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Article by Marshall Segal

Staff writer, desiringGod.org

Do you regret your dating history? 62% of Christians say yes.

Crossway recently surveyed seven thousand readers about singleness and dating. The data looks at our desires to be married, our levels of satisfaction in relationships, and the spiritual consequences of trends in our dating. The number that leapt off the page for me was 62.

Nearly two thirds of not-yet-married Christians express regret over previous relationships. That means the critical questions in dating are not just whom to date, how to date, and when to wed, but what to do when we get it wrong. And the reality is most of us get it wrong at some point along the way.

I started dating too young (11 years old). I dated too much (six serious relationships before I graduated from high school). I made too many promises and crossed too many boundaries. If I could take anything back or do anything over in my life, it would be in my dating history.

The regret we carry often feels like it weighs more than we do, but that’s because we’re not meant to carry it around with us, and certainly not our own. As I have wrestled with my own regret, two verses in particular have renewed and revolutionized how I process my failures and mistakes in the past.

When I Fall

I can remember exactly where I was sitting in August of 2008, wrestling with guilt and shame and regret over failed relationships and sexual sin, wondering if I would ever overcome my broken history, when a friend recited Micah 7:8–9 from memory:

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy;
when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness,
the Lord will be a light to me.
I will bear the indignation of the Lord
because I have sinned against him,
until he pleads my cause
and executes judgment for me.
He will bring me out to the light;
I shall look upon his vindication.

I had read the words before, but I had never really read them. It felt like I was hearing the gospel for the first time all over again. The prophet feels the weight of his sin: “I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him” — real regret, real guilt, real shame. The next words are some of the most stunning in all the Bible: “ . . . until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me.”

We sin against him; he pleads for us. He is the prosecuting attorney and our defense. And he’s never lost a case. If you are tempted to let regret eat away your hope, you have lost sight of who your God is. Micah writes a few verses later,

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in steadfast love.
He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18–19)

He does not linger over your past; he passes over your iniquities. He does not resent pardoning your sin. If you are his, he delights to have compassion on you. He does not keep a quiet log of your transgressions to hurl against you in court. No, he buries every forgiven sin, paid for in full with the blood of his Son, at the very bottom of the deepest sea. Never to be dug up by anyone ever again.

Two Kinds of Regret

Now, some regret belongs at the bottom of the ocean. Other regret needs to be nailed to the cross first. The apostle Paul, for instance, writes,

I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:9–10)

Worldly regret — grief over the consequences of sin that does not grieve the sin itself — ebbs and flows with what our sin costs us in this life, rising higher on the shore of our minds some days and less on others. Eventually it will fall like a tidal wave when death brings us to God. But godly regret — grief over the way we have ignored, rejected, and offended God — produces a repentance that defeats death and enjoys eternity. Godly regret longs for God to look great — first in forgiveness, and then in grace-filled righteousness (Psalms 25:11).

Does your regret about your dating history lead you to God and away from sin? We will never attain perfection in this life, but forgiven children of God are men and women who increasingly hate their sin and prefer righteousness. Are you grieved by your past mainly because of what your sin cost you, or because of what it cost Christ?

What’s Next?

The Bible does not tiptoe around guilt and regret. Isaiah saw a vision of God that revealed the wickedness of the prophet’s own heart. He cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5). Confronted with infinite perfection and power and justice, Isaiah is undone. Regret leaves him in a puddle on the ground.

But the God who calms the waves also raises puddles:

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:6–7)

Your guilt is taken away. Your sin is atoned for. If God himself has paid for our sins, and declared us guilt-free, we have no right to wallow in shame anymore. We waste so much time wishing we would have done it all differently — chosen differently, said differently, touched differently. God does not call us to redo yesterday, but to do something new today — because of his mercy, in his strength, and for his fame.

So what should you do? Isaiah “heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’” (Isaiah 6:8). Is the prophet too ashamed of his sin to step forward? No. “Here I am! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8). Once filled with regret, now filled with godly ambition. Not wallowing, but witnessing.

Isaiah’s life has been given new purpose, direction, and hope. His past is about God. His relationships are about God. His broken, sinful, regrettable history has become a canvas on which God himself has painted unique, undeniable, incomparable beauty. Instead of throwing it away in guilt and shame, Isaiah frames and displays his canvas for as many eyes and hearts as possible.

