Are You Worth Your Salt?

Salt is used as a preservative, as a seasoning, and was highly valuable in the ancient world- it was even used as currency for trade.  Jesus encouraged us to be the “salt of the earth.” But what does this look like?

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”- Mark 9:50

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”- Matthew 5:13

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”- James 3:9-12

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” – Colossians 4:5-6

As salt stops corruption and preserves the integrity of food, so followers of Christ in preserving the Word of Truth strive toward lessing the corruption of the world.

Having salt in one’s speech was termed by the Greeks as attic salt, or “having refined, delicate wit.”  The apostle Paul was surely familiar with this as evidenced by some his instruction: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but only what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).

Tidbits on Salt

The word salary is derived from the Latin word salārium which was the salt ration given as payment to Roman soldiers.

Mary Magdalene was from the city of Magdala which was known for its salt trade.

The Chinese were pioneers in salt production; they would sink deep bamboo shafts into the ground to extract brine and boil it, leaving behind salt crystals… nearly 4,000 years ago!

Salt that has been exposed to the sun or rain, or has been cast upon the ground, will lose its flavor and preserving quality.

The exchange of salt for slaves in ancient Greece gave rise to the expression, “not worth his salt.”  This could bring fresh insight concerning one being worth their salt as a slave of righteousness, “For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman.  Likewise, he who is called while free is Christ’s slave” (Rom. 6:18; 1 Cor. 7:22).

Advertisements

At the Feet of Jesus

She slips into the party knowing she is unwanted.  Feeling their scornful stares and hearing their weak attempts to whisper, she moves undaunted toward her objective. They watch with disgust as she falls at the Prophet’s feet.  Overwhelmed by remorse, tears of brokenness begin to stream down her face.  His feet are thick with dust, the remnants of His journey still clinging heavily to them.  Her tears pour out upon them, cleansing them, her hair then wipes them dry.  She adorns His feet with kisses and anoints them with perfume.

How beautiful are these feet that have carried the Gospel!  How worthy they are of praise, she tells herself.  Her act of worship does not go unnoticed.  Soon the Teacher speaks the words she has longed to hear.  “Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

This account is found in Luke 7:36-50 and is a truly beautiful story of how a hopeless sinner met a grace-filled Savior.  No longer did the woman’s identity rest on the things she had done but on what Jesus had done for her.  Yet there were many who were present that did not see it that way.  Simon the Pharisee could not see past the woman’s sins and apparently didn’t think Jesus should either.  His thoughts recorded in Luke 7:39 show his hard-heartedness, “If this man were a prophet he would know who was touching him and what kind of woman she is- that she is a sinner.”  It seems this woman must have had a reputation that preceded her, and Simon, being a “religious” man, wanted nothing to do with her.

I cringe to think how often similar scenes play out in churches across our nation.  People with less-than-stellar reputations enter places of worship seeking redemption, but instead find only contempt and condemnation.  How many times have we looked down on those in search of reprieve and offered only religion, forgetting that we also were once dead in our sins?

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. ” (Colossians 3:13)

Simon, however, was not the only one with a distorted view, for there were other guests present who said among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” (Luke 7:49)  They knew that only God could forgive sins, and yet this Man from Nazareth was claiming to be able to do so!  Their perception of who Jesus was and what He could do was totally wrong.

“Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has served you; go in peace.” 

Sadly, we live in a world where this is still the case.  Many (including some Christians) believe there is no forgiveness for them or certain others, that they have strayed too far and are beyond redemption.  They fail to realize that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:39). God does not measure us on what we have done.  Rather, He desires for us to respond to His invitation to follow Him.  If you are struggling to offer or accept forgiveness it is likely that you, too, have a distorted view of who Christ is.

Much like the two men in the parable Jesus shares with those gathered in Simon’s house, we all owe a debt we cannot afford to pay (Luke 7:41-42).  God’s standard is perfection and none of us measure up.  But instead of giving us our due punishment, He came and lived the perfect life we couldn’t live and died the death our sins have warranted.  He did this not because we earned or deserved such salvation, but because that is what true love does, for “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

It is this same love shown to you that God is calling you to show others: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).  “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).  When we reflect on how much grace we have been shown, we are encouraged to share it with others.

I am aware that some will insist on self-reproach in stating, “But you don’t know what they did to me,” or “You don’t know what I have done.”  In the midst of feeling worthless, you may feel there is no chance of forgiveness, and I would have to agree in some measure.  For in our own strength we don’t possess the power to receive or grant forgiveness.  That kind of power can only be found in Christ.  And so, like the woman in the passage above, we must come whole-heartedly and broken to the feet of Jesus.  That is the true picture of worship and the only place to find forgiveness.

Kyle Hubbard

christ-bio

 

Kyle Hubbard is a follower of Jesus Christ, who has a heart for the hurting and the father of a precious 3 year old little girl.

What is Forgiveness and Why Does it Matter?

Forgiveness involves both God’s grace and mercy.  His grace is an unmerited (undeserved) favor toward us and His mercy, born of His compassion, entails an offered reprieve from eternal suffering.  However, before we attempt to define “forgiveness,” we must first understand what it is not.

Forgiveness is not merely accepting someone’s apology for slight or hurt, nor can someone be forced to receive another’s forgiveness.  Rather, forgiveness is a construct of and issues from a grander source: Love.  To “forgive” means to “remit, or cancel” one’s sins.  Hebrews 9:22 declares that God, Who is perfectly just, cannot forgive without atonement (restitution), for “without shedding of blood there is no remission for sins.”  The atoning death of Jesus Christ on the cross makes forgiveness possible in that it speaks both “for us” and “against us.”  For unless we allow the cross to reveal the full severity of our sin, it will not take that sin from us.

“He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.  But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:11-12).

Who needs forgiveness and who forgives?

All of humanity needs forgiveness for our disobedience reaching all the way back to the beginning in Eden, for “through one man (Adam) sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12).  But through the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to us (Acts 13:38-39).

The rift in our relationship with God requires reconciliation with Him, and only God made this possible Who reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation… and He has committed us to the message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19).  This shows that as much as we need forgiveness we also are required to forgive others just as our Father in heaven has forgiven us (Matt. 6:14-15).  Relational reconciliation in love is the reason for the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

What does it mean that I am forgiven?

Though referenced in the previous question, the idea that we have been given the “ministry and message of reconciliation” is further expounded by the apostle Paul when he declares that we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us!  He goes on to proclaim that through Christ’s atonement we can become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:20-21), for we have redemption through His blood, and the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1:7).

Forgiveness of one’s sins truly involves sharing in Christ’s death and only then sharing in His righteousness: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

How do I know that I am forgiven?

Jesus said, “But when the Helper [Holy Spirit] comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me” (John 15:26).

“This is the work of God, that you believe in Him Whom He has sent” (John 6:29).

“If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

“Without faith it is impossible to please God, for anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

“It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins… But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God… by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:4, 11-14).

Clearly, faith and belief are necessary to be forgiven and thus reconciled to God as one comprehends the tragedy of human fallenness and the power of the Cross.  But there are two sides to forgiveness and reconciliation: There is one who offers, and there is one who either receives or rejects the offer.  In no way, however, does rejection invalidate the substance of the offer.  To explain this further, another question can be asked:

Where does forgiveness take place?

Though acknowledged and continually avowed in the mind per choice, forgiveness takes place in the heart, aided by the Holy Spirit.  This applies to forgiveness both received and given.  And outward evidences surely assist in confirming sincerity.  “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:10).

True faith in Christ will result in repentance as a change of conviction toward sin (particularly one’s own sin) flourishes in response to the renewing of one’s heart and mind (1 Tim. 1:5). This progression is part of growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ that we must choose to faithfully pursue lest we fall from our own steadfast discipleship (2 Peter 3:17-18).

Jesus Christ died to sin once for all (Rom. 6:10).  Yet, the actual canceling/remission of an individual’s sin is conditional upon the individual’s acceptance of the Cross.  Thus, there is no forgiveness of those who insist on trying to pay their own sin-debt and earn their way into God’s favor (John 3:36).  Thankfully, those who are forgiven have Christ’s “payment” applied to them, a most gracious Gift that advances from offered to accepted upon heartfelt cooperation with a loving Savior.

…forgiveness is a construct of and issues from a grander source : Love

-Jon Scott Birch

Publisher’s Note on Forgiveness

 Then Peter came to Jesus and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  Up to seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”

Matthew 18:21-22 NKJV

In the verse above, Peter thought he was being very kind, even generous, in forgiving someone seven times, which is more than Jewish tradition counted as enough- only three times.  I am certain Jesus’ response caught Peter by surprise, and he likely thought 490 times was a bit excessive!  However, while Peter may have desired to count the offenses of others, Jesus is indicating that forgiveness does not keep score.  Nor does forgiveness keep count of its mercies and grace.  Is not this the very heart of Jesus?

Ephesians 2:4-5 echoes this truth, “But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

Forgiveness is the heart of Christianity, the nucleus of our faith.

I once thought of forgiveness as having to be earned.  I felt a sense of superiority over any personal offender and I was going to inflict as much emotional pain as I could to show them how much they hurt me.  In essence, I acted as the judge and jury, determining the sincerity of any apologetic words or deeds.

Now I see forgiveness as a gift.  I have accepted and treasure the free gift of God’s complete forgiveness for my sins and shortcomings; therefore, I must freely give the gift of forgiveness.  Of course, forgiveness is not indifferent, it is not lacking conviction, and it is surely not being a doormat for those wishing to take advantage.  On the contrary, it is allowing God’s abundant grace to saturate your mind and heart to the point that it spills over and out from you. It is giving the Rightful Judge the burden of injustice and permitting the Author of Mercy to work compassion in our stubborn hearts.

In our forgiving of others, our hearts become stronger in taking less offense, our confidence in Christ expands, and our burning resentment diminishes.  In this issue Troy and Dionne Ray share their insight on forgiveness in the context of marriage; Rich and Geri Campbell express the love of Christ in their ministry; and Candy Abbott offers ways to handle difficult people.

If you find the topic of forgiveness unsettling or you just cannot let go of the list of offenses against you, it is my prayer that this issue will provoke heartfelt contemplation on the Gospel of Grace.

 

The Reading Disciple

Every suffering heart eventually comes face to face with a pivotal question, for the pain of our circumstances hinders us as we remove layer after layer of uncertainty until we finally hear His whisper, “Do you trust Me?”

I have personally wrestled with this question, because the truth is it is the last thing you want to hear when you are in pain. My own disappointment with God seemed to scream that He is not faithful or good, but the fact is that we live in a fallen world where our enemy delights in using every negative situation to destroy our relationship with the Lord.book-recommend

What I once perceived as God’s wrath through my suffering was actually Him pursuing me. What would have happened if Jonah was not cast into the sea? He would have turned his back on God. No doubt you have heard that we learn obedience through suffering. This is true, but less commonly known is that there is an intimacy with God that is available through the catalyst of pain for the simple reason that “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18). We either use the white-hot noise of pain to springboard ourselves into the arms of God, or we run like Jonah.

But how can we experience that sweet tenderness with the Lord if we don’t trust Him? It is difficult to trust anyone when we don’t know if their heart is good. Authors Brent Curtis and John Eldredge call this intimacy The Sacred Romance. In their book of the same title, they beautifully express God’s passionate pursuit of us. The Sacred Romance unveils the loving heart of God and gently shows that the deepest longing of the human soul is for an adventurous love affair with our Maker.

book-recommendationJohn Piper eloquently states, “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him.” In his book When I Don’t Desire God, How to Fight for Joy, Piper explains that contentment in suffering is achieved through an eternal perspective in that we need to cast off everything that hinders (Rom. 12:1) or, more simply put, to dissolve all attachment with the natural and to treasure nothing except that sacred relationship with the Savior. Of course, this is not an easy task and requires faith, but once our gaze is fixed on our eternal home, there is serenity. An eternal perspective helps us realize that He is sufficient. We have the freedom to love God without the fear of losing Him because we know that this is not our true home.

The wonderful pursuit of God will begin to change our lives as we love Him, not for possessions, success, direction, prosperity, or any other thing but His passion for us. In his book The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer expounds on this concept by explaining that those who make God their treasure have lost nothing because they have all things in One. This inspired and Scripturally sound book will topple tradition-infested doctrine like a house of cards. The truth in the title resounds so loudly it will cause you to examine the falsehoods of “religion” and understand that the fatherly heart of God is good and trustworthy.

Yes, we will face suffering in this world. Our disappointment with God may burn away the chaff of our “religion” leaving nothing but pure, unadulterated faith. This world may fail us, our church may fail us, our friends and family may fail us, but God will never fail. He will relentlessly pursue our hearts. Whether to the depths of the sea or the heights of success, we will never walk alone. God is faithful to give grace for our most filthy sin, comfort in unimaginable pain, faith in our darkest doubt, victory in our fiercest battle. In fact, He is faithful to give Himself.

I hope that these three books would help you to trust that our beautiful Savior is more than enough.

book-recomendbio

 

Audrey lives in Delmar, MD with her husband and two young children. She blogs about surviving motherhood with her faith intact at www.sanitybreaks.weebly.com.

By: Audrey

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Suffering Issue.

Defeating Depression

A Story of a Family That Prayed Through

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,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 receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

(2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NIV)

[Debbie’s account]

We don’t need to look very far to observe someone who is suffering. Just this morning while on Facebook, I read the blog of a young mother. She is living each day under the oppression of cancer as she waits for her little boy to die. Her life and home have been consumed by the disease. She mentioned that she glanced into a mirror and noticed how the horror of her sons cancer had overtaken her body as well. Her skin is now wrinkled and worn. Her smile is no longer visible. Suffering has a way of doing that.

            My family has also suffered, but the symptoms of my depression were harder to spot. It began as what felt like a tired, bad mood. Sleep began to escape me and anxiety moved in. My life was busy as a mom to four children, so I pushed through. I began to ask God to help me feel normal.  My asking turned to begging as time crept by.  Each day I felt myself slipping closer and closer to the edge of a black hole. The harder I tried to cling to the edge, it seemed, the deeper I slid. Until one evening, after struggling to fall asleep, I awoke abruptly. I felt as though I couldn’t breathe, my arms and legs shook uncontrollably. I thought for certain that I was dying. I prodded my husband to wake him. “Pray for me!” is all I could get out. And so it began…

Fear that this would happen again kept me from sleep. When exhaustion won over the fear I would doze off, only to be wakened by shaking and shortness of breath. Impending doom consumed me. Night after night my “situation” went from bad to worse.  Days became almost as much of a nightmare. Lack of sleep and inability to hold down food made me sick and left me weak. This made the feeling of my impending death only more real. The enemy had been attacking from the beginning, but at this point I felt that he had pulled out all his resources against me. His lies filled all of my thoughts. And then the lies moved from my mind to my heart as I began to believe them. Then they moved on to my lips as I repeated them continuously.

            The depression that consumed me quickly began to consume my husband as well. My lack of sleep became his lack of sleep. The lies that filled my mind, however, made it no where with him. When the enemy tried to wreak havoc in me with a new lie, my husband quickly refuted it with the Truth and the Word. For each lie from the enemy, the Lord gave my husband a specific scripture to use against it. Night after night, day after day, as I spoke the lies, my husband spoke the Truth. As I cried and paced, he followed me, quoting the Word! He often prayed aloud over me. He sought the Lord for wisdom on my behalf as to how and what I should do to get well. He sought the counsel of a godly physician, as well as the Great Physician.

            I believe the most important thing that my husband did for me was to continue to pray, to continue to press into the Lord for my healing. He knew in his heart that the Lord would hear his cry and heal me. The Lord has blessed me tremendously with a godly husband. He has also blessed our marriage with a oneness that only He can give.

My mother in law recorded many healing scriptures, and together with my husband, they played the recordings for me whenever someone was not available to speak them. Slowly the battle that the enemy was raging in my body and in my head began to turn. Those who love me sought the Lord on my behalf, knowing that I was too weak to do so myself.  The enemy who was seeking to devour me had no choice but to retreat when faced with Truth!

[Mark’s account]

When fighting depression from the support side, there were two primary weapons I used: prayer and truth. When I wasn’t directly involved in refuting the lies or providing encouragement, I spent my time in prayer. This is where knowing who you are in Christ and knowing what Gods Word says is so important. Much of my prayer time was while driving to and from work or while lying in bed. I had to know the Word because, as often is the case, there is no time to look up scripture. I laid hands on her in accordance with the Word. Mostly, I was just there for her. When I wasn’t there, I was available and she knew it.

I had a long commute to and from work and when I wasn’t in prayer while driving, I listened to the Scriptures. For me, it was a great way to refresh my scriptural knowledge. Dramatized versions made it easier and more interesting. Zondervan has a good dramatized version that is word for word with the Bible. Also, recruit someone or several people you trust who will intercede for you and your spouse during this time. Agree with them in advance as to how they should pray. It’s important that they actually “pray the Word.” In my case, my mother acted as intercessor and prayed with and for Debbie when I couldn’t be there, spending many hours with her while I was at work.

Be prepared to refute the lies with Truth directly. When the depressed person says things like “I’ll never get better” or “It’ll always be like this” be prepared to say “That’s a lie” and then reply with the truth. Do not allow your feelings to be hurt. My wife was not hurtful to me but don’t be surprised if this occurs. This type of battle will require a lot of time and courage. I was fortunate that I am self employed and had the freedom in my schedule to be there for Debbie.

Another important thing is to prevent the depressed person from withdrawing into darkness. The devil loves the dark and wants to drive us there so we’ll go deeper into it. Exposure to natural light and the company of other family members is important. Try to get the depressed person around family and into as much normal activity as possible. Also, playing Scripture on an ipod or CD is very helpful, especially while sleeping. My mother made a recording of healing scriptures that we listened to again and again. John Hagee Ministries has a wonderful pre-recorded device that plays healing scriptures repeatedly. Truly, Scripture is like a healing balm, so play it and play it some more! Oh, and the enemy HATES it! Remember, Jesus used the Word to fight the devil  in the desert.

I’ve likened our depression experience to a battle. There is direct combat when one is refuting the enemy’s lies head on. During such a battle, there are those who are interceding in prayer. I liken this to artillery, harassing the enemy and keeping him off balance while we fight the lies with the truth. When the enemy withdraws we attack him with prayer – Give him no rest! We press in hard with prayer. And we cannot rest until the battle is won. Thank God Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

(1 Peter 5:8-9 NIV)

BIO

Mark and Debbie were high school sweethearts. They have been married for 30 years and they have six children and seven grandchildren. Mark runs their inspection & engineering business in Salisbury, MD. Debbie is a stay-at-home mom, she has been free from depression for nine years.

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Suffering Issue.

Suffering Well as a Living Sacrifice

 

                                              When peace,like a river,attendeth my way,                                                                                                   When sorrows  like sea billows roll,                                                                                                             Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,                                                        It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Horatio Spafford, the writer of this classic hymn, knew a lot about suffering. He and his wife lost their four year old son to scarlet fever.  Within a year they would also lose all of their significant real estate holdings in the great Chicago fire of 1871.  In need of respite, Spafford decided to take his family on vacation to England.  The trip would not only offer much needed rest but would also allow the family to reconnect with longtime friend D.L. Moody, who was there on an evangelistic tour.

Horatio had some business dealings that needed his attention so he decided to send his family on ahead of him.  Nine days later he received the devastating news that the ship had sank and his four daughters had drowned, his wife only narrowly escaping the same fate. Spafford took the next available ship to England in order to reunite with his wife.  While en route he was notified by the captain that they were crossing over the site of the wreck that claimed his children’s lives.  At that moment of great sorrow, Spafford returned to the quiet of his cabin and began to pen the now famous words, “It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

How could he do this you may ask?  In the face of such overwhelming personal tragedy, how could he trust so fully in God?  I believe that Horatio knew there is ultimately nothing in this world that compares to that which is to come in the next, for Paul says in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

In the current spiritual climate we are told that if we have enough faith we need not suffer.  That we can be healthy, wealthy, and free of pain if we just believe hard enough.  This “prosperity” gospel, while widely popular, is really just another false gospel that dilutes the true teachings of Jesus Christ.  Think about it.  Can a gospel that excludes Jesus ever be true?  For He surely never had great material wealth and he certainly suffered greatly.  Jesus even tells us to expect suffering: “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

Notice how He not only leaves his followers with a warning but also a promise of comfort.  This sentiment is echoed throughout the Bible.  Though we may face times of great trials, God never abandons us and we can take great comfort in the fact that He  is our source of peace.

Inevitably in these situations the question arises, Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?  Before answering this question I think we must first realize that we live in a fallen world.  God did not bring suffering into the world.  Rather, it came as a natural consequence to sin.  When Adam and Eve chose to willing disobey God they forever brought pain, suffering, and death into the world.

Secondly, I believe we need to see that there is purpose in our suffering.  Romans 5:3-5 states “ … we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope; and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us.”  And James 1:2-4 adds, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Clearly, we can see in the midst of our suffering that God is using it to refine and grow us, sanctifying us for His purposes.

In no way am I trying to diminish the reality of any pain we experience.  Certainly the hurt we endure is physically and emotionally tangible.  I am simply pointing out that we are not alone in our suffering.  We do not serve an unfeeling God.  He cares deeply for us and shares in our pain.  “Since He Himself has gone through suffering and testing, He is able to help us when we are being tested” (Hebrews 2:18).

Remember also that “Jesus wept.”  These two words are found in John 11:35 and are famous for comprising the shortest verse in the Bible but should be remembered more for their significance, for they show so much about the heart of our Lord.  He knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, but still He shed tears.  Why?  Because He was wholly sympathetic to the grief of those around Him.  His heart was filled with sorrow for the pain of His children.

Suffering is an inescapable reality of life.  Yet, how we choose to approach it can define its ultimate outcome.  We can become self-absorbed and bitter, cursing God for our pain, allowing our trails to be in vain.  Or we can choose to seek out God and allow Him to use our suffering for His Glory and for our good.  We can choose to inspire and encourage those around us through our understanding and steadfast faith.  We can trust that His promises are true and that we will one day share in His glory.  The decision is ultimately yours.  I pray you choose to suffer well.

By: Kyle Hubbard

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Suffering Issue.

If God is Good, Why is There Suffering?

To genuinely understand why there is suffering, we must examine our origin and our Fall.

When God had completed His Creation He pronounced it as being “very good,” for there was no death, disease, pain or suffering (Genesis 1:31).  Genesis 2:17 informs us that God planted the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the midst of the garden of Eden.  Adam and Eve were instructed not to eat of it under penalty of death.  But, after failing their test of obedience, Adam and Eve forfeited their right (and ours) to live in perfect relationship with our loving Creator (Rom. 5:12).

Because God is perfectly and purely holy, He had to judge man’s sin.  Adam was accountable to the fact that death would be the penalty for rebellion, and so God enacted a Curse on both humanity and all creation (Rom. 8:20-21).  Therefore, the death and suffering that has existed and continues to exist is a result of our sin.

It should be noted that the world’s sin-infestation includes the distress of natural disasters, severe weather, personal tragedies, and the like.  This constitutes that all suffering is a direct consequence of Adam’s sin, allowing no excuse for anyone to blame God for such.  Moreover, God surely has good reason for allowing pain and suffering to beset the Christian (Rom. 8:28); our failure to understand “why bad things happen to good people” does not invalidate God’s goodness, it simply reveals our ignorance.

Why do we suffer for Adam’s sin when that happened so long ago?

Humanity is infected with an inherited (from Adam) sin-nature, yet God has made a way for us to be reconciled to Him.  By the atoning death of His Son, Jesus Christ, we each have the opportunity to recognize our sinfulness and turn to Him for forgiveness and then live a life according to His Spirit (John 3:16-17).

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned…  For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:12, 19).

“For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22).

Why did God allow Adam to choose poorly, and why does He allow us the same?

True obedience cannot exist without the choice to disobey, and free human choice is a product of God’s love.  His love is persuasive, not coercive.  We were created in His own image because God loves us and desires fellowship with us, and truly sincere fellowship is only true and sincere when it is chosen, not forced.  This fact makes our choice to love and live for God superbly relevant.

True obedience, therefore, is coupled with freedom and responsibility.  Micah 6:8 shows that one must (responsibly) permit themselves to be taught what is right by God, but one must also do what is right (obedience).  Freedom enables one to choose rightly, or not.  And since humanity has been gifted with free choice (itself an aspect of freedom), we are thus accountable to the Giver Who will bless the right choice.

Adversely, if one abuses that freedom they set themselves against God, inviting consequential judgment.  John 3:36 offers insight into freedom and choice: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

Just as Adam and Eve had the forbidden tree to “test” their obedience, so we today have the forbidden fruits of a sinful nature that test our own.

So how can God be both loving and just, are not the two at odds?

Injustice is a part of our fallenness as we remain under the Curse.  The innocent will suffer and die along with the guilty.  Some suggest God is cruel in allowing certain atrocities to occur and fester (natural disasters, war, famine, disease, cancer, terrorism, tyrannical governments, corrupt politics, lawlessness, etc).  But, suffering (benign and malignant) will be a part of this world until Jesus establishes His throne in Jerusalem.

Yet God is just and must punish sin (Habakkuk 1:13; Rom. 6:23; Rev. 20:11-15) even while His love compels Him to save sinners, for Jesus the Just suffered for the unjust (1 Peter 3:18) and God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).

However, each individual must choose to accept His sacrifice in order to become such righteousness.  Even our own sense of desired justice (as when good things happen to bad people) is a reflection of our being made in His image.

God is also love and will not force anyone to love Him (1 John 4:16).  Moreover, love must be freely expressed lest it cease to be love.  He desires everyone to be saved (2 Peter 3:9) and our choice grants us the opportunity to love Him of our own volition, yet for those who reject Him there must be punishment.  His perfect justness is in fact an aspect of His perfect love.

Why would a loving God condemn anyone to hell if He wants everyone saved?

This is answered in the previous question concerning God’s justness.  However, the inquiry at hand is flawed.  The appropriate construct would be, Why would a good, perfect, and just God of love NOT condemn His enemies to hell?

Of course, God did not create us to condemn us; He created us to share in His love.  But those who choose not to love Him effectually condemn themselves to hell in that their choice determines their destiny (John 3:18, 36).  Though the Lord God desires everyone to be reconciled to Himself, He allows us to act on our own desire by way of His sovereign gift of free choice- an occasion of true freedom born of His optimal love.

Did God create evil?

No, He did not.  God through free will made evil possible, but disobedience to His will (per our choices) makes it actual.  Sin was born in the heart of Lucifer when he fell to pride as a result of his own free self-will (Isaiah 14:12; 1 Tim. 3:6).  Indeed, it is difficult to grasp how Lucifer and the other third of the angels (Rev. 12:4) rebelled against God

when all they had known was His goodness and love!  This proves that a truly free will is a potent attribute to have been endowed with, further revealing our Creator’s value of love freely expressed and justice wholly accomplished.

An unfortunate event occurred when Lucifer facilitated the fall of man, thus passing on the stain of sin.  Though such was foreknown by God, it unleashed the circumstance of the Christ’s Passion and provided a way of absolute restoration of what was lost in Eden’s garden.

In conclusion, how can we even claim the existence of evil and suffering absent an infallible standard of Good and Peace toward which we make a distinction?  Thus, the existence of both evil and suffering actually prove the existence of a good and peace-loving God.  Assuredly, evil will ultimately be defeated and those who reject God will be justly separated from all that is good.  And fuller splendor awaits those who choose Jesus Christ in preparation for a world of perfect love freely expressed!

By: Jon Scott Birch @ jonbirch.com

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Suffering Issue.

HEAVEN Part 2

     When I was a little boy I was not allowed to do certain things on Sunday.  I could not play with my wagon or bicycle.  I could not go to the beach or for a swim in the ocean.  I could not go to the movies.

     My brother, who is eleven years older than me, would go sailing on Sunday afternoons.  I told him I did not think our Grandmom, a saintly old Methodist, would approve.  He said, “Grandmom and Grandpop go for a ride in their car on Sunday afternoons, I go for a sail.  What is the difference?”

     Is that what it takes to get to heaven?  Don’t ride your bike or play with your wagon on Sunday.  Don’t go to the beach or to the movies on Sunday.

     In a previous issue of Signet Ring (Aug-Oct 2012) I mentioned some of the requirements that Jesus gave in order for us to enter the kingdom of Heaven including, “believe” (Acts 16:30), “follow” (Matthew 4:19), “perfection” (Matthew 5:46), and “overcoming” (Rev. 2:7).

     As I read my Bible I become aware that I frequently fall short of these requirements.  Am I doomed?   The words of Ephesians 2:8-10 comfort me tremendously.  May they encourage you as well:

     “For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

     Most of us know that “grace” refers to God’s love for us which we don’t deserve.  I surely have not yet reached perfection!  But I have found out recently that grace not only refers to God’s love for us but also to his enabling power.  By His grace I can even write these brief articles on Heaven.

     Jesus said to Paul, and to you and me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  This promise from Jesus enabled me to continue in the ministry after open-heart surgery and a stroke in 1979.  These left me with short-term memory loss, difficulty in controlling my emotions, and an equilibrium problem.  I heard Jesus say to me, “Get your eyes off your weaknesses and get them on me and My strengths. I entered the pulpit with a new sense of freedom and joy.

     I eagerly await being in Heaven in the near future.  I just turned 81.  I will be there because of God’s grace.  He loves me!  He has provided me, and you, a Savior in Jesus Christ.  I love Him.  I want to do His will. I want to make Him happy.  Holy Spirit, help me.  Thank you.  Praise you!

By: Pastor Richard Bridge

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Suffering Issue.