The Cross and the Crucible -

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
- Romans 5:3-5

“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ.”
- 2 Timothy 2:3

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith - more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire - may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
- 1 Peter 1:6-7

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
- C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (HarperCollins, 2002), p. 91

“There is nothing accidental, or fortuitous, or contingent about God’s work. It is all planned and worked out from the beginning right until the end. In our experience it comes to us increasingly, but in the mind and purpose of God, it is already perfect and entire.”
- D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Why Does God Allow Suffering?, p. 122

“…God wills that the mission of the church advance through storm and suffering.”
- John Piper, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, p. 91

“Suffering, for the Christian, is a vocation – we are called to suffer.”
- Dan McCartney, Why Does it Have to Hurt? – The Meaning of Christian Suffering, p. 101

Here’s a promise - Christians will suffer. In the words of one author, suffering is not a matter of if, but, when. For all of us suffering has already come or is soon coming. In the mystery of God’s wise providence suffering is sent to every true Christian to serve purposes that only God-directed suffering can. We may recoil at the prospect and promise of suffering, but it is precisely in the crucible of affliction that God accomplishes His most enduring work. And though suffering is not salvific (securing redemptive favor with God), it does have a sanctifying effect. With the effectual work of the Spirit, suffering changes us and makes us more like our Savior. God uses the crucible of suffering for our good and His glory.

In reading through a sermon by Puritan John Owen on affliction he commented that suffering and affliction have an effect upon the Christian that nothing else can have. I know that suffering has had this effect in my own life. Some of the suffering Judy and I have experienced I never want to experience again, however, each time I think about these sufferings I thank God for what He has accomplished through them. There have been severe trials that have come that have served God’s purposes far more effectively than anything else imagined. Suffering is not some foul fiend to steer clear of. Suffering is the handmaid of God’s sanctifying purposes. In the Christian suffering is a sure indication of the presence of sanctifying grace.

As Christians, here are a few things to remember about suffering –

1) Suffering is an indication of sonship (Hebrews 12:6-11).
2) Suffering is a sign of Divine love and not Divine abandonment. We only have to look at the Cross to see God’s favor to sinners in the grandest display of suffering (Romans 8:32).
3) Christ is identified with His people and His people are identified with Christ in suffering.
4) All suffering is God-ordained.
5) Suffering is designed to bear good fruit in us.
6) Some suffering will not make sense this side of heaven.
7) All suffering will make sense in heaven.
8) Suffering provokes us to bear with one another, pray for one another, and love and serve one another.
9) Suffering, no matter how difficult, brings God glory and serves our good.
10) There are things God can accomplish in us, both individually and as a church, that come about only in the crucible of suffering.

As God inevitably brings suffering our way may we resolve to embrace it with great gratitude, love for Him, and confidence in His grace-filled purposes.



Strength for Weakness -

“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”
- 2 Corinthians 11:30

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
- 2 Corinthians 12:9

“God accepts our prayers, though weak, because we are His own children, and they come from his own Spirit; because they are according to his own will; and because they are offered in Christ’s mediation, and he takes them, and mingles them with his own incense.”
- Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed, p. 51

“A weak Christian and a strong Christ shall be able to do all.”
- Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, p. 41

Christians are people of great weakness. At the end of the day we are plagued by insufficiency, inability, inefficiency, and weakness. As I think about all of the responsibilities that fall upon my plate I realize I am incredibly weak. As I think about being an effective father and husband I am aware of terrible shortcoming and weakness. At times I realize my prayers are weak, my zeal is often flagging, my love for the Word is lacking, my care for the lost is tepid, and my love for Christ and His church are not what they should be. At every point I need a strong Savior, mighty to save and mighty to fill every lack for my weakness. Often I ask myself, who is sufficient for these things? The amazing thing is God delights to graciously show Himself strong in our weakness. When discouragement seems to overwhelm me and when my strength is at its lowest ebb, God desires to show Himself mighty. I take courage from other saints that have found themselves to be weak and have found God to supply sufficient grace and strength. It is amazing to see the perspective the testimony of others brings. I was reading Jonathan Edwards’ account of David Brainard in John Piper’s, The Hidden Smile of God. Brainard was a missionary to Massachusetts Indians. As a very young man he was zealous to bring the gospel to these people, and at the same time he was dying of tuberculosis. I haven’t read about Brainard for a while, but I remember reading his diary years ago and being greatly moved. In great weakness God provided Brainard with incredible strength and zeal and resolve. As an encouragement, just when you think you’ve reached the end of your rope, read Brainard’s diary. You will see grace given for incredible weakness. I’m afraid that often we give up too soon and we don’t see the strength that God provides for our weakness. God delights to show His incomprehensible power on our behalf. He delights to placard His power and strength in our weakness so that He is made glorious. We may boast in our weakness, but we’ll boast the more in His overwhelming sufficiency and power.



