Freedom and Morality

God’s Ministry of Rest

January 30, 2014 – God’s Ministry of Rest

Moses had no small task ahead of him. He had led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt, but now he had the overwhelming responsibility of leading them through the wilderness to the Promised Land. God would guide them with a cloud by day and fire by night, and He would supply manna from Heaven for their nourishment. But the desert was stark and there were no modern-day camping accommodations for five million people who would eventually wander the desert for forty years! Realizing the enormity of the task, Moses had two requests of God; “Who is going with me and let me know your ways?” Those may be the two most-important issues concerning every Christian’s journey. “The Lord replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest’” (Exodus 33:14).

Guiding five million complaining people across a barren desert for forty years is not anybody’s idea of a rest. The only way to evaluate the quality of a rest is to determine how one feels at the end. It was said of Moses forty years later when he looked into the Promised Land. “Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone” (Deuteronomy 34:7). God gave Moses rest! Biblical rest is neither a cessation of labor nor the abdication of responsibility. Biblical rest is living God’s way by faith empowered by His presence. The alternative to Biblical rest is living our way in our own strength, which leads to burnout.

Under the Old Covenant, God provided rest for His people by setting aside one day per week. Even the land was to lie dormant every seventh year. This need for rest is still necessary for our bodies, but the Law was a shadow of something far greater to come. In Christ we find rest for our souls. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus is inviting us to come to His presence and learn from Him. We will find rest for our souls, because His ways are not hard and His burden is light (see Matthew 11:29-30).

“Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached to us . . . Now we who have believed enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:1-3). God’s work is finished and we have the privilege to rest in the finished work of Christ. “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:9-11).

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

God’s Ministry of Darkness

January 29, 2014 – God’s Ministry of Darkness

According to Isaiah 50:10,11; obedient servants who fear the Lord may find themselves walking in darkness. Isaiah is not talking about the darkness of sin; he is talking about the darkness of uncertainty. In the light you know who your friends and enemies are and the path before you is clear as well as the obstacles. It is easy to walk in the light, but in the dark, every natural instinct says sit down or drop out.

God called Abraham out of Ur to the Promised Land and there He made a covenant with him (Genesis 12). God said He would multiply Abraham’s descendants as the stars of the sky and the sands of the sea. So he proceeded to live as though God’s Word was true, but then came years of darkness. So many years went by that Abraham’s barren wife matured beyond the means of natural childbirth. So Abraham thought he would help God fulfill (keep) His covenant by creating his own light. Sari, his wife, supplied the match by encouraging Abraham to go into Hagar, her maidservant (Genesis 16:1-9). That act of adultery resulted in two races of people, Arab and Jew, and to this day the whole world lies down in torment.

The natural tendency during these times of darkness, when we don’t see it God’s way, is to do it our way. According to Isaiah, when we create our own light, God allows it, and misery follows it. While other innocent babies were being slaughtered, God ensured the safety and protection of Moses. God’s plan was to use Moses to set His people free. Years later, Moses sensed the call of God and felt the burden for his people. He pulled out his sword, killed a man and was exiled to the backside of the desert. Moses walked in darkness for forty years before God turned on the light in the form of a burning bush.

During these times of darkness and doubt, Isaiah admonishes us to keep on walking by faith in the light of previous revelation. Never doubt in darkness what God has clearly shown in the light, and be mindful that is often the darkest before the dawn. When you are inclined to believe the night will never end, consider the words of Isaiah: “Someone calls to me from Seir, ‘Watchman, what is left of the night? Watchman, what is left of the night?’ The watchman says, ‘Morning is coming, but also the night’” (Isaiah 21:11). No matter how dark the night or how despairing the circumstances, morning comes. When the temptation to create your own light is overwhelming just hold on to the truth that this too will pass. Avoid making major decisions when you are emotionally down. Disastrous choices are made by those who don’t wait upon the Lord.

God’s ministry of darkness is a lesson in trust. We learn to rely on Him during the hard times. Thank God for the mountain top experiences, but growth takes place in the valleys.

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

Suffering Draws Us Closer To God

January 28, 2014 – Suffering Draws Us Closer To God

Our love for God is compromised when we love the things of this world. Suffering helps to strip away any pretense in our relationship with God. It weans us from all that is not God so that we might learn to love our Heavenly Father for who He is. Augustine said, “God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full – there’s nowhere for him to put it.” Suffering empties our hands so that God can give us the true treasure of life. God knows that the joy of life can only be found in Him. But we may not seek Him as long as we think happiness can be found another way. If our own natural life remains pleasant, there is no felt reason to surrender it. Suffering makes our own natural lives less agreeable.

