Accepting “No” as God’s Will

Does God ever say no? This has forever been a timely question. One that Christians have wrestled through for years. One that Christians have also come to many different conclusions on. Below I believe R.C. Sproul communicates one of the healthiest thoughts on this issue. This article was found on Ligonier Ministries.

I am astonished that, in the light of the clear biblical record, anyone would have the audacity to suggest that it is wrong for the afflicted in body or soul to couch their prayers for deliverance in terms of “If it be thy will….” We are told that when affliction comes, God always wills healing, that He has nothing to do with suffering, and that all we must do is claim the answer we seek by faith. We are exhorted to claim God’s yes before He speaks it.

Away with such distortions of biblical faith! They are conceived in the mind of the Tempter, who would seduce us into exchanging faith for magic. No amount of pious verbiage can transform such falsehood into sound doctrine. We must accept the fact that God sometimes says no. Sometimes He calls us to suffer and die even if we want to claim the contrary.

Never did a man pray more earnestly than Christ prayed in Gethsemane. Who will charge Jesus with failure to pray in faith? He put His request before the Father with sweat like blood: “Take this cup away from me.” This prayer was straightforward and without ambiguity—Jesus was crying out for relief. He asked for the horribly bitter cup to be removed. Every ounce of His humanity shrank from the cup. He begged the Father to relieve Him of His duty.

But God said no. The way of suffering was the Father’s plan. It was the Father’s will. The cross was not Satan’s idea. The passion of Christ was not the result of human contingency. It was not the accidental contrivance of Caiaphas, Herod, or Pilate. The cup was prepared, delivered, and administered by almighty God.

Jesus qualified His prayer: “If it is Your will….” Jesus did not “name it and claim it.” He knew His Father well enough to understand that it might not be His will to remove the cup. So the story does not end with the words, “And the Father repented of the evil He had planned, removed the cup, and Jesus lived happily ever after.” Such words border on blasphemy. The gospel is not a fairy tale. The Father would not negotiate the cup. Jesus was called to drink it to its last dregs. And He accepted it. “Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

This “nevertheless” was the supreme prayer of faith. The prayer of faith is not a demand that we place on God. It is not a presumption of a granted request. The authentic prayer of faith is one that models Jesus’ prayer. It is always uttered in a spirit of subordination. In all our prayers, we must let God be God. No one tells the Father what to do, not even the Son. Prayers are always to be requests made in humility and submission to the Father’s will.

The prayer of faith is a prayer of trust. The very essence of faith is trust. We trust that God knows what is best. The spirit of trust includes a willingness to do what the Father wants us to do. Christ embodied that kind of trust in Gethsemane. Though the text is not explicit, it is clear that Jesus left the garden with the Father’s answer to His plea. There was no cursing or bitterness. His meat and His drink were to do the Father’s will. Once the Father said no, it was settled. Jesus prepared Himself for the cross.

This excerpt is taken from Surprised by Suffering by R.C. Sproul.

These moments…

These moments are what we pray and strive for as believers. These moments are why I have done what I have for the last ten years. It should be the fervent prayer of the believer that not only God would use us as mentors for the lost we interact with, but as He captures their heart with His grace that He would begin forming a relationship that would blossom into a family bond with Christ at the center. A friendship that would allow us to walk through all of life’s struggles and milestones with them. Nicole and I have had the unmerited privilege of watching Brianna O’Donnell (now Moreland) grow from a young teenager – trying to figure life out- into a beautiful young lady who loves Jesus passionately, and now loves her husband unconditionally.

It was indeed one of the biggest honors of the last ten years of my life to play such a special part in this day. I was the officiant and Nicole was the Maid of Honor! Brianna is no longer a spunky teenager, but a beautiful sister in Christ.

I want to take this minute to encourage everyone today. Committing to Gospel-centered relationships are worth it. Not everyone we interact with will come to know the Grace of Jesus Christ, but when those who do kneel down next to you – before Him – declaring Him Lord an Savior, there indeed is nothing sweeter. Stay the course. He is faithful and just!