Notorious Repentance -

“Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.”
- Luke 3:8

“Doing right is not the way into the Kingdom; but it is the way of life in the Kingdom. It is not the condition of regeneration, but it is its inevitable consequence and invariable accompaniment.”
- Sinclair Ferguson, Children of the Living God, p. 69

“But nonexistence of remorse makes repentance impossible, and nonexistence of repentance makes forgiveness impossible.”
- J.I. Packer, Concise Theology, p. 245

“We cannot be saved from sin without recognizing the awful evil of our sin, hating it with our whole soul, and earnestly desiring to be delivered not only from its guilt but also from its power. That is to say, we cannot be saved from sin while we desire and intend to continue in sin. If we are to escape God’s wrath and curse, we must turn from our sins to God.”
- Johannes Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism Commentary, p. 432

“Repentance is not just believing that one is a sinner, or feeling sorry for one’s sin, or even hating them. It is the very act of turning away from them. To turn from sin is to turn to goodness.”
- John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, p. 331

“When a preacher of righteousness has stood in the way of sinners, he should never again open his lips in the great congregation until his repentance is as notorious as his sin.”
- John Angell James, quoted by Charles Spurgeon in Lectures to my Students, p. 9

As the 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon stood to exhort young preachers, he warned them to keep watch over both their souls and their lives. He specifically warned them about notorious sins and their effect. Said Spurgeon, there are certain sins which disqualify men from pastoral ministry and do not discount the importance of reputation. He said, “Alas, the beard of reputation, once shorn is hard to grow again.” His encouragement in this came from another preacher, John Angell James, who said that one’s repentance should became as notorious as one’s sin. These are important and wise words for us. The glory of God in the saving work of Christ is reflected in ’notorious’ repentance. Think of David. Think of Zachaeus. Think of Peter. Think of Nicodemus. Think of Lydia. And think of the Philippian jailer. These saints are recorded in the annals of Holy Scripture by their acts of ‘notorious’ repentance. Their acts of repentance are a demonstration of the powerful and effectual work of the Holy Spirit.

As we consider our own lives may our repentance be pervasive, radical, and notorious. When others think of us may they see the Spirit’s work in vibrancy, in life, and in turning from sin in a manner that calls attention to the pervasive, radical and saving nature of God’s work through the gospel. May God keep tepid and shallow repentance far from us. Please pray that our repentance will become as notorious as our sins.



Christ's Altogether Loveliness -

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
- Philippians 4:8

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God….”
- 1 Peter 3:18a

“He is altogether lovely in his birth and incarnation. He is altogether lovely in the whole of his life, in his holiness and his obedience, which in the depths of poverty and persecution he showed by doing good, receiving evil, blessing others, and being cursed all his days. He is altogether lovely in his death, especially to sinners. He was even more glorious and desirable than when he was taken down from the cross, broken and lifeless. He carried all our sins to a land of forgetfulness. He made peace and reconciliation for us. He procured life and immortality for us. He is altogether lovely in his work, in his great undertaking to be the Mediator between God and man, to glorify God’s justice, to save our souls, to bring us to the enjoyment of God who were at such an infinite distance from him by reason of our sin. He is altogether lovely in the glory and majesty with which he was crowned. Now he is seated at the right hand of the majesty on high. Though he is terrible to his enemies, yet he is full of mercy, love and compassion to all his loved ones. He is altogether lovely in all those graces that he pours out to people by the Holy Spirit. He is altogether lovely in all the tender care, power, and wisdom by which he protects, safeguards, and delivers his church and people in the midst of oppositions and persecutions to which they are exposed.”
- John Owen, Communion with God, p. 76

When we think of Christ we don’t likely think of Him as lovely. John Owen is one of my favorite Christian pastor/writers, and although separated by hundreds of years I find he speaks to me like a contemporary counselor. Owen’s affection for and description of Jesus Christ draws desire for Christ from me. One cannot long read Owen unmoved and in this way he is much like Jonathan Edwards. After reading either Owen or Edwards I find my parched soul again thirsting to know Christ better. Seeing Christ in all of His loveliness by His holiness, obedience, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, graces, judgments, compassion, and tender care will change us. This beatific vision of Christ will inflame our desire to know Christ more and better. After all, the heart of the gospel is God Himself as revealed in Christ. May we be drawn to Him in all of His loveliness.


