GOD’S DARK PROVIDENCES

The blessedness of affliction

These days are sober days for all of us as we ‘shelter at home,’ wondering how long we will live in relative seclusion.  Does God have some purpose in such circumstances?  Does He design such frightful situations?  Whether someone is a Baptist or a Buddhist, life has many profoundly troubling turns.  To be sure, God has multiplied differing purposes in the COVID-19 pandemic, but certainly one of God’s purposes in this global trial is that He might test and strengthen the faith of His saints.  As believers, let us be certain of this, that God deliberately leads His own through deep waters for their everlasting blessing. 

In our Bible study we tend to quickly pass over passages like John 15:2 – “Every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it that it may bear more fruit”  … or Psalm 119:71 – “It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn Thy statutes” …  or Hebrews 12:6 – “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives” (italics added). 

One of the ways … perhaps the main way … that the Lord produces godliness in His people is through suffering.  If we believe that God “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11), then His plan must include pain as well as pleasure.  We call this weaving together of all events in our lives the ‘providence’ of God.  John Murray, in his excellent booklet Behind a Frowning Providence, defines providence as follows:  Providence is that marvelous working of God by which all the events and happenings in His universe accomplish the purpose He has in mind (Murray, Behind a Frowning Providence, 9)

Within God’s overall plan there are wondrous providences, like the walls of Jericho falling down at the sound of the trumpet or the first stone from David’s sling hitting its mark.  There are delightful providences, like marriage of Boaz and Ruth or the help of Rahab given to the Israelite spies.  And there are dark providences, like Joseph being sold into slavery by his jealous brothers or unimaginable heartache experienced by Job. 

            I am especially aware these days of the dark providences of a loving Father … that all things come into our life by divine design … that there is nothing that is without purpose … that everything has been ordered and assigned by God our Creator and Redeemer.  Certainly God has not revealed many things to us.  Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to God; the things He has revealed belong to us.”  But He has revealed enough of His sovereignty and holiness that we can trust His hand even when the purpose is not clear to us.  Again, quoting Murray, “One of the most difficult things to do when the road is rough or when the billows are passing over us is to feel that God still loves us.  It is the last thing we can accept.  But we are not called to feel; we are called to believe.  In his book, In All Their Afflictions, Murdoch Campbell tells of a minister in the North of Scotland who suddenly lost his spiritually-minded wife.  As he prayed that night in the presence of his friends he said, ‘If an angel from heaven told me that this would work for my good, I would not believe him, but because Thy Word says it, I must believe it.’”  (Murray, Behind a Frowning Providence, 21)

The ultimate goal of all our affliction is to draw us into a greater nearness to God … in greater faith and adoration and delight and hope.  This is more crucial to our hearts than any understanding of the specifics of why we experience painful things.  This is exactly Job’s response to his enormous losses, “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshipped” (Job 1:20).  The outcome of God’s purposes for His people will always be filled with mercy, whether on the earth or in heaven.  “Behold, we count those blessed who endured.  You heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and merciful” (James 5:11).

John Newton (1725-1807), who wrote “Amazing Grace,” also wrote a hymn entitled “Prayer Answered by Crosses.”  The following stanzas are from that insightful hymn. 

I asked the Lord that I might grow, in faith and love and every grace, Might more of His salvation know, and seek more earnestly His face.

‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray; and He, I trust, has answered prayer; But it has been in such a way, as almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that, in some favored hour, at once He’d answer my request, And by His love’s constraining power, subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel the hidden evils of my heart, And let the angry powers of hell, assault my soul in every part.

Yea, more, with His own hand he seemed, intent to aggravate my woe, Crossed all the fair designs I schemed, blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this? I trembling, cried; wilt Thou pursue this worm to death? This is the way, the Lord replied, I answer prayer for grace and faith. These inward trials I now employ, from self and pride to set thee free, And break thy schemes of earthly joy, that thou may’st seek thy all in me. 

            “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness”  (Heb 12:11).

            Beloved, let us thankfully humble ourselves before our Father because He is producing, in us, the “peaceable fruit of righteousness.”  Let us passionately draw near to our God (prayer, Bible reading and meditation, singing) during this temporary ordeal and we will find, in Him, every grace necessary for these days … and for all the days of our lives.

Resting on God in trouble,

Pastor Cosand

THE ACID OF GOSSIP

An old and deadly sin

When we think of the concept of sin and of individual sins, usually the first acts that come to mind are things like murder, adultery, stealing, idolatry.  Sins of the tongue are probably not listed very high in a list of heinous sins, but they should be.  Perhaps sins like slander and gossip are so commonplace that we tend to overlook them.  Or maybe they come so easily to our own tongues that it is too painful, personally, to think about.  But with sober minds we must consider these sins of speech if our lives and our church are to be pure and joyful. 

The Bible has much to say, in general, about the use of the tongue and how destructive a careless word can be.  Listen to the descriptive passage about our words from James.  It ought to cause each of us to tremble and cry out to our God for help in our tendency to speak in a cavalier and cutting manner.

Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.  S      Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.  So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.  How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. (Jam 3:4-6)

The idea that the tongue is set on fire by hell itself, is not the way we usually view our speech. The twin sins of slander and gossip are hellish in their destructive power.  Words can destroy a reputation or destroy joy or peace or hope.  They can pierce the heart to places that are central to our deepest experience of life.  It is no accident that gossip is found in a list of heinous sins in Romans 1:29-32, alongside deceit, arrogance, murder, inventors of evil, greed, envy, and haters of God.

Gossip may be defined as passing along information that is not appropriately intended for the hearer.  “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler” (Prov 20:19).  A gossip is a person who reveals secrets … something that the hearer has no business knowing or no honorable reason to hear.  How easily we pass along information (often negative information) to another person that has come to us second or third hand and we don’t even know if what we heard was true.  And how easily such speech can fall into the category of slander.  Gossiping and slander are a kind of hatred.  Look at the way Scripture connects slander and hatred.  “You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD.  You shall not hate your brother in your heart” (Lev 19:16,17). 

One rule of thumb to follow in our speech is that we should not say anything which, if we were being the one talked about, we would not want to be passed along concerning us.  Each of us is responsible to govern our tongues and each of us is responsible for what we allow to be spoken to us.  When gossiping ceases, then the tempest stirred by it ceases.  “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases” (Prov 26:20).

Of course, the opposite of words’ cruel destruction is their capacity to give life rather than destroy it.  By God’s grace and the work of His omnipotent Spirit our speech can be wonderfully transformed.  Let the following verses sink deeply into our souls that God may be honored by the way we talk.   And let us ask God to change our hearts that our words may also be changed.

… Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.   (Eph 4:29)

… The lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the hearts of fools.  (Prov 15:7)

… A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.  (Prov 25:11)

… The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary.  (Isa 50:4)

… My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right.                                                                                                                            (Psa 119:172)

… The words of a wise man’s mouth win him favor, but the lips of a fool consume him. (Ecc 10:12).

Finally, let us be made sober by the warning our Savior Himself gave us concerning our speech.  “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Mt 12:36). 

Longing for gracious speech,

Pastor Cosand

JESUS: THE HOPE OF THE NATIONS

Meditation on the importance of world evangelization.

Every year we have a North American Baptist Missions Conference and I serve on the committee that plans the conference.  And every year, as we plan the activities, we ask questions like, “How can we make the conference effective?  How do we want the conference to affect us?  How can the people in our churches be more concerned with missions?  How can the people of our churches be more involved in missions?”

These are not just academic questions to me because I am concerned with my own heart that I might be more affected by mission work and more involved in mission work.  The notion of world evangelization is not at the bottom of God’s agenda.  It is the first item on God’s agenda.  It is the reason Jesus died on the cross … to secure a people for the glory of God for all eternity.  “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). 

To bring to God a people from every nation on the earth and every language and every tribe is the reason Jesus died and rose again.  So if world missions … and by that I mean evangelism and discipleship, both local and distant … if world missions is not the main agenda of my life or the main agenda of our church, then our agenda is different than God’s agenda.  Of course, God does not call everyone, individually, to go to a far off land.  But if we are not called to such a life, we must be concerned about using our money to send someone else to those lands.  How else can we obey the command of Matthew 28 that commissions us to go make disciples of all nations?  Someone has to go to the Muslims in Afghanistan and someone has to pay for that person’s going.  We all have to care about the world wide spread of the gospel and we all have to be involved in it. 

It is easy to give lip service to the idea of missions, but not really care about it.  It is easy to send our money to the mission boards of our missionaries without really being emotionally engaged in what those missionaries are doing.   Our perpetual problem is that our hearts are too small and our perspective too introspective.  The key to being thrilled with world evangelization is being completely thrilled with God’s glory because that is the ultimate goal of missions.

Matthew 12:18-21 describes the work of Jesus in wondrous terms.  Matthew quotes an Old Testament prophecy to show us that the nature of Messiah was what the Old Testament foretold.  Here Matthew quotes Isaiah 42.

Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not qunch,
until he brings justice to victory;
and in his name the Gentiles will hope.

Isaish 42:1-4

Twice in this passage the Gentiles are mentioned (Mt 12:18, 21).  The purpose for the coming of Christ is global.  The reason why Jesus came to earth as the Servant of the Father is to gather, not only the Jews back to God, but to gather a people from every nation and tongue to God (cf. Isa 49:5,6).  Why is God intent to gather together a people for Himself?  Because this will be an everlasting display of honor to God, an eternal demonstration of His mercy and glory.  And forever and ever God’s glory will be displayed in His people and they will enjoy the infinite pleasure of knowing Him and of His presence. 

When we become consumed with the grandeur of the living God … when it becomes our reason for living … when everything we do is for the glory of God (the promises of marriage, the raising of our children, the use of our money, the way we use our spare time, the way we talk to each other, our study of our Bibles, the time we spend in prayer) … when everything we do we do within the context of God’s glory and realize that everything is made for that purpose, then we will love missions.  We will see missions as one of the wondrous things God is doing in our world for His honor for all eternity and we will be thrilled with the idea.

We are not more consumed by the enterprise of global missions because we are not more consumed by the wonder of the absolutely matchless splendor and beauty and wonder of God in our own hearts.   Beloved, when the notion of living for the glory of God gets a grip on us, it changes the way we view missions.  And even though we cannot all go to a foreign country, we become interested in what our missionaries are doing and we write them with concern and we read their letters with great interest.  We pray for them. 

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Rev 7:9-11

That is the goal of missions … and that is the only motive which can so ravish our souls that we love the enterprise of world evangelization.  The work of missions is not only our duty … it is our marvelous pleasure.

Praying for the nations,

Pastor Cosand