Saturday, August 4, 2012

If God's Will Doesn't Change, Is Prayer Pointless?

This question is loaded with implications that will start to help us in understanding the relationship between the human will and God’s sovereign will. Why would it be necessary to pray to God and ask for anything, whether related to our own well being, or someone else’s salvation, when He has always had an unchanging and predetermined plan in the world? Is our prayer to God futile?

Probably, the best way to start is to note that the Lord Jesus Himself told us to pray. In fact, He told us how to pray, didn’t He? He gave us an example of how to pray in Matthew 6. Before we look closely at what Jesus prayed it is important to note that immediately preceding this he instructed the people to not waste their time and words with pointless phrases that amount to nothing. Many people thought that the sheer volume of their prayers would somehow have a better effect on God, giving them more sway with Him. This was a legalistic tendency that Jesus was speaking against.

He said, “When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (6:7). His insinuation is clearly that they were wrong for thinking so. Being heard by God had nothing to do with the amount of words they uttered in vain. Even more remarkably, He continues, “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (v8).

So, here we have Jesus telling us how not to pray since God already knows what everyone needs. He is pointedly telling us that He is omniscient. Then He goes on to tell us how we should pray, thus revealing that prayer is not pointless, rather it is still meaningful and appropriate. How did Jesus tell us to pray?

Read Matthew 6:9-13

1) Approach holy God humbly.

In verse nine, the first thing Jesus said to do was to acknowledge the Father as Holy. It is fitting that when we approach God in prayer that we do so in the utmost reverence and awe; not in a flippant or demanding way.

2) Acknowledge God’s sovereignty and Lordship.

In verse 10, Jesus gives yet another indicator that we ought to be humble when we pray, always submitting to the will of the Father. Begging or demanding something from God does no good if it is not God’s will. We should pray that His will be done regardless of what our concern or request is. A heart of true submission will be content with whatever God allows to happen because our true hope is found in God’s sovereignty.

3) Don’t be selfish.

In verse 11, Jesus says, “Give us this day our daily bread”. Again, not asking for the world, but for enough to satisfy our basic needs. The Apostle Paul said that he learned to be content in all situations, whether he had his daily bread or not (Phil. 4:11). While God already knows what we need and want, we still place ourselves in the proper position of acknowledging our dependence on Him for those things when we come to Him in prayer. This is the balance that we’re looking for. We aren’t going to God to inform Him, rather we are going to seek His will and ask for His will to be done.

4) If you’re going to ask God for anything, ask for forgiveness.   

At this time when Christ was telling us here how to pray, He had not been crucified and raised yet, so it is noteworthy that the concept of going to God and asking for forgiveness of sins has always been a theme in the Bible. It’s important to remember that. Throwing an animal on the altar in stark ceremonialism didn’t mean anything without a truly repentant heart. When we pray, we must be careful to approach God with the understanding that we need His forgiveness in the same way that we also forgive people who offend us. The ministry of reconciliation we have is one that requires forgiveness (2 Cor. 5).

5) Pray for your real need: Deliverance from evil.

As a final statement in this prayer, Jesus tells us to pray for deliverance from evil and to ask God to keep us away from temptation. The ultimate end of man will determine whether or not a person humbly submitted to the Lordship of Christ, or whether he went along with his evil tendencies, feeding the temptations that came along the way, living in sin.

Since it is our own evil tendencies that tempt us and not God Himself, we need to ask for His help to defeat our sinful flesh tendencies. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that God will always provide a way of escape from temptation, so that we can endure it. If we’re completely honest with ourselves, this verse is essentially saying that we have no excuse for giving into sin. “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability,” Paul says. That’s why he said to the Romans, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Earlier in this passage we see a beautiful harmony of God’s sovereignty working in prayer, while also touching on the fact that it is the Spirit who enables us to overcome the flesh.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

-What three things does this passage say the Spirit does for us?

-How does this passage reconcile God’s all-knowing and unchanging sovereignty with our need to pray?
-How does this make you think differently about prayer?
Jesus gave us an example of how to pray and when He left in the ascension He told His disciples to wait for the Spirit to come in the near future. Since we are now indwelt with the Holy Spirit, who is just as much God as the Father and the Son, we have Christ in us to continue interceding for us and showing us how to pray. The most important part of this Romans passage we read is that “the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Since we know that God’s will is just as unchanging as He is in essence, we can be confident that when we pray with a humble heart, seeking the Lord’s will, then we will be acknowledging His sovereignty and His will as the most important thing, which is what Jesus told us to do. Furthermore, we will be built up in the Spirit who will help us in our weaknesses, which will help us resist the flesh that is still such a prevalent fact of life.

