If you could see God’s secret counsel

“If you could see how God in his secret counsel has exactly laid the whole plan of your salvation, even to the smallest means and circumstances; could you but discern the admirable harmony of divine dispensations, their mutual relations, together with the general respect they all have to the last end; had you liberty to make your own choice, you would, of all conditions in the world, choose that in which you now are.”

John Flavel, Keeping the Heart.

Go to Jesus and count the cost

Go to Jesus and find him to be everything you’ve ever needed. And as you go to him, count the cost. For some of you, in the moment of conversion, counting the cost is a quick and easy thing. In that moment, when God supernaturally flicks on the eyes of your soul and you see God, fiercely holy, in all his white purity—it is immediately clear that no sin can be in his presence; hell seems to be opening its mouth at your feet, sin feels like shackles around your hands and ankles; you know immediately that your condemnation is totally just and right—you are a sinner, you have no excuse, and all out of the blackness all you see is the wounded, bloody hands of Jesus, reaching down to you in grace. There are no other options; Jesus alone can save you, and through him alone can you be forgiven. And in that moment, counting the cost is easy—you could easily suffer a hell on earth if it means eternity with Christ.

But for others, it doesn’t happen that way. Some stand at a distance and examine Christ. They put him under the microscope. They think hard about the claims of the gospel and take their time to make an informed decision. This is good. This way is the most common way people get saved. Some are awakened in an instant, as if a bomb of grace went off under their bed. Others are slowly nudged awake. This is counting the cost.

Peter says, “as you come to him, a living stone rejected by men.” Christians, this is our leader and example—Jesus is the living stone rejected by men. We follow him. And if our leader was rejected by men, so will we. It comes with the territory. Count the cost.

Peter will later tell his audience not to “be surprised when the fiery trials come upon you, as if something strange were happening to you.” Why should they not be surprised? Because trials come with the territory. Count the cost.

Romans 8:16-17  says that we are heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. But it doesn’t stop there—Paul gives a condition for his truth. He says that he are fellow heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with him, in order that we may also be glorified in him.” In other words, Paul seems to be saying that We are fellow heirs with Christ if we share in his sufferings. And if we suffer with him, then we will be glorified with him. In short, suffering is part and parcel to being an fellow heir will Christ. It comes with the territory. Count the cost.

When Jesus called Paul on the Damascus road he said to Ananias, “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” It comes with the territory, count the cost.

Acts 14:22 says, “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” It comes with the territory, count the cost.

Jesus in John 15:20 “A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” It comes with the territory, count the cost.

When Paul sent Timothy to the Thessalonians, he said it was so that  “no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.” It comes with the territory, count the cost.

Paul writing to Timothy said, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” It comes with the territory, count the cost.

Do you want to count the cost? I’ll help you. It costs you everything. Your whole life. Your plans, your dreams, your family, your friends, your comfort, and your security (earthly security, that is), your petty hidden sins, your selfish agendas. Quite possibly, your dream house, dream car, dream life. That’s what it costs you. In return, you get salvation from hell, and your sins that hold you condemned. You get promised eternal life in glory with Jesus Christ, peace with God and adoption into God’s family—God will be your Father, and he will love you relentlessly and grace you lavishly for eternity. And God will throw in some heavenly joy just to give you a foretaste of your true home. Need help deciding?

Let me, and every true follower of Christ, with resounding joy, say: “It’s worth it!”

 

 

Tyson Larson: One year later

Sometimes writing is therapeutic for me. So last June I wrote some blogs about Tyson’s death and the surrounding events. Out of all the posts I’ve written, these are still the most read posts– even a year later. Apparently, no one has forgotten Tyson. I think it’s safe to say no one ever will.

They say hindsight is always 20/20. A year later, looking back, it doesn’t look 20/20. It seems like a haze of confusion, fear, and sorrow. No one can say, “Ah! Now I know the reason for Ty’s death!” It’s not like that. We simply move on, knowing that clarity isn’t for us at this point in time. Ty has clarity. We won’t have clarity until we meet him, and Jesus gathers us together, puts a little one on his knee and tells the great story of all he accomplished through this. Until then, we live by faith, not sight.

And though the hindsight isn’t quite clear the lessons we’ve learned are beyond number. They’re not quantifiable. If you asked me what I learned I’d probably reflect and say I’m not too sure– but I’d go on to list the ways I’m different. Ty’s death has taught us all a little more about life, about reality, about this fallen world, about God, about human-ness, about ourselves.