Let your regret become another reason to tell someone about what God has done for you. Walk others on the path out of devastating worldly regret into the healing power of godly regret.

Dating with a History

If the holy, sovereign God can love you and use you despite your dating history, then you can learn to love again. When he leads you into another relationship, you don’t have to pretend like your previous relationships never happened. In fact, to cover your past is to hide the grace and mercy God has shown you — to minimize what he has done in your life — and to risk falling into the same sin.

If you will ever be truly happy in marriage, you (and your spouse) will need to resonate deeply and joyfully with this confession:

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15–16)

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Martin Luther King, Jr. shared his dream with the world.

He did more than denounce; he dreamt. He did not merely paint the bleak landscape of racial hostility in the world’s leading nation, but dipped his brush in vibrant colors and painted a country as it could be. He imagined a day when blacks and whites were not only equal in the eyes of the law, but joined together around a table in fellowship: “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

On this day when we honor the sacrifice, vision, and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we should ask whether his beloved dream has not only made it into our hearts, but also found a seat within our homes, and around our dinner tables.

Who’s Been at Your Table?

Dr. King imagined a day when the sons of former slave owners and the sons of former slaves could sit down and break bread together. Are any of us cut by the recent words of Albert Tate:

Look at your social calendar over the past six months. If you are a Republican, how many people have sat around your dinner table that voted for a Democrat in the most recent election, or vice versa? If you are an African American, how many people have you invited to dinner who have to put on a lot more sunscreen than you when they go to the beach? This should be a telling experience, as you examine the reality of your social calendar.” (Birmingham, 168)

Our flawed imaginations and deceptive hearts prefer to “round up” when we evaluate ourselves, rather than dealing with specific numbers. Perhaps we should let our calendars speak to us: Do we allow our tables to reflect the love of the entire body of Christ as well as our theological convictions? What specific number of people unlike ourselves have come into our homes, and sat at our dinner tables, since we last celebrated King’s influence a year ago?

History of Distrust

We live in a time when one consistently sees more ethnic diversity in shopping malls, McDonalds drive-thrus, and pee-wee football games than in the local church. We live in a time when one wonders whether the demographics of our congregations may reflect the vision of Jim Crow more than the apostle John. We live in a time when we often eat with those who like us, agree with us, and look like us. Our true church fellowship reflects our dining-room fellowship; our communion around our dinner-tables will impact, over time, who’s sharing communion at our churches.

Historically, the white church’s unbiblical orthopraxy has alienated the black church from its biblical orthodoxy. In other words, a scarred history around the dinner table has caused a breach of trust between white and black Christian communities.

During the era of American slavery (1600–1865), blacks did not break bread with their masters. If they were even in the dining room, it was to serve, not to fellowship as equals. The slave in the room was too often synonymous with the tables they set and the plates they carried — as property, not persons.

In times of segregation and Jim Crow (1865–1949), blacks were allowed to have their own dinner tables. Drinking fountains, movie theatres, restrooms, and (sadly) many conservative, Bible-believing seminaries were marked “white only” and “colored only.” “Separate but equal” reigned supreme, as did oppression, racism, inequality, and mutual hostility. Neither the restaurant nor the dinner table displayed God-honoring fellowship.

In the Civil Rights Era (1950–1968), Martin Luther King, Jr. and others protested the continued injustices. Blacks fought for the right to legal equality with regards to voting, racial segregation, and dehumanizing discrimination. But too often they were met with silence, and even hostility, from evangelical, Reformed, and Bible-believing churches and churchmen who “remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows,” as King wrote in “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” Only through tumultuous times of police brutality, riots, hosings, and dog-bitings, was a place at Uncle Sam’s table legally granted to African Americans. But even then, segregation still flourished within American homes.

Pass the Potatoes, Bridge the Gap

Our history has shown us segregation in our neighborhoods, segregation in the pews, and segregation around our dinner tables. Today, we still can see segregation in our neighborhoods, segregation in the pews, and segregation around our dinner tables. Dr. King’s dream has yet to fully be realized.

Such is the opportunity before us as the church of the risen Christ.

We the blood-bought people of God know that Jesus alone tears down the Great Wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14). The world has merely humanistic motivates for diversity; we have the word of our Creator and the blood of our Redeemer. Jesus bought a place for that diverse brother in Christ to have a seat at our table. Invite him and his family to sit in it.