Praying is never pointless. It is necessary and it is worshipful to God when we seek Him and come to Him in submission and humility. When we pray to God we are allowing the Spirit to work in us to submit to God’s will, rather than pushing our own. It is completely in harmony with His sovereignty and not in contradiction to it because we are not exercising a completely free will apart from God, but a submissive will to His. The Spirit in us will help us line up appropriately with God the Father. Prayer is a beautiful portrayal of His sovereign work.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

To Call, Or To Be Called: Grace Found in 2nd Thessalonians

I recently had the very distinct honor to attend a small conference of around 100 men in the pastoral ministry where Dr. John MacArthur and Dr. Steve Lawson were both the keynote speakers. Dr. MacArthur has been a favorite of mine for many years now, so having the opportunity to meet him and listen to him teach from the Word of God in person was a special opportunity. Likewise, Dr. Lawson had a deep impact on all of us there in laying on us a sense of urgency to ‘up the ante’ in our preaching and worship ministries.
For any of you who are familiar with these men, the call to ‘up the ante’ was not to make a service more exciting, appealing, or modern, so to speak, but to make it more biblical. Dr. Lawson so wonderfully stated: “You cannot be too biblical. Whatever amount of Bible you use in your sermons…double it. Triple it!”
So much has been lost in the last few decades indicated by the Church’s waning dedication to the authoritative Word of God by buckling under the pressure of social, easy-believism as Dr. MacArthur detailed so well in “The Gospel According To Jesus”, perhaps one of the best books he has written.
The whole weekend just inspired me more to think like a Reformer in looking for the revelation of God in every single word of Scripture and to count it as authoritative over all else. With this said, let’s dive into 2 Thessalonians and see where God’s grace can be found in how he effectually calls us to Him for salvation. Let’s see what it is that God is telling us in the writing of Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica.
If you’ve read any of the earlier posts related to finding this concept of grace in the New Testament, then you know that we’ve discovered just how prevalent the doctrine of sovereign election comes through almost every book. Why study this topic? It is not to be hyper-Calvinistic because that would be wrong. It is to understand, though, what the Word of God says and in most of the NT books, God’s sovereignty, especially in salvation, is a backbone of the entire Gospel. This cannot be understated. I’ve said it before: if God were not sovereign then He would be no god at all.
We’ve gone through James, Galatians, & 1st Thessalonians so far and now 2nd Thessalonians is up next in chronological order. Reviewing my notes, I had counted six different mentions of the concept of sovereign election. Specifically, the Greek word for called, transliterated as kaleo, was used twice. We’ve seen this word before haven’t we?
It is used in our first reference, which is 1:11, but in a shorter form of kaleo, which is klesis, but the meaning is the same: “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power…”
This verse is loaded from beginning to end with the overall utter dependence on God for everything. 1) God would make them worthy 2) of His calling 3) by His power. It is God who makes us worthy for His own gift of salvation in the first place and then He also empowers us to do good works afterwards. It is all through Him. Do you see the significance of this? Let us never forget how hopeless and helpless we are to do anything fruitful apart from His power and grace.
This letter is a lot like the first letter Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. It was very encouraging and commending, rather than corrective and condemning. The Thessalonians encouraged Paul greatly in their growing faith and love for the truth.
He says in this verse, “to this end…” What end? This indicates that we need to know what the preceding passage said. Verse 10 says, When he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.”
He had also just finished talking about how the justice of God would one day prevail and inflict vengeance on all who did not believe or obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his judgment would give relief to those like them who were being afflicted in persecution.
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling…”
Here is where the word klesis comes in to show God’s sovereign calling to salvation just like we saw defined in the past few posts. By definition, it means to call by name, but more specifically can be meant as giving a name to someone, or for someone to bear a name or title.
The idea of God giving us a new name to indicate a newness in salvation is as old as the prophets and as new as the future. Pay attention to what Isaiah said in 62:1-2:
“For Zion's sake I will not keep silent,
    and for Jerusalem's sake I will not be quiet,
until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
    and her salvation as a burning torch.
The nations shall see your righteousness,
    and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name

    that the mouth of the Lord will give
Then in Revelation we are reminded of what is to come. This is remarkably beautiful:
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it” (2:17).
“The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name” (3:12).
Fascinating, is it not? Let’s retrace our steps back to the verse. The Lord God Almighty is the one who makes us worthy of this amazing gift of faith to receive His grace by calling us by name and giving us a new one! We are, after all, a new creation as this same author, Paul, said to the Corinthians in his second letter to them. Wouldn’t becoming a whole new creation almost demand a new name? God thinks so. We are His now.
As Paul continues his letter to these dear children in the faith he comforted them by basically telling them he never said or wrote anything that Jesus had already come back. Apparently someone had spread that rumor and the Thessalonians were afraid it was true. Paul confirmed it was not and proceeded to explain the string of events that would preclude the second coming of Christ.
After saying these things and concluding, again, that all who do not believe will be condemned he says in verses 13 and 14, But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The point is clear. They were chosen. Remember, in his first letter he even said it was obvious they were chosen because the Gospel came to them “not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess. 1:4).