The most encouraging part of all this was the Larson family. In the darkest times of despair, there eyes were watching God. They reminded the watching world that God is enough; Christ is sufficient– we can lose it all here on earth, and still have a reason to rejoice. Hallelujah, all I have is Christ.

Praise be to our God, the only true God, who gives life and takes it away, who sets up kings and brings them down, who rules over every last floating molecule in the solar system, who did not let this happen in vain. Praise be to God who is not a God of absurdity, vanity, or futility. Praise be to him who comforts us in our affliction, guides us through our pain, who purchased a happy eternity for all who believe through Christ’s death on the cross. This is all our hope.

“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).

Here is Lindsey’s blog that she wrote yesterday: Who Was Tyson? Read this.

Here are the blogs that I wrote last year.

  1. Tyson Larson: No Guilt in Life, No Fear in Death
  2. Tyson Larson: Bringing Us All Back Together Again
  3. Tyson Larson: What We’ve Learned
  4. Lindsey Larson: Grace for One Day at a Time
  5. One Million Years Later

Here is my sister’s blog that she wrote yesterday: Remembering Tyson

Here’s my wife Ashley’s blog: A Year Ago Today.

Some words to a scared, dying man

Clement Read Vaughan, writing to his old friend who was about to die and fearing death, wondering if he’d have enough faith to die well. He gave the metaphor of a traveler coming to a chasm over which a bridge was built:

What does he do to breed confidence in the bridge? He looks at the bridge; he gets down and examines it. He don’t [sic]  stand at the bridge-head and turn his thoughts curiously in on his own mind to see if he has confidence in the bridge. If his examination of the bridge gives him a certain amount of confidence, and yet he wants more, how does he make his faith grow? Why, in the same way; he still continues to examine the bridge. Now, my dear old man, let your faith take care of itself for awhile, and you just think of what you are allowed to trust in. Think of the Master’s power, think of his love; think how he is interested in the soul that searches for him, and will not be comforted until he finds him. Think of what he has done, his work. That blood of his is mightier than all the sins of all the sinners that ever lived. Don’t you think it will master yours?…

Now, dear old friend, I have done to you just what I would want you to do to me if I were lying in your place. The great theologian, after all, is just like any other one of God’s children, and the simple gospel talked to him is just as essential as it is to a milk-maid of a plow-boy. May God give you grace, not to lay too much stress on your faith, but to grasp the great ground of confidence, Christ, and all his work and all his personal fitness to be a sinner’s refuge. Faith is only an eye to see him. I have been praying that God would quiet your pains as you advance, and enable you to see the gladness of the gospel at every step. Good-bye. God be with you as he will. Think of the Bridge!

Your brother,

C.R.V.

From Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers by T. David Gordon, cited from The Life And Letters Of Robert Lewis Dabney (1903), by Thomas Cary Johnson

Why you’re suffering

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Look at that little clause: if necessary. Peter is saying that suffering only happens if it’s necessary. Necessary? Trials are necessary? Pain is  necessary? Necessary for what? Who decides if it’s necessary?

God decides.

Yes, God– in his infinite and perfect wisdom, deems how much suffering we need to go through. And he is not wrong.  He decides flawlessly.

O, There is so much hope in those two little words! First, we see that every single ounce of suffering is necessary to maximize God’s glory and our good. Second, we see that God will never put us through unnecessary suffering. What reason to rejoice! God has allotted for us the perfect amount of pain in this life– not too much, and not too little– in order to shape us toward Christ-likeness.  When you’re suffering, know this: it’s necessary!

Sometimes languishing Christians don’t respond well to other Christians trying to encourage them with the truth of God’s good use of trials in their life. They respond “I already know that!” or “I already learned that lesson!” Here, God says, if you’re suffering, there’s yet a lesson to be learned. None of us have arrived, and therefore, none of us are exempt from the seminary of suffering.

So when you’re suffering, be thankful that God is giving you what you need for Christ-likeness. And seek to understand what God is teaching you.

Let none of us despise the discipline of God, for

“the Lord disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in.” Proverbs 3:12

Are you a suffering Christian?

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith– more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire– may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:6-7

Here, Peter is motivating these persecuted Christians to suffer well by encouraging them that their suffering will result in Jesus’ exaltation, not by encouraging them that their earthly suffering will cease. In other words, Peter believes that our suffering is worth it as long as it brings Jesus glory. And he thinks we should feel that way too– rejoice in suffering.

