Checking for Spiritual Blind Spots

I have recently been doing some reading on discovering blind spots and how to fix my own when I was reminded of a major blind spot I had years ago.

With Easter just around the corner, many people are focused mainly on bunnies that lay candy eggs and maybe getting some time off of work or school, rather than being focused on the true spiritual nature of this special time of the year.  For years I went to church and I also got excited about bunnies and chocolate.  I believed that, “I am all set with God,” because in my mind I thought I was a good guy; I didn’t cheat on my wife or on my taxes.  I thought, “Surely, that’s good enough?”

Well, after living with this incorrect belief for years, God finally opened my eyes and showed me that I wasn’t “all set with Him.”  If you want my entire testimony, it’s available on our AGO series of products through the LIFE Leadership site.  The point I want to make is that I had a severe blind spot.  We all do from time to time, in many different areas, not just spiritually.

One of the most powerful examples of having a spiritual blind spot is the testimony of Pastor Vernon Higham of Cardiff, Whales.  I have been blessed enough to hear Vernon preach, to have a few meals with him and most memorably, my son Cameron and I actually stayed in his home in Cardiff years ago. As I remember, Vernon told me he was there when the great Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones went to be with the Lord and Vernon spoke at his funeral.  (How’s that for name dropping?!!)

The point being, here is a man that at one time in his life thought he had everything figured out in his field of study.  He thought he was a Christian because he was in seminary and had been sharing the gospel to others when….

See below, then watch the message he preached as a very wise and, dare I say, more mature preacher.  After you read the text, I encourage you to take the time and also watch the video.

God Bless, Tim

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Rev W. Vernon Higham
I was born in Caernarfon, in North Wales, my mother being a native of that town, whereas my father hailed from the North of England. The language of the town and of my friends was Welsh. My home was bilingual, although my brother and I spoke Welsh to each other.
During the depression of the 1930s life was hard for everyone. In one sense as a family we were comfortably established as compared with most. Our family owned and ran a grocery and also a small farm two miles out of the town. Nevertheless we lived in a time of great poverty and no business could really succeed. Added to this was my father’s failing health.
Eventually the family moved to Lancashire, my father’s home county, and for the next stage of my life Bolton was to be my home. It was a great wrench to move from a market town to a large industrial town, from a place where everyone knew one another to a place, which seemed so big and so full of strangers.
There was the task of settling into a new school and also the change of language to cope with. Perhaps loneliness was the main problem I encountered and, because of this, my brother and I became companions as well as brothers, despite the five-year gap between our ages.
Spiritually I had known nothing other than every family who attended the means of grace. The majority of any congregation in my home town in Wales were people who experienced the great Revival of 1904. I really believed that all grown-up people were godly folk. The Sabbath day was special and I must say that I truly loved the house of God, although I was often in trouble because of my mischievous nature.
Whilst in Caernarfon I went with my grandmother to her chapel on Sunday evenings, having been with my parents to another in the morning and afternoon. I remember very little of what was said bit I had my favourite preachers. Two qualities I particularly admired at that time were illustrations and brevity!
In all this, however, the influence of my grandmother was very strong in my life. Despite the fact that I was but 7 when she died, her words remained. She would often take me with her as she visited her friends. Her conversation was always about the Lord and the marvellous works and transformation of lives she had seen during the Revival.
I found it both thrilling and fascinating and to this day I have such a clear impression of her that the memory of her words seems but a few years ago. In addition I cannot omit mentioning my parents and their devotion to the things of God who, in His mercy, in later life visited them with saving grace.
After moving house several times, which for me also meant changing schools, we eventually found our spiritual home in the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist chapel in Bolton, which was part of the Welsh Presbytery of Manchester. Although there were many other Welsh denominations in the area, which offered love and friendship generally, we remained in our own, and the chapel in Bolton soon became the very centre of my life.
We had left Caernarfon in 1939 when I was 12 and before long a great war broke out that was to change our lives. Times of fear occurred during air raids, times of sorrow came with untimely deaths. We experienced times of great fellow feeling, and long dark winters when all stayed at home in the evenings.
I believe that in those days family life became particularly important. It was our custom to walk together to chapel on Sunday morning, as there was no bus service. We walked there again for Sunday School, followed by an early evening service.
There was also a weekly prayer-meeting followed by a meeting called ‘Y Seiat’  (The Fellowship Meeting) and one of my clearest memories regarding spiritual things was being asked by the Elders to write an essay on the 1859 Revival and read it to the members. I was 14 at the time!
I can recall searching through the bound copies of Welsh magazines of the nineteenth century and reading the weekly accounts of that Revival. My heart was won, and though I remember nothing of the meeting apart from the dread I felt as I sat in the front row waiting to be called to speak, from that time onwards Revival became my greatest desire.
Towards the end of the war I served in the coalmines, as most conscripts did at that late stage. Then afterwards I applied to train as a schoolteacher in the college at Carmarthen in South Wales. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. I loved the place and the company of men from all parts of South Wales. I applied myself to my work and enjoyed the times in schools during teaching practice.
Following this I taught Welsh in a school in Cardiff, where I made many friends. One, in particular, was a young man like myself from North Wales. We were both faithful to our respective chapels and, whenever we met, we would talk about the things of God. The outcome of this was that we both resolved to serve God in some capacity. They were precious days for me.
I returned home to teach at a school a few miles from Bolton, and I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed my work, especially teaching Art. I well remember standing on my own in the classroom one day and recalling to mind my promise to serve God. By that time I was the superintendent of the Sunday School in the Welsh Chapel and had even been appointed an elder in my early twenties!
Nevertheless, as I stood alone in that room I asked myself if I would be satisfied still to be in that position in 40 years time. In my heart I knew there was only one answer. The next step was to break the news to my parents. They were so happy that we were together again at home and they advised me to wait for three years in order to test the call. This I agreed to do.
Then began the process of appearing before Presbytery, and later the Candidates’ Board; but in the meantime a kind friend who was a Greek scholar gave me free lessons in classical Greek for two years.
Eventually I was faced with the entrance examination in Biblical knowledge and in Greek and when I appeared before the Board, I believe they had a sense of apprehension as my description of the call fell short of that which was expected. However, I came from a solid Welsh Calvinistic Methodist background and I was accepted. My home church was saddened rather than glad, possibly because of my increasing zeal.
The theological college was situated in a beautiful seaside town in West Wales. The buildings were imposing and the discipline required was acceptable to me. I wonder how many young men on entering theological college go through a kind of culture shock?
The first revelations of higher criticism almost drove me to despair. Was there no more to the Christian faith than all these unreliable facts and uncertain truths? Amongst the students there was a group of fine men, about four in all, who stood out as different. They would meet frequently for prayer, and whenever I found myself in the company of one of them, although I felt a kind of kinship with them, there was a barrier between us. I had no idea what that barrier was until one of them challenged me about my faith. In my reply I listed all the good and commendable activities I was involved in, and when I had finished he very gently pointed out to me that I was not a Christian and it came as a terrible shock to me.
The first term came to an end and I talked to my parents about not returning to college. They responded by saying that the honourable thing to do was to return and complete the course, quoting the Biblical principle of perseverance. I loved my parents and felt greatly indebted to them. I would never consider going against their will, and so I returned. It is difficult to describe the deep chasm of conviction, a yearning for something that you could not explain.  I felt as if there was a lost chord in my life that ruined every melody.
Then, one Saturday in January 1953, I experienced an upsetting incident. I had to leave for a village on the last bus to preach there the next day. When I alighted from the bus I met an elderly lady who kept what was called the chapel-house where I was to stay overnight. In conversation we began to talk about the Revival of 1904, which she remembered well and, to my astonishment, she informed me that it had meant nothing to her!
I was deeply shocked that a person could be so near God’s work and yet be untouched by it. As I spent the rest of that long evening alone, I knelt to pray and I was aware of a Presence that I had not known before. In this glorious approach of God, I knew that I had become the Lord’s and I praised and thanked Him for His mercy towards me. His truth became alive, and from then on there was no turning back.
The news that the Saviour was real had to be made known, and on returning to college I immediately and constantly challenged both staff and students. The good news of the Gospel was too glorious to be hidden and I honestly believed at that time that if you explained the way of salvation clearly to a person he or she would eagerly believe.
My college days came to an end and my first pastorate was in a mining town near Swansea. I had a branch church and also worked with the main church to which it was attached.
Imagine having in your congregation the sister of Evan Roberts, the young man used of God in 1904. Her name was Mary Roberts and it was an inspiration to be in her company. Her husband was Sidney Evans who had been closely associated with Evan Roberts in those early days. As well as this, a lady called Miss Rachel Rees, who helped Evan Roberts spiritually before the Revival, attended the chapel. These and others soon became known to me and they often shared the vivid recollections that they had of better days.
My second pastorate was in the beautiful green hills of West Wales, in a village called Llanddewi-brefi, where my family spent four happy years. My wife, Morwen, whom I had met during my college days, knew far more of those very special people who had also been greatly blessed in 1904. We were partners together in the quest of seeking God in Revival power.
My third church was in Cardiff and is the one of which I am presently the minister. When I first came here in 1962 I had only preached in English six times and I was more familiar with the Welsh Bible and hymns. Even so, there was no doubt in my mind that I was in God’s will, and we both worked hard as we gave our all.
After about two years I had a serious illness, which was to remain with me for fifteen years. The first onset came with alarming suddenness and it was at that time, as I began to come to myself, that these words and phrases were formed in my mind. I cannot describe how near I felt to my Lord. Eventually I ventured to write them down:
“I saw a new vision of Jesus,
A view I’d not seen here before,
Beholding in glory so wondrous
With beauty I had to adore.
I stood on the shores of my weakness,
And gazed at the brink of such fear;
‘Twas then that I saw Him in newness,
Regarding Him fair and so dear.”
As I continued I realised that the lines had become a hymn. On my return home to my wife and three children I felt so glad to be with them, yet I was reluctant to relinquish that living presence which I was then experiencing.
The hymns remained silent for seven years, and then I found a few more coming to me both in English and Welsh. Sometimes it would happen suddenly at night, and at such times I honestly felt as if I was a secretary writing them down. Not all came with such rapidity but many did, and my heart rejoiced in Him.
There is one hymn, however, that is perhaps the closest to my heart, and may be one that is more suitable for private meditation than public singing. It came at a time of great personal frailty and longing for God:
“Deep in my heart there is a sigh,
A longing, Lord, for Thee;
To know the depths that in Thee lie,
The grace of Calvary.
 