It’s important to see the difference between being chosen and being called. It comes down to a matter of timing in the whole scheme of things.  Ephesians 1 says that we were chosen before the foundation of the world. The choosing was done a long time ago. It was not done after you were born once God could see if He liked you enough to choose you. That would discredit and deny his sovereignty, by definition.

However, once you did finally come along, God called you. You are not born redeemed. You are born depraved. You can be elected, but not yet saved. God still has to call you to Him in order to fulfill his perfect will and purpose in choosing you before the world was created. It’s a divine process, divinely accomplished.

So, as our verse of discussion says, “God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called [kaleo] you through our gospel…”

He chose us and then called us through the Gospel. This is so incredibly important. Too many churches do not believe that this is the only way to legitimately call people to Christ, in repentance, for forgiveness of sins.

Romans 10:13-14 says, “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”

The Greek word in this Romans passage for calling on the name of the Lord is not the same that we have seen of God’s calling us. The word is transliterated as Epikaleomai, which specifically means to call upon, blame, accuse, appeal to, charge something to someone, etc. In modern terms it could be like “calling someone on the carpet” or “calling someone out” for something.  It is not always negative, because it is used when we are making an appeal to someone, or calling out to someone. This is different than God calling (kaleo) us to Himself.

Now, if you are really perceptive you will notice that this word Epikaleomai has the word kaleo embedded in it. Both words are used for “calling”, but the different transliterations have different meanings, specifically.

What is really fascinating and most important in our understanding of these differences is that the word kaleo itself comes from the base word Keleuo, which means to command, or to order. Understand that when God calls someone to Him he is commanding it. It will happen. This is why when we see the word kaleo used it is always an efficacious call. The command will have the desired effect because it is God’s command and will.

On the other hand, going back to Epikaleomai, the epi indicates: at, over, against, across, etc. This is why the whole word means to call at, or call over to, or call upon the name of the Lord. Do you see these important differences?

Going back to the Romans passage, we see that God uses preaching as the means to explain the Scriptures to people, so they can hear the truth that will set them free. He uses people to spread the message. This brings the clarity to understanding missions in the context of what we know as Calvinism, or the doctrines of grace, which are other ways of distinguishing what was in the Bible all along. Just because God has chosen us, we still have an obligation to proclaim the Gospel so his elect can respond in the way he has determined. God’s method for evangelism is with his own revealed truth in Scripture. Use it!

In this verse, God’s chosen people are then called with an efficacious call, through the proclamation of the Gospel that draws people to Him. The initiation is always from the Holy Spirit and it is irresistible.

The next reference is in this same frame of thought that Paul has been in. It is only two verses later, so let’s read on to that point…

“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.”

Remember, the best way to understand grace and the best way to define grace is in God’s calling us to him. We would not have the capacity to believe in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection had it not been for God’s election.

This knowledge should instantly fill us with a sense of awe and wonder that fills us with unassailable joy. Knowing this, the Apostle Paul says, “God our Father […] loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace…” Eternal comfort and hope can only come through grace, the gracious gift that was given to us by Him.

Finally, in chapter three we see more of an indirect confirmation of what the writer knew to be true… that God is the one who enables us to glorify Him and live for Him in obedience. God is the one who makes us firm in our faith and steadfast in our obedience.

“Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ” (2 Thess. 3:1-5).

Paul said that the Lord was faithful to establish them and guard them from the evil one. He prayed that the Lord would direct their hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. He knew where real perseverance came from. It was not from a human intellect or manly stamina. It was from the power of God.

Let us never underestimate the depth and breadth of the grace of God.

In His Sovereign Grip,


Friday, February 10, 2012

Wycliffe’s “Allah” Moment: Replacing the Name of God

As I was flipping through my emails the other day, checking out some links, articles, and messages I got from some friends and family about random things, I saw one article using the term “Muslim Friendly Bible”. Of course, that peaked my interest for obvious reasons, but I wasn’t too excited about it since I knew that all sorts of random material have been created for different branches of religious hierarchies and different sects of different denominations, or whatever else meets someone’s specific fancy.

Sure, maybe someone somewhere decided to cut out all references to Jesus’ incarnate nature and sole means to salvation like Thomas Jefferson did with topics like sin and Hell and the wrath of God, but people do all sorts of unfortunate and sinful things and it only makes me hurt inside for them since they will one day find out they were wrong.

