Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Ground of Our Gratitude

By: Brian G. Najapfour
Brian G. Najapfour is Pastor at Dutton United Reformed Church and author.  For a brief bio on Brian see: http://biblicalspirituality.wordpress.com/brief-bio/.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good… (Psalm 118:1a)
The ultimate ground of our gratitude is not our circumstances, but God’s character. The ultimate ground of our gratitude is not our mood, but the fact that God is good. It is easy for us to thank the Lord when we are in a good mood, when we feel good. It is easy to thank the Lord when we receive blessings from Him. But, thanking God has nothing to do with what we receive from God. Give thanks to God. Why? Because He is good. Period! The fact that God is good is enough for us to thank Him regardless of our circumstances.  
The psalmist is calling us to thank the Lord for the fact that God is good. And, because God is always good, we always have a reason to thank Him. Even if He stops pouring out His blessings on us or on our family, still you have a reason to thank Him because He remains good. However, the problem today is that even in our gratitude we tend to be man-centered. We tend to thank God only when He gives us what we want.
Now, take note that the psalmist does not say, “Thank God for the many good things He has done for us.” So, in this context thanksgiving does not depend on God’s action, but on His attribute. We don’t say, “Lord, I will thank You if You do this to me; Lord, I will thank You if You answer my prayer; Lord, I will praise You if You heal my sickness.” My friend, even if the Lord does not grant our request, He still deserves our gratitude because He is good. His goodness is enough for us to glorify Him. There is a hymn that says,
Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered,
Thanks for what Thou dost deny!
Thanks for storms that I have weathered,
Thanks for all Thou dost supply!
Thanks for pain, and thanks for pleasure,
Thanks for comfort in despair!
Thanks for grace that none can measure,
Thanks for love beyond compare!
Let us cultivate this kind of attitude—to be grateful to God even in the midst of sufferings. And, let us remember that this attitude of gratefulness is a command; everyone is commanded to do this.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Did God Punish the Philippines with Typhoon Yolanda?

By: Brian G. Najapfour

Recently, Brian's native land in the Philippines was hit by a natural disaster.  Brian brings a unique, helpful, and biblical perspective to all of us during this time.

Brian G. Najapfour is Pastor at Dutton United Reformed Church and author.
For a brief bio on Brian see: http://biblicalspirituality.wordpress.com/brief-bio/.


In 2005, Hurricane Katrina claimed at least 1,800 lives. Commenting on this disaster, Pat Robertson, the host of the 700 Club, said that God was punishing Americans with this hurricane. In 2010, a powerful earthquake shook Haiti, killing more than 100,000 people. Again Robertson stated that this earthquake was a form of divine judgment. 

Recently my native land, the Philippines, was hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan, locally known as Yolanda. As of November 17, the death toll from this typhoon is now close to 4,000. Jim Solouki, a blogger, is convinced that this disaster was also a divine punishment. Solouki writes, “Did you know that God is punishing the Philippines for their tolerance of homosexuality, prostitution, Catholicism, and other sins?”

Did God Punish the Philippines with Typhoon Yolanda? I will answer that question by looking at Christ’s teachings concerning disasters as found in Luke 13:1-5. Let’s read this text:

1There were some present at that very time who told him [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.And he [Jesus] answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

In this passage Jesus gives at least five basic teachings on disasters.

1.   Jesus does not want us to think that those who die in disasters are worse sinners than we are.

There are two kinds of disaster mentioned in our passage: moral &natural.

a.   Moral (or man-made) disaster (vv. 1-3)

In verse one, some of the peoplein the crowds inform Jesus of the Galileans who were murdered by Pilate. We do not know much about this incident. But we can imagine that these Galileans went down south to Jerusalem to offer their animal sacrifices to God in the temple. At this time, Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea where the temple of Jerusalem was situated. For some reason, Pilate slaughtered these Galileans. Hence, we read in verse one that their blood was mixed with the blood of their animal sacrifices. What a horrible way to die!