O grant that I might understand
Thy glorious mystery,
More of Thyself, and by Thy hand
Obedience stir in me.”
Many others came in times of great joy and out of love that floods the heart. There have also been periods of none, and then followed a few more.
My hope is that this testimony and these spiritual poems may in some small way help other travellers as we continue our journey home, fellow citizens of a great kingdom, the kingdom of God. We shall see the Lord Jesus Christ in all His majesty and be with God forever. For He is the end of the journey and the ultimate destination for us as Christians… “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12 Verse 2).

In Time of Loss, Draw Nearer to God

Most of us usually take one of two paths when tragedy strikes in our lives: we either get angry at God and run away from Him, or we respond properly and pursue Him and draw nearer.

 

In my many years of coaching and mentoring people and being mentored and coached, I have seen far too many cases were people experienced tragedy and, for whatever reason, didn’t draw near to God but rather ran from him, denied him and in extreme cases claimed to hate Him. This really saddens me because no matter how much we deny God, hate Him , try to prove He doesn’t exist or try to change who the Bible says He is to what we want, He is still the same, the one, the only true God and we often don’t understand (and quite frankly don’t want to sometimes.) I know I didn’t understand when I watched my Mom die a brutal death in 11 months from Leukemia.

 

Dr. Tom Ascol has been a great friend and spiritual mentor to so many and has helped me and my family in so many ways through the years get through tough times and keep things in proper perspective during good times. He is also my Pastor at Grace Baptist and chairman of Founders Ministries in Cape Coral.

 

Please read the post below from the Founders Ministries blog.  I pray it will help you as we all try to deal with the loss of our friend Jackie Lewis. Please pray for Bill and the kids and remember Jackie is in Heaven with our Savior, and in that we should rejoice and be glad.

 

God bless you all,

Tim.

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Founders Journal · Fall 2003 · pp. 1-12

 

A PASTORAL THEOLOGY OF TRAGEDY

 

September 11, 2001 has in many ways defined our modern era. So much of our thinking is now in reference to the acts of terror perpetrated against the United States on that day. In the immediate aftermath, multitudes gathered to pray in churches across the land. People who had neglected spiritual concerns suddenly became spiritually sensitized. Everyone began to have opinions about God and concerns about God and wanting to hear from Him. There was no shortage of those who began to speak for God.

Tragedy presents unusual opportunities—for both good and ill. The potential for good arises from the fact that people are awakened to realities that they would otherwise ignore. C. S. Lewis famously made this point in his observation that “God whispers to us in pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” [1] This is profoundly true. Once the world is awakened by tragedy and attention is drawn away from those trivialities that blind people to God a pivotal opportunity emerges. But there is no guarantee that it will automatically be redeemed. Someone must rise to speak God’s truth into the pain and suffering.

Those of us who are called to the work of pastoral ministry in the church bear the greatest responsibility for doing so. Shepherds of God’s flock must be willing to seize such opportunities and do our very best to point people in paths of truth and righteousness in the wake of tragedy. We must help people understand what God is saying in the midst of sorrow and suffering. There is great opportunity for tremendous good to be done for the kingdom of God when tragedy strikes.

But there is also tremendous opportunity for spiritual damage to be done—damage that arises out of misunderstanding or misrepresentation of God. This can happen even when intentions are good and motivations are proper. Unhelpful commentaries were abundant in the wake of September 11.

One well-known Baptist pastor wrote an editorial that was picked up by several media outlets. In it he stated, “You may hear misguided minds say ‘this must have been God’s will.’ Nonsense. In a world of free choices, God’s will is rarely done! Doing our own will is much more common. Don’t blame God for this tragedy. Blame people who ignored what God has told us to do: love your neighbor as yourself.”

This pastor rightly placed moral blame where it belongs, namely on the terrorists and their supporters. They were sinful and their actions were clearly evil. He further tried to guard very carefully the reputation of God as One who is not the author of evil. That is also appropriate. But in his effort to separate God from evil results in a cure that is ultimately worse than the disease that he is trying to address. His overly simplistic view of God’s will inhibits serious Bible reading because, as I explain below, Scripture refers to God’s will as being in some sense inviolable as well as in some sense breakable.

The unwillingness or inability to reconcile God’s absolute sovereignty with man’s absolute responsibility betrays a greater affinity to rationalism than Biblicism. The Bible certainly affirms both. If we are going to be students of the Word and ministers of the Word, then we must be willing to submit our thinking to Scripture and refuse to deny whatever the Bible teaches.

 

Theology Prepares Us for Tragedies

 

A cogent pastoral theology equips one to speak for God in a redemptive way when the inevitable difficulties of life occur. A theology of tragedy helps prepare people in advance to face difficulty with hope and encouragement. The Scripture instructs pastors to do precisely that—to help our people anticipate and prepare for tragedies that will come in their lives.

Two texts that teach us to think this way are John 16:33 and Ephesians 6:13. The former comes from the end of our Lord’s discourse in the upper room before His high priestly prayer on the night He was betrayed. Jesus concluded His message by saying, “These things I have spoken to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

In this world, you will have tribulation. That is one promise that no one ever likes to claim. But it is a promise of the Lord. Tragedies will come. But even when they do, Jesus wants His followers to have peace and good cheer. How? By paying attention to “these things,” that is, the truths that He has just taught.

Study through John 13–16 and you will find our Lord teaching on important theological subjects. He speaks of His death and resurrection and of the coming of the Holy Spirit. He talks about the necessity of living in vital union with Him and submitting to His Word. He addresses His oneness with the Father and the unconditional election of His people. There is no shortage of doctrinal content in those chapters and it is that content that He has in mind when He refers to “these things.” Jesus taught His disciples doctrine so that they might have peace in a world which He knew was going to be filled with tribulation.

Our Lord is a model for pastors at this point. It is imperative that those who shepherd the church of God not wait for devastating trials to come before developing a theology of tragedy. We must prepare ourselves and our people for the inevitable difficulties of life. How? By heeding, meditating on, teaching and applying sound doctrine.

Paul does this in Ephesians 6:13, “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” The apostle is addressing the issue of spiritual warfare. He has introduced the subject in verse 10 after spending the previous 21 verses addressing the key relationships in life. Commentaries often miss the connection between Ephesians 5:22–6:9 and 6:10–20. I am convinced that what Paul is doing in the earlier verses is marking out the battlefield for the spiritual warfare that he describes in the latter verses. The most significant dimensions of spiritual warfare don’t take place in some exorcist’s chamber or demonically infested neighborhood (as is commonly thought today). Rather, the bloodiest theatres of spiritual warfare are the kitchen table, the den, the classroom, the bedroom, the office and job site.

