Faith

Faith-Filled Expectancy in Ministry

What am I doing here? Who am I to be giving the Gospel to others? Why would God use me? Why should people listen to me?

I imagine that most Christians have asked questions like these when seeking to obey Christ and witness. When these thoughts come, what we do with them becomes extremely important. If we allow ourselves to dwell on our weakness, we will witness less and ineffectively, if we witness much at all.

Hindrances to Expectancy

When it comes to making disciples for Jesus Christ, no matter who we are or what our circumstances, all of us struggle at times with man-centered thoughts that handicap us. We make ourselves too important.

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On Fear and Faith

It’s often said that “fear not” is the most repeated command in the Bible. The claim is also made that there are 360 instances of the command, nearly one for each day of the year.

I don’t know how they arrived at that number. KJV has the phrase “fear not” more than any other English translation, and Logos finds it only 63 times. Expanding the search string to “fear not” OR “do not fear,” ESV has the largest count at only 70 occurrences.

Still, there’s a kernel of truth here. The Bible has a lot to say about fear, and we need to handle our fears obediently. To do that, we must first recognize our fears—and they often wear disguises.

Adam and Eve

But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” (Gen 3:9–10, ESV)

Adam claimed he was afraid because he was naked, but we know that wasn’t really why he was afraid. He’d lived naked every day of his life! (Gen 2:25). He was afraid because everything had changed, and not for the better.

When sin broke the world, one of the first things that happened was fear. Adam and Eve had a whole lot to be afraid of, and so do we.

Our lives are filled with fear. To rattle off just a few examples, we’re afraid of …

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Now That Took Faith!

As much as it might seem to stretch the barriers of time, I was taught to preach by a man who sat under the ministry of none other than Dr. Henry (Harry) Allan Ironside—the so-called “archbishop of fundamentalism.”

In fact, Dr. Ironside is my spiritual and theological grandfather on at least two different counts.

First, he was indeed the pastor of my practical theology professor in seminary—Dr. Ralph Turk, one of my own mentors. Dr. Turk spent his earliest years in The Moody Church, where Ironside served as pastor from 1930 to 1948.

Secondly, Ironside was one of the original leaders of The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, through which I am privileged to serve as a church ministries representative.

I first remember hearing about Ironside from Pastor Bob Taylor on the Rejoice in the Lord telecast from Pensacola Christian College. Taylor would refer to “old Dr. Ironside’s” commentaries on a regular basis in his preaching, as I recall.

Those commentaries, in fact, provide expositions of 48 books of the Bible in 32 volumes, and they continue to be well worth consulting. Ironside authored many additional books and pamphlets. His treatise called Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth1 endures to this day as the authoritative response to ultra-dispensationalism.

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How the Trinity Helps Us in Our Suffering, Part 2

Read Part 1.

God can seem impersonal and heartless. Who has not begged God for relief, even if no more than for a few drops of water on a parched tongue, only to hear the silence of heaven? Maybe the deists are right. Maybe God wound up the clock of this world and walked away. Maybe no one answers because no one is there.

The Trinity reminds us that God is personal and loving and responsive by his very nature. Yahweh can no more become indifferent to your situation than he can deny himself, something we are told in Scripture he explicitly cannot do (2 Tim. 2:13). The Father is better than any earthly father in his attention and care. He is far more concerned about you and your suffering than the created world, which he upholds with the most delicate and detailed watchfulness (Matt. 6:25-30).

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How the Trinity Helps Us in Our Suffering, Part 1

You may be thinking, why start a series on knowing God through suffering with the most abstract and difficult doctrine known to Christians? Why not start with something simpler, like mercy or faithfulness? All in due time.

I start with the Trinity because who God is in his fullness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the starting point for all our understanding about God. If we skip who God is at the very essence of his being, we may get off on the wrong foot. But even more importantly, the triune nature of God in his three persons is a gold mine for understanding the riches of God and his reasons for allowing his creatures to suffer.

Christians worship one God, and it’s a good thing, too. In the religions of the ancient world, and in Hinduism today (and in some ways the system of saints in Roman Catholicism), you couldn’t just go to one source for all your problems. Each god had its own realm over which it exercised dominion. As a result, you had to offer sacrifices at the temple of the god connected to your problem. If you wanted to pray for your wife to get pregnant or your crops to succeed in the Canaanite religion, you would appeal to Baal. If you wanted healing in the Greco-Roman world, you would offer a clay replica of your diseased body part at the temple of Asclepius. None of the gods were sovereign over it all.

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Knowing God through Suffering: Introduction, Part 2

Read Part 1.

If God has ordained my suffering, what can I do about it? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Well, nothing about my circumstances, but I can do something about my heart. 

I only have three choices. First, I can cry out to God like the psalmists and cling to what I know to be true about God’s character and promises. I can, in great weakness and desperation cling to the sure and steadfast anchor (Heb. 6:19), the shepherd and overseer of my soul (1 Pet. 2:25) who has promised to never leave me or forsake me (Heb. 13:5).

Second, I can make the mistake of distorting the biblical picture of God into something more palatable. I can come to believe that God is not in control, that God does not will my suffering, and that he weeps with me in my agony, but cannot do anything about it. Those who choose this path often want to attribute suffering only to Satan, but certainly not to God. They may even come to believe that God only ever wills for his children to live in health and prosperity here and now, so that He could not possibly ever desire suffering, difficulty, or loss.

It is true that Satan can be an instrument of God to bring suffering (Job 1; Mark 1:13; 2 Cor. 12:7), but to attribute all suffering to him is to reduce God’s Lordship in the universe. So, God does not sit by helplessly as suffering happens, neither does he promise bliss and glory now. 

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Knowing God through Suffering: Introduction, Part 1

“So, this is it. This is how I’m going to die,” I thought as I kneeled over the toilet in my underwear, waves of pain slamming my stomach. For the sixth time in two weeks I was experiencing unbearable pain, caused by the lemon-size tumor in my small bowel. What I didn’t know was that it had almost completely blocked my intestine and that I would be in the hospital within the hour. It would be my first of four stays in the hospital, culminating two months later in emergency surgery to fix a perforated bowel.

All of this was happening in the middle of chemotherapy to treat the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that had been diagnosed a few months before. And that followed the discovery of a brain tumor weeks prior to the cancer diagnosis. I felt for the first time like I understood completely what the Psalmist experienced when he cried out that God’s waves overwhelmed him (Ps. 88:7). It had been one blow after another and little did I know that it would continue this way for some time to come.

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In Matters of Health, Trusting God Means Using What He Provides

When God brought judgment on Ahab and Israel in the form of drought and famine, he sent Elijah to a secluded retreat somewhere along the Brook Cherith (1 Kings 17). During this period, God’s care for Elijah reveals an interesting pattern. The details are memorable and exceptional, but the pattern is not.

And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. (ESV, 1 Ki 17:6)

Here in 2022, we need to look closely at how Elijah responded to God’s provision. The record is clear that Elijah ate what these ceremonially unclean ravens (Lev 11:13-15) brought. In Elijah’s mind, he was not choosing between trusting God and trusting ravens.

To put it another way: Elijah saw no conflict between trusting in God and trusting in the means God used to preserve his life and health.

Elijah’s story doesn’t end there.

And after a while the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land. 8 Then the word of the Lord came to him, 9 “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” (1 Ki 17:7–9)

Here we see a second feature of Elijah’s thinking that is important in our day. Elijah didn’t reason that since brooks tend to dry up in droughts, he should reject brooks as a water source. Instead, he chose to make the most of what God had made available, limited though it was.

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