Unfortunately, this article was not based on an individual or even a small organization that got some lucky national media attention. This article was sharing some actual quotations from a new translation of the Bible that came from one of the most respected Bible translation organizations in the world, Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Wycliffe is no newbie when it comes to linguistics and Bible translation. This year they will be celebrating their 70th year in operation, seeing more than 700 translations of the Bible come to fruition. When you do the math you can quickly see that they have been busy from the get-go, averaging about 10 translations a year.

It was in 1942 when missionary William Cameron Townsend founded Wycliffe after he was involved with evangelizing the Cakchiquel Indians of Guatemala. After discovering that they had no language in which they clearly understood the Bible, he set out to change that, and not just for the Cakchiquel Indians, but for every person in every language possible. He was a man with a noble mission and no small task before him.

Now, 30 years after his death, Wycliffe Bible Translators have, perhaps, made their most controversial translation yet…one that is meant for the Muslim communities.

The language that Muslims would need a Bible translated to is generally Arabic. There have been Arabic Bibles around for hundreds and hundreds of years, thought to be dated as far back as 924 AD, so what’s the big deal?

Well, specifically, Wycliffe is catching heat for certain passages in their new Bible that replace ‘God the Father’ with Allah. Even Jesus as the Son of God is obscured in key passages where the full trinity is referred to, like in Matthew 28:19, which says:

“Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”

This new translation that Wycliffe is in the process of releasing, says:

“Cleanse them by water in the name of Allah, his Messiah and his Holy Spirit”

Believe it or not, Wycliffe defends their position of using Allah in this particular passage. While I do not have an actual manuscript of this Bible version to read from and verify myself, the evidence of the controversy and subsequent statements from Wycliffe indicate the very real fact that they have an important decision to make on whether or not to keep their translation in the printing.

All over the web, the accusations of Wycliffe removing the terms “God the Father” or “Son of God” from the Bible is being debated. What could the logic be behind using such a blasphemous word for God? Why would Wycliffe do something like this.

In a statement they posted on their website,, they responded to the “Son of God” controversy by stating the following:

“Wycliffe is not omitting or removing the familial terms, translated in English as “Son of God” or “Father,” from any Scripture translation. Erroneous information and rumors on the internet have recently raised questions concerning this issue.
“Wycliffe remains committed to the same objectives we've held sacred for 80 years: accurate and clear translation of Scripture. Wycliffe never has and never will be involved in a translation which does not translate these terms. The eternal deity of Jesus Christ and the understanding of Jesus’ relationship with God the Father must be preserved in every translation.

“Wycliffe personnel are committed to working alongside language communities and other partners to translate God’s Word with great care from the original languages of Scripture into the languages of the world’s people so that all may know the redeeming love and glory of God--Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

Make no mistake that this answer does not in fact answer the real concern that is spreading across the internet amongst fellow believers who care about the sacredness of God’s Word. Wycliffe has only tried to affirm that they would never remove these terms from the Bible and that their real effort will only be in translating these terms. Well, that’s just the problem. Their elementary decision to translate God into Arabic is, in fact, Allah. To them, they have not removed ‘God the Father’, but only translated it. Yeah, ok.

Basically, the logic behind the translation comes from the fact that the term “Son of God” for Jesus carries the implication of a sexual relationship between God and Mary. Because of this, the translators wanted to use different terminology that would not indicate a sexual relationship producing Jesus, but still show the status of Jesus as the legal son of Joseph and Mary as well as the divine Son of God. Their answer to this was to replace God with Allah.

This logic has been confirmed by close acquaintances who work under Wycliffe in other translation efforts, so I am confident in the information I’ve been presented with.

Here is where Wycliffe has fallen into grave error in their effort to make the Bible more palatable to Muslims. They have essentially stripped the exclusivity of the God of the Bible, Jehovah, and replaced it with a vague and (by all modern accounts) blasphemous term for the god of the Muslims, Allah. Just because the Arabic term for God can be generally translated as Allah, does not mean that the God of the Hebrews carries the same connotation. This is not simply a matter of terms that can be swapped around with each other as needed. This is a matter of definition and they are not equivalent with one another at all.

Allah is specifically the so-called god that is worshiped in the Muslim world and it carries all of the implications that come with the Islamic religion. Allah is used specifically for their perception of God, but it is not a proper perception that is based on the truth of Scripture. Allah and the God of the Bible, Jehovah, are mutually exclusive.

Let’s take this a level deeper. Wycliffe is allegedly trying to overcome the notion that the term “Son of God” carries a sexual connotation in the Muslim community, which is, in fact, an unbiblical concept. However, this is the very reason that the doctrine of the virgin birth is so important and vital to any church of sound theological teaching.