We live in a world of moral conflict. The battle between good and evil has brought a suffering that even God shares. He suffers because of what sin has done to His creation. Isaiah said, “In all their distress he too was distressed” (Isaiah 63:9). This reality of evil and the true nature of God’s love for us would not be known except through the experience of suffering. The only way in which moral evil can enter into the consciousness of the morally good, is as suffering. A person who is both evil and happy has no understanding that his actions are not in accord with the moral laws of the universe.

Suffering has a way of binding people together. It provides opportunity for us to minister to each other. Such ministry serves to bring people together and promotes unity among believers and that is what Jesus is praying for (John 17:21). “The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (1 Corinthians 1:3,4). In the midst of any suffering, we first need to believe that God is always in control of our suffering. We may never know the full reasons for all the sufferings we endure, but we know that God will use our sufferings for our good and His. God always has a purpose for what He does and allows. Second, God always has a limit on the amount of suffering He allows for each of us. For instance, Satan could not touch Job’s life. Some saints like Job and Paul obviously have broader shoulders that enable them to suffer more for righteousness sake. Third, God’s presence will enable us to withstand the pressure of suffering if we turn to Him. If we cast our cares on Him, He will sustain us (Psalm 55:22), but He may not remove the suffering until His perfect will is accomplished. The will of God will not take us where the grace of God cannot sustain us.

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

Suffering Builds Character

January 27, 2014 – Suffering Builds Character

Physical pain is necessary for our survival. If you could not feel pain, your body would be covered with scars. Emotional pain is just another form of suffering and necessary for our growth in Christ. Physical, mental and emotional pain need to be acknowledged and corrective steps taken, or our survival chances are going to decrease. Suffering will certainly get our attention as it should. Small trials often make us beside ourselves, but great trials bring us back to ourselves.

Jesus, being fully God and fully human, was the perfect model for enduring suffering. Apart from the suffering He underwent to pay the consequences of our sin, suffering produced something in His own human life. Scripture says He was made perfect through suffering (Hebrews 2:9,10). “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). These verses do not suggest that Jesus was disobedient or sinful. Rather they refer to His growth from infancy to adulthood when he took upon the form of a man. His growth experience through suffering made Him a compassionate High Priest who could identify with and come to the aid of suffering people. While suffering Christ modeled obedience to our Heavenly Father regardless of the cost. In His humanity Jesus learned the chain of moral values that develop as a result of adversity. “Because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3)

The process of putting off the old self is painful, because denying ourselves is not easy and there is no painless way to die. To surrender our right to self-govern, which we have stubbornly claimed as our right, is a painful process. Growth pains are an inevitable part of life. Your prayers are heard by your loving Father, but they may not be answered the way you thought as the unknown author of this poem illustrates:

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve; I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey. I asked for health, that I might do greater things; I was given infirmity, that I might do better things. I asked for riches, that I might be happy; I was given poverty, that I might be wise. I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men; I was given weakness, that I might feel the need for God. I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life; I was given life, that I might enjoy all things. I got nothing I asked for; but everything I had hoped for. Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am, among all men, most richly blessed!

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

Suffering for the Sake of Righteousness

January 24, 2014 – Suffering For the Sake Righteousness

Suffering is commonly understood as the consequence of our own sin or the sin of others, which God allows it for the perfecting of our faith. When David sinned, he felt the heavy hand of God in physical and mental suffering (Psalm 32:3-5). Job’s three friends believed (falsely) that he was suffering because he had done something wrong. But God allowed Job to suffer at the hands of Satan, because he was a righteous man (Job 1:8).

Christians have always struggled with the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” That question cannot be fully explained without taking into account the evil influences of Satan and his demons who are actively opposing the will of God. If God and humanity are the only two players, then one or the other will inevitably have to take the blame for all the suffering in this world. That was the conclusion of Job’s wife who responded to his suffering by saying: “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die” (Job 2:9)!