Daily Wisdom from Proverbs for 1 Year

Join me this year as I (Stephen) read through Crossway’s one-year reading plan for Proverbs.

Just a Few Verses Per Day

The book of Proverbs is a unique and treasured part of the Bible, rich with timeless wisdom. It is meant to be read slowly and meditatively, yet most reading plans require whole chapters of reading at a time.

© 2018 Crossway. All Rights Reserved.

This reading plan leads you to open up space and time to absorb the truths of Scripture at a slower pace. Read through the book of Proverbs in a year—a few verses per day—with this 365-day plan.

What does it really mean to be #blessed?

I came across this great little article from Vaneetha Rendall Risner at Desiring God. Veneetha offers us a healthier understanding of the word Blessed from the Bible.

Feeling blessed is in vogue. 

A quick look at Facebook and Twitter shows how many people today feel #blessed. In our social-media world, saying you’re blessed can be a way of boasting while trying to sound humble. 

College scholarship? #Blessed. Unexpected raise? #Blessed. Wonderful family? #Blessed.

As Christians we use that term too, of course. We pray God will bless our family. We attribute our undeserved gifts to “God’s blessings.” We talk about ministries being blessed. But what does it really mean? How should we understand the blessing of God? 

The Good Life

For believers, is the blessed life synonymous with the successful life? Is it the Christian version of the good life? A loving marriage, obedient children, a vibrant ministry, a healthy body, a successful career, trusted friends, financial abundance — if these are the characteristics of a blessed life, then having all of them should translate into an extraordinarily blessed life.

But does it? If someone had all those things, would they be extraordinarily blessed? 

Rather than turning to God, they might feel self-sufficient and proud. Perhaps a bit smug and self-righteous. After all, their hard work would be yielding good fruit.

Moreover, they wouldn’t need to cry out to God for deliverance; everything would already be perfect. They wouldn’t need to trust God; they could trust in themselves. They wouldn’t need God to fill them; they would already be satisfied.

God’s Richest Blessings

My desire for God is greatly fueled by my need. And it is in the areas of loss where I feel my need most intensely. Unmet desires keep me on my knees. Deepen my prayer life. Make me ransack the Bible for God’s promises.

Earthly blessings are temporary; they can all be taken away. Job’s blessings all disappeared in one fateful day. I, too, had a comfortable life that was stripped away within a span of weeks. My marriage dissolved. My children rebelled. My health spiraled downward. My family fell apart. My dreams were shattered. 

And yet, in the midst of those painful events, I experienced God’s richest blessings. A stronger faith than I had experienced before. A deeper love than I had ever known. A more intimate walk than I could explain. My trials grounded my faith in ways that prosperity and abundance never could.

While my trials were not blessings in themselves, they were channels for them. As Laura Story asks in her song “Blessings,” “What if your blessings come through rain drops? What if trials of this life — the rain, the storms, the hardest nights — are your mercies in disguise?”

This revolutionary idea of blessing is also firmly established in Scripture.

The Common Thread

One translation of the New Testament (ESV) has 112 references with the words bless, blessing, or blessed, none of which connects blessing to material prosperity. Consider these passages:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit. . . . Blessed are those who mourn. . . . Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake . . . Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:3–410–11)

“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28)

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven. (Romans 4:7; quoting Psalm 32:1)

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial. (James 1:12)

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. . . . Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Revelation 14:1319:9)

There is no hint of material prosperity or perfect circumstances in any New Testament reference. On the contrary, blessing is typically connected with either poverty and trial or the spiritual benefits of being joined by faith to Jesus. 

According to the Key-Word Study Bible, “The Greek word translated blessed in these passages is makarioi which means to be fully satisfied. It refers to those receiving God’s favor, regardless of the circumstances” (emphasis added).

What is blessing, then? Scripture shows that blessing is anything God gives that makes us fully satisfied in him. Anything that draws us closer to Jesus. Anything that helps us relinquish the temporal and hold on more tightly to the eternal. And often it is the struggles and trials, the aching disappointments and the unfulfilled longings that best enable us to do that. 

Truly Blessed

Pain and loss transform us. While they sometimes unravel us, they can also push us to a deeper life with God than we ever thought possible. They make us rest in God alone. Not what we can do or achieve for him. And not what he can do or achieve for us. 

In pain and loss, we long for Presence. We long to know that God is for us and with us and in us. Great families, financial wealth, and good health are all wonderful gifts we can thank God for, but they are not his greatest blessings. They may make us delight, not in God, but in his gifts.

God’s greatest blessing always rests in God himself. When we have that, we are truly #blessed.

A Christmas Message from Stephen

Good morning church family, as the sun rises and light dawns on this beautiful Christmas morning, I want to encourage you to be mindful of the TRUE light that has dawned today. Around 2000 years ago God became man and dwelt among his dark and lost creation in order to expose its sin and restore a way to Him. Christmas is indeed about presents, but not so much about the ones wrapped under our tree this morning. Instead, the one lying in a manger. Jesus is the greatest gift the world has ever received because without Him we remain lost in our darkness with no hope of lighting our way back to our creator. My challenge for all of you today is to think of ways to thanks Him for this gift. Ultimately I pray that you receive it. It’s free!

Tim Keller in his book Hidden Christmas says, “Some gifts by their very nature make you swallow your pride. Imagine opening a present on Christmas morning from a friend—and it’s a dieting book. Then you take off another ribbon and wrapper and you find it is another book from another friend, Overcoming Selfishness. If you say to them, ‘Thank you so much,’ you are in a sense admitting, ‘For indeed I am fat and obnoxious.’ In other words, some gifts are hard to receive, because to do so is to admit you have flaws and weaknesses and you need help.”

There has never been a gift that makes us swallow our pride to the depth that the gift of Jesus Christ requires us to do. As I mentioned, when light shines into the dark place it exposes the yuck, it brings to light the truth of who we are, and that is humbling. But that is the point.

Embracing the gift of light that Jesus is to us this morning means admitting that we are lost in the darkness of our sin and that we are unable to dispel it on our own. We need a light to dawn for us; we need a Savior.

When Jesus turned 33 and was arrested, beaten and nailed to a cross. It says that the moment he died and the wrath of God was placed on him that darkness fell over the land. At that moment the Light of the world descended into the darkness to bring us into His glorious light forever; if we would receive it.

This world will forever suffocate in darkness until we can first admit that the light of his unmerited grace in your life is the only thing that will dispel the dark completely.

Don’t merely enjoy Jesus today, worship him as thee light of the world.

What does the X in Xmas mean?

This has been a question I have wanted to address for many years, so when I came across this blog post by R.C. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries, I had to share it. Please enjoy this read. I’m praying it changes your perspective and maybe even causes you to apologize for how you’ve responded to this in the past.

What does the X in Xmas mean?

The X in Christmas is used like the R in R.C. My given name at birth was Robert Charles, although before I was even taken home from the hospital, my parents called me by my initials, R.C., and nobody seems to be too scandalized by that.

X can mean so many things. For example, when we want to denote an unknown quantity, we use the symbol X. It can refer to an obscene level of films, something that is X-rated. People seem to express chagrin about seeing Christ’s name dropped and replaced by this symbol for an unknown quantity X. Every year you see the signs and the bumper stickers saying, “Put Christ back into Christmas” as a response to this substitution of the letter X for the name of Christ.

There’s no X in Christmas

First of all, you have to understand that it is not the letter X that is put into Christmas. We see the English letter X there, but actually what it involves is the first letter of the Greek name for Christ. Christos is the New Testament Greek for Christ. The first letter of the Greek word Christos is transliterated into our alphabet as an X. That X has come through church history to be a shorthand symbol for the name of Christ.

We don’t see people protesting the use of the Greek letter theta, which is an O with a line across the middle. We use that as a shorthand abbreviation for God because it is the first letter of the word Theos, the Greek word for God.