God Has a Dream

Revelation 19:6–8 is a banner for Christian dinner fellowship:

“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure.”

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1–2)

On January 8, 1956, Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Flemming, and Roger Youderian were speared to death on a sandbar called “Palm Beach” in the Curaray River of Ecuador. They were trying to reach the Huaorani Indians for the first time in history with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Elisabeth Elliot memorialized the story in her book Shadow of the Almighty. That title comes from Psalm 91:1: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”

Not an Accident

This is where Jim Elliot was slain — in the shadow of the Almighty. Elisabeth had not forgotten the heartbreaking facts when she chose that title two years after her husband’s death. When he was killed, they had been married three years and had a ten-month-old daughter. The title was not a slip — not any more than the death of the five missionaries was a slip. But the world saw it differently. Around the world, the death of these young men was called a tragic nightmare. Elisabeth believed the world was missing something. She wrote, “The world did not recognize the truth of the second clause in Jim Elliot’s credo: ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.’”

She called her book Shadow of the Almighty because she was utterly convinced that the refuge of the people of God is not a refuge from suffering and death, but a refuge from final and ultimate defeat. “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24) — because the Lord is God Almighty.

God did not exercise his omnipotence to deliver Jesus from the cross. Nor will he exercise it to deliver you and me from tribulation. “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). If we have the faith and single-mindedness and courage of those five missionaries, we might find ourselves saying with the apostle Paul,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:36–39)

Security in His Strength

Has it ever hit home to you what it means to say, “My God, who loves me and gave himself for me, is almighty”? It means that if you take your place “in the shadow of the Almighty,” you will be protected by omnipotence. There is infinite and unending security in the almightiness of God — no matter what happens in this life. The omnipotence of God means eternal, unshakable refuge in the everlasting glory of God, no matter what happens on this earth.

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To Us a Child Is Born

Birth announcements are wonderful ways of sharing and spreading joy.

Seven years ago, my wife and I received a treasured postcard in the mail after our first niece was born into the world. We read it carefully, studied the photo, and celebrated her arrival.

In one of the most studied and celebrated Bible passages at Christmas, Isaiah announces the arrival of a child:

To us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6–7)

The prophet Isaiah wasn’t trying to write a modern birth announcement. But comparing his description of this baby boy to the birth announcements we send and receive illumines the distinctive splendor of this particular baby. Four things set Isaiah’s announcement apart.

1. This announcement is sent really early.

Some birth announcements go out soon after the baby is born, and others a bit later, depending on the organizational ability (and sleep levels) of the parents. But every single birth announcement I’ve ever received was sent after the baby was born. This one is different. It’s sent before the birth — seven hundred years before.

The prophet Isaiah delivered it to the people of Israel while they were facing a threat from the growing superpower of Assyria (which would eventually destroy the northern kingdom of Israel and lead many Jews into captivity). Isaiah addressed this situation by promising the coming of a future King.

The seven-hundred-year delay was not because God was unable to fulfill his promise sooner, but because he wanted to give his people the hope of a future King to sustain them through dark times. The long period between promise and fulfillment was, in fact, a gift from God to his people.

2. Isaiah announces a royal birth.

I once met Charles, the Prince of Wales, at a very fancy reception. We all stood under a beautiful tent on a well-manicured university lawn, enjoying canapés and eagerly awaiting his arrival. When the car pulled up, we all crowded into the receiving line.

I’ve never received a royal birth announcement, but I imagine it’s fancier than most — especially when it announces the birth of the future King. Such an announcement must bear a solemnity and significance ordinary ones do not.

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We might suppose that overstuffed American bellies would hardly need any instruction on feasting. So many of us have grown so accustomed to having so much to eat. Then here comes Thanksgiving. Just put it on autopilot. Fasting is the discipline today that is grossly under-served; no need to consider feasting.

Not so fast. It’s true that fasting is sadly overlooked, and too often forgotten. And yet, perhaps counterintuitively, true feasting is also in decline through familiarity and lack of spiritual purpose. Most of us have never given any serious thought to what it might mean to feast with Christ-honoring intentionality.

We’ve grown dull to the wonder of ample food and drink through constant use, and overuse. When every day is a virtual feast, we lose the blessing of a real one. When every meal is a pathway to indulgence, not only is fasting lost, but true feasting is as well.

