Joy in the Midst of Trials

The Greek term chara appears throughout the New Testament. It is translated by the word joy and refers to an inner feeling of happiness. Holy Scripture refers here to an emotion, a sense of delight and gladness.

Paul declares that he is rejoicing even as he experiences suffering, and that he will continue to rejoice in the future. This is not to say that the presence of sadness in our lives is a moral blemish. The same apostle bears witness to his perpetual sorrow as he contemplates the Jews in their unbelief: “I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart” (Romans 9:2). It is possible to have joy in our hearts even while there is an undercurrent of sorrow. This is the way it was for the Lord Jesus Christ. Isaiah prophesied that he would be “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3). Yet he also spoke about an inner happiness: “These things I have spoken unto you, that my joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full (John 15:11). There was simultaneously joy and sorrow in the heart of Jesus, and we can expect to find the same in our experience too. Joy unmixed with sorrow must await the consummation of the eternal kingdom.

How was Paul able to have joy in his innermost being when he wrote Philippians? He was not a superhuman or a divine person, but simply a man among men, an earthen vessel.The joy Paul experienced was supernatural, generated by God Himself. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Joy is a beautiful manifestation of the moral renewal which the indwelling Holy Spirit produces within the person who is united to Christ by faith. Paul determined to face life’s trials with joy. We must resolve to do the same.

– Mark Lawson

Let us fight bravely against all the trials of this brief life, confident that our Lord will uphold us by his power until we have fully overcome.

– John Calvin

Glorious Truth

What are you really living for? It’s crucial to realize that you either glorify God, or you glorify something or someone else. You’re always making something look big. If you don’t glorify God when you’re involved in a conflict, you inevitably show that someone or something else rules your heart.
– Ken Sande

Humility is nothing but the disappearance of self in the vision that God is all.
– Andrew Murray

Amy Carmichael’s great longing was to have a “single eye” for the glory of God. Whatever might blur the vision God had give her of His work, whatever could distract or deceive or tempt other to seek anything but the Lord Jesus Himself, she tried to eliminate.
– Elisabeth Elliot

Every blossoming flower warns you that it is time to seek the Lord; be not out of tune with nature, but let your heart bud and bloom with holy desires.
– Charles Haddon Spurgeon

God is the greatest thing that exists, ever has existed or ever will exist; so for us to glory in anything else would be sin, as there is nothing greater than God, and there is no calling greater than praising God.
– John Piper

Our gifts are very pleasant to Him. He loves to see us lay our time, our talents, our substance on the altar, not for the value of what
we give, but for the sake of the motive from which the gift springs.
– Charles Haddon Spurgeon

We ascribe to God. We don’t add to Him.
– John Piper

A Celebration of the Hard Place

The church of Jesus Christ has never been in a good place.

It has forever lived in a hostile environment. It was born in the dragon’s lair where the hot breath of the beast is always felt. Its infancy was bloody; antagonists surrounded it and adversaries attacked it, and nothing has changed in two millennia. The world hates the church because it hates its Founder, Jesus Christ. The world and the church are on opposite courses. They represent two different kingdoms, two diverse realms. So, the church has always existed in a hard place.

But hardness is not necessarily bad for the people of God. By the amount of adversity God allows His church to endure, it must have some positive effect. The church’s finest hours seem to be when she stands bravely in stark contrast to the wicked world while feeling the fury of the beast against her. It is then the people of God, though tried by fire, have sung their best song. They have shown a watching world the beauty of their King, who also suffered the Serpent’s bruise.

The western church’s difficulty is not the heavy hand of persecution but the easy hand of prosperity. It is when we court the politician’s favor, the academia’s admiration, and the media’s approval that we suffer both morally and spiritually. We are like Samson in Delilah’s tent; we are flirting with captivity and begging to have our eyes put out. This is the hardest place for any church. When it wants success and stature in a world that is destined for destruction, it can’t end well for either church or world.

How many churches have become comfortable in its environment?

How many are comfortable with the world? Ease in Zion is not a good sign. Comfort always precedes collapse. But it’s when the church is in the hard place that it advances and the gates of hell cannot prevail.