X has a long and sacred history

The idea of X as an abbreviation for the name of Christ came into use in our culture with no intent to show any disrespect for Jesus. The church has used the symbol of the fish historically because it is an acronym. Fish in Greek (ichthus) involved the use of the first letters for the Greek phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” So the early Christians would take the first letter of those words and put those letters together to spell the Greek word for fish. That’s how the symbol of the fish became the universal symbol of Christendom. There’s a long and sacred history of the use of X to symbolize the name of Christ, and from its origin, it has meant no disrespect.

Family Discipleship in Community Groups

I was perusing the internet and was deeply encouraged by how the Village Church in Texas incorporate young children and families into their Community Group structures. It is similar to the vision that we share in the sense that we want to include the whole family, but they also take it an extra step in the healthy direction. Check out this video!

Look at the Book: For God so loved the world

This video is from John Piper’s Desiring God website.

Soldiers take bullets for one another. Parents sacrifice daily for their kids. But who would die for their enemies? In this lab, John Piper reminds us that God did.

Some questions to ask as you read and study John 3:16:

  1. Do you believe God loves you? What makes you believe this on your best and worst days?
  2. According to John 3:16, in what way did God love the world? Do you feel loved by this day-to-day? Why or why not?
  3. What was the most refreshing reminder for you in this lab? Who can you share that with?

Recommended Reading

Doctrine by Mark Driscoll

If you were interested in what Stephen talked about in today’s message regarding Jesus being fully God and fully man, this is a very practical read that explains this concept further in one of its chapters. It’s worth purchasing.

Doctrine is the word Christians use to define the truth-claims revealed in Holy Scripture. Of course there is a multitude of churches, church networks, and denominations, each with their own doctrinal statement with many points of disagreement. But while Christians disagree on a number of doctrines, there are key elements that cannot be denied by anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus.

In Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe, Driscoll and Breshears teach thirteen of these key elements. This meaty yet readable overview of basic doctrine will help Christians clarify and articulate their beliefs in accordance with the Bible.

View on Amazon

The first Advent Candle: Hope

On Sunday we lit our first Advent candle which represented Hope. Here is a little video from the Bible Project that explains that word in more detail.

In the Bible people who have hope are very different from optimists! In this video, we’ll explore how biblical hope looks to God’s character alone as a basis for trusting that the future will be better than the present.

More information on The Bible Project here

My Prayer for John Chau

In the wake of missionary John Chau’s death on November 17, 2018, at the hands of North Sentinel Islanders, my prayer is that God would do it again. Not the death of another man of course but the regeneration of another remote tribe in this world for the Glory of God. On November 20, 1839, missionary John Williams and James Harris arrived on the shore of the remote Erronmango Island with the conviction to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to this group of people, only to be attacked with clubs, killed and then eaten by the Islanders as part of a sacred ritual. Little did Williams and Harris know that some weeks before their arrival an Austrailian sandalwood trader had brutally murdered two boys from the tribe, forcing the tribe to resort to violence against any Westerners. However 20 years later this same tribe was visited by other Christian missionaries who were able to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with them successfully, and today the Erronmango Tribe continues to identify itself as a Christian nation.

See the BBC’s report on this story:

So my prayer today is that God would do it again; that He would use the death of John Chau to convict the hearts of the Sentinel Islanders, to ultimately show them the error of their way and bring them to the life-transforming news of Jesus Christ. My prayer is that five, ten, twenty or even forty years from now the Sentinal Islanders would also declare themselves a Christian nation. But, too, I pray that he would use the passion John Chau had for the glory of God, to stir new desires in believers all over this world to continue to go to the ends of the earth with the life-transforming grace of Jesus Christ. Only the message of Jesus can definitively transform hearts. Hours before John Chau died he wrote these words, “I hope this isn’t one of my last notes but if it is ‘to God be the Glory.'”

Ultimately we don’t know what God is doing here, but may our prayers be that he would do it again. God will you use one man’s death to transform a tribe, a nation, a world for your glory.