Do we really think that the Muslims are unable to understand the virgin birth? Everyone has to be taught that Jesus was born of a virgin. Everyone has to be taught that the doctrine of the virgin birth is absolutely essential in order to understand the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy in both the legal and divine sense. Everyone has to be taught everything that the Bible claims in order for it to be understood in its proper context.

I’m positive that Wycliffe doesn’t think that Muslims are unable to understand these things, but I fear that they are acting as if they were by this theologically unsound translation of Scripture. Muslims are very capable of understanding the virgin birth, just like Americans, Russians, Australians, tribal people, etc. They just need to be taught from a translation of Scripture that holds true to the historical teaching of the apostles and teachers in the original languages.
Replacing “God the Father” with Allah, does no Muslim any good. It is a disservice to them and their proper understanding of Scripture. In all honesty, it only gives Satan a foothold in the area of biblical illiteracy, which is already a huge problem in the world.

Muslims need to learn about Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection and His sole means to salvation through faith and repentance just like anyone else. The beautiful thing about the Gospel is that it transcends all cultures and easily trumps all other false religions and schools of thought in its exclusive claims about Jesus as the Son of God, born of a virgin, fully man and fully God, the only way to inherit salvation through faith alone.

Muslims, like anyone else, need to hear these truths in order to understand that anything else is false and damning. Using Allah in Scripture, instead of “God the Father” only obscures the Biblical claims of who God really is and will only confuse some Muslims as to why evangelical Christians are saying they worship the same God as they do.

Jesus Christ is a great stumbling block for many people and their religious and philosophical thought. 1 Corinthians 1:18 says that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing…” Why? Because Jesus is the only way to Heaven. He is God. This flies in the face of Islam, in the face of the Jehovah’s Witness’, in the face of the Jews even--you name it.

1 Peter 2 explains this paradox so beautifully and is worth a quick reading, that Jesus is a stumbling block, but for those who are being saved He is the precious cornerstone. All at the same time, he is a precious stone to believers and a stone that causes others to fall. Why? Because you either believe and obey the message of the Gospel, or you don’t.

The Gospel transcends all cultural walls and boundaries and is capable of penetrating the hardest hearts. Only God can give the gift of faith to believe in Jesus for salvation. Only God can open the minds and hearts of people in order to understand the message.

In Matthew 16, Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” The disciples indicated that many people thought he was John the Baptist, or Elijah, or Jeremiah, or some other prophet. Jesus got more pointed with his question: “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon (Peter) son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”

Note that they first admitted that some people were wrong in their thinking that Jesus could have been a man born of a sexual union between a father and mother, like John the Baptist who was born to Zechariah and Elizabeth. They also mentioned that people wrongly assumed he was just another prophet, or a great teacher.

All of these were wrong. They got it right when they said that Jesus was the Son of the living God, the Messiah. This claim is exclusive to historical, biblical Christianity. Anything that suggests otherwise is heretical and blasphemous.

Again, replacing “God the Father” with Allah only muddles the truth and either confuses Muslims, or perhaps frustrates them as even they know that Allah is not the same as the God of the Bible.

Islam will only recognize Jesus as a prophet, but not the Son of God--meaning He is God. Wycliffe is in danger of high treason if they choose to keep this translation in their rollout of this version. The stakes are greater than a simple translation. The stakes here threaten a real understanding of Jesus’ divinity, something the Muslims reject and something that the new Wycliffe Bible will be rejecting, should they persist.

A petition has been circulating the internet to keep “Father” and “Son” in the Bible, so that Jesus’ deity is not lost and so that Muslims will not be able to accuse Christians of tampering with the Bible in order to make it more palatable to the Islam religion. The link for this petition can be found here:

Jesus’ deity is what makes or breaks Christianity. Let’s not undo the efforts of the gospel writers who wrote such lengthy accounts of who Jesus was, so that people would know it. Like in Mark 15:39:

“When the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”


A few days ago, on February 7th, Wycliffe posted an update on their website regarding the “Son of God” controversy:

“Wycliffe USA is grateful to all those who have expressed their questions and concerns regarding reports that we have been removing “Father” and “Son” from certain Bible translations, particularly in Muslim cultures. Wycliffe USA is absolutely committed to translating the divine familial terms (Father, Son, and Son of God) clearly and accurately. The eternal deity of Jesus Christ and the understanding of Jesus’ relationship with God the Father must be preserved in every translation.

"While we have never intentionally sponsored a translation that neglects to properly communicate the divine familial terms, some observers have raised concerns about whether our methodology has consistently met our goal. We are listening to those concerns and are seeking God’s guidance as we re-evaluate our methodology and investigate to ensure that our commitment to accurate and clear translation is being reflected in every project. We are engaged in meaningful conversations with partner organizations, constituents, and church leaders to evaluate our standards, and expect to be prepared to issue a more complete statement soon. Thank you for your patience and prayer as we seek to fulfill our mission to make God’s Word accessible to all people.”