Feasting as a Spiritual Joy

The Bible is replete with the goodness of food and the holiness of feasting. God in his goodness made his creation edible. He made trees “pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Genesis 2:9), and created us to eat his world: “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food” (Genesis 1:29). Then after the flood, he extended the gift to eating animals: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything” (Genesis 9:3). But distinct from the kindness of God in everyday food is the special grace of a feast.

In the Old Testament, God structured the seasons and years of his chosen people with fast days and feast days. Then he sent his Son as the great culmination of his nation’s feasts. Now those who make up God’s multinational people through Christ are no longer under obligation to practice Israel’s ancient feasts and rituals (Colossians 2:16). They were “a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:17). Christians are free to feast — or not to feast:

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. (Romans 14:5–6)

But what we’re not free to do is feast in a way that dishonors God. And forgetting him altogether is profoundly dishonoring. As Christians, we want to learn to feast in such a way that we’re tasting God’s supernatural goodness as we enjoy natural tastes.

Not the Same as Indulging

Feasting is not first about the food. It is foremost about the Godward celebration of some specific occasion together. Good food and drink, in abundance, come in alongside our corporate focus to accentuate the appreciation and enjoyment of God and his kindness. The heart of feasting is not the food itself, but the heart of the feasters. A true feast is bigger than the food — infinitely bigger. The center is God and his greatness and grace toward us in Christ.

For Christians, feasting is not the same as mere indulgence. There is nothing particularly Christian about eating and drinking more than usual. What makes feasting a means of God’s grace for nourishing our souls is explicitly celebrating Christ together in faith. Whether it’s Thanksgiving or Easter, a birthday or anniversary, when we feast as Christians, we celebrate the bounty and kindness of our Creator and Redeemer. Feasting in Christ is no mere physical event, but deeply spiritual.

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Seventeen Aspects of Holy Dissatisfaction


The Danger of Drifting Away

One mark of Christian authenticity is discontentment with anything less than “all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19). Coasting is not discipleship. Drifting in self-contentment is not like basking in the pool of security, but like floating, fast asleep, toward the falls. “We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away” (Hebrews 2:1).

There is a holy discontentment. It is not a nail-biting uncertainty about our standing with God. It is the increased appetite of those who have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (1 Peter 2:2–3). It is the pursuit of those who have been pursued and captured by the strong arms of love. “Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12).

Therefore, the biblical passages that follow are a way of waking our drowsy souls to feel a pure and holy dissatisfaction and stirring us up to pursue “all the fullness of God.”

  1. “Grow in grace.” “But he gives more grace.” (2 Peter 3:18; James 4:6)
  2. “We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding . . . bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (Colossians 1:9–10; 2 Peter 3:18)
  3. “Increase our faith!” “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly.” (Luke 17:5; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 10:15)
  4. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)
  5. “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.” (1 Thessalonians 3:12; See also 1 Thessalonians 4:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; Philippians 1:9)
  6. “We ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1)
  7. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
  8. “Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1)
  9. “[God will] increase the harvest of your righteousness.” “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (2 Corinthians 9:10; Matthew 5:20)
  10. “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58; 2 Corinthians 9:8)
  11. “Be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18)
  12. “The word of God increased and multiplied.” (Acts 12:24; 6:7)
  13. “The number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem.” “I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” (Acts 6:7; 1 Corinthians 9:19; Acts 16:5)
  14. “Since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:12)
  15. “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him . . . abounding in thanksgiving.” “Give thanks always and for everything.” (Colossians 2:6–7; Ephesians 5:20; 2 Corinthians 4:15)
  16. “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15)
  17. “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48; Philippians 3:12)

Father, we fear our deadly fondness for floating toward the falls when we ought to be swimming against the current.

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Pain: A Secret Garden of Pride | Desiring God

August 19, 2015

Pain: A Secret Garden of Pride

Pain can be a secret garden of pride.

We don’t talk about it often because it’s so sensitive, so vulnerable — so painful. As touchy as the topic of pain is, though, it’s equally dangerous to tiptoe around it. John Piper writes this about our pain,

Satan uses pleasure and pain to try and destroy our faith. He wields pleasure to make us doubt God’s satisfying greatness, and pain to make us doubt God’s sovereign goodness.

Pain can be a powerful weapon for good in the heart of faith. It can produce deeper, heartfelt humility and greater dependence on God. And pain can inflict wounds far worse and more lasting than any physical agony. At its worst, it can cause us to doubt God’s goodness, to wallow in self-pity, and to isolate ourselves from him, as well as from others.