He is assuming that our deepest longing is not for comfort, but to see Christ exalted. Because if that’s true of us, we can rejoice in our sufferings because they glorify God. Period.

We cannot suffer well if we want something more than to see Jesus glorified. If I want comfort more that God’s glory, I will be angry at God when he takes away my comfort. If I want money more than God to be exalted, I will be angry at God when I can’t make the budget work. If I want my life to go according to my plan, I will not be able to suffer well, because when God, in his grace, “ruins our plans,” we will be so audacious even to question the goodness of our Creator. As if he violated our rights.

This is not only a theological point to be agreed with, this is a standard by which we can measure our hearts. The times we feel most depressed, most angry with God, most unsatisfied with life– these are the times we need to reevaluate what our hearts are loving most.

Peter reminds us to endure suffering with joy, because, in the end, God will be glorified.

War Buddies

“For me…to die is gain” I wonder if Paul in his conversations with Peter in Jerusalem had talked about dying? I wonder if Peter told him about that experience recorded in John 21 when Jesus, after his resurrection, said to Peter, “When you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18). Then John adds this explanation in his Gospel: “This [Jesus] said to show by which kind of death [Peter] was to glorify God. (John 21:19). God had decreed that Peter would make God look great in his dying.

And here’s my favorite part:

I don’t doubt that when Peter and Paul gave each other the right hand of fellowship, the manly grip of their hands and the meeting of their eyes communicated this one common passion: to magnify Christ crucified– the blazing center of the glory of God– even in death.

Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper (pg. 66-67)

The only comparison I can think of is of a football team. In high school, football is war. Friday nights are battles– and the people who are in the trenches with you are lifelong war-buddies. To this day, when I see a friend that when to war with me Friday nights I feel a special connection. And even though I’m a basketball player, there’s something more enduring about football relationships. And I think it has something to do with the fact that football is more painful.

There is a shared passion and seriousness that battle demands– and there is a kind of joy and camaraderie that comes from fighting side-by-side. We literally depend on each other– not only for the outcome of the game but for the safety of our bodies. It costs when you fail. You appreciate it a little more when you succeed. The bond thickens.

There is laughter in the locker room; blood-earnestness on the field. I can look into a fellow-warrior’s eyes and know he feels what I do. That he needs me as much as I need him. And that we’re in it together.

The warfare that we wage as Christians is a million times for important than what happens Friday night. And potentially a million times more dangerous. Are we prepared for the clash? Do you have your war-buddies?

Why do bad things happen to good people? PART FOUR

Today we will finish the series. Some of you have made it to the final point! Good job– there’s not a great market for theology these days. But I write this because I strongly believe that theology is intensely practical. What we believe dictates what we do, what we feel, and how we cope.

A family tragedy provoked this series. In moments of abject emotional pain theology matters. Big questions rise to the surface. We must have answers. This post concludes my best attempt to give an answer to the problem of pain.

If you start here, you’ll be lost. To catch up, here’s the previous points we’ve built on:

MondayWhere We’re Going

TuesdayThere is no such thing as a “good” person. All we enjoy is pure, unmerited grace.

WednesdayThe highest good in the universe is God’s exaltation, and therefore everything God does is toward that end.

Thursday: The highest good, which is God’s self-exaltation, is also God’s greatest act of love.

Today we finish with the most controversial point:

The highest good (God’s exaltation) and our highest joy (worship) could not have been accomplished if evil had not entered the world.

On Tuesday we showed how it is not evil or unjust for God to take lives. It’s all we’ve ever deserved.

On Wednesday we examined how God does everything to magnify his name– and how that is the highest good in the universe.

Yesterday, we looked at how God’s self-exaltation through self-revelation is inherently loving because he is the only thing that could make us happy forever. If he obscured himself and exalted us, he would be cruelly withholding that which is best for us; namely, himself.

Today I hope to show how God’s greatest act of love toward us– his self-revelation– could not be fully accomplished in a world without evil. I desire to show that evil serves the great and terrible purpose of God to display the fullness of God’s character.

* * *

1 Peter 1:12-13 describes the gospel as something “into which angels long to look.” There is something about the gospel that angels don’t fully understand. They long to see it. It is absolutely compelling.

What makes it so compelling? The reason why angels long to look into the gospel is because within this gospel story something has happened that is beyond the realm of their experience. There is something hidden deep inside the good news that they long to gaze upon. What could we possibly experience that angels don’t fully understand?

Mercy.

Grace.

Forgiveness.

