Categories
Life

When God Burns Down Your House

Tragedy is a part of living in a broken world. More than a part, it’s inevitable. When tragedy strikes, our first question is, Why? Whether or not we get an answer, we quickly must ask a second, and perhaps even more important question, How do I deal with this?

Think of a tragedy in your life recently. How did you deal with it?

Perhaps you dismissed it, chalked it up to bad luck, stuffed your feelings, or even blamed someone (maybe yourself). Maybe you blamed God. And got angry with him.

Anne Bradstreet’s poem Verses upon the Burning of our House, July 10th, 1666 teaches us how to deal with tragedy and why we experience it. Shockingly, she puts responsibility of the event solely on God. Yet she does so without blaming him or attributing sin to him, much the way Job does in the first two chapters of his story.

Bradstreet can do this because she has the eyes to see two vital realities. First,  Bradstreet sees that all her goods belonged to God anyway and that he could do with them whatever he pleased. In taking away her home and possessions, God did Bradstreet and her family no wrong.

Second, she sees that this tragedy was for a divine purpose: God wanted her to treasure God above everything. Even the comfort and safety of a home. Thus, her poetic prayer is reminiscent of an ancient Scriptural one: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25-26).

Consider this a prayer of lament. Watch what Bradstreet does, let it teach you, and let it shape the way you respond to tragedy when it comes your way.

Verses upon the Burning of our House, July 10th, 1666

Here Follows Some Verses Upon the Burning 
of Our house, July 10th. 1666. Copied Out of 
a Loose Paper.

In silent night when rest I took,
For sorrow near I did not look,
I wakened was with thund’ring noise
And piteous shrieks of dreadful voice.
That fearful sound of “fire” and “fire,”
Let no man know is my Desire.
I, starting up, the light did spy,
And to my God my heart did cry
To straighten me in my Distress
And not to leave me succourless.
Then, coming out, behold a space
The flame consume my dwelling place.
And when I could no longer look,
I blest His name that gave and took,
That laid my goods now in the dust.
Yea, so it was, and so ‘twas just.
It was his own, it was not mine,
Far be it that I should repine;
He might of all justly bereft
But yet sufficient for us left.
When by the ruins oft I past
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast
And here and there the places spy
Where oft I sate and long did lie.
Here stood that trunk, and there that chest,
There lay that store I counted best.
My pleasant things in ashes lie
And them behold no more shall I.
Under thy roof no guest shall sit,
Nor at thy Table eat a bit.
No pleasant talk shall ‘ere be told
Nor things recounted done of old.
No Candle e’er shall shine in Thee,
Nor bridegroom‘s voice e’er heard shall be.
In silence ever shalt thou lie,
Adieu, Adieu, all’s vanity.
Then straight I ‘gin my heart to chide,
And did thy wealth on earth abide?
Didst fix thy hope on mould’ring dust?
The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?
Raise up thy thoughts above the sky
That dunghill mists away may fly.
Thou hast a house on high erect
Framed by that mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished,
Stands permanent though this be fled.
It‘s purchased and paid for too
By Him who hath enough to do.
A price so vast as is unknown,
Yet by His gift is made thine own;
There‘s wealth enough, I need no more,
Farewell, my pelf, farewell, my store.
The world no longer let me love,
My hope and treasure lies above.

Categories
Life

Should we rejoice over Osama bin Laden’s death?

Osama bin Laden is dead.  Nearly ten years of searching is over. 

Perhaps the most startling aspect of Osama bin Laden’s death was the reaction it garnered from people around the States.  I found it interesting, first of all, that most people probably haven’t given a thought to bin Laden on a daily basis.  But now that he’s gone, people celebrate like Mardi Gras.

Secondly, it was bizarre to see college students celebrating in the streets of D.C.  Some of these students were eight years old when the search for bin Laden first began.  Eight. That’s a sobering thought. Finally, I was immediately torn when I saw the reaction of Christians online. Some couldn’t sleep because of the excitement.  Others were immediately critical of those same sleepless people around the country.  Which side should I be on?

I think as Christians, we need to walk a fine line here. During my personal time of worship this morning, I spent some time meditating on Scriptures that were challenging and helpful to me with this particular issue. I pray this helps you, too.

First of all, we cannot condemn a country or government for pursuing a violent man who harms and makes threats toward others. Romans 13:1-4 teaches us that the only government that exists is one that God has put in place.  Some are good, and some are bad. Still, one purpose of government is to punish evil. That is what happened last night when bin Laden was killed.

Therefore we rejoice that justice was done, and thus hope that this will bring relief to those who have suffered because of bin Laden’s leadership. We rejoice that God, in his divine wisdom, used human means as an instrument of wrath. 

Nevertheless, we mourn the fact that a life was wasted on desires to harm people and gain money, power, and control.  We mourn the fact that a man made in the image of God lived his life in opposition to Jesus and rejected him as the only hope of salvation.  Even Jesus wept over the lost people around him (Matt. 23:37; Luke 19:4123:34). 