After he has marked out the battlefield Paul then brings to light the deadly nature of the conflict. Beginning in 6:10 he reminds us of the reality of the devil and all the demonic determination to undo the work of God in the lives of God’s people.

Because believers are in this spiritual war on a daily basis, we need to take up daily the whole armor of God. This is necessary so that, “having done all we may be able to stand” (13). Specifically, that we might be able to stand “in the evil day.” Now some take that reference to the “evil day” to be simply a generic reference to life after the fall. That may be. But more likely he is referring to particularly trying times, “perilous times,” as he calls them in 2 Timothy 2:1. These would be seasons of unusual outbreak of evil. Such times will come and in order to be prepared for them and to keep standing through them, believers need to take up the whole armor of God.

In verses 14-18 Paul explains his meaning and it is immediately obvious that the armor he has in mind can only be identified theologically. Truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, salvation, Scripture and prayer—these are the armament that will enable the Christian to withstand in the evil day.

So like his Lord before him, Paul instructs believers to prepare for tragedies by becoming theologically equipped. And it is every pastor’s job to help prepare his people in the same way. Like the ant in Proverbs, when it is summer, we ought to be storing up, knowing that winter is coming. Jesus promised, “In this world you will have tribulation.” Tragedies will come both personally and in larger contexts of family and friendships. They will also come nationally and, as the efficiency of communication continues to increase, even globally. The present is always the proper time to prepare for them.

Let me offer a few suggestions for developing a pastoral theology of tragedy. What I am talking about is learning to think of tragedies theologically. This should just be a subset of thinking about all of life theologically. In order to live life to the fullest we must live coram Deo, conscious that we are always under God’s gaze. He is the one who has made us and is providentially ordering our lives. He has a purpose and a kingdom that is being advanced in the world. As His redeemed children, we need to see everything in life through these lenses.

Exegesis
Specifically, to develop a theology of tragedy we must first give careful attention to exegesis. Study those didactic passages that directly address the issues of trial and suffering. If you start with the book of Psalms you will be more than introduced to the inspired thinking of God’s people regarding trials and tragedies. But there are many clear passages in the New Testament as well.

Consider Romans 5:1–4:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Notice how Paul links justification with tribulation and trials. Confident of possessing peace with God and standing in grace the believer can rejoice in the hope of God’s glory. “And not only that,” the Christian can also glory in tribulations. Why? Because he knows that they will ultimately serve for his spiritual growth and cannot diminish in the least his acceptance with God. This confidence is his because of the Lord Jesus Christ whom he is depending on by faith.

A similar type of reasoning is in the apostle’s mind in Romans 8, especially beginning in verse 16. This section is filled with insight on suffering and trial. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” What in the world is the apostle talking about? From the personal dimension to the cosmic dimension, he goes on to speak of how everything in creation is anticipating the great day of redemption because the whole created order has been kept captive through the damage of the fall.

What is it that the apostle is seeing? What is it that he wants his readers to see about tragedy and suffering when he says that it is not worth comparing with what awaits us? In thinking through trials and tragedies we need to linger over such texts with this prayer on our hearts: “O, Lord, show me what you showed Paul! Teach me to see and believe what he saw so that I can honestly say what he said—that my present suffering is not even worth mentioning when compared to the glory that awaits me in heaven.” Such praying will prevent our exegesis from being superficial or merely academic.

Philippians 1:29 is another verse that should be given attention. “For you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him but also to suffer for His sake.” God has “granted it” to us to suffer? Suffering is a gift? That is exactly what this verse says. If suffering is a gift, then the means of suffering whereby God gives that gift need to be seen for what they are. It is not true that they “have nothing to do with God’s will,” but rather they are the outworking of God’s will in giving us the gift of suffering. Pastors need to meditate on this and to teach their people to think deeply about suffering as a gift from God.

There is no shortage of passages that provide direct instruction about Christian suffering. Philippians 3:7–11, Colossians 1:24, 1 Peter 4:12–19, Hebrews 10:32–39 and Matthew 5:11–12 are some of the key ones that should not be overlooked.

I preached from Luke 13:1–4 the Sunday after 9/11:

 

There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?”

 

This passage is filled with insight on how to respond to and evaluate tragedies. It considers trials that arise both from human malice (as with Pilate and the people that he murdered) and from natural disasters (as with the tower fell). Jesus does not say many of the things that we might have anticipated, but what He does say is very instructive regarding how we ought to view such things and prepare for them before they arise. Tragedies, He indicates are like warning shots fired across the bow of the unrepentant’s ship. They are a call to repentance.

 

 

Case Studies

 

Along with exegesis of key passages, I also suggest a careful study of biblical examples of tragedy. How have God’s people handled tragedy in different situations? The Bible is filled with these kinds of stories. Hebrews. 11 is a great place to start. Along with the better known heroes of faith mentioned in that chapter (Abraham, Joseph and Moses) the last verses include people whose experiences do not look very victorious. They were tortured, mocked, chained, imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two, killed with the sword, tormented, destitute, and forced to live in deserts and caves. Yet the writer says of them, “of whom the world was not worthy” (38) and says that they “obtained a good testimony through faith” (39). We should study their examples and pay particular attention to the exercise of their faith through trials.

Joseph is a classic example of one who suffered well in the Old Testament. Tragedy invaded his life but he saw at the end of the story that God was behind it all. Joseph did not simply confess that God somehow worked his trials into an overarching purpose that had been planned all along. Rather, he confessed that God really actually did it and He did it in order to bring about great good (Genesis 50:20; cf. 45:8). He had a theological understanding of God’s ways with His people.

Job’s proverbial story teaches the same lesson—that God uses tragedies to accomplish His good and wise purposes in the lives of His people. The book of Job is a great help in drawing together key doctrines that must inform our thinking about human suffering. From our insider perspective we see things that Job could not see as he was going through them. From the beginning we know what God was doing, but Job did not know. We know about the discussion between God and the devil and how God granted him specific permission to disrupt Job’s life. But Job knew none of this. He is going about his life as he always had when suddenly, through both natural disaster and moral evil his life is devastated.

Job did not deserve to suffer in this way. It was innocent suffering. I do not mean that he was sinless. Rather, I am pointing out that he did not do anything to deserve this. He did not get cancer because he smoked or he did not get AIDS because he was promiscuous. He was seeking to live the way he knew to live and these tragedies came to him despite his best efforts to honor God.

His story confronts us with the questions that always arise in the wake of tragedy: “How can we trust God? Where was He? What are we to make of God?”

It is interesting to see how this line of questioning is addressed in the book of Job. Job of course confesses that the “Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord,” and he humbles himself in sackcloth and ashes. His first three friends show up and for seven days do a great thing by keeping their mouths shut. They are just with him. Here is a vital lesson for pastoral ministry—knowing when to speak and when not to speak. Most of the time in the immediate aftermath of tragedy it is better to say too little than too much.

Job’s three friends did well until they opened their mouths. When they did speak they revealed a very trite understanding of God and evil. Their theology was neatly wrapped up but it turned out to be patently false. They offered simplistic answers with a condemning spirit. Their thinking is summarized in Eliphaz’s comments in chapter 4:7–9:

 

Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright ever cut off? Even as I have seen, Those who plow iniquity And sow trouble reap the same. By the blast of God they perish, And by the breath of His anger they are consumed.

 

He speaks for all of them that God brings good to the righteous and suffering to the unrighteous. Such was their theology.

This is a classic example of what not to say to a suffering person. Does God bring judgments on people for their sins? Yes, He does. Is all tragedy the result of sin? Yes, in the general sense that we live in a fallen world and there were no tragedies before sin. But it is dangerous at best to reason from that generality to any specific case. To do so with infallible certainty is foolish and to do so in the immediate wake of suffering is heartless.

Job responds to this with some very hard questions of God and tried to justify himself in ways that are not admirable. But the real point of the story begins to unfold in chapter 38 when God starts questioning Job. The Lord’s questions explode like theological cluster bombs on Job’s thinking. “Where were you?” “Who are you?” Job is humbled to the dust.

These rhetorical questions have their intended effect by bringing him to a deeper, healthier knowledge of God. Out of that deepened understanding Job says in chapter 42, “I have not known anything.” He learned that God alone is sovereign and blameless in all His ways.

