The Fragrance of Suffering

Behind a Frowning Providence, He Hides a Smiling Face

“Ministers never write or preach so well, as when under the cross.”

– George Whitfield

I don’t know why, but I’ve always gravitated toward those who’ve endured suffering—far and above those whose lives are generally considered perfect.

Whenever I’m in the presence of anyone who’s been forever altered by a life of suffering, I am inexplicably drawn to them. They are beautiful and they possess a depth to their souls that causes them to stand out in the midst of everyone around them—a depth that only profound suffering can produce. Even more precious to me among those who’ve suffered, are those who understand that their suffering wasn’t for nothing, but was for a greater purpose.

In William Cowper’s hymn, God Moves in a Mysterious Way, he penned this verse:

“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace; behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.”

A fragrance of suffering permeates those who’ve experienced great pain, loss, and trials, and is far more attractive than that of those whose lives have been defined by happy, clappy superficiality (and this is especially true when it comes to those who occupy pulpits).

Continue reading here.

The Original Revival Hymn

I found this video on a Christian brother’s website. Paul, thank you for posting this to your site. It is truly convicting and right in line with what I have been sharing on my posts about “Spiritual Vertigo.”

For Goats or Sheep?

In a previous post entitled, “Spiritual Vertigo”, I addressed three reasons why true believers, particularly in western evangelicalism, have entered a state where they have become disorientated. They struggle from week to week and from one Sunday morning worship to the next. The church has lost its balance and people are sick.

But, why or how does this happen?

Here are the reasons that I gave.

First, we fail to keep sight of the holiness, majesty, and glory of the almighty God. (Part 1 – Found here.)

Second, our vision of eternity is dulled because we become too focused on the world and what it has to offer. (Part 2 – Found here.)

Third, we become disorientated when we work harder to make the church appealing to unbelievers than we do in making the church a place for the sheep to come and find quiet waters and pastures where they can feed without the fear of wolves.

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Let’s get right to a summary of this blogpost.

1. Heaven is NOT for unredeemed sinners.

2. The Bride of Christ is the manifest evidence to a dead world that Jesus Christ is alive and is coming back for that which He redeemed with His precious blood.

3. Church is NOT for the pleasure of the world.

4. Church is a gathering together of believers who meet together for teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread (communion or the Lord’s Table), and prayer.

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Now we will break some of this down.

We live in a day and age of snowflakes. An overwhelming majority of people want to be offended, and there is no lack of intolerance. The worldling wears proverbial chips on the shoulder and just dares anybody, somebody, everybody to breathe in their direction so it will fall off and plummet to the ground.

Wikipedia defines the word “snowflake” as “a 2010s derogatory slang term for a person, implying that they have an inflated sense of uniqueness, an unwarranted sense of entitlement, or are overly-emotional, easily offended, and unable to deal with opposing opinions.”

Many pastors and teachers of the Scriptures today feel they are in a quandary. On one hand, they know that true believers are to obey God rather than man. On the other hand, many have not considered the price of standing for truth whether it causes offense or not. In other words, many are afraid of the faces of the people for a myriad of reasons, some of which may include their paychecks each month.

When being politically correct is more important than preaching truth, the minister who caves into the world is no longer a shepherd. They have become nothing more than a hireling.

For example, the rise of “issues” such as the LGBTQ+ movement is not a reflection of the direction the world is moving. The gross immorality of this movement has been in place for millennium. It will continue to grow more and more depraved, but we MUST expect that for the world runs headlong after all that opposes God and the truth of holiness.

The real issue is that the church bears the necessity of condemnation for its failing to adhere to Sola Scripture (Scripture alone) in all that it believes and practices. Little by little, the world kept pushing the boundaries. Pastors and church leaders kept quiet or used the phrase – “Well, whatever is done in the privacy of their own homes is ok as long as it is not done in the open.”

That was never going to be good enough, so the world continues to push. The church caved even more and now it is hard to find churches that have not openly accepted those who stand in open rebellion against God. Those who practice lawlessness moved their wickedness out of their own homes into the light of day and now have charged militantly into the church.

The militancy of this particular tiny but excessively and aggressively vocal subset of the community continues to try to infiltrate every single aspect of all that is good. What God created to be holy, they have made into degradation including marriage and the family.

Why is this important? Because the downward slide into oblivion will continue. The world will continue to make the church and God seem irrelevant. This means that true believers have just one of two choices on the shelf —

PLEASING GOD or PLEASING SELF!

