A Biblical View of Suffering – Part 1

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Suffering comes in all shapes and sizes. It often interrupts our lives with such force and leaves us reeling. Whether a phone call in the middle of the night, a positive test result, a pay cheque that never seems to cover the expenses, an unexpected pregnancy, a prodigal child, anxiety and depression, or a loved one in crisis, difficulty comes to all of us. Although trials range in severity, they are a part of our fallen world.

What if we dared to believe God allows difficulty to come into our lives for a greater purpose? What if, instead of running from trials, we embraced them, believing God is up to something good?

James MacDonald defines trials this way: “A trial is a painful circumstance allowed by God to change our conduct and our character.”  God uses trials to affect both our behaviour and our hearts.

There are three main questions about suffering we should ask as we examine this topic:

  1. What does God want us to know about seasons of suffering?
  2. Why does God allow suffering in our lives?
  3. How should we respond to suffering? In other words, how can we allow suffering to fulfill God’s intended purpose in our lives?

What does God want us to know about seasons of suffering?

  1. We should not be surprised by suffering, instead we should expect difficult times.

God promises in His word that we will suffer (James 1:2, John 16:33, 1 Thessalonians 3:3, 1 Peter 4:12-13). Sometimes we give a false impression of what Christianity is like, communicating to people that if they follow Christ their lives will be rosy. This is not the case. Scripture says trials will come. We ought not to let them take us by surprise. If we know that difficult times are coming, we can prepare ourselves for them by using every opportunity to get to know our God. As we meditate and memorize His Word we have tools when live gets hard.  Take advantage of the good times to get to know your God better so you can be equipped and prepared when the storms of life hit.

  1. Suffering proves we are children of God.

According to Hebrews 12:5-8, God disciplines His children, and not coincidentally another word for discipline is trials. God disciplines those He loves. Parents who love their children discipline them and allow them to suffer the consequences of their actions so they will learn. God brings difficulty into our lives to teach us and shape us.

Also, as believers we have the privilege of believing in Christ and suffering for His sake (Philippians 1:29).

  1. God is not the author of suffering, but He allows it (Job 1-2).

While Satan is the author of evil, mankind chose suffering by falling into sin in the Garden of Eden. Many people shake their firsts at God or wonder why a good God could allow such horrific suffering in the world. Perhaps we need to point the finger at ourselves. We suffer because we live in a sin-soaked controlled by the enemy of our souls.

Think about the life of Job. God allowed Satan to cause Job to suffer. He didn’t author Job’s suffering, but He allowed it.

Even if we understand that God is not the author of suffering, it is sometimes still difficult to accept that He has allowed the painful circumstance to come into our lives, because then we realize He could have stopped it from happening. However a belief in a good God quickly concludes He can use it for His glory and our good.

  1. God’s character remains the same, regardless of our circumstances.

Hebrews 13:8 says Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and forever. What you believe about God is so important, especially during trials. When life gets hard we are most tempted to doubt God’s goodness. How could a good God allow such a horrific thing? We doubt His sovereignty. God must be powerless to stop this. Or we doubt His love. God doesn’t care about me. Or perhaps we doubt His presence. Where is God in all of this?

Most people make one of two conclusions about God when trials come. Either God is powerless to stop this (doubt His ability) or God mustn’t be good (doubt His character).

But what if God wants to reveal Himself to us in new and deeper ways through the hard things He’s allowed into our lives? What if He wants to prove to us that He will never leave us? What if He wants to make us realize that He is so faithful?

  1. Things are not as they seem.

Second Corinthians 4:16-18 describes our affliction as light and momentary. Of course it certainly doesn’t feel that way, but in view of eternity it is. How long will you have to suffer? Just a little while longer. In the midst of difficult times, our focus should be on the things unseen, specifically on what God is doing in and through the suffering.

Things are not as they seem. God is doing a work in and through you in the midst of your suffering. He has a far greater purpose than you can even imagine. We have to realize that what we can see and hear and touch is not the whole story.

 

Ezra 7:10 and the Counselor

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Faithful counselors are conscientious; they exercise great care in guiding others with the Word of God. Additionally, they seek to listen well, speak truth graciously, and rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish His transforming work in the hearts and minds of those whom they help. However, as admirable as all of this is, the neglect of our own obedience is a real danger. It is possible to go through the motions, teaching what we know is good counsel while at the same time failing to consider the relationship that our own personal Bible study and daily walk with the Lord have upon the effectiveness of our ministry. For this reason, I’d like us to ponder one simple verse hidden away in one of the books of the Minor Prophets. Ezra 7:10 reads, “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”

To continue reading, click here.

How to Talk About Sin in a Postmodern Age

How to Talk About Sin in a Postmodern Age

When I first began reading through the Bible I looked for some unifying themes. I concluded that there are many, and that if we make one theme the theme (such as “covenant” or “kingdom”), we run the danger of reductionism.