Now, the people informing Jesus of this event believe that these Galileans died in this terrible way because they were exceptionally wicked compared to other Galileans. To correct their belief, Jesus asks them rhetorically, “Do you think that these Galileans [who were slain] were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way” (v.2)? The answer is, of course, no (v. 3).

In 2009, fifty-eight Filipinos were brutally killed in the Maguindanao massacre, also known as the Ampatuan massacre. Jesus does not want us to think that these Filipinos deserved to die in this manner because they were worse sinners than other Filipinos. He does not approve of making a hasty judgment upon the character of the victims of moral disasters. 

b.   Natural (or God-made) disaster (vv. 4-5)

The second kind of disaster recorded in our text is what we call a natural disaster. Let me clarify the difference between moral and natural disasters. A classic example of a moral disaster is the holocaust, or the September 11 Attacks. Examples of natural disasters include earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, tornados, typhoons, and others. In verse four, we encounter another type of natural disaster: the fall of the tower in Siloam. Look at verse four again:“Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?

Like the murder of the Galileans, we also do not know much about this event. However, the message of Jesus is clear: Do not think that those who were killed by the fall of the tower in Siloam were greater sinners than all the others who lived in Jerusalem. In other words, Jesus forbids us to think thatwe are morally better thanthose who were struck by Typhoon Yolandaand that they deserved it more than we did.


2.   Jesus does not want us to think that we are racially superior to those who suffer in disasters.

The informersin our text who came to Jesus were most likely from Jerusalem. Now lest these Jerusalemites think that the Galileans had a dreadful death because of their ethnicity, Jesus adds the incident of the fall of the tower. This natural disaster killed eighteen Jerusalemites. Here’s the message of Jesus to his audience: You, Jerusalemites, don’t think that those Galileans who were murdered were an inferior group of people. Don’t think that you are ethnically better than they were. Remember that even your fellow Jerusalemites also had an awful death.

To apply this message to us, the people in Quezon City, for example, should not conclude that they are better than those who live in Tacloban City, an area severely damaged by Typhoon Yolanda. Likewise, Jesus prohibits you, you who are not Filipinos, to think that you are better than the Filipinos because their land was hit by a powerful storm. Regardless of our nationality, in God’s sight we are all equal, for we were all created in his image.

3.   Jesus does not want us to think that disasters are absolute indicators of God’s punishment.

Among the first-century Jew was a common notion that the Galileans were massacred because of their great sin. Jesus; however, does not focus on the sin of these Galileans. Yes, Jesus does not deny the fact that they were sinners. But he denies the opinion that they died in an awful way because they had committed great sin. Thus, Jesus does not encourage us to think that disasters are definitive indications of divine judgment.

In Acts 7:54-60, we read about the stoning of Stephen. Some might say, “God must have punished Stephen for his sin because of the manner of his death—he was stoned to death.” Well, we know that Stephen was stoned to death, not because of his sin against God, but because of his faith in Jesus. In short, the stoning was not a sign of God’s judgment upon Stephen, but a manifestation of Stephen’s love for Christ.

In Job 1:18-19, we are told that Job’s ten children died froma natural disaster. A messenger comes and speaks to Job: “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”

Observe: A great wind (a natural disaster) killed Job’s children. Yet, because Job is aware that behind this mighty wind was God’s sovereign hand, Job does not hesitate to say that it is God who has taken the lives of his children: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). From Job 1:6-12, we know that God allowed this calamity to test Job’s faith, not to punish him for his sin. Therefore, a natural disaster is not necessarily a direct result of personal sin.

Yes, there are instances in the Bible where we can conclude with all certainty that a disaster occurred as a direct result of personal sin. For example, we know that God rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire out of heaven in order to punish the people of these cities (Gen. 19:24). Hence, this particular tragedy was undoubtedly a form of divine judgment. We know this truth because God tells us in his Word.

