If so, how do we go about searching out the nuances of life’s most vital matters without falling into the sin of unbelief?
God spoke through His prophet Isaiah and gave Israel this invitation:
Come now, let us reason (or dispute) together. –Isaiah 1:18
As we grow in the knowledge of God—His character, how He works, His will for us, etc.—there will be natural theological questions that arise. “Just have faith” will not be a sufficient answer. Hard questions require more than bumper sticker answers. These inquiries are not inherently sinful; they are the result of mortal people attempting to understand the immortal God as He has revealed Himself. The questions surrounding this immortal God of ours get quite complicated.
With that stated, a devious trap must be avoided when wrangling with many deeper theological concepts. Our thoughts can easily lead us beyond simple inquiry to doubt, or even further progress into outright unbelief. We must be careful how we navigate these issues.
The Bible shows us that God is sovereign, independent, self-governing, autonomous. The Bible also reveals that God has chosen to work in concert through real people, accomplishing His grand purposes through—not independent of—His people. On the surface those two sentences seem paradoxical, impossibly inconsistent. How can God be completely in charge and at the same time choose to work—or choose to risk His work—through sinful, stubborn people?
I can ask those questions and attempt to find what God has revealed in His Word. I could also regress, however, into trusting my questions— questions that sow seeds of unbelief—more than God’s revelation. One approach seeks out a matter in order to know God’s answers; the other criticizes revelation on the basis of fallen intellect. Reasonable questions that lead to a greater knowledge of God glorify Him. Unbelief reeks of pride.
In answering the question of how God’s sovereignty is married to His determination to work with fallen people, we admit that much of the answer has yet to be uncovered for us. However, there is a key to reconciling these two truths. God has sovereignly chosen to use particular means of grace to accomplish His greater purpose, and His greater purpose will be accomplished. God hasn’t risked His work at all. He has planned out the details of His intricate plan, not just the result.
In other words, God doesn’t simply choose the end destination for us; He has determined the road we’ll take and the vehicle that gets us there. The two principles of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility do not create a paradox; they work in tandem. God’s plan is so complete that He doesn’t just decide what should happen; He knows how to make it happen in the perfect way.
This is why the God who controls all things, who never has His purposes thwarted, who designed all, sees all, knows all, controls all, and needs nothing from us in order to accomplish His will, looks at us and says “you do not have because you do not ask (James 4:2).” God uses prayer. He has determined to use prayer as a particular means of grace to accomplish His greater purpose.
In the same way, God has determined to use faith. We make a mistake if we talk about God as if He were not able to do something because we don’t exercise enough faith; this tends to miss the point of God’s supernatural ability to do all that He pleases. However, the Scripture is clear that God has determined to work through faith; and God has chosen to limit or cut off what He blesses in the absence of faith. A quick study of Scripture bears this fact out.
Jesus didn’t do many miracles in His hometown because of the unbelief of the people (Matt. 13; Mark 6). The disciples couldn’t cast out demons because of their unbelief (Matt. 17). Israel fell as a nation and were “broken off” because of the people’s unbelief (Romans 11). The original generation of Israelites who left Egypt did not get into the Promised Land because of unbelief (Hebrews 3 and 4). And the admonition to the reader is for us to not make the same foolish mistake that inevitably leads to the same horrible consequences.
The sin of unbelief is more than having doubts, and it is certainly more than posing legitimate questions. Unbelief looks at God’s revelation and says, “I don’t trust You.” It criticizes God’s promises with a skeptical “I hear You; but it’s not enough. Your Word isn’t enough for me.”
Unbelief casts doubts on God’s character—His trustworthiness, His goodness, His honesty. A humble approach will prove God’s character to be all the more dependable. Faith takes God at His word. Faith takes our questions and searches out the mysteries of God’s revelation so we will believe in Him all the more.
There was something specific He led me to pursue, something big and crazy that only He could bring about. Although it thrust me into waters deeper than I felt equipped to navigate, after much prayer and seeking wise counsel, I plunged forward.
For several months, the path was remarkably straight and smooth. I prayed that if this particular path was not going to lead to His best for me, that He would stop me and show another direction to go, but step after step propelled me forward and everything was falling into place. I prayed all year that I would want Him more than I wanted this dream, even as I prayed that He would indeed bring this dream to fruition. As pieces continued fitting smoothly into the puzzle, I grew more and more excited, and it seemed like this extremely unlikely dream was really going to come true. Until the day when He clearly said, “This far, no further. This journey has come to a stop.”
