This summer, on Tuesdays at 7 pm in the BCM (starting May 14), we are going through a study on the final words of Jesus to His disciples before being arrested. These final instructions come primarily in John 14 - 16. These chapters have always captured my attention not simply because they are the final words of Jesus as He heads toward His ultimate goal of the cross but also because perhaps nowhere else in Scripture do we see the love He has for His disciples in His own words than here. Jesus begins chapter 14 with these words: "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me." He ends chapter 16 with these words: "But take heart; I have overcome the world." It is no mistake that Jesus begins and ends with such encouragement, especially because He is about to head to the cross and the disciples will not understand. I know I face situations often where I need such encouraging words from Jesus and I am certain you do too. Just watch the news: political scandal in Benghazi, an abortion doctor on trial for unthinkable atrocities, unrest in the Middle East, economic crisis, three girls who faced ten years of nightmare after being kidnapped and finally found in Ohio, etc. If we believe that the world around us is going to make sense, we have another thing coming. Our only hope is not in government or our own strength but in who God is even when we don't understand why things are allowed to happen the way they are. Take heart, He has overcome the world.
For more information, check out: Kostenberger, Andreas E. John. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004.
I am lucky when I can remember a dream I have from the night before although I guess I am equally lucky when I can forget a nightmare. Normally, however, my dreams are the kind that don't make much sense but they're not eventful enough to care to remember, no matter how strange they might be. I've heard other people who have had dreams about God and Satan, angels and demons but I've never had anything like that. I've only had one dream that was close and it was more like a scene out of "Paranormal Activity" than what I would consider spiritual warfare...that was until this past week.
You know how dreams begin like you have walked into the middle of a movie, not really knowing the context? Well, it was just like this but, of course, in dreams, this does not matter. I found myself in a heated debate face to face with Satan. No, he wasn't the guy in the red suit with a pointy tail and a pitchfork like he has been portrayed in comics. He was a normal looking guy. I found myself bombarding him with reminders that he had lost the war against God: "You're done, man. It's over for you. Jesus rose from the dead and that settles it. It's only a matter of time for you and that time is running out." It was as if Satan had attacked me with something and this reminder of victory was my defense. He quickly moved to another strategy which would have made Screwtape proud or even any skeptic of Christianity: "How can you worship and serve a God who allows so much suffering in the world?" My thoughts quickly raced over the suffering I have seen in the world. I even thought of how many times I have watched my 6 week old daughter crying out in pain from colic and became angry because of how unfair it seems to be. Beyond that, I thought of how many children suffer so much more and other tragedies around the world from natural disasters to diseases. I looked at Satan and replied, "To be honest, it is very difficult. I don't have an easy answer. I certainly do not understand why He allows such suffering but what I do know is that I trust God and know that He keeps His promises even when I don't understand. If He died for us, how much more does He need to do to prove His love for us?" For a brief few seconds, I saw what appeared to be "sympathy from the devil," a twist on the old Rolling Stones song. It was as if the truth hit him for a few seconds and then I woke up.
Even as I type this, I am listening to the reports of a two-mile wide tornado that swept through Moore, OK, leaving ultimate devastation behind and we are just hearing the beginning of this horrific event. I don't understand why God allows suffering. I don't even know why I had such an encounter with Satan in my dreams. Perhaps this is an example of the spiritual warfare we see in Daniel 10 and Ephesians 6. Although I don't have the answers to all of the "why" questions and I am not often prepared for spiritual warfare, the one thing I can always go back to is that in the end, Jesus wins. The victory was decided on the cross and in the empty tomb. God's love for us was demonstrated there as well so that we can trust Him...even in the midst of suffering. It is much easier to say this outside the storm than in the midst of it but as Peter said, "Lord, to whom else can we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68).
Five years waiting intentionally...five years waiting unintentionally. This has been our story concerning children of our own. This past week, I was reading in 1 Samuel 1 where Hannah prayed for a child and despite the ridicule of others, there seemed to be no answer. All hope seemed lost until verse 19 where it says, "And the Lord remembered her." This phrase really stood out to me because as my wife and I had been praying for years for children but seemed like we were getting no answer to our prayers. I remember having read and reflected on Hannah's account as well as several others where barrenness appeared in Scripture and God pulled through, thinking it would be awesome if God would answer our prayers. I came to a point where I realized that children may not be God's answer for Tiffany and me and was learning to cope with that. God's answer is not always our answer and His timing is almost never our timing. As I was reading this passage in 1 Samuel 1 this week, after holding our 3 week old Lila, the phrase jumped off the page at me again: "And the Lord remembered her." I immediately took a dry erase marker and wrote on the bathroom mirror where Tiffany gets ready in the morning and where she probably looked at herself many times and asked the "why" question in regards to barrenness. I wrote this simple yet profound phrase on the mirror to remind Tiffany and me of God's faithfulness: "And the Lord remembered her." Each time Tiffany goes to that mirror or I see that mirror with the phrase written on it, we thank God through tear-filled eyes for remembering our prayers over the years and ask Him to give us wisdom to raise Lila in a way that is pleasing to Him. You may be struggling with something right now that God does not seem to answer but He has an answer and will give it in His timing, even if it is not always the answer we want. It is a powerful thing to be remembered by the Almighty God.
These are some slides from our Summer Bible Study 2012 on the Book of Daniel for those of you who were a part of it and for those of you who should have been a part of it...just kidding. Anyway, Daniel is probably my favorite OT book and we enjoyed studying how to live for our sovereign God in a culture radically opposed to Him.