However, one of the main ways to read the Bible is as the ages-long struggle between true faith and idolatry. In the beginning, human beings were made to worship and serve God, and to rule over all created things in Godʼs name (Gen. 1:26­–28). Paul understands humanityʼs original sin as an act of idolatry: “They exchanged the glory of the immortal God . . . and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:21–25). Instead of living for God, we began to live for ourselves, or for our work, or for material goods. We reversed the original intended order.

And when we began to worship and serve created things, paradoxically, the created things came to rule over us.

Instead of being Godʼs vice-regents, ruling over creation, creation now masters us. We are subject to decay and disease and disaster. The final proof of this is death itself. We live for our own glory by toiling in the dust, but eventually we return to the dust—the dust “wins” (Gen. 3:17–19). We live to make a name for ourselves, but our names are forgotten.

Here in the beginning of the Bible we learn that idolatry means slavery and death.

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“Jesus is Better” – But is that Practical?

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Sometimes the roots of a problem extend far deeper than what we first might think. When a person comes to you as a Biblical Counselor, it might be easy to identify the solution to their problem. But what if there is something far deeper than the apparent anxiety or fear or idolatry? If this is the case, trite answers will not reach the destructive roots that  over years have permeated every area of life. How can we address root issues? How can we be more practical in our help?

In his article “Jesus is Better” – But is that Practical? Kim Kira suggests “we need to think more deeply about a person’s idolatry, so that we can more particularly and more practically demonstrate Jesus as supreme.” 

Biblical counselors often refer to this as the difference between ‘dispensing truth’ and ‘ministering truth’. Click here to keep reading: “Jesus is Better” – But is that Practical?

Helping Those Who Are Angry With God

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When life doesn’t go as planned – or worse yet, when life completely crumbles – people often become angry with God. They shake their fists at an all-loving, all-powerful God, disillusioned by the fact that He could have prevented this trial – and yet He didn’t.

As biblical counselors, we come across this situation frequently. How to you counsel someone who is angry at God?

David Powlison speaks wisely to this. Helping Those Who Are Angry With God

God’s Word is Relevant

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In the previous post a case was made for the relevancy of God’s Word: “Although penned thousands of years ago, the Bible is completely relevant to life today because it is a living book (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Its wisdom is timeless, it’s details accurate, and it’s message current.”

But sometimes we need examples to help us span the centuries between the original parchments and today’s Bible we access on our smart phones. Although the text has been preserved, we wonder how wisdom and encouragement penned thousands of years ago can be relevant to today’s issues. There seems to be a world of difference, and yet God’s truths are eternal.

Celebrity Culture in the Church

In his second letter to the Corinthians (what we call 1 Corinthians), Paul addressed division in the church at Corinth. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, these New Testament believers were dividing over the same issue many Christians do today. Paul says, “For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying,”I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.”” (1 Cor. 1:11-12). The early believers were aligning themselves with their favourite teachers. Some preferred Paul, some Apollos, and others Cephas (Peter). But Paul asks them an important question: “Has Christ been divided?” (1 Cor. 1:13). The answer is obvious. Of course not! But we don’t have to think hard to realize that this celebrity culture is flourishing in the church today. People align themselves with their favourite teachers, mega-church pastors, and Christian authors. Certainly we have to be discerning when determining who will influence us in these areas, but when we draw lines and create camps based on current Christian celebrities, we are headed down a very destructive path. Christ has not been divided, and neither should we. As divisions over celebrity culture was an issue in the early church as it is today, we rightly conclude that the Scriptures are relevant.

Anxiety

Chronic anxiety is rampant in our culture, and the ancient Scriptures have much to teach us about how to handle anxiety. In Philippians 4:6-7 Paul said, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Obviously the believers in Philippi needed to be reminded about what to do with their anxiety, and the answer is the same today as it was then – turn your worries into prayers! Again, we see the relevancy of Scripture.

Materialism

Very few would argue that the pursuit of material possessions is common to our present North American culture. Many families go to great lengths in time, energy, and money to have the biggest homes, the latest fashions, and the most exciting vacations. In fact, we are weary from all our striving to keep up with the Jones’. Scripture also speaks to this modern-day issue, which apparently is not isolated to our day. In 1 Timothy 6 Paul warns against the ruin and destruction that is inevitable when pursuit of riches is the highest priority. In fact, he says, “Some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim. 6:10). Instead, the Bible tells us to chase contentment. “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Tim. 6:8). Again, Scripture is entirely relevant, written centuries ago, but speaking to today’s issues.