It has always been that way. God’s people are not strangers to pressure or peril. When the children of Israel stood before the Red Sea, they experienced a hard place. With a vengeful Pharaoh and his well-equipped army in battle formation behind the former slaves, it looked hopeless. But the man of God lifted his rod and the Lord performed a miracle of deliverance by creating a highway through the sea.

Gideon suffered a 450-to-1 deficit. The enemies of Israel were the undefeatable Midianites. They had a 135,000-manned military, while Gideon didn’t have an army. It was more like a small battalion of 300 men. And their weapons were unconventional. Each man had a lit torch, a pitcher, and a trumpet. That was their entire weaponry. But as it played out, they needed no swords because God brought confusion upon the Midianites who turned on themselves and slaughtered each other until hardly a man was left standing.

King Jehoshaphat experienced something similar, only his army sang their way to victory, and God turned an ambush into a bonanza of loot. When the dust settled, the enemy army lay dead before Jehoshaphat and his praise team; all they had to do was pick up the treasure trove. The plunder was so much; it took them three days to collect it all.

Surely, my reader, you know the stories, each one a tale of impossibilities.

A brother sold by his jealous brothers to foreigners and winded up ruling over the foreigners. A shepherd boy against a warrior giant, three young men who wouldn’t bend or bow, but also wouldn’t burn when thrown into the fiery furnace. A praying old man thrown into a lions’ den slept comfortably among the ferocious felines, while the king who threw him into that hard place tossed and turned all night, unable to sleep in his palatial bed. Yes, all of these and more were in hard places, places no one, including the men and women who were there, would have chosen to visit or occupy. But in the hard place, God wrought deliverance and made them all unlikely heroes of the faith.

But not all the stories end up with a “slam-bang finish.” Some hard places end with tears, pain, and suffering. Some end in death, but that doesn’t mean the hard places were a defeat. When Jesus stood before His enemies all alone, there was no miraculous deliverance. He may have been able to call for twelve legions of angels, but He didn’t. He chose Calvary. The cross was His weapon, but it brought no deliverance from death; it became the instrument of His death.

In the most confusing twist of plots and storylines, the God-Man died an unjust death, the just for the unjust, the innocent for the guilty, the righteous for the unrighteous.

Jesus did not come down from the cross by divine power. He came down by two men pulling the nails out of His lifeless body, removing Him from the cross timbers and burying Him in a tomb.

For Jesus’ weak and cowardly followers there could be no harder place. Their Messiah dead and gone. Their sorrow compounded by the guilt of forsaking Him in His hour of need. How bitter was this place of hardness! But out of the jaws of defeat God secured His victory. The weakness of God was still more powerful than all of hell’s might. Satan bruised His heel, but nipping at someone’s heels puts your head in a vulnerable position. Jesus crushed His enemy’s head, and the blow was fatal. And in so doing, God proved that the hard place does not have to end in miraculous deliverance for Him to bring about His good purposes. He doesn’t need to display His power to win; He can win by demonstrating weakness, humility, and infirmity. Over and over this has been the weaponry of God: allowing His church to suffer hardship and through weakness win.

Martyred in the Ecuadorian jungle in January 1956, no one could imagine what the sacrifice of five young men would produce.

The men, Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Fleming, and Roger Youderian were endeavoring to take the Gospel to the Waodani people, whose tribal rivals called them “Aucas,” meaning savages. Why did they have to die? Why did their blood stain the river beach and their speared bodies get cast into the river’s current? Days later only four of them were found and then buried in a common grave on the spot where they died. Why such a waste of youth and missionary zeal? What a hard place for the wives and children of the martyred.

But the mystery of the hard place once again proved that God’s weakness is stronger than anyone or anything. Within days, volunteers came forward to resume the outreach to the Waodani. As news of the tragedy spread throughout the western world, thousands of young people were emboldened to respond to the call to foreign missions. Within two years, Elisabeth Elliot, the widow of Jim Elliot, along with their daughter, Valerie and Nate Saint’s sister, Rachel Saint, entered the Waodani encampment extending forgiveness to the very men who had killed their loved ones. They lived among them for years administering the Gospel and medical care.