It was rather sudden, and it was through an abrupt message delivered by someone who showed absolutely no compassion whatsoever for the fact that she had just crushed my dream. I was devastated. I was angry. I was sad. But most of all, I was confused. Had I totally misinterpreted what God was leading me to do? Hadn’t He led me down this road from the beginning? And, whispering around my heart in my darkest moments was the question that came from the raw, aching, most vulnerable part of my soul: Isn’t He good?
Those places that believe we could have orchestrated things better for ourselves. Just like the luminol used by forensic investigators to find hidden traces of blood at a crime scene, suffering shines its light on our heart until the hidden traces of unbelief show up. Traces of blood at a crime scene emit a strange glow under the spotlight of the luminol, which is eerie because that blood is obviously out of place and it means that something very wrong has happened there. Similarly, when suffering illuminates hidden places of unbelief in our hearts, it is jarring. That unbelief is obviously out of place in the heart of a child of God, and it means that something is very wrong there.
Many of us are drawn like magnets to stories of saints who have suffered well. Their stories intrigue us, inspire us, and at the same time, they bewilder us. How can one endure such great magnitudes of suffering and still have peace, still trust God, still shine?
This is so baffling because so many of us do not suffer well. When afflictions come our way, we far too often fall immediately into anguish, distrust, murmuring, and discontent. As Puritan pastor Jeremiah Burroughs stated in his book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, “We are usually apt to think that any condition is better than that condition in which God has placed us.” When afflictions come, we start thinking of all the ways God could and should have done better by us. This is the unbelief shining its ugly light in the corners of our hearts.
Do you really believe that God is good? Do you really believe that He is sovereignly working all things in your life for your good, to conform you to the image of His Son? Then you must rest in Him during times of affliction in quiet trust that He is good and does all things well. A murmuring, discontented heart—no matter how great the affliction—is evidence of unbelief.
Remember the Israelites in the desert. After the Lord’s judgment for the rebellion of Korah, the people complained.
But on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the LORD.” –Numbers 16:41
Now, grumbling doesn’t seem like it would be a huge issue, as sins go. However, just a few verses later, we see the Lord saying, “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” The plague had begun and before Moses could make proper atonement for this grievous sin of grumbling among the people, 14,700 of them were killed by God. Grumbling is indeed a very big deal. In fact, in Numbers 17:10, God calls them rebels.
Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against Me, lest they die.
This is sobering indeed. A heart of discontent is a heart refusing to submit to God. A murmuring, complaining heart is one that does not believe the promises of God. When all is well, we are quick to claim God’s promises and even to encourage others to claim them when they are suffering. But are we as quick to claim them when suffering comes to us? Whether your affliction is small or great, life-changing or merely a bump in the road, will you meet it with a quiet, steadfast heart that clings to belief in the God who promises to never forsake you?
For more on this ministry transition, click here.
For more on this ministry transition, click here.
For more on this ministry transition, click here.
By Whitt Madden
The city walls of Jerusalem were standing in ruin from war, leaving the people defenseless and vulnerable. Nehemiah, a cupbearer of the King, had received word about the state of his beloved city and began to weep and mourn over their situation. He prayed to the Lord, confessing the sins of Israel and the sins of his father’s house, and went before the King. The King saw how distraught Nehemiah was over the situation, listened to his pleas, and allowed Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem to begin rebuilding the city walls.
As Nehemiah began to gather men and resources to rebuild, a Samarian leader named Sanballat heard the news and was greatly angered, for he did not want the exiles to return and take control of the land. It is in the early chapters of Nehemiah we see opposition to God’s work begin and the tactics of the enemy unfold.
In the city of Judah it was said that the “strength of those who [bore] the burdens was failing,” there was too much rubble, too much oppression, too much work, too much to do.
This is one of the great struggles unfolding in our churches today. The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. We have many burden-bearers within our churches and the assault of the enemy will often leave them weakened. Christians in this condition tend to see only the rubble in front of them. They are completely overwhelmed. The tasks set before them seem too much and, like Nehemiah’s workers, they believe there is no way to do what God has called them to do.