How could an angel experience mercy if he’s never been condemned? How can the heavenly beings exult in the saving grace of God is there is nothing they were saved from? There can be no forgiveness if there is nothing to be forgiven of. Angels haven’t experienced what the redeemed have.

I use this illustration to prove that there are aspects of God’s character that could only be revealed in a world that contains sin. The un-fallen angels are sinless. And that’s why they long to look upon the gospel. They want to see what forgiveness looks like, what saving grace does, what mercy yields.

If the most loving thing God can do for us is reveal himself to us, then it makes sense that the more of his character he unveils, the more we will be able to worship. The more we know, the more we are satisfied. To the eyes that have not been tainted by sin, there isn’t a sliver of repulsiveness in God’s character.

Therefore, in order to garner worship and produce joy in his people, God must show all of his attributes. Including his mercy, his grace, his justice, and his wrath– attributes that mean nothing apart from evil.

God, in ordaining evil to infect the world, created a place where he could be crucified on the cross in the most spectacular display of love, redemption, grace, and glory. The white-hot center of the revelation of the magnificent character of God is the cross. That is who God is.

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things were created through him and for him…For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

Colossians 1:16,19-20

Everything was created for the glory of Christ. Pilate was created for the glory of Christ. Judas was created for the glory of Christ. Indeed, Satan was created for the glory of Christ.

Man could not devise such a plan. Praise be to God.

* * *

A friend showed me this video when I was part way through this series. It’s appropriate to post here. It is John Piper explaining this truth better than I ever could. Enjoy.

Why do bad things happen to good people? PART THREE

We started a series this week that aims to answer one of life’s most daunting questions. This is a kind of theodicy– an effort to give an answer to the problem of evil in our world. I named the series “Why do bad things happen to good people” because that’s the way the question is typically asked (even though I don’t agree with the implications inherent in the question).

Each post is a point that builds upon the previous point. So if you’re just starting today, go back and read the introduction and parts one and two. It will put this point in context and clarify what I’m saying. Here’s the previous posts:

Monday: Where We’re Going

Tuesday: There is no such thing as a “good” person. All we enjoy is pure, unmerited grace.

Wednesday: The highest good in the universe is God’s exaltation, and therefore everything God does is toward that end.

Today:

The highest good, which is God’s self-exaltation, is also God’s greatest act of love.

As I mentioned in the last post, God is heaven-bent on garnering glory to his name. It is inherent in everything he does. And he unabashedly declares it throughout Scripture.

Believers and unbelievers alike struggle with this. And the reason we struggle with this is because we think that it’s impossible for God to be loving and self-exalting at every turn.

How can God say, “Glorify me! Magnify my name! Worship me!” and be loving? Like I said yesterday, if I were to make such statements I would be called a megalomaniac.  I would be self-absorbed and vain. How come God says these things, and it’s okay?

We must understand SOME things to reconcile these truths about God.

1. The modern understanding of love is not biblical.

We tend to think that love is something that someone does to us to make us feel good. With today’s understanding of love, spanking your child is unloving because it hurts the child. Confronting harmful behavior is unloving and intolerant because it reveals the failure of another person. According to this system of thought, love always sweeps the issue under the rug. But that’s not the biblical version of love.

If a husband is addicted to alcohol and the habit is ruining his family and his kids are in danger of being abused, would it be loving of his friend to let him enjoy his scotch until he squanders his money, wallows in guilt for the remainder of his life and dies? No. The true friend would slap him around so he realizes the seriousness of his problem. And when we start talking about an almighty, omnipotent God we have to really be careful. What is the best way that God loves us? Is God’s love simply making us feel good about ourselves?

Obviously it’s not. The whole point of the gospel is to make us feel so bad about ourselves that we look to God for salvation.

What, then, is love?

What does the love of God look like?

Love can be defined something like this: Love is doing whatever it takes to do what will make someone happy forever.

If we’re talking about the biblical love, we have to think in terms of eternity. What will be eternally loving? In the short term, sweeping an issue under the carpet may seem loving, but from eternity’s perspective, it may actually be harmful. Wouldn’t it be more eternally loving to confront sin so that it gets dealt with, rather than leaving it to fester or hinder?

So when God loves, he’s working from an eternal perspective. He wants to make us happy forever. Not for a day. Not for 72 years. He wants you happy forever.

What will make us happy forever?