The book of Job begins by Satan asking God, “Does Job fear God for nothing” (Job 1:9)? In other words, “Do the covenant children of God love the Lord because of who He is, or do they love God because of His blessings?” God answered by allowing Job to suffer at the hands of Satan. Job’s three friends were wrong when they kept insisting that Job was suffering because he did something wrong. Job made the error of defending himself. Job’s defense of himself came to an end when God asked, “Who are you to question Me Job, if I am God I have the right to do with your life whatever I want.” Job agreed and “the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before” (Job. 42:10).

Two valuable lessons are learned from Job. First, we have the assurance that God will deliver us and speak to us in our suffering (Job 36:15). Second, we have the assurance that God will make it right in the end. Identifying with Christ in this fallen world will include some suffering for the sake of righteousness. “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). As children of God we share in His inheritance and His sufferings (See Romans 8:17). “For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort flows” (2 Corinthians 1:5).

Peter advised us not to be surprised by the painful trials of suffering, but rather rejoice that we are participating in the suffering of Christ (1 Peter 4:12,13). Don’t assume that others are suffering because they have done something wrong. They may be suffering because they are doing something right. “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (2 Peter 4:19).

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

Commitment to Overcome Depression

January 23, 2014 – Commitment to Overcome Depression

First, commit yourself to complete recovery. The key to any cure is commitment. That means no excuses for not following through nor blaming someone else.

Second, commit yourself to pray first about everything. The tendency of the western world is to seek every possible natural explanation and cure first. Scripture tells us to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. The first thing a Christian does about anything is pray.

Third, seek an intimate relationship with your Heavenly Father. This requires repentance and faith in God. You can resolve your personal and spiritual conflicts by going through the “Steps to Freedom In Christ.” To be mentally healthy, you must have a true understanding of who God is and be rightly related to Him as His child.

Fourth, believe that you are a child of God. The second basic standard for mental health is to have a biblical understanding of who you are in Christ and to know what it means to be a child of God. You cannot consistently feel or behave in a way that is inconsistent with what you believe about yourself.

Fifth, commit your body to God (Rom. 12:1). If the previous four steps do not cure your psychosomatic illness, then consult a medical doctor for a complete physical examination. There are many forms of biological depression that can be diagnosed and treated. Disorders of the endocrine system can produce symptoms of depression. These include the possibility of low blood sugar, malfunctioning pituitary gland, adrenal exhaustion, and the female reproductive system. Work toward a proper balance of nutrition, exercise and diet. At this stage medication may be necessary to cure the body.

Sixth, commit yourself to the renewing of your mind. Mental depression stems from a negative view of yourself, your circumstances, and the future. These negative assessments can only be overcome as we renew our minds (Rom. 12:2) by choosing to believe the truth (Phil. 4:6-9).

Seventh, commit yourself to live responsibly in healthy relationship with others. You don’t feel your way into good behavior, you behave your way into good feeling. Jesus said, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (Jn. 13:17). Schedule physical exercise, plan meaningful activities, and then follow through. You can do all things through Christ (Phil. 4:13).

Eighth, commit yourself to overcome every loss whether real, threatened, or imagined. What is lost does not define you. Solidify your identity in Christ, and choose to become more like Him.

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

Growing Through Trials

January 22, 2014 – Growing Through Trials

In the heat of battle, it pays to stand back and put everything in perspective. Will this matter for eternity? What are the long-term consequences? Where is God, and what is He trying to accomplish? That is what Paul is addressing in Rom. 5:1-5. We have been justified and in the midst of any trial we have access to God. We can look with confidence to the future because we have hope in God. With that in mind, we can rejoice in our sufferings because there is a divine purpose behind them. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). Persevering through trials and tribulations is what develops our character. God’s will for our lives is our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3), and that is accomplished by the forging of our character through perseverance. Hope is the present assurance of that future good. The love of God will never allow us to suffer more than we can endure, and by His grace we can persevere.

Seeing life from a temporal perspective can lead to a false hope. People see their jobs as hopeless so they change jobs, or their marriages as hopeless, so they change spouses, or their churches as hopeless and so they change churches. Paul and James admonish us to stay on course and grow up. There may be legitimate reasons to change jobs or churches, but not if you are abdicating your responsibility to grow up by running away from the pressures of life. You will have to face the same obstacles again, and running away makes the process harder.