The Indians saw the love of God lived out before their eyes; the Gospel came alive to them. They heard and saw the Gospel and conviction had its perfect work. Many of them were converted, and today the church of the Waodani prospers in Ecuador.

Yes, the church thrives in the hard place.

But many who profess the name of Jesus find themselves responding very differently to adversity. You see, the hard place is a gift from God to bring us to the end of ourselves. It is His love that leads us to the position of desperation to free us from the self-reliance that so often keeps us from trusting Him. Desperation is designed to lead us to dependency. That is God’s purpose, but Satan perverts the hard place in the mind of the Christian. Instead of desperation leading to dependency, it leads to despondency. And despondency leads to unbelief, a distrust of God and His hard places.

Everyone faces difficult times. Hard times are no respecter of persons. But it is the severe places in life that proves who you really trust. They expose what we truly rely upon. The principle of sin still remains in the Christian and, if allowed, it will work in us a self-reliance that is both stubborn and tough to detect. It is the hard place that drives self-reliance out of hiding and makes us see that it must be absolutely abandoned so we may totally trust in God.

If we are going to live a supernatural life, (the only kind of life a Christian is to live), we must believe God’s will is best and that the hard place is necessary for us. It is not a matter of learning to adapt to difficulty or adopting a tougher mindset. No, it is believing that your God is a Father who so loves you that He will never abandon you in your hour of need. You must have faith that He has brought you to the place of need to see your real need, not deliverance from the circumstantial problem, but deliverance from a self-will that determines a plan different from God’s agenda for you.

Your weakness is the vehicle He uses to win the day, not your strengths.

Too many Christians are trying to overcome by becoming better, better at faith, better at making wiser choices, better at being more sanctified. This is only asking for more trials by fire. The whole purpose of the hard place is not to show how strong a Christian you are, but how God’s weakness is greater than any power. It is to display through your inabilities that God is the One who brings us through. God is not looking for strong believers; He is looking for impotent instruments to demonstrate His great power. Some of us need our sanctification sanctified.

The church was born in the environment of adversity, and it is in that climate the lungs of the church are best suited to breathe. As the eagle is made to navigate the thinner air of the higher atmosphere, so is the church built to soar on the absence of human strength. It was made to fly in the power of God only. So, celebrate the hard place because it is there God manifests His glory. It the glory of God revealed that makes us rejoice. The less visible our human glory, the more of His glory will we see and so will others.

For more resources like this,
get your free copy of RTM Magazine on iPhoneiPadAndroid, or on the web.

Delayed Deliverances

Immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. (Acts 16:26)

In this age, God rescues his people from some harm. Not all harm. That’s comforting to know, because otherwise we might conclude from our harm that he has forgotten us or rejected us.
So be encouraged by the simple reminder that in Acts 16:19–24, Paul and Silas were not delivered, but in verses 25–26, they were.
First, no deliverance:

“They seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace.” (verse 19)
“The magistrates tore the garments off them.” (verse 22)
They “inflicted many blows upon them.” (verse 23)
The jailer “fastened their feet in the stocks.” (verse 24)

But then, deliverance:

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God . . . and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. (verses 25–26)

God could have stepped in sooner. He didn’t. He has his reasons. He loves Paul and Silas.
Question for you: If you plot your life along this continuum of Paul’s initial suffering and later deliverance, where are you? Are you in the stripped-and-beaten stage, or the unshackled, door-flung-open stage?
Both are God’s stages of care for you. He has not left you or forsaken you (Hebrews 13:5).
If you are in the fettered stage, don’t despair. Sing. Freedom is on the way. It is only a matter of time. Even if it comes through death. “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

— John Piper

Words for the Wind

Do you think that you can reprove words, when the speech of a despairing man is wind?” (Job 6:26)

In grief and pain and despair, people often say things they otherwise would not say. They paint reality with darker strokes than they will paint it tomorrow, when the sun comes up. They sing in minor keys, and talk as though that is the only music. They see clouds only, and speak as if there were no sky.

They say, “Where is God?” Or: “There is no use to go on.” Or: “Nothing makes any sense.” Or: “There’s no hope for me.” Or: “If God were good, this couldn’t have happened.”
What shall we do with these words?