In response to the question, “can we trust God?” Job’s wife says, “no, you cannot trust God. Curse him and die.” That is the way many people feel in the wake of tragedy. “If this is what God is like, I want nothing to do with him. Why in the world would you trust a God that would allow this to happen to you?”

Job’s friends answered the question with a qualified “yes.” “Yes, you can trust God if you will start dealing honestly and directly with your problem and just buy into a cheap theology that says, ‘God always blesses those who try to do right and He always judges those that do not try to do right.’ So if you will admit that your suffering is a specific judgment of your specific sin, then you may trust God to bless you when you do good and give you trials only when you do not do good.”

But Job comes to a completely different answer. As he contemplates the question of God’s trustworthiness he concludes, “Yes, though I do not know where to find God at times, and though it seems at times that He is my enemy, He can be trusted in the face of inexplicable pain and suffering—especially, when you see Him for who He is and come to understand that you do not know nearly as much as you thought you knew.”

Can God be trusted in times of tragedy? Yes, particularly if you refuse to make the mistake of misrepresenting what faith looks like in times of tragedy. This is an important point for developing a theology that would be helpful in tragedy.

What does faith look like in the midst of horrific suffering and confusion? It is not the happy-go-lucky, glib kind of superficial expressions that we often see on the cover of glossy magazines and TBN. It is patently not that. Nor is it merely the positive mental attitude that many commend in the name of Christ. Faith, real faith, is built on certainties. And because of that, it is able to live with mysteries. It rests confidently on what it knows and waits humbly on God when confused by what it cannot understand. And sometimes that humble waiting upon God does not look very strong and it does not look very victorious. But it can be a rugged determination that refuses to curse God when some of your closest relations are saying to you, “curse God and die.” I like the way that John Piper put it. Sometimes true faith is nothing more than an “uncursing hope in an unfelt God.”

That is what Job had. This is also what we see in Jesus on the cross. “My God, my God, what have you forsaken me?” That was a real cry of discouragement and concern. But it was a cry to “My God.” He was crying out to God. It is a cry of faith, faith that does not look very victorious, faith that could be held up to ridicule by some who think that faith should always appear glitzy and with a broad smile. Job is a wonderful example of this but even more so is the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Systematic Theology

 

A third suggestion concerns the work of systematic theology. There is no substitute for it. The longer I stay in the pastorate the more I recognize how relevant systematic theology is to ministry. Do not let anyone ever convince you that theology does not matter or that courses in systematic theology are unimportant.

Those who would pastor the church of Jesus Christ must develop a careful, rigorous systematic theology. Such discipline will help you minister the Word of God to God’s people in a variety of life’s circumstances. The pastor who does not have this will at best miss many opportunities and at worst, confuse and hurt people by misrepresenting God to them.

There are many important biblical doctrines. I will highlight just a few of the most essential ones for this subject.

Certainly you need to grasp and go deep into your study of the doctrine of sin. An appreciation of what the Bible says about sin will destroy all utopian myths. Such myths permeate our culture. We live in a world that seems always to be progressing and we are regularly told about things that are going to get better. We must not allow the dizzying advances in medicine and technology to blind us to the desperate reality of sin.

In Romans 3:10–20 Paul takes several Old Testament snapshots of sin and weaves them together into an imposing mosaic. Paul writes as if he is following the path of a spiritual tornado. To see the universality of sin and the devastation it has wreaked not on human nature alone but on all of creation is to be reoriented toward the problem of evil in the world. As John Gerstner so aptly put it, the problem is not so much the problem of pain but the problem of pleasure. Given what the Bible says about sin, why isn’t this world filled with streets flowing with blood? It ought to be, in light of the wickedness of sin. But God, in his mercy and grace, restrains sin and sinners and we come to appreciate more of that grace and mercy only in the light of sin. Because of sin, tragedy and suffering are inevitable.

Second, develop a healthy doctrine of the devil. By healthy, I do not mean popular. Too much that is popularly believed about satan is not at all healthy. The devil is wicked. He is purely evil in ways that are beyond our ability to comprehend. Think of how the Bible portrays him. He is the one who originates lies, who is a murderer, who comes to destroy. Think about the power of the devil. The Bible ascribes incredible power to him—power to ensnare, to make sick, to work miracles and even to kill. We must believe everything the Bible says about the devil and never forget him. But we must also remember that the devil is inferior to God. He is God’s devil. He is like a dog on a leash. God can let him out and He can pull him back. So as we acknowledge his power we must not fall into dualism. The devil belongs to God.

Third, develop a doctrine of heaven and hell. People too often lose sight of eternity. We need a two-world view if we are going to live biblically. This world is not all that there is. We must constantly remind our people of this because all the advertisements and entertainment produced by our culture are designed to focus our attention exclusively on this world. The temporary nature of this world is kept out of view. People are bombarded with thoughts of getting every benefit and payoff here and now. But the Bible teaches about heaven and hell.

Along with this, develop a doctrine of judgment. Because God has designed us in His image, there is within us a desire for justice. This desire is right and it remains even in our fallen nature. It does not always work itself out properly because of sin, but it is there. So we should be sensitive to the cry for justice that sometimes expresses itself in terms of “it’s not fair” or “it’s not right.” Such laments are too often quickly dismissed as self-centered protests (and they may well be only that). But the impulse that desires justice is a reflection of God who is Himself just and we ought to understand and teach a doctrine of justice and judgment that distinguishes the cry for justice from the desire for vengeance.

The former is right. The latter is wrong. Romans 12:19 says, “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” It can be a great comfort to those who have been tremendously mistreated to know that God will make things right. They should be urged to commit themselves to their faithful Creator who always will judge righteously (1 Peter 4:19).

Study and think clearly about the doctrine of conversion. What does it mean to be a real Christian? That sounds so simple in our day but, sadly, it is naïve to assume that everyone in our churches has a biblical view of this. What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? How does one become one? Of what is a real Christian capable in the face of tragedy?

The reality of remaining sin in the life of every believer should make us cautious and gracious in our judgments of those who respond intemperately to trials. Job did not look like a model of faith while in the throes of suffering. What do faith and repentance look like in a fiery trial? Being clear on this will prevent us from encouraging unrealistic and unhealthy responses to suffering.

We must guard against stoicism, on the one hand. Some Christians equate keeping faith in the midst of suffering with maintaining a stiff upper lip. But a refusal to feel the pain of tragedy is superficial. God never calls us to that There is a time to weep. If Christ calls us to do anything it is to be real and to respond realistically. He Himself did that. Jesus wept at Lazarus’ tomb. He wept and cried out in the Garden of Gethsemane. He visibly and audibly suffered on the cross. And He never tells us to be faithful by denying our emotions.

Stoicism is not the answer. But on the other hand, neither is an unbridled emotionalism where emotions and passions rule. We must guard against that. How do you do that? By remembering what we are and what we have in Christ. We must learn and encourage others to learn to focus on unseen realities, especially when suffering. 2 Corinthians 4:16–18 teaches this:

 

Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

 

The most important issue is the doctrine of God. How does God fit into these things we experience as tragedies? Study and believe the sovereignty of God. What does the Bible say about His sovereignty? It says that He is absolutely sovereign without any mitigation. That is offensive to many people, but it is a fact from the Scriptures. The Bible teaches that God is absolutely sovereign in the details of life. Not even a sparrow falls to the ground apart from God’s will (Matthew 11:29).

The Bible also teaches that God is infinitely good. “You are good and do good” (Psalm 119:68). Goodness is an attribute both of His person and of His work.

The Bible teaches that God is full of wisdom. He is infinitely wise. That is, He always does the best things in the best way. After writing about the plan of God’s gracious salvation for eleven chapters Paul erupts in praise of divine knowledge and wisdom (Romans 11:33). The more clearly we see what the Lord has done and the more deeply we will be amazed, like Paul, at His wisdom.

Christians are called to believe that God is always sovereign, wise and good at the same time. These attributes of God are foundational for faith in the midst of trial. Whether it seems like it or not, God is always sovereign, good, and wise and all of the temptations to respond in ways that would deny any of these characteristics are always wrong. Believers must fight against such temptations and remember and believe the truth about God.

Along with the character of God, study His will. How do you understand the will of God? If you have a simplistic view of the divine will, you will be hopelessly confused in trying to read the Bible and apply it to the world.

 The Bible speaks of God’s will as both secret and revealed. James Boyce, the principle founder of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has a very good section on the will of God in his Abstract of Systematic Theology. He makes some very nuanced arguments about how we should understand God’s will as it’s set before us in the Scripture. Whether or not one agrees with the details of Boyce’s discussion his main point is absolutely critical. That is, one must recognize that God’s will is both decretive as well as revealed. He has a will of decree and a will he has made known to us for is our duty.