What makes the situation in church even worse is that the world laughs at the church. They laugh, mock, and belittle true believers. Further, they think they are mocking God and thumbing their noses at Him. Listen to the words of King David from Psalm 2:1-4.

Why do the nations rage and the people plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.

Truly, there is a dizzying difference between the churches of centuries past and the modern, so-called evangelical churches of today.

The early churches KNEW what it meant to take a stand and to be separate from the world. The world knew they were different. In fact, Acts 5:13 notes of the world, “None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.” The world did NOT consider it a light matter to join themselves to the small bands of Christian believers. They were afraid of the judgment that came from God against those who lied and grieved the Holy Spirit of God.

Today, many churches have little to no requirements for those who want to “join.” The worn-out motto has become “Come as you are, leave as you came!”

Is it any wonder that the church has no power?

Should we, who are bought by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, reduce our inheritance to nothing for the sake that we may be liked by the world? Have we truly forgotten the words of the Lord Jesus Christ that the world will HATE you because it hated me FIRST?

Brothers and sisters, the local body of believers is to be a haven of rest. It is a place where we may go to worship the God of all creation as a collective group. Will unbelievers come in to visit? Yes! Should they be welcomed? Yes!

Should we give the impression that God loves them just as they are and that our lives should be lived in a way that reflects the holiness of God? No, no, a thousand times NO!

Church is for true believers to be edified and built up in their faith. We are then to go OUT into the world to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ. As new believers are brought to the Savior, then they should be taught and discipled to become more and more like Jesus Christ.

Dear readers, you and I WILL NEVER change the church to look more like the world and find that we have attracted anything other than goats.

The joy of salvation is that the Bible makes a clear distinction between those who are lost (goats) and those who are true believers (sheep). However, the apostle John made it clear that whosoever is thirsty, may come and drink of the water of life. The gospel call goes out to the world to come and dine at the feet of Jesus Christ. Finally, the apostle Paul said that whosoever will may come and be saved.

For the church, judgment must begin with at home. We must stop trying to pacify the world and get back to reflecting the truth that we are the Bride of Christ. The Bride of Christ who is making herself ready for the return of the King.

As I concluded in the previous post, if the wonder of eternity remains dulled to us because we prefer to believe that the world holds more allure to us, then we will become a miserable failure because of a dimmed vision.

May our hearts be encouraged with a fresh look at the Savior today. May we be blessed with the recollection of all the heavenly benefits that belong to us.

Spiritual Vertigo

Vertigo is defined as “a sensation of whirling and loss of balance, associated particularly with looking down from a great height, or caused by disease affecting the inner ear or the vestibular nerve; giddiness. It can cause loss of balance, ringing in the ears, nausea, and disorientation.”

Two weeks ago, I woke up and began what seemed like a normal day. Less than an hour later, something went pear-shaped in my head. Extreme dizziness and violent retching overtook my body. By the fifth day, I paid a visit to a local Urgent Care.

After a preliminary check by a nurse, then another staff member, a doctor entered the room. They ran some additional tests for various flus and viruses. All came back negative, and the result was that I had vertigo.

There is a first time for everything. Despite having had malaria and typhoid twice while we served in Liberia, this was completely different. Every day that I wake up, my world whirls and spins as I try to recalibrate. I can now sit in my chair, but again each move has to be calculated or my stomach starts to churn and the world constantly spins.

I am disorientated. To use the medical definition for disorientation, I have a condition that causes me to feel as though I have lost my sense of direction.

As I have been pondering this new condition, it has made me think more about spiritual matters. Sometimes, the only thing I can do is close my eyes and pray for others while waiting for the world to stop spinning.

This diagnosis makes me realize that there is a spiritual connection, in that, there are some within the church who have spiritual vertigo.

They have lost their balance, or something is making them sick, or it may be that they have become disorientated. Some within evangelical churches have lost their sense of direction.

But, why or how does this happen?

First, we fail to keep sight of the holiness, majesty, and glory of the almighty God.

Listen to the words of those whose sight was not dimmed when they wrote the following thoughts.

C.S. LewisA man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.

John PiperIf you don’t see the greatness of God then all the things that money can buy become very exciting. If you can’t see the sun you will be impressed with a street light. If you’ve never felt thunder and lightning you’ll be impressed with fireworks. And if you turn your back on the greatness and majesty of God you’ll fall in love with a world of shadows and short-lived pleasures.

A.W. PinkHappy the soul that has been awed by a view of God’s majesty.

King DavidPsalm 93:1, “The LORD reigns; he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.

Jude – half-brother of Jesus Christ in his little book – Jude 25, To the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Second, our vision of eternity is dulled because we become too focused on the world and what it has to offer.

My dear readers, there is absolutely NOTHING the world offers that will compare with the riches that await us in Christ and in heaven. It is easy for those who are seated with Christ in the heavenlies to become dizzy and disorientated when they gaze longingly down to the mud and muck offered by the world.

Missionary and martyr Jim Elliott wrote in his diary, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

Third, we become disorientated when we work harder to make the church appealing to unbelievers than we do in making the church a place for the sheep to come and find quiet waters and pastures where they can feed without the fear of wolves.

This third point is a sad fact in far too many churches that claim the name of Christ today. Instead of being focused on preaching, teaching, and prayer, we have become centers for socialization or programs.

Pastors and teachers, if our time dissolves each week because of all the things we think we have to do instead of what God requires, then we cannot be surprised when our churches begin to look more like a worldly business.

True believers need to come together for worship remembering that Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. Every aspect is to be about Him. Church is not meant to be a well-oiled piece of machinery at the expense of seeing Him who is above all.

Every Sunday, across our land, true believers gather. They need encouragement, exhortation, and edification. They come hurting physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Like soldiers on the battlefield, they are bruised and broken from fighting the evil one and his minions. There should be one inviolable focus and goal for every person who preaches or teaches.

“The goal for every true believer is to be more like Jesus Christ today than we were yesterday, and more like Him tomorrow than we are today.”

Anything more or less than this is a disservice to the hearts and minds of true believers. When we ponder the state of the persecuted church, it becomes easier to see how far we have slipped. People in our western bastions of evangelicalism are not ready for persecution. We refuse to see it coming because the world has disorientated us to the point where we think they walk the road of life with us hand-in-hand.

May we be encouraged to stand fast and once again follow the command of the apostle Paul to the church in Colosse.

“Set your affections on things above, and not things of the earth.”

A Disservice to the Persecuted Church

My dear wife, Violet, has long been a person who spends far more time in prayer than I do. One of the areas that she ALWAYS remembers in prayer is the persecuted church.

In fact, it is through her devotion to the Lord and the concern that she has for brothers and sisters overseas that has helped me to be more consistently aware of those who are beaten, raped, and murdered simply because their faith is found in Jesus Christ alone.

A friend and past contributor, Sony Elise, writes encouraging posts, and in those encouragements often includes admonitions to pray for others. I am thankful for those who would be considered prayer warriors. These are people who give of their time and energy to remember the plight of others.

However, one of the areas in which I am often discouraged is the seeming lack of care, concern, and even love within the western church for these brothers and sisters. Too often, I have grown disheartened when I seek to remember those in places like China, Vietnam, Mongolia, and even in the heart of Muslim countries, yet most in the West live like these people do not exist.

The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

I have many times brought the matter up for prayer in church meetings only to be ignored even by church leadership. I can only conclude a couple of main reasons for why our churches do not remember the persecuted church, or if they do, it is on the rarest of occasions.

First, remembering those who are persecuted would mean a vivid reminder that we are one family in Christ Jesus. This means that we must strive to follow the command that Paul wrote in Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

Second, remembering those who are persecuted would cause us to have to examine our hearts and lives. I am afraid that in the western world, we are NOT ready for persecution. Our lives are filled with plenty and many of our churches resemble the church in Revelation that was found in the city of Laodicea.

Revelation 3:17 says that the church in Laodicea said, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.”

Yet, Jesus Christ said that the Laodicean church was actually wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

How sad that we live and prosper, yet compared to our brothers and sisters who languish in prison, we are poor and to be pitied. Our barns and presses burst full of wine, yet the wine is but the fruit of sour grapes.

A pastor in a persecuted country was asked about the things for which he and his people prayed. The western individual expected that to hear that they prayed for freedom of religion, freedom from persecution, and for better lives.

The westerner was visibly shocked when the old but wise pastor, who had spent many years in prison for his faith, responded with gentleness.

“Our church prays for grace and strength for our people to endure whatever will make us more like Jesus Christ. He suffered and died for us, so is it too much if He asks us to do the same for Him?”

“We also pray for the church in the West that God will bring our brothers and sisters times of persecution so that the true church will grow in its faith. When that persecution comes, we also pray that God will show His love and mercy by providing the same grace and strength to our Christian family in the west.”