Pain becomes proud because it believes no one else understands. No one feels what I feel. And so pain distances itself from anyone who might try and speak into its suffering. But pain afflicts itself even more the farther it separates itself from others. God has given us himself, his word, and each other to produce faith, and even joy, in the midst of pain, even the most severe and unique pain.

One test to determine whether our pain is producing pride is to ask how we respond to encouragement from others, maybe especially from other believers who don’t understand our pain. Are we willing to hear the word and hope of God from someone who has not experienced or cannot comprehend our current suffering? If we’re unwilling, then pain has driven us into isolation, and Satan’s succeeding in his purpose for your suffering.

Case Study: The Pain of Unwanted Singleness

I’m learning this lesson about myself from my own experience with suffering. From far too young, I longed for the affection, safety, and intimacy I anticipated with a wife.

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No Sore Losers on Sunday

Singing Despite the Court’s Decision

June 28, 2015

No Sore Losers on Sunday

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. (Psalm 30:11–12)

We head to church this weekend with heavy hearts. The cloud of the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 decision hangs over our corporate worship — and we don’t even yet know or feel all the consequences of the historic decision. The sense of sadness over a political decision is unlike many of us in the Christian community have experienced in our young lifetimes — the nationwide legalization of so-called same-sex marriage in the highest, most powerful court of our land.

Sadness and grief are unavoidable, even critical, to the Christian life (Romans 8:17, 35–37). But in Christ, they never need be the dominant or prevailing condition of our souls. The emotions may be overwhelming for a time — disappointment, depression, or disgust. However, for all who have been rescued from sin and promised an eternity of sinless safety and satisfaction, sadness will not ultimately win the day.

The Eyes of Faith in the Face of Defeat

David knew nights of intense terror and grief, and he knew the relentless, reliable, and irresistible power of our joy in God.

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit. (Psalm 30:1–3)

David looked in every direction and saw defeat. His opponents were bigger, stronger, and more in number. His circumstances suggested all was lost. But God. God rushes to offer help to the helpless, to bring healing to the broken, to restore life to the dying, despairing, and defeated.

In fact, God never left. For those who are his, he is never far off. His help, his healing, his life, and his joy are ever-present, however dark our days may be.

Joy in the Mourning

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:4–5)

Where sin is tolerated and even legislated, we will see the wrath of God. God’s holiness and justice cannot coexist with proud (though pitiful) marches against his name and his will. The world will taste the consequences of its iniquity, and God will be vindicated — every decision judged, every sin punished.

But God’s wrath and judgment are not the only word for our sin-sick world. We all deserve his anger for millennia and more (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Left alone in our sin, we’d all weep every morning, noon, and night for the rest of our lives. But the God of infinite justice is also a God of immeasurable mercy. Therefore: “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

For those with faith in God, no setback, no misery, no loss can be lasting. Christ conquers our greatest fears and pains, not always swiftly, but surely. The suffering and loss cannot outlast the life he purchased for us on the cross. For the Christian, joy comes with the morning, after the morning, and in the mourning. And so we sing (Psalm 30:4), even in the midst of severe sadness.

Real Pain, Real Opposition

As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” By your favor, O Lord, you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face; I was dismayed. To you, O Lord, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy. (Psalm 30:6–8)

As the American soil underneath our feet trembles, threatening to crack and crumble, we know where we stand.

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October 31, 2014 

We Are Not Our Own: On God, Brittany Maynard, and Physician-Assisted Suicide
people.com

In several heart-wrenching videos (here, here, and here), 29-year-old Brittany Maynard has talked about her intent to take her life, possibly tomorrow, by means of physician-assisted suicide in Oregon, because of a fast-growing, inoperable, fatal brain tumor.

Joni Eareckson Tada, who has suffered more and longer than most of us, has responded to Brittany’s sorrowful plan with empathy and biblical conviction. All of Joni’s concerns merit serious consideration. The one I want to expand on is this: She said, “I understand Brittany may be in great pain, and her treatment options are limited and have their own devastating side effects, but I believe Brittany is missing a critical factor in her formula for death: God.” Others have written open appeals to Brittany; I write mainly for those who are considering this issue afresh in light of Brittany’s story.

Cancer Is an Enemy

I hate cancer. It is regularly an accomplice in the life-robbing work of our “final enemy,” death (1 Corinthians 15:26). Death was not part of paradise, as God created it in the beginning. And death will not be part of the New Earth, as God brings it in the resurrection. In that sense, it opposes the ultimate goodness that God designed for this creation. It is an enemy.

But in the resurrection, “Death will be no more” (Revelation 21:4). Death came into human existence through the devil’s incitement to sin. But the devil himself was stripped of his condemning power when Christ died for sinners. God gets the last word. His Son “took on human nature so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).

So death remains, for now. It hisses with fearsome rage. But for those who are in Christ, its fangs have been removed.

Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:54–55)

Answer: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:56–57). In other words, Christ bore the curse of God’s law for us (Galatians 3:13). Therefore, it cannot condemn us for our sins (Colossians 2:14–15). They are covered. The sting — the fangs — has been removed.

Therefore, in Christ, we will die physically, but not spiritually. Our souls will go “home” (2 Corinthians 5:8); they will go to be “with Christ” (Philippians 1:23). Then at his coming to earth, our bodies will be raised and glorified (1 Thessalonians 4:15–16).

Subjection to Futility — In Hope

But even though, in the beginning, Satan incited sin, and death came through sin (Romans 5:12), God himself was the judge who brought the sentence of death on the human race. The horror of death is God’s appointed response to the horror of sin. Death, by God’s design, is the physical mirror of the moral outrage of human rebellion against God.

Thus God tells us that in response to sin, “creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope . . .” (Romans 8:20). Only God could do that. Neither Adam nor Satan acted with a view to the hope of the age to come. This was God’s doing. God appointed death for the human race. He did it with a view to death’s final defeat and removal. But it was he who did it.

So the Bible continues, “. . . in the hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption, and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). There is a bondage to the corruption of death for now. But the day of freedom is coming. God has appointed these times.

Until then, we die. And we live, with Christ. This death, and this life, are by God’s appointment. Satan incited sin. Adam and Eve acted sin. And God decreed the consequence of sin, namely, death.

And he is removing that consequence in stages. At the first coming of Christ, the immeasurable penalty of sin was paid (Colossians 2:14). And at the second coming, the miserable effects of sin will be fully removed. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). Death will be no more.

But until then, the final disposition of death and life belong to God. He brought it in; he will take it out. And while it is here, he claims unique rights over it. “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39; see also 1 Samuel 2:6).

Therefore, Job’s reverent and grief-stricken response to the death of his ten children was profoundly and painfully right: “The Lᴏʀᴅ gave, and the Lᴏʀᴅ has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lᴏʀᴅ” (Job 1:21).

How Then Shall We Die?

How then should we think about our rights with regard to death? Should life be in our control? Does it belong to us, to create or eliminate?

The apostle Paul did not leave us without help on this question. Whose are we? To whom do we belong? Who owns our body? He answers: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).

These words were spoken to guide us in relation to our sexuality. But the principle holds for death. The more serious the consequences in regard to body and soul, the more firmly the principle holds. And death brings the greatest consequences to soul and body. It is the moment that sets the final destiny of both (Luke 16:26; Hebrews 9:27). Therefore, the principle holds at death: We are not our own.

Our bodies — their life, their death — belong to Christ. He bought them. They are not ours to dispose of as we will. They are his. And they exist for his will, and his glory.

Paul speaks this way, not only about sexuality, but about death and dying.

None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. (Romans 14:7–9)

All three points from 1 Corinthians 6 are here again, not in regard to sex, but explicitly in regard to death. Christ paid the price of his life to be the rightful Lord over the living and the dead. Therefore, we are not our own; we are the Lord’s. Therefore, we live and we die “to the Lord.” That is, life and death are not our private concern. They are not our choice. He bought us. He owns us. We live and we die to him — in reliance on him, in accordance with his will, for his glory.

Thus, “Thou shalt not murder,” is put on an entirely new footing. Not only do our lives belong to God by virtue of being created in his image, but now we are his — in life and death — by virtue of the purchase of Christ. We are doubly not our own. Our life and our death belong to God. He gives, and he takes. And he has put a double seal on that unique divine right: You are mine, by birth and by blood. You do not live, and you do not die, on your own terms.

What are his terms? We may risk our lives for the sake of saving others (Acts 20:24; Philippians 2:30). And in suffering, we may seek to lessen the pain — for others and for ourselves (1 Timothy 5:23; Luke 10:37). God has put this privilege in our hands. It is part of the limited lifting of the curse of the fall. But the right to end our lives, he has not put in our hands.