Just as he did in the day of Nehemiah, the enemy views this as great opportunity to attack. When we leave our churches on Sunday, we are doing great, but by the time Wednesday comes around, what happens? We’re exhausted. We’ve been assaulted, intimidated, and worn down by the enemy of our souls. We’re too tired to even pray. “There is too much rubble in front of us.”
Nehemiah devised a plan of defense that would unite and protect his people. The workers were spread out along the wall. Half of the men worked while the other half stood guard. Each of the builders worked with one hand and held their weapon with the other, with their sword by their side.
They were prepared and ready for the attack from the enemy. Are we? Are we prepared to fight the lies of the enemy with the Sword of the Spirit: the truth of God’s word?
If Sanballat or one of his men had taken someone out while they were building the wall, it would have opened up a weak spot and the work would have stopped. This would’ve affected the task God had called them to complete. When you are under attack it doesn’t just affect you, it hinders the work of the entire church.
This is why isolation can be such a powerful tool of the enemy. We have an enemy that hates us and more than that, he hates the Christ in us. He will stop at nothing to destroy our faith, and if he can isolate someone apart from the body of Christ, not only will that hinder the individual but hurt the church as a whole. If the enemy could isolate the builders of the wall, they could destroy the work they were accomplishing one person at a time. This is no different from the church today.
Isolation is what happens whenever doubt and discouragement have its work in you apart from the truth of the Gospel and the help of the body of Christ. Accusations begin to wear us down and we begin entertaining thoughts of “What if?” and ultimately “Why bother?”
The enemy’s ultimate goal is the destruction of your faith. As in the days of Nehemiah, he wants you to abandon the work that the Lord has called you to. He understands the importance of the body, and if he can isolate you from the church, something dangerous will happen.
By Ben Morrow
Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! -Matthew 7:9-11
Jesus tells us that, as God’s children, we will receive what we need when we ask. But He also appeals to a larger truth—one that is simple to grasp, yet infinitely profound. That truth is this: The Father knows how to be a perfect Father to His children.
As a couple in our mid-thirties, my wife and I were settled on the idea that God had blessed us with two boys. To our surprise, the Lord wasn’t finished. Baby number three came to us a year ago, in the form of a little girl.
I wasn’t prepared for the difference baby Zoe immediately brought to our family. As much as I love my boys, having a girl awakened all sorts of fatherly instincts and feelings that I wasn’t aware of with boys alone.
I find myself watching her as she sleeps or as she plays with her brothers thinking that I would die for that girl. For each one of my kids. I would sacrifice whatever I needed to in order to give them what they need to survive, to flourish, to know God for themselves, and to live fruitful lives for his glory.
And then the principle returns to my mind: If I, being evil, feel this way about my children, how much greater does my Father in heaven love me?
This year was a much different experience, however. This year my own dad passed away about a month before Father’s Day.
I am blessed to say I had a wonderful relationship with my dad. Michael Morrow was my mentor, my pastor, my hero, and my friend. In my adult years, he was my first phone call when I had a question, whether it was about theology, politics, or the vehicle I was looking to buy. Even now I have to stop myself from reaching for the phone to run new life events by him.
Dad was my model for what a godly father looked like. I often look at interactions with my own children and filter conversations through previous similar exchanges I had with my dad in my own youth.
In this phase of life, where I find myself remembering my own father while functioning in that role for three children, I continue to discover deeper meanings of fatherhood. The practical application of passages like Deuteronomy 6:4-9 constantly show themselves as new teaching moments for me.
Moses wrote: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord -Ephesians 6:4
I look back on the phase of life where my parents faithfully raised me “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord,” and I am grateful to see how that Deuteronomy passage played out. My father was faithful to teach God’s Word diligently to me and my siblings, to talk of the Lord and His ways, and to emphasize Christ in all things. That is the legacy and example he left for me as a father.
When I find myself in those moments feeling overwhelming love and compassion for my kids, the most loving thing I can do for them is something that also happens to be an impossibility for me on my own—to consistently model Christ and point them to the Savior in all things, day by day.
We are not guiding our children toward a harsh taskmaster. We have the privilege of introducing our kids to a Father who has the infinite ability to love them in far greater way than we could possibly imagine.
My capacity as a father does not come from a superhuman ability I have to be holy in front of my children. Any faithfulness for me rests in looking to my own heavenly Father for daily help. Some of the good gifts He gives to His children are the strength to walk in His Spirit, to learn of Him, to enjoy His presence, and to know His love for ourselves. As we know and experience His overwhelming love, He shares His love through us to others, especially our children.