I am hopeful that they will correct the errors that are evident in certain passages of this new translation and I hope that you will join me in praying for a change of heart on their part. What may have started as a noble effort to evangelize the Muslim communities has turned into an effort that is relying more on man than on the power of God and His sovereignty in salvation to comprehend and respond in faith to the Gospel.

“…so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Cor. 2:5).

In His Sovereign Grip,


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why Does God Allow Bad Things To Happen? Part 4: An Eternal Perspective

You know, if anyone knew of how miserable and unfair life could be on this earth, it was the Apostle Paul. The dude was imprisoned, beaten countless times (often near death), received the 39 lashes five times, beaten with rods three times, stoned, shipwrecked three times and adrift at sea for a night and a day, constantly in danger of different people, of Gentiles, of robbers, or false brothers, in danger of rivers, the wilderness, the sea, constantly experiencing toil and hardship and labors, had many sleepless nights, hungry, thirsty, often without food while in cold and exposure.

So, how is your day going so far? How does the rest of the day look? There’s a safe bet that you won’t be experiencing any of these things in the near future, if ever.

Paul’s resume of disaster, which is found in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, is quite impressive, unfortunately. This list of events that he gives us are very much real and true. Most of them are recorded in detail throughout the book of Acts. Paul, by no means, had a good life by the standards we would use today.

Let’s also consider the prophet Jeremiah, commonly referred to as the “weeping prophet”. He was no exception to the miseries that often came with faithful ministry. While I am not trying to center on the hardships of ministry, per se, it is important to know that whether we are in the ministry or not, we will have very difficult moments in our life that our sometimes hard to understand and do not seem fair.

Jeremiah was set apart at birth and sent into ministry at around the age of 20! What were you doing at the age of 20? Probably not acting as a spokesperson of God to an entire nation, eh? The few friends that Jeremiah had, scorned him and ridiculed him, hoping to see him fail. No one liked him. They all hated him and his message of repentance and the warning of devastation that would come to Israel and Judah if they didn’t.

You know what happened? Well, the book of Lamentations is believed to be written by Jeremiah and it is lamenting about the destruction of Jerusalem, which means that none of his warnings were heeded and no one responded positively to Jeremiah’s message. Just think about how it might feel to dedicate your life from 20 years old to confront a nation that is steeped in idolatry and fornication, only to see no fruit come from it and have a history of persecution and ridicule. The culmination of all these things is the destruction of his beloved city, Jerusalem.

By definition, the word lamentation means “the process of lamenting”. To lament is to grieve, or mourn, or regret deeply. This, we can be certain, is what Jeremiah did and not just once, but constantly. Pay attention to Jer. 9:1-3:

"Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people! Oh that I had in the desert a travelers' lodging place, that I might leave my people and go away from them! For they are all adulterers, a company of treacherous men. They bend their tongue like a bow; falsehood and not truth has grown strong in the land; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know me, declares the LORD."

Is it any wonder we know him as the weeping prophet? He was devastated at the life of Israel and no doubt heavily burdened with his own emotions of seeing nothing come to fruition because of his ministry, yet he was faithful to proclaim what the Lord told him to. Why? Because the Lord told him to. It’s that simple.

After Jeremiah was beaten and placed into the stocks overnight at a city gate in Jerusalem (by the priest of the temple of the Lord, no less!) Jeremiah said, “the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.”

The man had a divine mission and was faithful to complete it regardless of the outcome. He knew God was sovereign. He had an eternal perspective.

He echoes later in Lamentations 1:13, “From on high he sent fire; into my bones he made it descend.” Jeremiah was passionate.

“My eyes flow with rivers of tears because of the destruction of the daughter of my people. My eyes will flow without ceasing, without respite, until the LORD from heaven looks down and sees; my eyes cause me grief at the fate of all the daughters of my city” (Lam. 3:48-51).

With these two amazing men of God we see a constant theme. That is, the Christian life is not a guarantee of an easy life. In fact, it is often going to be filled with great trials and we can certainly expect some persecution, albeit light persecution in today’s world, for the faith that we hold unwaveringly to. Life will certainly have its draining periods that hit us emotionally, physically, financially, etc.

In our previous posts, we’ve already talked about how the world in its fallen state will be in a constant state of destruction and groaning until it is made new again. We’ve talked about the sovereignty of God and how He is in control of both the good and the bad and even causes them both to happen. We have also talked about specific examples of bad situations that can rock us to our core.