Our Final Sufferings Are Not Meaningless

The fact that suffering almost inevitably increases with the approach of death is often a terrifying prospect. Even those who are fearless of death tremble at the process of dying. I have seen terrible suffering in the hour of death. At one young mother’s funeral I said, “The great triumph was that she never cursed God.” Otherwise it was horrible.

But this tragic fact — which the suffering apostle knew better than any of us — did not change the truth: Giving and taking life belongs to God, not to us. And the suffering of our final days is not meaningless.

Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)

For the rest of the post…

August 15, 2014

Pray for FergusonIt’s hard to know how to respond to everything we see in the 24-hour news cycle. News, commentaries, social media, and television report hundreds of injustices (and thousands still go unreported). How do we choose which ones to engage?

Honestly, it can be numbing at times, if not daily. Terrible stuff happens all across the globe every minute — and as it was once said, “We have more on our plates than we can say grace over.”

On top of that, we’re prone to respond to things that we feel relate more to our own lives. So when we receive news that’s far removed from us, we emotionally disconnect. It’s understandable considering how much comes at us constantly. Many of us don’t respond in the grief and outrage that actually fits with the news of infanticide in Third-World countries or Christian persecution in the Middle East. We care, at least in principle, but it’s just not a core concern.

The same is true about the most recent tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri. Many of us don’t know how to respond emotionally because we can’t relate to the situations surrounding Michael Brown’s death.

Michael Brown and the Facts

Since the news began reporting on Mr. Brown’s death, things have only escalated. A helpful article from the New York Times reported that Michael Brown was killed Saturday in Ferguson, igniting protests and outcries in St. Louis County. The report revealed that Mr. Brown was unarmed when shot. What actually happened is still in question. One side said he and a friend were stopped on the way home from the store because they were walking in the middle of the street. Witnesses say Mr. Brown’s hands were in the air when he was shot several times, while the police say that Mr. Brown was shot during a fight over the officer’s gun.

It is hard to understand why an officer would need to shoot a teenager “several times” over a fight with a gun, just as much as it is hard to believe that an officer would unjustly kill a teenager with his hands up.

At the end of the day, only those present know what really happened. But given the facts, we all can admit it’s quite possible that a fatal injustice was done to Michael Brown. Despite the lack of details and our ignorance about the situation, what then is the Christian’s responsibility? Is it right to remain apathetic when we hear about tragedies such as these?

Human Like Us All

As a Christian, even if you can’t relate, you have an opportunity. As a black man, I don’t connect with the situation as easily as some might assume. I’m not from the city or suburb. I’ve never had a negative encounter with the police. It’s unlikely I would ever be bold enough to run from the police or resist arrest. It also helps that what many have ignorantly profiled as “suspicious clothing” isn’t a part of my wardrobe these days. Therefore, the chances of me getting gunned down by the police are slim. From what I’ve read, the most obvious thing Mr. Brown and I have in common is that we’re both young black men.

But more than that, the young man killed was human — like us all. He was made in God’s image. Regardless of the circumstance surrounding his death, we can care. Every Christian can respond to this situation. If an injustice took place, it matters because, according to the Scriptures, injustices are an abomination to the righteous (Proverbs 29:27). And regardless of what actually happened, we have a responsibility to pray for “all people” (1 Timothy 2:1), without prejudice.

The Christian First Response

So what should our response be? Every Christian can pray.

John Calvin, commenting on 1 Timothy 2:1–2, writes,

Some might reason thus with themselves: “Why should we be anxious about the salvation of unbelievers, with whom we have no connection? Is it not enough, if we, who are brethren, pray mutually for our brethren, and recommend to God the whole of his Church? For we have nothing to do with strangers.”

This perverse view Paul meets, and enjoins Christians to include in their prayers all men, and not to limit them to the body of the Church.

Therefore, in that same spirit, I encourage every Christian that encounters tragedies and injustices like this to pray. Pray for Ferguson, Missouri. Pray for peace to be restored in this city. Pray for Michael Brown’s family as they mourn the loss of their loved one. Pray that if they don’t know our Lord Jesus, that they would come to know him through this tragedy. And pray that if they do know Jesus, he would give them peace that surpasses all understanding.

For the rest of the post…

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