2. God garners glory by self-revelation.

Yesterday’s point was that God is radically dedicated to his own glory. The way God goes about garnering this glory is by revealing himself so that people will see him and worship. God revealed himself by acting in history in the Old Testament (1 Corinthians 10:1-11). He revealed himself by taking the form and likeness of a man and living among us (Hebrews 1:2-3). He reveals himself through his Word (2 Peter 1:21). He reveals himself through the church (Ephesians 3:10).

Human beings are worship factories, built to worship something. Sadly, most of our worship is monopolized by petty hobbies and self-gratification. But we were made to worship God. Fully worshiping God is the most satisfying and fulfilling experience a human being can have. Worship is enjoying God. Here’s the key: we can only enjoy God to the extent that he reveals himself to us. The more we see the character of God in all its fullness– the holiness of God, the greatness of God, the majesty of God,etc, we will be drawn to worship. There is no deeper joy than worship. Nothing so satisfies the human soul as intimacy with God.

If God was not relentlessly seeking to exalt himself, he would be holding from us the only thing that could make us happy forever. The most loving act God does toward the world is self-exaltation. When God reveals himself to the world, he unveils the most glorious and attractive and satisfying object in the universe.

And that is loving.

“In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11

God’s pursuit of glory is inherently loving because what God is seeking to put on display is the most beautiful and fulfilling thing in the world; namely, himself. Thus, our deepest longings are satisfied when the highest good is accomplished. God gets the glory and we get the joy.

* * *

Tomorrow might be the most controversial post I’ve ever written. Hope you don’t tune out.

Friday:

Point Four: The highest good (God’s exaltation) and our highest joy (worship) could not have been accomplished if evil had not entered the world.

Why do bad things happen to good people? PART ONE

Yesterday I introduced the series that I’ll be blogging through this week. It aims to biblically answer the question, why do bad things happen to good people?

Today is part one:

1. There’s no such thing as a “good” person. All we enjoy is pure, unmerited grace.

The question why do bad things happen to good people is flawed from the start– there is no one good. Romans 3:10-12:

No one is righteous, no, not one;

no one understands; no one seeks for God.

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

no one does good, not even one.

There are nice people, no doubt. But nice doesn’t not equal righteous. Nice does not permit you to stand justified before a holy God. Even nice people are sinners. Every person starts life with a sinful nature and a natural bent toward rebellion against God. All have turned aside and deserve to be tossed aside by God. The better question to ask would by why do good things happen to bad people? Each person deserves condemnation. God would be completely just to let me starve in a frozen cell for the rest of my life– that’s all I’ve ever deserved. Thank God there is another side of his character that triumphs over judgment: mercy.

There’s no such thing as a righteous person. When Christians are saved, it is not by their own qualifications. It’s completely by God’s work on our behalf. It’s God redeeming, God forgiving, God cleansing, God clothing me in Christ’s righteousness. I simply accept the grace by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

If we understand the gospel, we will enjoy grace because we know that it is a free gift we have not earned. We will hold that both God’s kindness (Romans 2:4) and God’s severity (1 Peter 5:10-11) is meant to draw his people into a closer relationship with him. All God’s acts toward his children are loving. Even the ones that temporarily cause pain.

Every ounce of enjoyment we have ever received is pure, unmerited grace.

James 3:16-18

Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Enjoy a sunrise lately? Grace. A laugh with a friend? Grace. A deep breath of mountain air? Grace upon grace. It is something good to enjoy we have not deserved. These are gifts from God.

God is the creator of life. The creatures he made have turned against Him. God has the divine right to take life whenever he pleases. He chooses when to pull the plug– he can do it one whenever and however he wants. He will do it to everyone, eventually– we all die. He is not unjust to take some sooner than others.

God has all our days numbered. When the time comes, we die. In the meantime, we enjoy things that we have not deserved.  He does not owe us another breath. If you are a believer, he is giving to time to accomplish the “good works he has prepared for you beforehand” (Ephesians 2:10). If you have not yet been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, he is giving you time to repent of your sins– for “the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Praise God that there is a way to make death not so final. Praise God that there is access to free grace for whoever calls upon Jesus Christ for salvation.  There is a way to stand guiltless before the Almighty. This is the gospel. It is the ultimate act of free, unmerited grace. It is the message of life.

* * *

Tomorrow’s point is that “The highest good in the universe is God’s exaltation, and therefore everything God does is toward that end.

To understand the sovereignty of God in suffering we must grasp why God does what he does. Certainly God has the power to stop all suffering. Why doesn’t he?

The Bible shows pretty clearly why God acts. We are going to look at how God does everything for his own glory.