Now, how can the Christian cope with such devastation, even when we understand that God is sovereign? Is there any other practical view that we can hold that acknowledges God’s sovereignty, but also brings more clarity to it all?

I’ve touched on it in Part 3 briefly, but in this post I want to drive home the point that having an eternal perspective is key when working with this subject. Again, not everything is revealed by God for us to know as far as all of His purposes, but He does give us some hope and peace that we can easily apply to all of our situations in life no matter how dire.

Welcome to the Woodshed. Get your double-edged sword out, ‘cause we’re going in…

The Apostle Paul (the same guy with the resume of disaster) offered some amazing words of comfort when writing to the Italian believers in Rome. Of all the people to understand the kind of unfair things that can happen to us, Paul would be the best to ask for advice on how to handle it, no?

He has already helped us in our recent posts in understanding God’s sovereignty and that, no doubt, was the at the core of his beliefs about God. If God is not sovereign, then God is no god at all. In fact, people who deny God’s universal sovereignty by rejecting the fact that He is omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing), immutable (unchanging), etc, then they really have a lame faith. That’s putting it mildly. Think about it. God, indeed, is sovereign over every single (if you will) noun: person, place and thing.

In our recent posts I have hammered the reality about God’s sovereignty. Assuming I’ve convinced you that God is indeed sovereign and does in fact cause both good and bad things to happen and does in fact allow Satan to cause other bad things to happen, then it should be safe to say that you no longer curse God or get mad at God for these bad things because you know that God is infinitely wiser than we are.

Now that you know He allows them to happen and even afflicts us for certain purposes, whether hidden or revealed, we will no longer be left wondering why life is unfair. It’s not that life is unfair, it’s that God is sovereign. That fact that he allows us to keep living our sinful lives without smiting us from this earth is essentially unfair in the light of a holy and perfect God. We don’t want fair and just, or else we’d all end up in Hell. Do you realize that? God is just, yet he is merciful. He is fair, yet He is gracious.

With all that said and given our acceptance of God’s sovereignty, how can we cope for the mean time? I said before that understanding God’s sovereignty takes the wind out of the sails of our anger when bad things happen to us like losing a family member at a young age, or losing our job, or watching our house burn down with all of our cash and assets, etc. Yet, even with no wind in the sails we can sometimes seem to be left to float in a sea of nothingness, with a constant wet dew on our clothes that leaves us cold. We may not get angry, but we may feel depressed and anxious and full of doubt and fear, even though we recognize that for some reason, God allowed this event to happen in our life.

When Paul was writing to the Romans in chapter eight, he was talking about God’s sovereignty in salvation and how He predestined us, called us, justified us and will glorify us. Then he goes on to say, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Yes, God will sometimes afflict us with hardships, but for someone who chose us before the creation of the world and called us to repentance of our sins and justified us in the presence of His holiness and will soon glorify us in eternity… Even though he may add some hardships along the way, we have an eternal, heavenly home to look forward to where no pain or hardships will ever exist. Tears will cease flowing. Anguish will disappear as if it never existed in the first place. Hardships? What are those in comparison to the infinite, magnificently prearranged splendor of God’s holiness in what is to be our future and permanent home? This is the eternal perspective! Do not lose sight of it or else the waves of the sea of life will suddenly look bigger than they are and our running around in fear will cause more rocking on the boat than our actual circumstances.

If God is for us, who can be against us? We have salvation! We have an eternal perspective.

If anyone reading this has come to place their faith in Christ’s resurrection and repented of their sins, seeking forgiveness from Him, then he is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). Paul is telling his readers in Rome that life in the Spirit is what counts. God is the one who called and justified us. Nothing can change that, or reverse that. Paul constantly urges his people to stop living in and of the flesh and the law that brings death, but to live by the Spirit that brings life (Rom. 8:2).

Pay attention to what he says in 8:35: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” Sounds a lot like the list of things he personally experienced, does it not? Paul has been there on multiple occasions.

The next phrase in verse 36 is so fitting as Paul quotes from Psalm 44:22: “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

What’s so significant about this? This verse is oozing with God’s sovereignty in their affliction. For your sake we are being killed…”

Paul just got done asking if persecution, or sword, or anything else could separate us from Christ’s love. Then he quotes a Psalm that is strictly acknowledging God’s hand in their disaster even though they were being faithful to God in the first place. The whole time, here, Paul is not abandoning God’s hand in disaster, even among the faithful Christians back then, during Paul’s time, and during ours.

John MacArthur commented on this Psalm passage and said that the Psalmist writer “had no specific answers [as to their suffering]; only this inescapable conclusion that, by God’s sovereign will, they were allowed to be destroyed by their enemies.”

Paul brings his thought to a glorious conclusion in verses 37-39. After asking if we could be separated from Christ’s love even if God allows us to be afflicted in suffering, he answers his own question: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

That deserves a hearty ‘amen’! We need to remember this. This will help our eternal perspective because when it comes down to it, we’re not going to be on this earth forever, but we will go somewhere forever. Eternity is pretty simple. There are two places: Heaven and Hell. That’s really all that matters and we need to be living in light of that reality.

The moment we start pondering Christ’s return and the end of the age and what Heaven will be like, etc. it immediately puts our other fears and thoughts and earthly sufferings into an interesting perspective doesn’t it? They are suddenly diminished in the light of the very real truth that the Lord is coming soon and eternal life in either Heaven or Hell will be the final destination for every single person that has ever lived. Just read Revelation sometime soon and see if you come out the same. There is no way you can read that book without gaining a better perspective on what really matters.

Paul went through a lot of hardships. What we don’t want to do is think that just because he didn’t list our specific painful issue in his writings, that he couldn’t understand what we’re going through. Again, when you consider his list of disasters, along with Jeremiah and other Bible figures, then you’ll soon see that it didn’t always seem fair for them. So it is with us and our circumstances.

Having an eternal perspective is what will console us because the eternal perspective is real. The Christian will really be in Heaven someday in the presence of Jehovah. Someday, we will see the loved ones we lost if they were also believers; we will see the babies that never made outside the womb to breathe fresh air; we will forget the possessions we lost; we will forget the pain that people caused us; we will forget the little amount of money that we could barely live on. When we really remember how temporary this life is on earth, the size of the painful burden on our shoulders will begin to shrink as we trust in the Lord for that day to come.

The pain we experience here and now is certainly real and as I have said in prior posts, I am not belittling the real fact that emotions are inescapable and inevitable. What we need to do, though, is to keep our eternal perspective in the midst of our crises and in the midst of our traumatic experiences. It’s the only thing we’ve got. Our God is for us.

In Paul’s opening to his second letter to the Corinthians church, he said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Cor. 1:3-5).

Let’s be clear that most of the time when Paul is speaking of afflictions and hardships, he is referring to persecution for their faith in Jesus. While I do not want to lose sight of Paul’s original point in the face of persecution, we can still read these truths about God and know that in any hardship He is still a comforting God. As he said here, our affliction is sometimes used to comfort others who are going through the same thing. This is timeless. We should always be learning and growing from our hardships that the Lord provides and then use them to comfort others.

I have personally been on both sides of this process and it reveals a beautiful truth about… what? God’s sovereignty! Paul said to the Romans: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (8:28).

Knowing all of this, let’s take a giant leap into a perspective clarifying, abbreviated tour through Revelation. Let me just give you a portion that will really make you think in the long term, or eternally. Keep in mind that this stuff is really going to happen. Really. Take a look:

“Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lamp stands, and in the midst of the lamp stands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength” (1:12-26).

John was searching for words to try and come close to explaining the glory of the Lord God Almighty. This God is who called us to salvation and ordains our good times and bad times. This God has us in His grip. This God is who we should be obedient to and show works that show our repentance. This God is who deserves our worship and our submission.

As if that wasn’t gripping enough, read slowly about what will literally take place in the future. Again, this is prophecy, yet to be fulfilled. It will happen.

“When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand” (6:12-17)?

There is almost too much to list. You have to read the whole book in one sitting. It is gut-wrenching, yet it is something that we can read about and know where we stand with God. All of the bad things listed will not be our fate. There is a real confidence that comes from reading through these pages and knowing that we who are Christians will not suffer from our unrepentance. At the same time, it is an immediate call to check your life and get right with God if there is anything we are doing that is sinful or unholy. This eternal perspective is good for us in more ways than just one!

Additionally, Revelation has some pretty amazing imagery for what Heaven will be like…

“And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (21:21-23)

And finally, with some instructions in the last chapter:

“And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy. Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

The Lord is coming. It is imminent. He will come to judge the living and the dead. Why do I go over this stuff? Because the Word of God is true and if these things are true, then our very understanding of our temporary issues on earth right now will easily be overshadowed by the infinite greatness and holiness of God.

I know I cannot speak to every single heartache that happens in this world, but let’s not forget that God is in control of everything. While we have a natural tendency to become fearful and disheartened in our weaknesses and afflictions, we have God on our side who is walking us through every single one of those moments.

If you have not repented and placed your faith in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, then I encourage you to do so now. By repenting of your sins, acknowledging Him as your Lord, and trusting Him as your Savior, you will inherit eternal life in Heaven with Him as well. It is only because of this that Paul can speak with such assurance and perfectly wrap up this post:

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

Keep your eternal perspective.