God does not smile over the fact that Osama bin Laden has been killed and now faces judgment. God does not delight in the death of any wicked man (Ezek. 18:23; 33:11). However, God ordains everything, including death (Deut. 32:39), so does God ever delight that a wicked man is rightly punished? Deuteronomy 28:63 and Psalm 5:4-6 tell us plainly that God does delight in punishing wicked, unrepentant people. Is this a contradiction? No. As Denny Burk points out, Ezekiel 18:23 and 33:11 mean “that God prefers for sinners to repent rather than to perish.”  Furthermore, Burk writes, “If they refuse to repent, however, God delights in His own justice to punish them appropriately.” 

Therefore we rejoice, as God does, in his justice and glory, not in the fact that bin Laden ceases to live on earth.

This morning 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 was particularly helpful for me as I wrestled with this and I pray it is helpful for you as well.  The context is marriage, but in these few verses, Paul speaks to all of life. I won’t comment on these verses. I pray that the weight of Paul’s words crush your spirit and cause you to have a Christ-centered, eternal perspective on every circumstance in this world (my emphasis in italics):

This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.


Read this post by Christopher Morgan at The Gospel Coalition blog for more on this.

Categories
Life

God is a Strong Tower

When I was younger and heard or read, “God is a strong tower,” my mind immediately went to an image like the one above.  What you are looking at is your run-of-the-mill state park viewing tower.  It’s actually not very strong.  It’s not very powerful.  It can’t actually protect you.  And it’s not very threatening, unless you fall on the steps and get cut by those nasty steel holes.

Psalm 61:3 says, “For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.”  When Scripture says that God is a “strong tower” it means that he is more like a fort during wartime with 6-foot thick cement walls and razor wire on top, a treacherous moat surrounding, snipers ready at lookout points, and mines leading up to the gate.

I’m not trying to be severely violent, but I need to visualize what David mans when he says God is a strong tower against his enemy. We live in the midst of a war — not against Al Qaeda or the Taliban or North Korea.  Those are real enemies in the real world, but ultimately we battle against sin, the world, and the devil.  And when any one or all three seem to be bearing down on our souls, we have a refuge, a Strong Tower, who is actually able to defend, protect, and provide.

Categories
Theology

How and when is God’s wrath revealed?

Have you ever wondered what it means when Paul writes in Romans 1:18 that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men”?  I have. And recently, I’ve asked, “When and how will God’s wrath be revealed?”

The word “revealed” in Greek is in the present tense — an ongoing, habitual action in Greek.  So unlike so many other references to God’s wrath in Paul’s epistles, this is a current happening — not a future cosmic event.  God’s wrath, in Romans 1, is being revealed now.

And I believe that God’s wrath is more than just a disclosure to the mind or a future judgment to come that will last for eternity in hell.    Just like the same word in verse 17, it has historical reality to it.  Something is physically being manifested in the real world.  Verses 24-28 tell us how God’s wrath is revealed.  Paul writes that God has given people to the lusts of their hearts to commit impurities (v. 24), to the dishonoring of their bodies (v. 24), to dishonorable passions (v. 26), and to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done (v. 28).  God’s wrath is revealed in people’s lives by God giving people over to their sinful desires.

God’s wrath is something that is real, not just cognitive; something current, not just futuristic.  God’s wrath is a current and ongoing reality that is manifested in and through a sinful, unhappy, worthless life that is lived for the pleasing of self and not God.

Where are you today?  Have you been redeemed and rescued from the wrath of God now and the wrath to come? If so, then celebrate and praise and thank Jesus!  But if you are still rebelling against God, and presuming upon his patience and kindness toward you, then repent.  Are you unfulfilled and dissatisfied?  Are you unhappy and feeling the effects of sin?  Remember that God is a wrathful God who hates sin.  But he is also “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7).

God has not only revealed his wrath.  Oh, no.  He has gloriously revealed his righteousness (Rom. 1:17), and this marvelous manifestation is revealed through his Son.  It must be received by faith, so if you would have it, come.  Jesus will receive whoever comes to him.  “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

Categories
Life

Be a Pipeline of God’s Mercy

Sometimes when we are merciful toward others, we do it out of religious pride.  Other times, we do it begrudgingly simply because it’s the “Christian thing to do.”  But Jesus tells us that the foundation for our being merciful should be an overflow of love for how God has treated us:

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:35-36).

God is kind to the ungrateful and evil in that he sent his Son to die for us while we were still enemies (see Rom. 5:8-10). He was merciful while we were stomping all over his glory. So Jesus says, “the Father has been kind to you evil people, so you should go and be the same to others who are evil.”

We need to ask ourselves, “When am I not merciful?” I find that most often, I am not merciful in the mundane things of life. Don’t you agree?  We yell at people in traffic. We think other people shouldn’t be in line at Wal-Mart when we are.  We get angry at others because they don’t “respect” us.  We punish others emotionally and socially because of some sin they have done against us. We give people the cold shoulder who didn’t accomplish the “wonderful plan” we have for their life (one that really was an avenue for our own betterment).

We must strive to be merciful. Why? Because Jesus said, “The measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).  If Christ has saved you, you are an evil and ungrateful child of the Most High God.  He has given you so much mercy.  Don’t keep it all to yourself.