Job says that we do not need to reprove them. These words are wind, or literally “for the wind.” They will be quickly blown away. There will come a turn in circumstances, and the despairing person will waken from the dark night, and regret hasty words.
Therefore, the point is, let us not spend our time and energy reproving such words. They will be blown away of themselves on the wind. One need not clip the leaves in autumn. It is a wasted effort. They will soon blow off of themselves.

Oh, how quickly we are given to defending God or sometimes the truth, from words that are only for the wind. If we had discernment, we could tell the difference between the words with roots and the words blowing in the wind.

There are words with roots in deep error and deep evil. But not all grey words get their color from a black heart. Some are colored mainly by pain and despair. What you hear is not the deepest thing within. There is something real and dark within where they come from. But it is temporary — like a passing infection — real, painful, but not the true person.

So, let us learn to discern whether the words spoken against us, against God, or against the truth, are merely for the wind — spoken not from the soul, but from the sore. If they are for the wind, let us wait in silence and not reprove. Restoring the soul, not reproving the sore, is the aim of our love.

— John Piper

Renewal of the Man of God Conference

Renewal of the Man of God is a free one-day event for pastors and church leaders to refresh and recharge their personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Too often, pastors and leaders give of themselves and have nothing in reserve for their own souls. Ministry then becomes routine and mechanical and, as a result of going through the motions of ministering to others, their own spiritual vitality can be lost.

This event is hosted by Real Truth Matters and Solid Rock Baptist Church to give church leaders a day to focus on their own spiritual needs and relearn how to maintain fellowship with God. How do you walk with God and keep ministry operating out of the overflow of your relationship with Christ? That is what this conference is about.

RTM Director Michael Durham will teach five sessions on keeping the heart before the Lord and experiencing Him as a constant, present reality. Time will also be given to extended prayer.

Breakfast and lunch will be provided and wives are welcome to attend. Make it a day for you both to meet with the Lord and other leaders in a day dedicated to renewal.

For more information, call: 270.898.8496

Please register by February 26, 2018 to attend.

Doubling Down on Decay

‘You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?’
— James 4:4

In a most insightful blog in The Masculinist, author Aaron Renn takes up the issue of the American evangelical church and why we lack powerful impact in our culture. He writes of positive world Christianity, neutral world Christianity, and negative world Christianity. In the positive world of American Christianity, prior to 1994, the church was seen in a relatively positive light. To be a Christian then was to enhance one’s career or standing in the community. Christians were largely respected. To join an evangelical church or prominently to display a Bible on one’s desk was good for business.

The approach of church ministry then was to address the issues of the day in the church and world in a direct , sometimes highly combatative manner. It was during these years that the seeker sensitive approach to ministry (think Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church) was embraced by so many, largely because there was a basic friendliness by the world toward Christianity.

Some of the major players in the days of the positive view of the church were Jerry Falwell and James Dobson. Both men spoke directly, boldly, and passionately about the moral and political issues of their day. When Colorado Senator, Gary Hart, running for the Democratic nomination for President in 1988, was reported by the Miami Herald of cavorting with a young woman named Donna Rice on a yacht, the outcry was so great that Hart was forced to drop out of the race.

From 1994 to 2014, however, the American evangelical church was viewed in a neutral light. To be a Christian was more of a neutral attribute. It may not help your career but it certainly wouldn’t hurt it either. The neutral world of Christianity gave rise to urban church types, what we might call hipsters. They said that they were apolitical but most leaned left in their political viewpoint. These pastors and churches sought to avoid highlighting any social or political issue which would bring Christianity into conflict with the world Consequently most of these pastors had no trouble championing opposition to racism and bigotry or sex trafficking, but were reluctant to speak on the horrors of abortion. Renn observes that Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Manhattan, perfectly fits this description.

From 2014 to the present, however, a new view of the church has arisen. We now find ourselves in a negative view of Christianity. Being a Christian today, especially in larger, more hip cities, is usually a huge social negative. Try expressing your opposition to same sex unions in the board room and see where that takes you. While being a Christian in the positive church era was an enhancement of one’s career; and while being a Christian in a neutral view of the church may not help someone, it certainly would not hurt him either; we now have the negative view of the church where people openly and violently reject Biblical views on marriage, child rearing, business, law, economics, and politics.

To summarize — if the positive church world celebrated traditional norms on marriage, family, church, and government; and the neutral church tolerated these Biblical norms; now the negative church world repudiates them. We have moved from celebration to toleration to repudiation. And those church leaders who were loved by the neutral view of Christianity are now facing repudiation by those who embrace the negative view of Christianity. Tim Keller, for example, was recently uninvited from giving lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary because he embraces traditional marriage between one man and one woman.

Well, with these things in mind, what shall we do to reach our western world where so many are violently, militantly opposed to Christianity? It seems that so many are like sharks in the water which smell blood. They are in a feeding frenzy.

To retreat, as though we are in exile, is not the answer. Our model is always Jesus and the apostles. Though living and proclaiming the truth in the days of both meant that those loving righteousness were in a severe minority, Jesus and Paul never retreated. They constantly moved forward preaching the kingdom of God. It does not mean exchanging evangelism and discipleship for political action on the right. To engage in political process is our right and political ction on the right. To engage in the political process is our right and duty and we ought to follow Biblical norms when doing so, but these efforts must never supersede preaching the gospel of grace to all, regardless of their political, moral, or spiritual positions on anything. But it also does not mean accommodation with the left on issues like economics, government, same sex unions, abortion, or transgenderism. The more ‘progressive’ pastors continue to act like they still live in the neutral world of Christianity, then the more they will move to the left, eventually falling into theological apostasy.

Well then, what is the answer? We must double down on decay. We must be bold, intentional, fearless, considering friendship with the world as hostility towards God. We are not to sccumb to the harlotry of desiring the praise of men. Paul gloried in the cross of Christ. The world was crucified to him. He willingly embraced his stature before men — a slave, a spectacle, a fool, the scum of the earth and the dregs of all things. Give up the debilitating Siren song — the smile of man toward what we say or do.

More than ever, we must pray, living out the practical implications of Calvinism — that no one understands, no one seeks for God, none are righteous; and unless God by His sheer mercy and grace moves on people to convict them and regenerate them, then there is no hope at all of societal change orimpact. We need open air preaching more than ever. Open air preachers need to double down. We need more, not less of them. We need people moving out of their comfort zones, from behind the battle lines of our churches and coffee shops, and take to the streets where lost people live, work, play, and die. We need real men who are steadfast, immovable, who are always aboutnding in the work of the Lord. We need evangelists and preachers of every kind who are willing to be fools for Jesus’ sake, who are willing to suffer ridicule, rejection, and accusation in order to reach out to those who are hopelessly lost without Jesus, who are living without God in this world , and who, unless God intervenes in sheer mercy, have only the prospect of a fathomless, shoreless, graceless eternity in the lake of fire, which is the second death.

– Al Baker

All is Mercy

It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:16)

Let us make crystal clear at the beginning of the year that all we will get from God this year, as believers in Jesus, is mercy. Whatever pleasures or pains come our way will all be mercy.

This is why Christ came into the world: “in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:9). We were born again “according to his great mercy” (1 Peter 1:3). We pray daily “that we may receive mercy” (Hebrews 4:16); and we are now “waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 1:21). If any Christian proves trustworthy, it is “by the Lord’s mercy [he] is trustworthy” (1 Corinthians 7:25).

In Luke 17:5–6, the apostles plead with the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And Jesus says, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” In other words, the issue in our Christian life and ministry is not the strength or quantity of our faith, because that is not what uproots trees. God does. Therefore, the smallest faith that truly connects us with Christ will engage enough of his power for all you need.
But what about the times that you successfully obey the Lord? Does your obedience move you out of the category of supplicant of mercy? Jesus gives the answer in the following verses of Luke 17:7–10.

“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Therefore, I conclude, the fullest obedience and the smallest faith obtain the same thing from God: mercy. A mere mustard seed of faith taps into the mercy of God’s tree-moving power. And flawless obedience leaves us utterly dependent on mercy.
The point is this: Whatever the timing or form of God’s mercy, we never rise above the status of beneficiaries of mercy. We are always utterly dependent on what we do not deserve.

Therefore let us humble ourselves and rejoice and “glorify God for his mercy!”
– John Piper