Christ's Active Obedience and 'Bread Truck Mondays'

“For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.”
- Romans 5:19

“What is justification? A. Justification is an act of God's free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”
- Westminster Shorter Catechism 1:33

“(Christ’s) Obedience, therefore, is not something that may be construed of artificially or abstractedly. It is obedience that enlisted all the resources of his perfect humanity, obedience that resided in his person, and obedience of which he is ever the perfect embodiment. It is obedience that finds it permanent efficacy and virtue in him. And we become the beneficiaries of it, indeed partakers of it, by union with him.”
-John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 24

Several years ago at a regional conference pastor Mark Driscoll referred to some of his Mondays as ‘bread-truck Mondays.’ He and his wife coined this phrase to describe those funk-filled Mondays that followed a full Sunday and the oft-times inevitable post-Sunday let-down. For a pastor Mondays can be a day of critical self-evaluation and second-guessing. For Driscoll these were the Mondays when he felt like driving a bread truck. Here he could turn on sports radio and mindlessly deliver loaves of bread throughout downtown Seattle. Oftentimes the pastor is his own worst enemy. There is a realization of not doing or not saying everything he should have, or of saying things he shouldn’t have. There can be a sense of overwhelming inadequacy in the preaching task. What do we do when our weakness is tragically apparent?  Somewhere along the way smarter men than me have coined the phrase ‘Christ’s active obedience.’ This is simply theological shorthand for describing the continual, conscious, unfettered, compliant, glad, and actual obedience of Christ at all times to the will of God. There was never a time when Christ did not obey the Father. One of the wonderful aspects of our salvation is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us. What this means is that Christ’s righteousness in His active obedience to the Father has become my righteousness. In my trust in Christ His continual, conscious, unfettered, compliant, glad and actual obedience have become mine. In Him there was never any want of conformity to, or transgression of, the Law of God (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 14). This is good news.  Understanding the imputation of Christ’s righteousness will help us when we fall woefully short whether we are preachers or homemakers.  To consider that Christ has fulfilled all righteousness for me is my only hope on bread-truck Mondays.



A Slave of Christ -

“When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.”
- Romans 6:20-22

“For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.”
-1 Corinthians 7:22-23

"And from the throne came a voice saying, "Praise our God, all you his servants (douloi = slaves), you who fear him, small and great."
-Revelation 19:5

“There is a sense in which all people are Christ’s possession because he created them and now sustains them; he is the one ‘through whom all things were made and through whom we live’(1 Cor. 8:6). But in every sense believers are his special possession, a people of his very own, because he purchased them as his slaves (1 Cor. 6:19-20, 7:22-23) along with their freedom from all iniquity (Titus 2:14). As a result of that purchase they belong to him totally, and only to him, a comprehensive ownership that his slaves voluntarily embrace. He is their absolute and exclusive Master. His rights over what he purchased are unlimited and he tolerates no rivals to his lordship, for no slave can adequately serve two masters. ‘Proof of purchase’, or the mark of this ownership is the presence and activity of the Spirit in the believer’s life. And that same Spirit is the guarantee that this divine ‘property’ will reach its destination intact.”
- Murray Harris, Slave of Christ, p. 125

If you are a Christian you belong to Christ. Because of His mercies to you, you are not your own. You no longer belong to the dominion of self. You are no longer rightfully in charge. You have been ransomed or purchased for Christ as His own possession and for His own purposes. You have been bought at tremendous cost. The metaphors used for the Christian are many…friend, son, daughter, sheep, soldier, and disciple, but rarely do we refer to the Christian as slave. There is something in us that bristles at the thought of being the possession of another. One of the things my brothers and I used to tell one another is, ‘You’re not the boss of me!’ We couldn’t bear the thought of anyone telling us what to do, let alone one another. If we are Christians Christ is the gracious one in charge. He owns us… lock, stock and barrel. We are no longer our own. We belong to Him. To see ourselves as those who have been purchased will help us see things clearly. It will help us as we love and serve one another. It will help us as we determine priorities for our time and finances. It will help us as we interact as husbands and wives, and as we interact with our children. The shadow of the Cross casts long over our ownership. We are not our own, we’ve been bought with a price.