Scripture speaks clearly that God’s will, in the sense of His decree, cannot be broken. In Daniel 4:35 we see that King Nebachudnezzar finally learned this. “All the inhabitants of earth are reputed as nothing, he does according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain his hand or say to him, ‘what have you done?’” Job also learned this lesson and so he prayed, “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You” (42:2). In terms of His decree, God’s will is going to be worked out always and infallibly.

In terms of what God has revealed for us to do, as summarized in His law, His will is often violated. In that sense, no one measures up to God’s will at any time in this life in a perfect way. We are called to live our lives in accordance with His revealed will and it is by this will—His law—that we will ultimately be judged.

Without this two-fold understanding of God’s will, you cannot come to a balanced perspective about God’s ways with us. It is His (revealed) will that we live perfectly. This does not happen in this world. It is also His (decreed) will that all of our imperfections, indeed every event in the world, work together for the good of His people and the glory of His Name.

Deuteronomy 29:29 is an important verse to remember when thinking of God’s will. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” We live in the light of what God has commanded and we leave the secret things concerning His decree with Him.

All of these doctrines get their focus and come together in the doctrine of Christ. It is here that we need to live and from which we need to minister. Think through His incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and His return. It is in Christ that we find all the other teachings of the Scripture culminating and being expressed in a way that gives us hope and meaning in the midst of and in the wake of real tragedy.

We can with confidence say that “we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus knows what you are going through when you suffer. God knows what it is like to have a son die. He has experienced that. Christ knows what it is to be mistreated, to be subjected to moral evil in the world, to be unjustly treated. He has experienced these things.

And in His cross we are given the paradigm by which all tragedies in the world are to be evaluated. Was the crucifixion of Jesus the will of God? That is a question that should be asked of those who reject the idea that God can in no way will tragedies of life. The death of Jesus is the most atrocious, scandalous, heinous, unjust crime in all of human history. Nothing compares to what happened to Christ on the cross. If there is any event that should never have happened in terms of the laws of justice on a human level, it is the execution of Jesus Christ. Was that God’s will? God says “You shall not murder.” Men murdered Him, didn’t they? Then His death was clearly a violation of God’s revealed will.

But do we not also read time and again in Scripture how Jesus’ death on the cross was the very purpose for which He came? He is the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8) and “it pleased the Lord to bruise Him” (Isaiah 53:10).

So was the crucifixion of Jesus the will of God? The question cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” First, one must determine what aspect of God’s will is in view. If the question is about God’s secret will—His decreed will, then the answer is yes, infallibly. If, however, the question is about God’s revealed will, then the answer is no.

Peter keeps both aspects in mind in his sermon at Pentecost. He says of Jesus, “Him, being delivered by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death” (Acts 2:23). Peter tells his hearers that they have sinned, they have violated God’s will by crucifying Jesus. They are guilty and accountable before God for the death of Jesus. But in another sense God did this according to His own foreknowledge and predetermined purpose.

So where was God at the crucifixion of Jesus? Was he there? Absolutely He was there. Nor was He a mere bystander, He was orchestrating the events. God was doing His greatest work, redeeming people to Himself in an event that looked like a completely gratuitous tragedy. This becomes the paradigm by which we must measure every other tragedy in life. If God was doing His deepest work in the greatest tragedy of human history then we must be willing to believe that God is also doing great works in lesser tragedies of life. That is the hope that pastors must give their people. We must call people to look to Christ, to believe in the goodness of God in Christ, to see it, to live off of it, to taste it, to try to bring it into experience before tragedy and then to go on living on that truth in the midst of and in the wake of tragedy.

Out of all of these other truths grows the doctrine of providence. Just like the incarnation and the Trinity, so providence is a mystery. God has taught us that He is sovereign over the events of life but that does not in any way mitigate our responsibility for our actions. We must, therefore, live with the tension these truths produce because they are revealed. And the certainties that He has taught us about our faith gives strength to face the mysteries without despair.

 

Conclusion

 

Expect tragedies and tribulations to occur. Do not be surprised by them. Prepare for them because the Scripture says they are inevitable. Learn from them. Do not miss the lessons. There is much to be learned through suffering. In 2 Corinthians 1:8–10 Paul says that he was “burdened beyond measure, above strength”, so that he “despaired even of life.” And the reason that this happened to him (as he later came to understand) was so that he might learn not to trust in himself “but in God who raises the dead.” He is saying, “tragedy came to teach me to trust God.” Three chapters later he refers to those trials as light and momentary. In chapter 1 he says “I nearly died by them” but in chapter 4 he says they are light and fleeting, “working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (4:17). Tragedy prepares you for glory. Tragedy works in you the ability to experience greater glory. We may not understand exactly how this is so, but that is what Paul says.

Trials wean us away from the world. They lead us to develop greater desires for heaven. When we suffer losses we are forced to remember that the things which are seen are temporary and fading away. Such times direct our vision to the unseen realities that are eternal.

Through tragedies we discover sin that may lie deeply buried in our hearts. Trials have a way of bringing such sin to light. Moses was the meekest man in all the earth the Scripture says. And yet in the midst of tragedy, we see his passions sinfully displayed. Or think of Job. His patience is proverbial and yet in his story his impatience is starkly displayed. Tragedy exposes our remaining sin thereby helping us to see our need for repentance.

Respond pastorally to tragedies. People are not interested in nor do they need a lecture on theodicy when they are awaiting the emergency room doctor’s report or facing a fresh grave. Every pastor ought to develop and constantly refine an imminently biblical theodicy, but none should feel compelled to say everything at any one moment. When the opportunity to speak does come, speak honestly, wisely and lovingly. But speak with consideration to what the Larger Catechism calls “the necessity and capacity of your hearers.”

Address people in terms of what they can handle and what they need. Jesus did not tell his disciples everything at once. On the night He was betrayed He said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12). It is also instructive to note what Jesus did not say in Luke 13 when tragedies stemming from human malice and natural disaster where brought to His attention. He did not try to explain them. He did not try to defend God. Rather, He seizes the opportunity to call them to self-examination and repentance.

I love the Heidelberg Catechism. The first question and answer summarizes much of what I have tried to communicate in this article.

Question: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”

Answer: “That I am not my own but belong body and soul in life and in death to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my father in heaven.”

To know and believe this is to be equipped to provide encouragement to any child of God when tragedy comes.


Notes:

1 C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, (New York: MacMillan, 1962), 93.

Contents

 

Scott Hamilton’s message of Prayer

Hey gang! I came across this video testimonial from a world-class ice skater, Scott Hamilton. I didn’t realize he was a Christian, but his message and personal story is so powerful I wanted to share it with you. In life, we all face incredible challenges and setbacks. Sometimes, we can feel as though we are the only one in the world who has ever experienced this level of pain or anguish, and some people might try to get through it alone. Thankfully, the AGO series available through LIFE Leadership begins to help people get answers in their personal walk with God. Scott went through a major challenge, but didn’t initially turn to God for help through prayer. Then he was asked, “Scott, you’re a father, right? If one of your children were hurting, wouldn’t you want them to come to you for comfort and strength?” This is an amazing testimonial of God working in people’s lives. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

God bless, Tim

Challenging, Comforting, Powerful Words

Do you know what the word “resplendent” means?  Well, I must admit , I had to look up the word “resplendent” as I read this article below so I could fully understand what the author was describing. As I read this article it reminded me again of what God intends for us in our lives and what a true marriage is.
Some of you know that, about a month ago, I went to the Mayo Clinic to have my back basically rebuilt after years of chronic pain.  This pain has not only plagued me, but my entire family and, mostly, my wife Amy. She has put up with my short answers and lack of involvement because of this pain for years and now after the surgery she is still hanging in there and running things like a “Swiss Watch” AND taking most of my duties on AND caring for me.  What a wife I have.
Amy Marks is truly RESPLENDENT to me and I am very blessed that God made her for my wife.
Enjoy this wonderful article my pastor ( Dr Tom Ascol) sent me a few days ago.
God bless,
Tim
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Love your wife, don’t be a stupid fool!Husbands, God commands you to love your wife. He says that you are to love your wife as Christ loves the church. These are words that should bring us to our knees in holy fear. Christ’s example of love is humbling and overwhelming. His example should shake us to the very core of our being. This command, properly understood, should drive us to cry out to God for strength, courage, and his mercy.

Why?

Because if you are to love with the love of Christ, then the actions of your wife must not determine the quality of your love for her. Men, Jesus loved you when your were unlovely. He cares for you when you turn away from him. He returns good in exchange for your cold and callous insensitivity to him. He reaches out to you when you have made a train wreck of your relationship with him. He is selfless when you are selfish. When you insult Christ by taking credit for his blessings he offers you forgiveness. Jesus responds to your disrespect by taking the punishment that you deserve. He loves you when you withhold love from him. He prays for you, even when you stupidly think you don’t have time to seek him in prayer.

I could go on and on, but you get the point. Jesus loves you at great personal cost to himself. The way you act towards him does not determine the way he acts towards you. That is a very good thing for you and me. The last prayer you should want to pray is, “Dear God, please love me the way I love you.” Anyone who would pray such a prayer is what the Proverbs call a ‘stupid fool.“

But sadly, the way we love our wives is often dependent on the way they act towards us as husbands. If they are distant, we become indifferent. If they are cool, we become hurt. If they are disrespectful, we become angry. If they need help, we feel put out. This sort of behavior is not love.

Husband, God calls you to model the love to Christ to your wife. You are to love her because Christ loves you, not because of the way she acts towards you. Certainly, it is more pleasant when your wife loves you unselfishly. But, even this must not be the basis of your love for her. The love of Christ to you must be the primary motivation and example of your love for your wife.

When your wife has struggles, be compassionate and know her well enough to be able to help. She, just like you, can be unlovely. Christ’s love is still the example you must follow. Ask God for strength. Ask God to help you not act like the stupid fool, who forgets what God has done for him. Love your wife as Christ loves you.

Just in case any wives are reading this, you can show this to your husband! And remember, even if your husband is not loving you as he should, the love of Christ is also your model and strength.

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Don Henley of “Eagles” fame once sang, “I had a good life, before you came.”

And so it was with me.

I was single.

I pastored the little white Church on the corner.

I did not feel as though I was waiting for my life to start, indeed I was locked in a pattern of discerning God’s will (as much as my fallen filter would allow), and, then by His grace executing His will in my life.

I bought an old white house within walking distance of the little white Church.

I christened the white house “The Hermitage”, and went about fixing it up.

The Hermitage had a little green dining room, so I went about teaching myself how not to be a terrible cook.

On the whole I attempted to skip the entire phenomenon dubbed “Batching It Up”, even when I was as it were, a bachelor.

I did not have cable.  The Hermitage didn’t even have a television antenna.

I had my books, my dog, and my God.

I prepared my sermons and preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I was not wasting my life.  My life was going at full speed.  And, for whatever it was worth, I was happy.

One day, God in His providence ordained to pour blessing upon blessing.  He brought her back into my life.  I had met her in college years before.  We were at a Christian college whose ecclesiology lacked formally ordained pastors, yet there I was studying to be one and there she was the daughter of one.  She had honey colored hair, green eyes and freckles.  We had been two fish out of water, and she was… resplendent.

The years went by and she had become a teacher, and served with Africa Inland Mission.

There she was, standing before me once again, and she was as she had ever been… resplendent.  Everything crystalized.

I told her I intended to pursue her.

She told me she was going to the remotest part of the Congo she could find.

I told her we’d pray about it.

God smiled down upon me, and she became my Resplendent Bride.

While we courted we read “This Momentary Marriage”.  Pastor Piper reminded us of things we already knew about the covenant of marriage from the Bible.

Marriage isn’t about you, it’s about God.

She wore a $100 white dress without guile.  I wore what she told me.

We were wed in St. Louis at a Church called Hope, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.

I told her I would let her down: but grace.

We sealed it with our first kiss, and we made our home at The Hermitage, nestled in the sacred hills and hollows of Glenwood.

A year passed.  She showed me South Sudan.  I showed her how to brown hamburger meat.

The Covenant of Marriage is a gift, and I feel like I’ve always received more than I ever gave.

Two more months passed and a fox named cancer tried to raid my home.

He is a wily one, he is.  We fought him when he called himself Non-hodgkins Lymphoma.  We fought him when he called himself Hodgkins Lymphoma.  We fought him when he called himself myelodysplastic syndrome and we fought him when he called himself Acute Secondary Leukemia.  And still we fight on.

The Hermitage has sat vacant for months while we sojourned in various hospital rooms.

My Resplendent bride endures chemo cocktails and radiation.  I endure cots.

People say I need to take care of myself. Take a night off.  They mean well of course, and I don’t think less of them.

But I don’t leave.  That’s not what I do.  The two became one.  I don’t leave.

I said “I do”, and I still do.  The “I do” of marriage is always in the present tense until The Lord Jesus says otherwise.  ”I do” is never “I did at the time”.  ”I do” is always present tense. “I do” travels through space and time to whatever condition the married couple finds themself in and says, “I still do, I always do, and when the enemy burns down these battlements, I shall remain”.

The perpetual present tense “I do” is anchored in the grace of God.  It is only possible in Him.

Marriage was never about being happy.  Marriage is a covenant, and covenants are rarely pain free.

My Lord Jesus endured far more pain than I ever will to bring peace through the blood of His cross to this realm of dustlings.

What I’ve learned from my Resplendent Bride’s cancer is that The Lord Jesus shines still brighter.

Once, a nurse told me that it was good that I was there with my Resplendent Bride.

I shrugged and told her, “That’s what marriage is.”

A shadow of sadness creeped over her face and she replied, “Not always.”

She’s right, you know.

Many a caretaker have crawled into a bottle never to be heard from again.

Many a caretaker has retreated into himself so far so as to be useless.

Many a caretaker has found comfort in the arms of another.

God have mercy on us all, for the things we do and the things we have no mercy for.

I suspect though, that those whom vanish in the hour of need thought marriage to be about happiness and perpetual comfort rather than the perpetual “I Do” that comes from a Christ who is always saying “I Do” to His bride, the Church.

Recently, on the Grammys, entertainers mocked God’s Word because it is old and then stole our glass and arches and held a ceremony “celebrating the commitment to love”.

It all reminded me of something the Apostle Paul wrote to young Timothy (though he is quite old by now),

“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful,unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.” 2 Timothy 3:1-5 NASB

Holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power, indeed.

Ask any Pastor of a Church residing in a beautiful historic building: people want God’s house, but only if He’s not home.

I remind many couples that the stained glass windows were not erected to honor and celebrate their commitment to love.  This house is consecrated to God, and furthermore, we are not part of the wedding industry.

We are about Jesus, and so too must be your wedding, and more importantly: your marriage.

If not, call it what it is: a celebration to your commitment to having bubbly butterflies for the flavor of the month.

God’s menu for marriage does not change.

When the squall rages against my marriage, I thank God that this marriage was not build by mine, nor my Resplendent Bride’s hands, but by His holy hands.

Many have questions about what marriage is, and whom it is for.  Many have sinned against a holy God and wonder if He forgives.  Many think that it would take a miracle to save the marriage they are in.

The village of Marriage has long been at the mercy of robbers and bandits.  And I do emphasize the word, “long”.

Perhaps you are like many who have suffered the scars of other’s sin so harshly that you think it would take a miracle for someone to love you with Christlike sacrificial love.

I know a guy.

All things are possible with God.

The Lord Jesus desires to take you by the hand and make you whole, but His hands shall always have holes in them.  You must ask yourself what you have to do with those holes.

Married or not.

Unemployment Rates are Not What the Media Says

As I meet people out and about these days and talk with church members, family, friends, and relatives, they all seem to agree that the way things “feel” are not the same as what the mainstream media says about how our economy is doing.

Read this interesting post below and I think you will see why now is the best time for people to start their own LIFE Leadership business and take control of their future!
God bless,
Tim

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A Wall Street adviser in a recent memo to his clients said that the “actual” unemployment rate in the United States is 37.2 percent.

Obviously, this has many asking whether this is indeed the case. In short, it isn’t. But of course this requires some explanation.

David John Marotta’s memo, which was picked up by the Washington Examiner, stated that unemployment is much worse than what is being reported by the federal government.

Marotta’s claim is based primarily on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data on the current labor force participation rate, which is about 62.8 percent:

fredgraph1-620x372

The above graph represents the adult, non-military and non-jailed population that is currently employed or actively seeking work.

But how did Marotta arrive at that 37.2 percent figure? Simple: He subtracted the current labor force participation rate from 100 (“100” representing full labor force participation), AEI’s James Pethokoukis reported. If the current labor force participation rate is 62.8 percent, then that means 37.2 percent of the civilian, noninstitutional population is “unemployed.”

Obviously, this does not give us an accurate calculation of unemployment.

Marotta in his calculation includes everyone: Retirees, adolescents, college students and stay-at-home mothers. In other words, he includes people who would ordinarily be excluded from what we refer to as the labor force.

The Wall Street adviser’s figure “is absolutely ridiculous and tremendously overstates labor market weakness. A total joke,” Pethokoukis said in a fiery blog post. “Using Marotta’s ‘logic,’ maybe the ‘real’ unemployment rate is merely the share of … the civilian noninstitutional without a job. That comes out to a whopping 44.5%!”

Now this isn’t to say that the official unemployment rate, which currently rests at 6.7 percent, doesn’t seriously understate the reality of the unemployment situation in the United States.

Indeed, as noted every month by TheBlaze, the U-6 unemployment rate, considered a broader measure of actual unemployment in the U.S., regularly posts a much higher figure than the “official” unemployment rate.

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The U-6 rate, which includes not just the unemployed, but also the underemployed and the discouraged, currently sits are around 13.1 percent.

So although it is absolutely accurate to say that the commonly reported figure on unemployment in the United States regularly downplays “real” unemployment, saying that the “actual” unemployment rests somewhere around 37 percent is highly — dubious.

Orrin Woodward: Candy Bar Fundraiser

As I lay here in bed most of the day, God is blessing me with much time to reflect about LIFE: past, present and what a wonderful future we all have to look forward to.

One of the biggest struggles most of us have is that we focus on our past and present too much, as compared to focusing on our future, (the thing we absolutely can change.)  Rejection itself can cause pain that we replay over and over in our mind, depleting our energy.  Instead of focusing on the pain of the past, we need to focus on the potential of the future!

Here is a fantastic video of Orrin Woodward, Founder of LIFE Leadership, talking about creating positive energy for our future accomplishments!

God bless,

Tim

 

Well, I’m back! (Kind of…)

Praise god the surgery went well and the healing is going even better. The first physical therapist said I would need a walker for 4-6 weeks, and I was able to chuck that sucker after 3 days!!  Although I will still have a cane for a while, it’s massive progress.  By the way, if anyone needs a walker, I have a dandy with black mag wheels for ya!

As I have been laying here in bed and walking in a semi zombie-drunken state, I have had a ton of time to think about God, life in our country and purple elephants with roller blades (don’t ask.)

I know that God is on the throne and He will do what He will when He wants to, but I also know that we are all a part of His plan and supposed to do our best at whatever He has called us to do.  For me, it’s simply put: meet new friends and share truths with them, then help them to be the best they can be and help others do the same.

I have read many good yet disturbing books and blogposts through the years that make me more concerned about how much focus we put on getting a “degree” rather than getting an “education”, and in that lies many of the problems we face today. We have more education and less truth in our minds than ever before in history.

roman ruinsMany of us think (particularly in the US) that we are invincible, and that things will somehow work out as they always have.  Well, I wish that were true, I really do.  However, if we look at any great civilization that has ever existed and fallen there are some common symptoms that result in their fall.

I am not a prophet and I don’t claim to know if and when things will “get bad or go to Hades” but we can all read history and can draw our own conclusions.

Edward_GibbonAuthor Edward Gibbon has written some downright scary reasons about why Rome fell and how we are on track to do the same if we don’t change our course.  He writes,

“The five marks of the Roman decaying culture are:

  1. Concern with displaying affluence instead of building wealth;
  2. Obsession with sex and perversions of sex;
  3. Art becomes freakish and sensationalistic instead of creative and original;
  4. Widening disparity between very rich and very poor;
  5. Increased demand to live off the state.”

Some would add the example of divorce and the decline (or total denial) of marriage as a factor in our cultural decline as well.  Let us consider our own personal lives and then resolve to do what we can to lead people to the truth by learning it and living it ourselves!

God bless,

Tim

Message from Amy Marks regarding Tim’s back surgery

As many of you know, Tim has struggled with back problems for some time.  He has had surgery in the past and, while it offered some relief, it didn’t entirely resolve his issue.  Today we are at a world-class medical organization.  Tim underwent another back surgical procedure today to try to resolve his issue.  I know that many of you are concerned and hoping to hear how it went.

Surgery went well.  Tim is in his room resting.  He is in quite a bit of pain, so please keep him in your prayers.  He will back on his feet and back on Twitter in no time, keeping you up to date with his progress.

Thanks again for your prayers for Tim,

Love, Amy

The Theology of Christmas – VIDEO

During this season, we often hear people say, “This is a magical time of year.”  The fact is, it’s not magicall; it’s downright concerning in some cases.

Christmas day is recognized globally as the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ (although to be completely candid, historians admit that we don’t know the actual day of the year upon which Christ was born.  However, we still choose to celebrate it on December 25th, despite the fact there is some controversy surrounding why that particular day was selected.)

For many people, Christmas is mostly about time with family, putting lights on your house, decorating a tree with ornaments, giving and receiving gifts, and enjoying a great meal of ham or turkey and pumpkin pie. All those things are fine, but they are not even close to being the main thing. One thing I know for sure, this season of celebration is about Christ- CHRISTmas.  I was upset, but not surprised, to discover there is even an entire movement today to have Christ removed from Christmas!  How could something so crazy even be suggested?!  Because too many of us spend more time shopping for gifts and planning Christmas parties than we do reading our Bibles!

Please watch this video by John MaCarthur as he clears it all up

Merry CHRISTmas!!!

Tim

A&E suspends TV star for quoting Scripture on homosexuality

This is a letter sent to A&E from one of their (former) viewers.

This isn’t about Phil or Duck dynasty or homosexuality.  It’s about the double standard the media holds. I can’t say I agree with the way Phil delivered the message but he should have the freedom to say what he believes.

President Obama once scored a 129 in a bowling match and, while appearing as a guest on the Jay Leno show, had described his poor bowling performance to Jay, saying “it looked like the special Olympics.”
In my opinion, what the president said was way more offensive than what Phil had said. Though the President absolutely received backlash for his comments, if Obama has a right to say what he did, doesn’t Phil?

God bless, Tim

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Dear A&E,

I read that you are indefinitely suspending Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty after he quoted the Bible and said that the homosexual act is sinful. I get it, guys. I do. You punished the Christian guy for being a Christian because you got some angry emails from a bunch of whiny gay philactivists who lack the spine and maturity to deal with the fact that there are still people out there who have the guts to articulate opinions that they find disagreeable. In so doing, you’ve kowtowed to a pushy minority of vocal bullies who don’t even watch your channel, while alienating the fan base of the one show that keeps your entire network afloat.

Makes sense.

You’ve got standards, after all. You wouldn’t want to be associated with tasteless and inappropriate things. The people on Duck Dynasty can’t be allowed to run around being all Christian-like. It might ruin the reputation of the network whose other shows include Hoarders and Intervention — programs that invite viewers to gawk at drug addicts and the mentally ill for their own amusement.

Disney-ABC Television Group owns 50 percent of your network, were they involved in this decision? They must have been. They’ve got a brand to protect. They can’t allow a bearded right winger to spout beliefs. BELIEFS, of all things. The horror! We must shutdown beliefs, opinions, and ideas, and get back to the serious business of selling sex and debauchery to children. They can’t deal with these distractions, don’t they have another season of The Bachelor or Desperate Housewives or Trophy Wife to produce?

Good Lord, these militant neo-liberal thought police are better at brainwashing than I ever realized. They just convinced you to torpedo your own network. You guys just kamikazied yourselves. You just pulled the pin on the grenade and then put it in your pocket. This is incredible. Didn’t you see what happened with Chic-fil-A when GLAAD crusaders tried to shutdown an entire business just because they disapproved of the owners opinions? Don’t you remember that? I’ll refresh your memory: their “boycott” resulted in an enormous sales spike for the company, as millions of people like myself went out of our way to eat there just to ensure that the anti-free speech fools on the left didn’t win. A week after the anti-Chic-fil-A campaign began, their restaurants across the country were overflowing. It was, officially, the least effective boycott in the history of mankind.

Now it’s all going to happen again, except it will be the opposite effect, and you’ll be on the losing end this time around.

If you don’t bring Phil back immediately, and publicly apologize to him and to his viewers for attempting to censor his Christian faith, Duck Dynasty will leave your network, find a new home, and all of those ratings will go somewhere else. Then you’ll be stuck with the stragglers who feel like spending a Saturday rubbernecking at mentally disturbed elderly women with compulsive hoarding addictions. That’s how this is going to play out. Congratulations.