Suppose a husband shared with his pastor that his wife just left him. How can the pastor minister hope? Saying, we’ll win her back, is giving a false hope. Neither person has the right or ability to control her. The husband who tries to manipulate, force, or coerce her back, needs to realize that such behavior is probably what caused her to leave in the first place. It would be better for the pastor to say; “If you haven’t made a commitment to be the husband and father that God has called you to be, would you be willing to make that commitment now?” He can’t change her, but he can change himself, and that is by far the best way to win her back. Even if she didn’t come back, he can grow through the crisis and be a better person in the future and that is where his hope lies. The test of our character is determined by what it takes to stop us from becoming the person God created us to be.

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

The Elijah Complex

January 21, 2014 – The Elijah Complex

Elijah was a “man of God.” He had just witnessed the power of God displayed against the prophets of Baal. When Jezebel heard of it, she responded, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them” (1 Kgs 19:2). This incredible man of God was afraid and ran for his life. He left his servant in Beersheba and went a day’s journey into the desert. He ran because he believed a lie, just as any one of us can. Then he cried out in despair, “’I have had enough Lord,’ . . . ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under a tree and fell asleep” (vss. 4,5).

Elijah was exhibiting many of the classic signs of depression. He was afraid, fatigued, felt like a helpless failure, isolated and all alone. That can happen after a mountaintop experience. Brimming with confidence and flushed with victory, Elijah was vulnerable. Confidence in God can easily turn to self-confidence when we let our guard down. God in His mercy prescribed some food and rest for His discouraged warrior. “All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water” (vss. 5,6).

We can become depressed when our electrolytes are depleted and our bodies are malfunctioning for lack of nutrition, as was probably the case for Elijah. God addressed these deficiencies by prescribing food and rest. However, the precipitating cause for Elijah’s depression was not physical. This faithful servant had always been obedient to God, but now the Lord asks him twice, “What are you doing here, Elijah” (vss. 9,13). Elijah responds, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (vs. 10). Elijah ran, because he believed a lie, not because God sent him into the wilderness, and Elijah wasn’t the only one left. There were 7,000 others who had not bowed their knees to Baal (vs. 18).

God was not asking Elijah (or us) to establish His kingdom or bring judgment upon those who did not keep His covenant. He was asking Elijah (and us) to trust Him and follow wherever He leads. He will bring judgment in due time, and establish His kingdom His way, and in His timing. Elijah was assuming sole responsibility for doing it himself and ended up mentally depressed and physically exhausted.

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

Surviving the Crisis

January 20, 2014 – Surviving the Crisis

Since we all experience losses in our lives, we need to learn how to accept what we cannot change and grow through the crisis. How well we handle any crisis is determined by how we process three mental constructs. The first is permanence. The speed of recovery is greatly affected by whether we think the consequences of the crisis will have a short-term or long-term negative affect on us. The loss is permanent, but it doesn’t have to affect us permanently. There is the potential to grow through every crisis. Suppose your new employer is very irritable. It is a short-term problem if you think it is just a passing mood, and it will have little effect on you. But it is a long-term problem if you think the person is always irritable. You can respond to this crisis as follows: “I’m going to ignore him.” That is denial. “I’m going to be irritable back.” That is anger. “I’m going to try appeasing him.” That is bargaining. “I’m stuck with this irritable person whom I can’t change.” That is depressing. “I’m going to quit this job.” That is resignation. “I’m going to love him and learn how to live with him.” That is acceptance.

The second construct is pervasiveness. You will recover slowly if you think your whole life is ruined. If you experience one loss-you are not a loser. If you fail to accomplish one goal-you are not a failure. If you get laid off at work-you are not unemployable. It is natural to grieve for what we have lost and it is an important part of the recovery process. However, a prolonged depression due to losses signifies an over attachment to people, places, and things that we have no right or ability to control. The martyred missionary, Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.”

The third mental construct is personalization. Blaming yourself for every loss will keep you in a rut. If you experience loss in one area, don’t generalize it into a total crisis. Keep it specific. If you experience a crisis today, don’t allow it to affect you tomorrow. Keep short accounts. If the world is disintegrating around you, don’t accept the blame when it’s not appropriate. If you are suffering the consequences of a bad decision, then change what you can, minimize your losses and move on. Such losses often cause us to evaluate who we are, especially if our identity was tied up with what we lost (i.e. job, or spouse). A crisis can deepen our walk with God and solidify our identity in Christ. Losses also precipitate the need for new relationships and change of scenery. These changes are probably necessary for our growth in Christ, but they would not have been made if not forced to do so.

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog