THE LIFE WE NEVER EXPECTED

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Book Review by Debbie Huber

“The Life We Never Expected: Hopeful Reflections on the Challenges of Parenting Children With Special Needs”

Knowing that I have a special interest and love for people with special needs, Kyle bought this book for me to read on my Kindle. As an occupational therapist I want to have a better understanding for the struggles of families with special needs. 

But this book is much more than what I expected. I believe that what the authors have to say will help all who read it have a better understanding of the goodness and dependability of God and His sovereignty over suffering. 

The authors, Andrew and Rachel Wilson, have two autistic children. The children were both meeting their normal developmental milestones until the age of three when their development started going in reverse. This is called regressive autism. Their challenges are many and they share their pain with raw honesty however this is not just a book about children with disabilities…

This is a book about God. 

I was expecting anecdotes about being parents of autistic children.  But in the midst of sharing difficulties and humor, the reader is pointed to the Gospel.  They share their journey to find that God is all sufficient through it all.

For example, the Wilson’s ongoing, earnest prayer is to get a full night’s sleep. That has not yet happened for them which is physically, emotionally, and mentally draining. Andrew says that “I think the greatest single challenge to my prayer life has been the fact that so many prayers for sleep have gone unanswered.”  But he has learned that even when we do not know why God is not answering our prayer, we can still trust him and be thankful. 

Andrew was having a particularly frustrating and angry evening while praying for healing for his children and feeling that nothing was changing.  Not knowing where to go in prayer he started to pray the Lord’s Prayer. 

“I talked to God and meandered through parts of the Lord’s Prayer I had never seen that way before.  God heard me. I heard God.” He says, “I remember… that praying for healing and blessing at this point, after spending a while responding to God’s love, knowledge, glory, and beauty, meant that my prayers for the children were framed in a right attitude of trust and security, rather than a sofa-thumping anger and frustration.”

Their perspective of God’s grace is so encouraging.  Andrew and Rachel know that they have so much and deserve so little which brings them to a place of humility and gratitude. 

They have begun to notice even the smallest milestones or graces from God every day.  They have chosen to celebrate God’s grace in how much they have and how little they deserve so bitterness is rooted out and gratitude thrives. 

Sometimes we want to “redeem” the story, to write our own happy-ending, to glorify God in the way that WE think is best.  But God’s timing and His ways are often very different from ours. 

Rachel shares a lesson which stood out to me in a new way: 

“So I have to remember: the story is not mine to save.  The pressure to write a story that makes sense of what has happened to us, as acute as it can feel, must be resisted; God is the great storyteller, the divine happy-ending maker, and I’m not.  I am a character in God’s story, not the author of my own, and it is God’s responsibility to redeem all things, to make all things work together for good…(including)every single thing that the curse of sin has touched or tarnished.”

I highly recommend this book to everyone who wants to love and trust our God more. 

SERMON LEFTOVERS 3.28.17

Finding Joy in Something Bigger than Me

by Tim Shorey

 

Philippians 1:12-18

We experience life’s greatest joys when we share in its greatest realities. In our text we see 4 secrets to unquenchable joy

1. Joy comes from being a part of something bigger than ourselves v18

The source of his joy was something bigger than him—the gospel advance of the kingdom of God!

And his joy was great because his cause was great!

No prison or trial or possible death sentence or petty rivalry or the sinful selfish ways of others could quench the joy of his heart—it was way too big.

He was involved in and lost in something way bigger than he was—and so his joy was immense and unquenchable.

Friends, I think there is a pretty significant JOY-CRISIS going on among Christians today

(1)  Live life IN Christ

Philippians 4:4—“Rejoice IN the Lord always and again I will say, REJOICE!”

Rejoice in what it means to be in union with Jesus!

(2) Live life outside ourselves

The faith of too many is (in Os Guiness’s words) about “God servicing us, not us serving God!”

Life is simply happier if we live it outside ourselves!

The most miserable people on earth are the ones who can’t get themselves off themselves! They are totally self-absorbed!

Lose yourself in something bigger than yourself and you find joy!

If that is true at even a basic level—if joy comes in being part of something bigger than ourselves—than how might maximum joy come?

How might we receive the greatest joy possible?

By being a part of the biggest thing going!!

The gospel advance of the kingdom of Jesus Christ!

Knowing God and helping others to know him too!!

 

2. What we are a part of is a partnership vs 3-7

Notice the gratitude and joy language!  Partnership made Paul happy!

Philippians is full of partnership and cooperation words and phrases

—ALL these point to Paul’s awareness that what we are a part of is a partnership! —and he wants US to share in it (Philippians 1:27)

The principle is clear in Scripture that Christians are always to be engaged in the mission in PARTNERSHIP with others—in a local church, under church leadership, alongside of other believers, in teams, side by side—AND in partnership and fellowship with other churches!

There are not to be any lone ranger Christians or even lone ranger churches…

The way of Christ is partnership in and through the local church—and through families and unions of churches…

And how blessed are such partnerships—EVEN if they are sometimes challenging!

 

3.  What we are a part of is more important than the part we play

Paul cared a lot more about what he was a part of than he did about the part he played

I’m not reading this into it—think about it!  What part was Paul playing at this time—by and large?

He had the part of prisoner.

He had the part of victim: people were taking advantage of his hardship.

He had the part of potential martyr!

For all he knew his best ministry days were over—and now it was prison time; serving where the lights were dim and few noticed.

Lots of others were getting the more noticed parts, the parts that people would be drawn to!

But Paul was not at all about making sure he got all the right and good parts for personal gain or ambition.

He cared about one thing: the advance of the gospel!

 Brothers and sisters: it’s NOT the position or the role or the prestige that matters…

…it’s the KING and his cause!  (Matthew 10:41-42)

 

4.  Jesus took the humblest part that we might have a part in gospel joy (Phil 2:3-8)

Jesus is our sacrifice and Jesus is our example

Jesus does ask us to lay life down for the gospel, but he does not ask us to do anything that He has not already done Himself

ALL this that we might have a part in it all!

We experience life’s greatest joy when we share in its greatest cause

CHURCH HUNTERS

This tongue-in-cheek video cleverly exposes many of the casual and self-centered attitudes our culture has toward church life.

 

IT’S NOT A CHORE!

You should be thoughtfully reading God’s Word on a regular basis.

But you already know that.

A good definition of regular is each day. There will be days when circumstances get out of control and you miss your reading time. When that happens, don’t drift into guilt. Simply thank God for his graciousness and pick up again the next day.

I cannot remember ever hearing a Christian tell me they didn’t think Bible reading was important. But I know there are many Christians who have not consistently established a habit of regular Bible reading.

The most common excuse we use is that “We don’t have time”.

But I think the actual most common reason is that we think of it as a burdensome chore.

In an article on the desiringGod website, David Mathis wrote:

“One of the biggest scams Satan has running is the lie that reading the Bible is a chore.”

I hope you will consider reading his entire article, “Treat Yourself to the Voice of God”.

David, not only encourages us in what Bible reading is – he also presents several helpful and perhaps unexpected tips for enjoying regular Bible reading.

If you enjoy David’s article, I highly recommend his outstanding book, “Habits of Grace”.

 

PRESSED FROM EITHER SIDE

Have you ever felt pressed in by suffering?

If you are breathing the answer is yes, and most likely you have felt the pressing burden of sufferings that press in at more than one direction at once!

In their book “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God”, John Piper and Justin Taylor walk us through the unbiblical perspectives we often have during times of suffering, and the biblical perspectives that should replace them.

At one point in the book, they present opposite ways in which Satan fools and ensnares people:

“Satan enslaves people in two ways. One way is with the misery and suffering that comes from making us think there is no good God worth trusting. The other way is with pleasure and prosperity, making us think we have all we need so that God is irrelevant.”

As you read this, you may not fully fall into either of these categories. However your thinking may be touched by one or the other in times of difficulty and prosperity. So why not firm up your thinking today.

1.  How has God proven Himself to be trustworthy – no matter what happens?

If you have these reasons clear and in the forefront of your mind, you will be able to more easily brush aside the doubts that Satan will try to slip into your thoughts at some point in the future.

To strengthen myself against having unworthy thoughts about God, I daily preach to myself the greatness, the perfections and the faithfulness of God. Since there is a wealth of items to declare, each day my praise to God is different.

2.  How has your experience with possessions and success revealed to us that earthly benefits are short lived and contain burdens within them?

We should be convinced by now that we desperately need God every day and in every area of life. It is not simple that we need God to come along and give us a boost every now and then – we have a deep need for God to be at the center of all we are and all we do.

To strengthen myself against sliding into attitudes of self-sufficiency, I preach to myself the realities of God as the source of all that is good, and the sustainer of all that is!

I readily admit my limitations, yet try not to be (overly) discouraged by them; because I am human, but my God is beyond measure.

Child of God, even when you are running late to begin the day – you always have time to declare the praises of God!

The One who has blessed you in Christ, and will remain wondrous in all things today.

HATE WITH A CAPITAL H

I was working diligently in my Starbucks office, when I overheard parts of a conversation between two women. Apparently one of the women is an interior designer and they were choosing finishes for the other woman’s home.

My interest in what they had to say was rather low, but this snippet of the conversation did stick in my mind:

“Don’t you hate those knobs?

“Oh, I hate ’em, I hate ’em”!

I didn’t see the offending knob in question, so it may have been absolutely hideous. Although I am not sure what capacity for hideousness any knob has.

Their use of the word “hate” was both casual and intense. Neither women wanted that knob anywhere in their line of sight. But how deeply can anyone actually hate a knob?

Many of us use the word “hate” more than we realize. It pops out of our mouth when we have a tiny bit of intensity in our dislikes. Personally, I like the sound of the word “loathe”; as in I loathe coffee served in Styrofoam cups and any show on Bravo with the exception of Top Chef.

Although we over use and misuse the word hate, it does have its place in our vocabulary.

We should all loath and hate sin!

Sin hates God

Sin corrupts what God made good

Sin brings death

For these reasons and more, God hates sin and so should we.

The Bible gives us these admonitions about sin:

Hate evil, and love good.  (Amos 5:15)

O you who love the Lord, hate evil!  (Psalm 97:10)

Do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the Lord.”  (Zechariah 8:17)

It is easy to hate some sins, for they are clearly destructive and perverse. Other sins appear moderate to us and we don’t readily hate them. At least not as much as we hate ugly knobs.

In Romans 1:29-31, Paul describes people of “debased” behavior and he lumps together sins we easily hate, along with sins we barely notice:

They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

Now if we already have a dislike for someone, it doesn’t take much convincing to hate their sins in every form and at every occurrence. In fact we become so exuberant in our hatred, that we hate the person along with the sin.

While we are to hate all sin, as we have probably already heard, we are to have hated of sin while still finding love for the sinner.

There is one more important component to acquiring a proper hatred of sin. Make sure we hate our own sin most of all. Learn to despise with all the animosity we can muster, the sin that tries to find a resting place in our lives!

 

SERMON LEFTOVERS 3.13.17

How Should We Respond to Sin in Others?   

 

1 Corinthians 5:1-13

“Don’t judge me” . . “Be more tolerant” . . “Coexist” . . “You’re an extremist”.

These are common allegations that Christians often struggle to answer. As Paul corrects the Corinthians lack of response to sin in their midst, he helps us answers those concerns we may not know how to answer.

 

Why is Paul Upset?

A church member is sexually involved with his stepmother, which violated Jewish and Roman law

His father died or is an unbeliever, and the stepmother is apparently not in church

Paul was offended by this sin, and their lack of response

Paul accuses them of ‘arrogance’ v2 and ‘boasting’ v6

They were taking pride in their tolerance, or more likely, this is further proof that their sense of maturity is empty

Either way, pride has led them to a perspective of inaction

This scene is a strong example for why pride is dangerous

Instead of holding a perspective that exalts God, pride holds to our own thinking

If we love God, we will hate sin (anything that rebels against God)

v2 humility would not only ‘mourn’ the sin, it would act to ‘remove’ it. This is because humility submits to and fully embraces God’s ways

 

Paul guides them in ways we may need clarity

1.  Paul Addresses Judging One Another 

The Corinthians failed to correctly assess the situation, Paul didn’t v3

v12 instructs us to ‘judge’ fellow-believers. Yet elsewhere Jesus and Paul say “Don’t judge”. What are we to do?

We saw the answer in 4:6, when Paul told them not to go “beyond what is written”

God is the Judge v13. When we repeat what’s ‘written’, we are not judging – we are faithfully echoing his judgments

We cannot live obedient and discerning lives unless we apply God’s judgments

However, holding people to our standards and opinions is improper judgment

If we love God more than ourselves, we will be grateful for biblical correction from others

2.  Paul Addresses Church Discipline   

Paul gives the church specific action to take vs 4-5. It’s the ultimate action Jesus tells us to take with believers who don’t repent (Matthew 18:15-17)

Notice when there is serious and unrepentant sin, the whole church (believers) is called to participate v4

To “deliver over to Satan” is to put them out of the fellowship and care of the church

They should never be out of our hearts or prayers. Rather church discipline is a time that guides and unites us in prayer for them

“But that’s not loving.” God knows what is loving far better than you. His purpose is greater than for their comfort, it is for their soul’s eternal condition

The ultimate purpose of discipline is always gospel fulfillment v5 (this is also true for discipline of our children)

In the church today, discipline is widely ignored, because it is hard, messy and potentially explosive. But we don’t want to be guilty of v2

3.  Paul Addresses Zeal for Purity vs 6-8

Paul points out the broader context of why the church must respond. The nature of sin is to aggressively spread. A little sin acts like “leaven”

v7-8 Paul refers to the Passover festival to illustrate our new life in Christ

At Passover, all leaven was removed from the house. It symbolized putting away all sin to follow God

We cleanse out the old leaven, so we can have a “new lump” made with new leaven v7

Just as sin spreads so should the “new lump” of zealous purity

Purity and zeal should not be fearful or limiting concepts to us. In truth they are freeing and fulfilling!

4.  Paul Addresses Coexistence vs 9-13

Christ is Lord of all, he has authority over everyone. Matthew 28 says in his “authority’”, he sends us with the gospel to “make disciples”

Unbelievers are not disciples, they are under judgment and outside the church

To them we are ambassadors for Christ

We have authority from Christ to freely offer the gospel to them

Those in the church, claim to be disciples

They are citizens of Christ’s Kingdom

This brings them under the authority of the local church as we exercise the rules and benefits of Scripture for the church

We are to mourn what grieves God, wherever it is found

We are to celebrate what honors God, and spread it wherever we can

HOW DO YOU WALK INTO CHURCH?

What Christian needs to read a book entitled, “How to Walk Into Church”?

Tony Payne, who wrote just that book, thinks all of us need to reflect on the topic.

I heartily agree!

I did miss church my first Sunday on this earth, but after that, my track record is pretty good. I estimate that I have attended nearly 5000 Sunday morning services. If the math doesn’t seem to add up, it’s because I have attended multiple services for decades.

Even after my immersion in Sunday church life, I found “How to Walk Into Church” to be helpful.

Payne’s purpose is to help us to approach church life and specifically church attendance, thoughtfully. And at less than 50 pages, “How to Walk Into Church” is a packed book!

Among the stimulating thoughts:

We should walk into church praying about where to sit.

When does church start?

When does church actually finish?

Whether you have attended 6 church services or 6000, “How to Walk Into Church” will not only help you, it will equip you to encourage other Christians in an age when church attendance is increasingly thoughtless and sporadic.

 

SERMON LEFTOVERS 3.06.17

Wisdom Follows Humility

 

1 Corinthians 4:6-21                   

 

We all make a life choice concerning whose perspective is upside down, God’s or that of the world. The Corinthians had not chosen well as evidenced by their divisiveness. Paul has answered by contrasting the wisdom of God with that of world. Now he unmasks the motivation behind their choices.

 

The wisdom we follow is a pride issue

All human history and the gospel are connected to this reality (compare Gen 3:1-6 and Mt 4:3-10)

1. Paul uses confrontation, to help the Corinthians see their true selves

He asks three who – what – why questions (v7)

There is no mystery concerning the answers; all we have is from God, which takes away our reasons for boasting

But unless we know God clearly, we will not see this basic reality

Even believers drift if God’s Word does not anchor our minds

We desperately need the conviction not to go “beyond” God’s Word (v6)

Paul had “applied all these things” i.e. the truths of chapters 1-4

Paul has doggedly pressed this conviction on us – how has it impacted you?

Beware, it is not just the world that tries to draw us “beyond what is written”

There are some in the church who diminish the infallibility and authority of God’s word

Discernment matters concerning what we read and who we hear

2. Paul uses sarcasm to help the Corinthians see the foolishness of their pride

They had an exaggerated view their maturity, so in v8 Paul uses exaggeration

Then he makes comparisons in v10 using words they probably used about themselves

When we compare ourselves to others, we usually use a one-sided and distorted storyline

3. Paul uses his own example of humbly resting in Christ

Paul is no longer using hyperbole, this is how he lived!

He is uplifting the seemingly ‘upside down’ biblical perspective of humility

The world resents life that looks like (v11)

The rich and wise would have mocked Paul for demeaning himself in physical labor (v12)

People ridicule those who have a v13 lifestyle

Humility as lifestyle is upside down to a world that is self-centered

Then why would any of us want to embrace it and be content!?

It’s the way of wisdom, for it is the way of Christ (Philippians 3:8)

What is truly upside down, is the so-called wisdom of the world

If you know Christ and have his gospel, the choice of where wisdom is found should not be difficult

To help us joyfully agree with the worthiness of Christ, we need to be immersed in praise of him

 

Paul presents their response options

Paul has firmly “admonished” them: how will they receive it? (vs 14-17)

(1)  They can justify themselves and reject his assessment

(2)  They can be self-focused in “shame” and pull away

(3)  Or they can humble themselves and follow the example of godly wisdom

Paul offers himself as an example, because he has “applied these things”

We are all called to be disciple-makers; and part of that is being an example

You don’t need to be a perfect example, you can be a committed example

We can show that we are committed to “applying” the wisdom of God instead of our own

We can show that we take joy in the wisdom of God instead of our own

Paul has softened his tone from confrontational to fatherly

But these believers must still decide how they will respond (vs 18-21)

The wisdom of the world has influence, but it’s devoid of power

The wisdom of God consists of power, so serving his “kingdom” has power

     The wisdom of the gospel is ‘the power of God for salvation’

     The wisdom of God is power to make life whole

     The wisdom of God is power to sustain and lift you in every storm

If you are in Christ and you embrace his word, your life will have power

 

CONNECTING GOD’S GRACES

Boy Playing in Rain

 

God gave me an unexpected grace.

While I was praying a few weeks ago, God began to unfold in my mind the best way to approach the sermon text for that Sunday. 

I had been struggling with how to best organize and present the truths contained in the passage. Some weeks this is especially difficult. I may have a few clear thoughts in my mind, but I don’t know how to bring them together in a cohesive message. Ideas bounce around in my brain and seem to willfully resist coming together.

When I realized God was graciously bringing the message together for me, I was obviously thankful to Him. I began to praise God for his goodness of stepping into my struggle and filling me with his thoughts. 

A few minutes later, it suddenly struck me, this thankfulness was not enough. I also had the responsibility of connecting this grace from God, to the other struggles of my life. This particular grace did not arrive in isolation, it was part of a ceaseless flow of mercy and goodness from my Heavenly Father.

The lesson here is not to compartmentalize God’s graces to us. Rather we should use a grace manifested in one area to encourage us where we are not seeing grace in another area.

God does not stop and start with his graces. They do not stall out. The opposite is true, they are part of the “living waters” which Jesus declared flow like a river through our lives!

If we are to honor God as he deserves, then we must accurately see that he is continuously and overwhelming gracious to us. God does not haphazardly drop random graces into our lives. In Christ, all of our moments take place within a flow of grace, which runs from the cross into eternity.

 

Image by © Ed Bock/CORBIS