Did you think the “gay rights” crowd would stick around and “support you” for meeting their ransom demands? No, silly A&E, that isn’t how this works. The speech-controllers on the left are like a black hole. They can only suck you in and obliterate you. They’re like the devil — they ask for your soul and offer nothing in return.

Am I coming on too strong?

Just wait.

Just you wait.

This is the worst decision you’ve ever made. Well, “Bonnie and Clyde” was the worst decision, but this is a close second. Speaking of which, just to make sure we’re clear, the violent mini-series glorifying a couple of thugs who robbed some banks and killed some people 80 years ago — OK. Wholesome family man quotes the Bible during an interview with GQ — UNACCEPTABLE. Is that the correct equation? Is that your business model?

Just to be doubly clear: you guys hate the Bible and find it to be offensive, right? Or is it just parts of the Bible? Or is just Christians? Or is it just Christians who have the audacity to believe in the entire Bible, rather than a select few segments that pass the modern PC litmus test? Just let me know, and I’ll send the word along to my readers, many of whom are Christians who watch — I mean, used to watch –A&E. I’m sure they’ll be interested in finding out that you view their faith as so abhorrent that you’d fire a guy simply for quoting a passage from Scripture.

You made your bed. You decided to stand against free speech, against open expression of ideas, against Christians, against the Bible, against the views of a majority of humanity, against the most profitable show in the history of your network, and against almost all of your viewers. But, hey, at least you put a smile on GLAAD’s face. That must make it all worth it, right?

Sincerely,

Everyone who isn’t a left wing extremist (AKA your former customer base)

Be Tough on Yourself and Show Grace to Others

I’d like to share an excerpt from my first book, Voyage of a Viking, available through LIFE Leadership. If you haven’t had a chance to read the book, I’ll share that I had earned the nickname “the Viking” during my days in Corporate America because of my very harsh way of dealing with people.  I was so tough of the staff they nicknamed me ”The Viking”, and trust me: it wasn’t a compliment!

In this excerpt, I share how my poor people skills would get me into hot water with my relationships at work.  It is only through God’s grace, a ton of reading and learning, and the patient mentorship of Orrin Woodward, that the people around me have thankfully watched me improve over the years.  If you or someone you know struggles with people skills, I hope this post can offer some valuable insight!

God bless, Tim

 

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Some people might assume that a “Viking” would always be overly aggressive, like yelling and chewing people out.  I never really did that; even today it is difficult for me to get angry and yell at people, which is something that God has blessed me with.  However, I have been cursed with sarcasm, and for a long time, that was my weapon of choice.

Even today, after all these years of hard work on grinding away my bad people skills, I still have to be on guard against using sarcasm.  Some people might be really crafty with their words and get away with not offending people.  I am not one of them.  I could never dream of getting away with saying some of the things I hear other leaders say.  They make it funny; I would say the same statement and it would come out hurtful.  I’ve learned it’s best to err on the side of caution today and avoid sarcasm.  (If you must use it, I’d suggest that you only use it on yourself.)  However, I didn’t always to avoid it.  No, sometime I used to really enjoy being sarcastic and cutting people down.

I remember one time when I was called into the plant at my automotive manufacturing company, and I was not happy about being up in the middle of the night.  A robot had broken down, and it was the responsibility of my team to get it up and running.  Now, we had invested thousands of dollars in training these guys how to maintain the robots, so I was expecting them to be on the ball.  By the time I arrived at the plant in the middle of the night, I was in a right foul mood.  And it’s never good if the problem takes me 10 seconds to fix.

I got to the plant and saw that it was a safety switch that needed to be flipped.  One button, and the robot was up and running.  I looked at the robot programmer, really disgusted that I had to be dragged down there at 3am, and I said something gentle and forgiving like, “So, do we need to send you to another $5,000 class, or are you all set now?  Do you understand how to manage this?”

I can remember the look of shock and hurt in the programmer’s face.  I thought he was being melodramatic, and I didn’t even bother to notice how he felt.  But if I was being bothered and awakened at 3am, I figured this justified my tearing him down to make me look good and make him look horrible.  And that was my honest goal a lot of the time, I’m ashamed to say.

My goal was to tear people down so they knew I was better than them.  This made me feel superior.  I remember a time when a forklift driver was trying to get something off of the rack.  He was struggling with it, and I was getting impatient.  I kicked him off and jumped in, saying, “Get out of the way, I’ll get that thing down.” I got the stuff off of the rack and set it down on the ground.

I couldn’t leave well enough alone; I had to end this with a little verbal jab to make the forklift driver feel badly.  I said in a really condescending way, “There you go buddy; that’s how you do it.  If you need any other help doing your job, just let me know.  After all, that’s only the second time I’ve driven a forklift.”

Not only was I being hurtful, I was embellishing the truth; I had driven the forklift many times at that point in order to know how to do the job right, but I wanted to make myself look better than I was.

I had no patience or grace with people.  I totally ignored the fact that people needed time to learn their jobs, and that even the best of us have bad days where we aren’t performing at 100%.  It pains me today to think of how I treated people.  I gave no thought to how they were doing; how did I know if they were going through a divorce, or if they had a sick family member.  I just didn’t care what the excuse was.

I wish I had been gracious and thoughtful.  It is so easy to simply say, “Hey, you look like you’re having a tough day, do you need some help with that?” Or I could have said, “Is there something I can do to help?” This would have been a much better way of approaching the situation.  With the forklift driver, I could have stood back and offered some suggestions, rather than shoving him aside and taking over.  He would have learned and improved; but because I was his boss, I didn’t have to be kind, I could just push him around.

Mentorship with Orrin Woodward, along with my own faith, taught me to soften up my approach with people.  I learned that I was commanded to love, and since I have a desire to be obedient, I forced myself to sand off some of my rough edges.  (In my case, sanding wasn’t enough to get off the rough edges; I had to chisel, grind and file them away!)  This was not a simple task for me.  Instead of chewing people out, I had to force myself to bite my tongue.

What I’ve discovered is that if I show people grace, they will eventually learn the lesson I wanted to teach through their own leadership learning journey, and my relationship with them stays intact.  Don’t get me wrong: there is a time, a place and a method for offering correction.  I just didn’t have a clue as to what it was.  (I’ve since learned that it’s when there is trust and love in the relationship.)  But when we are loving towards others and tough on ourselves, it’s amazing how relationships can stand the test of time.

High School students are reading Voyage of a Viking!

Hey gang!  Here is an email forwarded to me by my friend, Joe Darkangelo.  I feel honored that the students at Flex Tech High School would have the opportunity to read my book, Voyage of a Viking, let alone do a homework assignment!  LIFE Leadership is creating books and CD’s that truly make a difference in people’s lives, no matter their age!

Thanks for sharing this, Joe!

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Subject: Teaching assignment for Flex Tech High School in Brighton, MI

Book: Voyage of a Viking

Author: Tim Marks

Competencies: ELA12 (5,6,10,11), ELA11 recovery, ELA 10 recovery, ELA09 recovery, Civics (6)

Goal: The main goal of this assignment is to read Tim Marks’ book, Voyage of a Viking, and then to write a concise and thoughtful analysis on the book’s language, theme, and overall “message” to it’s readers.  Additionally, you will incorporate how the lessons of this book can help us all be better citizens.

Questions that will guide your understanding:

  1. Who is Tim Marks? (Conduct a brief internet search of Tim Marks, and attempt to learn about his background.)
  2. What is “IDENTITY?”  How do we all develop our identity?  Does Tim Marks make any claims about identity?  (He may not use the word “identity”)
    1. How are the “5 Viking Laws” interpreted by Tim Marks?  How is this connected to identity?
  3. How does Tim Marks’ use of language influence your understanding of the book’s overall message, tone and feeling?
    1. Is there a reasoning to the words he chooses?
    2. Does he provide a certain tone to his writing, one that may influence your understanding of the book one way or another?
    3. Does his writing have a certain “voice,” a certain aspect that seems to be genuine to him?  Or is his language bland or boring?
  4. Using the lessons learned in Tim Marks’ book, how can you use them to become a better citizen?
    1. What does it mean to be a responsible, informed and participating citizen in American society?
    2. What do you get to do as a citizen, and what do you have to do as a citizen?
    3. How can Tim Marks’ book be used as a guide to being a better citizen?

Joe Darkangelo

Leadership thoughts and perspective