Now, how about Typhoon Yolanda? Was it also a form of divine retribution? Did God punish the Philippines with this typhoon? The answer is simply that we do not know, because God does not tell us in his Word. Furthermore, it is not our business to know. Jesus does not want us to speculate whether God punished the Philippines or not. We cannot always understand why God does what he does. His wisdom is infinite, whereas ours is finite. God says in Isaiah 55:8-9:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

There is a song that says:

God is too wise to be mistaken

God is too good to be unkind

So when you don’t understand

When you don’t see His plan

When you can’t trace His hand

Trust His heart

4.   Jesus wants us to look at our own sin and not the sins of those affected by disasters.

The main message of Jesus in our text is repentance. Twice Jesus emphatically tells his audience, “I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (vv. 3 & 5). Notice how Jesus uses the two disasters in our passage to direct his listeners’ attention to the worst kind of death—everlasting death in the lake of fire. Jesus shifts the focus of the conversation from physical and temporal death to spiritual and eternal death. Therefore, for us believers in Christ, we must use the occasion of Typhoon Yolanda to talk to others, especially unbelievers, about eternity.

Dear reader, instead of discussing the sins of the victims of this typhoon, consider your own sins, for unless you repent of your own sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you, too, will perish.Again, instead of speculating whether God punished the Filipinos for their sins or not, focus on your own sins. Ask yourself, “Have I repented of my sins? Have I believed in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?” If not, God’s condemnation will remain upon you (John 3:18).  

5.   Jesus wants us to realize that nothing distinguishes us from the victims of disasters but the grace of God.

By calling his listeners to repent, Jesus is telling them that they, too, are sinners, deserving of death. As Scripture says, “[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23) and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Jesus, therefore, makes it clear to his audience that the reason they are still alive is because of God’s grace. I remember attending a conference in British Columbia in 2009. One of the speakers was Jerry Bridges, who was 80 years old at that time. Bridges is known for his classic book—The Pursuit of Holiness. Bridges mentioned something that struck me. He said, “What differs us from others is nothing but the grace of God.”

As we think of the victims in the Philippines, remember that we could have been one of them. What happened to the Philippines could happen where you live. Thus, thank God for graciously sparing your life. That we are still alive should humble us before God and make us appreciate more his grace upon us.

In his famous hymn “Amazing Grace,” John Newton says,

Through many dangers, toils, and snares,

I have already come;

‘tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,

and grace will lead me home.

Concluding Challenge

Let me ask you with love:

1.   Do you think that those who died in disasters were worse sinners than you are, or do you recognize your own sinnership?

2.   Do you think that you are racially superior to those who suffered in disasters, ordo you realize that with God there is no respect of persons?

3.   Do you think that disasters are always indicators of God’s punishment?

4.   Do you focus on looking at the sins of those affected by disasters, or do you seize the opportunity to examine yourself?

5.   Do you realize that nothing distinguishes you from the victims of disasters but the grace of God?

Finally, remember this: The super typhoon that ravaged the Philippines is a reminder that we live in a fallen world—a world corrupted by sin (Rom. 8:19-22). A disaster, moral or natural, shows the problem that exists between our Creator and his creation.Indeed, there is a problem between the Creator and his creatures. The solution to this problem is Jesus Christ—the only mediator between God and us. This sinless Jesus is the one who suffered “the strongest storm” from the hand of God, so that we sinners might be reconciled to God through Christ by faith.Do you have Jesus Christ?


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Preaching Jesus, Going to Jail, Taking Risks

By Doug Williams
Doug Williams is pastor of preaching and teaching at Bullitt Lick Baptist Church and a PhD candidate at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.


He was an extremely intelligent young man with big dreams of fame and honor.  Yet all of his aspirations changed when he was converted to Christ at the age of 20.  He began to live for one purpose, a purpose he described as “a plan to please the Lord.”  I am speaking of the man who is considered the father of Baptist missionaries—Adoniram Judson.  The Lord laid the nations on the heart of this man in the 1800s.  Inspired by men like William Carey, he desired to travel east toward India with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let me give you a glimpse of the radical passion for God’s glory to the nations that this man possessed.  Before asking Anne Hasseltine’s hand in marriage, Judson wrote her father seeking his permission to marry her.  The zeal of this young man to preach Jesus to those who had never heard is captured in this letter. 

I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world? Whether you can consent to her departure to a heathen land, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life? Whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death? Can you consent to all this, for the sake of Him who left His heavenly home and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with a crown of righteousness brightened by the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Saviour from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair.
Some might say, “That guy’s crazy!”  Some might say, “That’s unnecessary!”  Others, “That’s just plum foolish!”  But Jesus says that it’s the gospel.  “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). 
Surprisingly, Anne’s father said yes.  Their lives would be filled with trials and suffering for the sake of the gospel.  They set sail for India in 1812, but because of the country’s restrictions ended up in Burma, known today as Myanmar.  What a risk! 

But what is a risk and should Christians take them?  A risk is doing something that you are unsure of the outcome, but you do it anyway because the gospel calls you to it.  

The apostles are classic examples of men who willingly risked their lives for the gospel.  For example, Acts 4 tells us that Peter and John were teaching and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead (v 2).  The religious leaders got wind of the commotion and arrest Peter and John (v 3).  Luke recounts that on the next day the religious leaders question Peter and John and eventually demand that they speak no more in the name of Jesus.  The two apostles answered the demands of their captors, saying, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (vv 19-20).

Today we have two apparent options as Christians: (1) We can sit back in our cozy, comfortable, lazy-boy Christianity where there are no risks for the gospel and all is safe and easy, or (2) We can with those like the apostles and Judson, give our lives for the sake of the gospel to the ends of the earth.  Peter did.  John did.  Judson did.  What about us?

I believe as Christians that our only true option is the latter option.  We must give ourselves to this one cause, the cause of spreading the fame and honor and glory and majesty and beauty and greatness of our sovereign and holy God to the nations through the gift of His Son.

Peter and John understand this calling.  They lived their lives for this calling.  They gave their lives for this calling.  Acts is a book about this calling.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  After all, no matter the consequences, they could not stop speaking about what they had seen and heard?  Will you?


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

God's Shepherding Ability

By: Adam McClendon

Ever struggle with making decisions?  I sure do.  Recently, someone came to me for advice on making a pretty big decision in their life, and I want to share with you a key thought that came out of the conversation.

Here it is: have more confidence in God’s shepherding ability than in your decision making ability. 

When making decisions, I often hear, “Well, I’ve prayed about this and I believe God wants me to….”  While this is often sincerely stated, sometimes it is merely a tagline to justify a decision and try and quiet any criticism.  Often, the decision was really made before the prayer was even uttered.  The reality is that we can deceive ourselves, and we are masters at using “prayer” as an excuse for making poor decisions.  The issue is not as much our external manifestations of submission (such as seeking advice or praying), although these are important, but our internal willingness to truly be wherever we can be of most use for the glory of God despite what circumstances that might bring. 

Let me say that again more plainly.  The issue is with the heart.  Am I really willing for “God’s will to be done” regardless of the circumstances that might bring so long as it brings him glory? 

Sometimes when making decisions, we pray and pray, and hear nothing, and sense nothing.  Sometimes a decision has to be made.  Sometimes, we are still unsure after having searched the Scriptures, praying, and seeking advice.  Sometimes, we have to move.  And yet, as we prepare to move, we are terrified that we are making the “wrong decision.” 

Other times, we just know that we are doing the right thing (or so we think).  We move with little thought, little prayer, and little counsel.  Looking back years later, we realize that we were not walking as closely to God as we thought, or possibly, we nailed it and were in the “zone” so to speak.

Either way, our confidence is in a redeeming shepherding God.  While God’s will in particular circumstances may seem very unclear, God has already stated clearly in his word his desire to use us to glorify his name and spread his gospel to the nations. 

So, here’s a tip.  If we truly, with as much of our heart as we can, want to be wherever God wants us in order to be used for his glory in promoting his gospel, then we can have great peace in the midst of that decision. 

Asking God to place us in whatever circumstance will give him glory and promote the gospel is a prayer that we can have 100% confidence that he will answer.  When this is sincerely our heart’s desire, we can have great peace.  If this is the disposition of our hearts, then we can have great confidence, because God is the gracious Shepherd and a good Father (Ps 23; Matt 7:11).  He will guide us.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Open Heart

By Joanna K. Harris (excerpted from Seeing God Through The Storm)
Joanna Harris is an author and blogger with a tremendous passion for God.  You can contact Joanna here.  For more on Joanna and her ministry, check out her website here.  There you can also find links to her other blogs.

         Have you ever received advice or unwanted counsel from someone who hasn’t experienced the kind of storm you’re going through? It’s not a pleasant experience is it? During my various health trials, some doctors told me, “It’s all in your head.” Other doctors suggested that I didn’t really want to get well. Even a few Christian friends implied that if I confessed some sin or went to counseling my health would improve. Usually people mean well, but they don’t realize how their insensitive words can wound us.

         I’d have expected Job’s friends to offer sympathy and encouragement after seeing his intense suffering. That wasn’t the case.

         Eliphaz spoke first. He said, now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged; it strikes you, and you are dismayed (Job 4:5).

         Saying that Job had “trouble” was a ridiculous understatement. Eliphaz had the audacity to rebuke Job for being discouraged, though Eliphaz had obviously never faced suffering like Job’s.

         That wasn’t all. Eliphaz continued, Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it (Job 4:7-8).

         Eliphaz basically told Job, “You must have done some wicked thing to deserve this trouble.” He went on, But if it were I, I would appeal to God; I would lay my cause before Him (Job 5:8). Yet, how could Eliphaz know what he would do in Job’s situation? He was giving advice about something he’d never experienced. He finished his speech by saying, We have examined this, and it is true. So hear it and apply it to yourself (Job 5:27).

         Eliphaz was confident, but that didn’t mean he was right. He was, in fact, mistaken in his opinion that Job’s suffering was a result of sin. Job 1:1 clearly states that Job was blameless. However, even though Eliphaz had a wrong opinion of Job, God could still bring something good from his speech. In Job 5:2, Eliphaz said, Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple. He was right about that.

         As we go through storms, there will be people who are insensitive, arrogant, or constantly giving advice. At times I’ve felt hurt or angry with such people. I’ve thought, “They don’t live my life. They don’t feel my pain. How can they tell me what to do?” If left unchecked, these kinds of thoughts and feelings can easily turn into an attitude of resentment. Resentment places blame on others for either real or imagined injuries to us. But resentment only hurts us, as Eliphaz stated.

         The comforting truth is that God is always in control. When He allows difficult people in our lives, He can speak to us even through them, if we learn to keep an open heart.

         An open heart is one that is willing to learn, willing to confront its own sin, and willing to see more of God in every situation, especially the painful ones.

         Isn’t it ironic that Eliphaz was the one who said resentment kills a fool? If Job felt resentful toward anyone at that moment, it was probably Eliphaz. Yet when resentment takes hold in our lives, our hearts become closed to God. We can defeat resentment by acknowledging God’s control over every detail. When God allows others to inflict pain on us, He will always give us more grace. He will strengthen us to forgive. As we keep an open heart toward God, we’ll discover more about His unconditional love and forgiveness for us.

         As much as I didn’t want to, I did finally follow the suggestion to get some counseling. Though it didn’t change my physical condition, I learned some valuable things about God and about myself.

         God wants us to have open, willing hearts. In Psalm 51:12b, David prayed, grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. When we have an open heart,

         * God can use painful comments to lead us to deeper humility and compassion—making us more sensitive to the pain of others.

         * He can turn resentment into forgiveness—giving us a deeper appreciation for His forgiveness toward us.

         * He can turn our trials into opportunities—enabling us to show His grace to others.

         That’s what God loves to do.