There are many more examples we could cite. The relevancy of God’s Word is astounding, pointing to the eternal nature of its Author. God is able to see the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10) and therefore He had us, as well as future generations, in mind when He inspired the ancient writers to pick up the quill. The truths contained in Scripture are timeless, accurent, and current. Whatever you may be struggling with, the Bible has the answers, because its Author is the Answer.

The Authority, Sufficiency, and Relevancy of God’s Word

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It comes as no surprise that Biblical counselling is rooted in the Bible. No other source of knowledge thoroughly equips us to counsel in ways that transform the human heart (Psalm 19:7-14; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3). As biblical counsellors, we believe God’s word is authoritative, sufficient, and relevant (Isaiah 55:11; Matthew 4:4; Hebrews 4:12-13). As the inspired and inerrant Word of God, on its pages we find comprehensive wisdom for any and every issue of life.

The Authority of God’s Word

God’s Word goes out from His mouth and doesn’t return to Him without accomplishing what He desires (Isaiah 55:11). We accept the Bible as the final authority because it has been authored by the Holy Spirit. The authority of the Bible does not depend on our ability to understand it, but on God, as the highest authority. God’s Word is forever settled in heaven (Psalm 119:89). Scripture is the final authority.

We believe the Bible is authoritative and therefore we place ourselves under its authority in obedience.

The Sufficiency of God’s Word

The human experience is quite varied. Among many others, we journey through times of great joy, dark despair, crippling anxiety, blissful celebration, all-consuming grief, muddled confusion, and paralyzing fear. In all the ups and downs of life, God’s Word is enough. It is able to speak to any and every situation. Psalm 19:7-9 is perhaps the most clear and concise statement about the sufficiency of Scripture. God’s Word is perfect, sure, right, pure, and clean and is therefore able to restore our souls, make us wise, give us joy, and enlighten us. That is why we do not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). Scripture is completely sufficient.

We believe the Bible is sufficient and therefore we turn to it alone to address life’s questions and concerns.

The Relevancy of God’s Word

Although penned thousands of years ago, the Bible is completely relevant to life today because it is a living book (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Its wisdom is timeless, it’s details accurate, and it’s message current.  The Bible fits our culture today as well as it did when the holy writers put pen to parchment. The Bible answers the common questions each generation has faced (e.g. Where did we come from? What is the meaning of life? Why is there suffering in the world? What happens after we die?), and offers comfort and hope to every generation. Scripture is entirely relevant.

We believe the Bible is relevant and therefore we engage with it as a living and active book.

Parenting with a Big Gospel Picture

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Parenting is exhausting.  Whether you are a parent of busy pre-schoolers, or a parent of moody teens, the challenges and pitfalls of parenting are many. Beyond providing for their basic needs and keeping track of their schedules, there is the constant pressures of discipline, character development, and training them to be a valuable member of society. As parents, we can easily get lost in the day-to-day responsibilities of parenthood and lose our perspective and our ultimate goal, which is to raise children who love and follow the Lord Jesus Christ.

Counselling parents in crisis can be challenging as well. Paul Tripp has been an influential voice on the topic of parenting for years. In an article for The Gospel Coalition, he reminds us to continue parenting and counseling parents to fulfill their duties to their children with a big gospel picture in mind.

“Your calling as a mom or dad is to ‘do everything within your power, as an instrument in the hands of the Redeemer who has employed you, to woo, encourage, call, and train your children to willingly and joyfully live as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ’. Nothing matters more.” -Paul Tripp

To read more click below:
Parenting With a Big Gospel Picture

Three Essential Truths to Remember When Someone Rejects your Counsel

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You know the saying, You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Sadly it’s true among people as well.

In a perfect world, all of our wise advice would be accepted wholeheartedly, both in formal counseling situations and in informal conversations. But we know this is not always the case. There are times when loving, sensible advice is rejected and a counselee continues on the path to destruction.

What do you do when a person seems unteachable? Colin Mattoon explains…
Three Essential Truths to Remember When Someone Rejects Your Counsel

Fear and the Gospel

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Fear is a common experience to humanity, ranging in severity from mild panic to all-consuming, debilitating terror, with of course many degrees in between. In many cases, a fear response can be completely justified because there are definitely frightening situations in life that inevitably produce fear. But again and again Scripture instructs us not to be afraid. The command ‘do not fear’ is repeated over three hundred times in the Bible.

Therefore, in the midst of terrifying situations, there must be a way to dispel fear and walk in faith. While it’s possible for all-consuming circumstantial fear to be replaced with the reverential fear of God, change may not be easy. How does the gospel, through the ministry life, death, and resurrection of Christ, affect our fears? Jeff Forrey’s three-part article speaks to how the gospel transforms our fears.

How the Gospel Transforms our Fears Part 1

How the Gospel Transforms our Fears Part 2

How the Gospel Transforms our Fears Part 3