesians. Verses 8-10 show the heart of it when it illustrates why he counts all things as loss compared to Christ: “in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him… that I may Him and the power of His resurrection.”

At the end of the day we want Christ. Our pursuit is Christ. Our longing is for Christ. And our passions in life should all center back on glorifying, and making much of, Christ. David Platt says that Christians are a people “conquered by a superior affection” and for me, I pray that those words may be said about me. I want to be consumed in the making much of God.

May we all feel the weight of this, and may this be just what we needed to hear tonight. This Gospel is more than any of us deserve, and better than anything we can ever attain, but the glorious truth is that it is freely offered to us. May we praise God with everything within us and have this be the foundation of everything we do. I want to live to make much of God and I pray that you will join me in this.