The love for my kids reaches me to that deepest part of my soul that is most real, tangible, sacrificial, and emotional. And if I, being evil, feel this way, how much more does our Father in heaven? The answer to that is something I plan to spend forever discovering with my dad and with my children.
When Ron Edmondson was in his 20s, he was already heavily involved in leadership roles in his community in Clarksville, Tenn., where he grew up. Though Ron was saved at 10 in a surreal and tangible moment upon which he still dwells, God didn’t open the door for ministry until he was 38 years old. This call to ministry came after extensive experience in the business world, despite a church member and mentor’s prompting that he kill giants for the kingdom and glory of God.
“I did everything you could possibly do in the church outside of ministry, being vocational,” Ron said. “I just always felt like I was supposed to make all the money I could so I could support the church.”
That support, however, led to an eventual call to vocational ministry, a position he accepted after God allowed brokenness to enter his career and secular leadership positions.
“It was not until 38, after a lot of storms and changes… just through a real broken period, God used that period to call us into ministry,” he said.
Peppering his ministry with focuses on leadership, grace and missional living, Ron’s business mindset has infiltrated the life and growth of Immanuel Baptist Church, where he now serves as pastor in Lexington, Ky.
“[The business background] makes me very intentional,” he said. “When I left the business world, I moved from profit-driven to mission-driven, but the intent is still the same. And in the business world, you didn’t do something if it didn’t make a profit. You did some things for goodwill, you did some things to build your name, but at the end of the day, you were trying to build your profit. That’s just what you do. You have to in order to exist. So, it’s the same for me now, that mindset of, ‘Why are we doing it?’ If it doesn’t have an evangelical purpose, if there’s no missional purpose to it, then I don’t care for it. It’s a waste of our time.”
Quick to mention the importance of other factors of ministry like fellowship and marketing, the emphasis has always been centered around missions even in the details of a large congregation.
“It’s why I walk around here and turn off the light switch if someone’s not in the room, because that has a kingdom purpose, not just a business purpose,” he said. “Every dollar we spend here, we can’t put on the mission field. So, it drives that intentionality.”
For the rest of Ron’s article and for more interactive content and resources like this, download the free July/August RTM Magazine.
By Mack Tomlinson
As our church, Providence Chapel, in Denton, Texas, has endeavored to engage more in missions intentionally, the Lord has blessed our efforts by giving clear direction to partner with a sister church, Grace Community Church, in San Antonio to plant a new church in the city of Portland, Maine, beginning in January of this year.
Thoughts of a new church there began four years ago, when a pastor and church planter in Syracuse, New York, and a family in Maine, who ministers weekly outside an abortion clinic in Portland, came together outside the clinic during a time of great opposition to their abortion outreach ministry.
This incident birthed many conversations later about the need for a biblical church in the Portland area, and the need of an annual conference in Portland to strengthen churches and pastors. After a period of prayer, the two families felt God’s leadership to establish such a conference for upper New England. The first conference was in the summer of 2013 and, three years later, the fourth annual conference is planned for the first week of August.
The conference consists of three days of biblical preaching, the availability of wonderful discounted Christian literature, and true fellowship with other believers.
Each year, the conference has almost doubled in size. This is due to the significant spiritual hunger in various parts of New England that brings pastors and other believers to Portland for the summer conference. The word has spread, and people as far away as New York City and Toronto have attended the three-day conference.
The desire then began to grow among the Christians who were organizing the conference to plant a biblical church in Portland, which is a morally and spiritually dark area. By the end of 2015, several families were ready to step out and unite as a church. They did this at a planning meeting the first week of December 2015. That meeting resulted in Redeeming Grace Fellowship holding its first Sunday service on January 10th. During 2016, Providence Chapel of Denton and Grace Community Church of San Antonio will send preachers two weekends each month to preach and lead the church prayer meeting. On the other two Sundays each month, the church will live-stream a sermon or have men in the Portland church share the Word of God. Redeeming Grace Fellowship is baptistic in its ordinances, reformed in its basic doctrine, devotional in its relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and evangelistic in its outreach to the community and the world.
Portland is only a two-hour drive from Northampton, Massachusetts, where Jonathan Edwards pastored, and a one-hour drive from Newburyport, where George Whitfield preached his last sermon and where he is buried in the basement of the Old South Church in Newburyport. New England was once a place where the Gospel burned with bright intensity.
Even Portland itself had a bright and shining light in its midst for 20 years, as Edward Payson, known as Praying Payson of Portland, ministered and saw genuine revival. Since then, this part of our nation has seen the Gospel light grow dim and greatly decrease. True churches and Christians are rare and truly in the minority.
I see now a very real possibility of churches being planted in other parts of Maine and in other New England states. This will involve vision, faith, and a calling of some to move there, especially those who are already able to work from home and could more easily re-locate to invest their lives in taking the Gospel in a new way to dark New England.
The harvest truly is always there to be taken, but the laborers are always few. Where are those who would say, “I will move to New England to help advance the cause of Christ”? May God help us to have intentional vision and obedience, to follow the Master in being deliberate and intentional in church planting, whether that is in our own state, across the country, or across the ocean. “Lead on, O King, Eternal!”
For more about the church plant and for more articles and resources like this, download the free March/April RTM Magazine.
Snakes? Mice? Burglars? The future? Fear itself?
In the spring of 2015, Chapman University conducted a random survey of over 1,500 Americans asking them their greatest fears. Over 80 options were given, ranging from nuclear weapons, the government, and technology to spiders, enclosed places, or just general anxiety.
Does this list surprise you? Would you have added something different? A closer look shows that these answers could be divided into two general categories: the fear of loss and the fear of increasing danger.
Our greatest fears are more general, day-to-day anxieties. Fear of the future. Fear of the unknown. Fear of governments, politicians, corporations, and terrorist groups – entities larger than us and beyond our control.
If this is true of Americans generally, what about American Christians specifically? Are our insecurities really that different?
Christians intuitively know deep down that fear and faith do not mix. The Lord tells His people to not be afraid over 300 times in His Word. This concept of fear, rather than faith, was one of Christ’s most consistent rebukes of His disciples. In fact, Revelation 21:8 gives a stern warning to “the fearful and unbelieving,” while drawing a definite correlation between fear and a lack of faith in God. At best, fear could be a forgetfulness of who God is. At worst, it might stem from of a root of unbelief.
But is this not just a little harsh? Is fear not a natural reaction to living in a fallen world? Is there not a time to be afraid?
Ecclesiastes chapter 3 tells us there is an appropriate time for everything under the sun. There is a time for birth and for death. There is a time for war and for peace. There are times to weep and mourn, and there are times to laugh and dance. Strangely missing from that list is a time for God’s people to be afraid.
The fear of the LORD is where wisdom and knowledge truly begin. We venerate the One who holds life in His hand. We worship the One who spoke worlds into being. We revere—yes, fear—the One “who is able to cast both body and soul into hell.” Having a healthy respect for God as Creator, Judge, and even a Consuming Fire is a biblical no-brainer. But the fear of God seems to be the only type of fear Christians
The disciples provide us many examples of our Lord’s response to fear. When they feared the storm while Jesus slept, Jesus rebuked their lack of faith. When they saw Christ walking on the water, His admonition was “fear not.” One of the more embarrassing moments for the disciples was their cowardice the night they ran while Jesus was arrested.
Absolutely. But our reactions should be informed by what is biblical, not what is natural. Christians are not called to live out of the flesh; we are called to live according to a supernatural power. The just shall live by their faith, not their fear. We are called to bravely operate out of a courageous dependence on God.
With this in mind, it might be helpful to ask how much of what we do is motivated by fear. How much of our day-to-day approach to life is mixed with anxiety? How many decisions do we make, or how many conversations do we have, based on our fears? Do others look at us and see a general attitude of fear or of faith?
God has something to say to the Christ-follower who lives with a daily approach of general fear, nervousness, or anxiety: “have faith in God.” While anxiety may be incredibly real to the person experiencing it, it is equally debilitating. As Charles Spurgeon said, “our anxieties never empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strengths.”
A mindset of fear fails to see God as the all-encompassing, absolute voice in charge of the winds and the waves. Fear blinds us to God’s purpose. Fear begs God to take away the problems and nervously awaits the right answer. But what if God has something much greater in mind?
For the rest of the article and more free resources, check out the January/February RTM Magazine here.