Dear readers, our brothers and sisters do not want our freedoms. When the Iron Curtain crashed down, it is said that the struggling and persecuted underground churches dreaded what would come to their doors. Pastors would send word that they only wanted missionaries who would preach and teach them the truth of God’s Word.

I personally spoke with one pastor, who had been imprisoned in Romania for many years. He spoke words that have stayed with me for almost 30 years.

“When the freedom came, all the things found in western churches came to Romania. These were things we did not want. We did not want the entertainment, the worldly music, or the sermons with no real meat. But that is what many missionaries brought to us.”

“The underground church that grew under persecution has become cold. The focus is no longer on Jesus Christ, but on what we can do to draw crowds of unbelievers. Our young people sing all the popular songs from the West, but their lives have not changed. We are no longer ready for persecution and we are the poorer for it.”

Call to Action

What can we do? For too long, the church in the west has done a great disservice to the persecuted church. The call to action comes ringing across the waves from the great cloud of witnesses that cry loudly for the Lord’s return to bring justice.

Here are four areas that will help you and I – starting today!

1. CONFESS! If you do not regularly pray for or remember the persecuted church, seek forgiveness from the Lord. Ask God to help you overcome callousness of the heart and pray to become sensitive to the needs of our far-off family.

2. PRAY! Ask the Lord that our brothers and sisters will stand strong. Pray for their captors and those who persecute them that our God will be gracious and bring even some of “Caesar’s household” to Himself.

3. STAND! Stand with our brothers and sisters. Do not ignore their plight. Find ways to encourage others, especially those who put themselves in harm’s way to go to the persecuted church and try to be a blessing. Find others to meet with who have a similar passion and share times of worship and prayer together.

4. PREPARE! Persecution is promised to those who would live godly in Christ Jesus. Pray that God would help you and I to take our eyes off of the rust, moth-corrupted treasures of this world. Pray that we would heed the words of Paul in Colossians 3:2, “Set your minds (affections) on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”

Sighing and Groaning?

In my reading through the Scriptures in a year, today I read Ezekiel 5-9. I realize that Ezekiel was written by the prophet Ezekiel to the people of Judah and Israel. Yet, my mind struggled with what was prophesied would happen to Jerusalem.

V. 3 tells us the glory of God had departed! This is itself is tragic, but read on.

Vv. 4-6 give a solemn declaration of judgment pronounced against those who were God’s chosen people. These verses read like this in the ESV,

4 And the LORD said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” 5 And to the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. 6 Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the house. — (Emphasis added)

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Dear brothers and sisters, how often do we read through the pages of Scripture and fail to understand what is happening?

We can often overlook the principles found in the Scriptures and do not comprehend how it can apply to our own lives over 2 1/2 millennium after Ezekiel wrote these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Under the judgment of God, the ONLY people who would be protected from the wrath of the Almighty were those who sighed and groaned over all the abominations.

There would be no pity shown, and nobody was exempt. Sadly, the nation had become so corrupt that the messengers who would be placing the mark upon the foreheads were told to start with the elders.  These were the men charged with the religious and governmental affairs of the nation.

In other words, there were people from the top of the religious and social stratum who were NOT sighing and groaning over the abominations. These abominations were so vulgar and grotesque that Ezekiel only alludes to some of what these might have been.

The scenario we find in the 21st century is much different. The world faces even greater abominations. Abortion is now acceptable. The family is being destroyed. LGBTQ issues cloud every aspect of culture and society. What transpires behind closed doors is now openly flaunted and accepted.

In fact, our own governments willingly and deliberately strip financial aid from countries that refuse to allow for abortion at will and who refuse to legitimize ALL aspects of the LGBTQ movement.

What is NOT different is that many “elders” who are to stand in the gap and proclaim thus saith the Lord refuse to stand anymore. Even evangelical churches are becoming more open and accepting of contemporary issues of the day.

Instead of being like Martin Luther and stating, “Here I stand, I can do no other”, elders and churches are allowing for more and more abominations to come into the places where God’s people are to worship. Entertainment drives the masses and the goats feel happy while the sheep starve for lack of the bread of life from pulpits.

In this life, we are not worried about the enemy brazenly storming across our land. We do not go to sleep worrying whether our women will be violated, our children openly sold as slaves, and whether we will even have enough to eat for tomorrow.

Sadly — nay, tragically, the abominations that surround us are compounded by the reality that very few sigh and groan. Instead, we laugh when it flickers across our screens. At times, we can become so hardened in our hearts that there is only a twinge of guilt that we have mocked the God we claim as our Father.

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My challenge to you — go and read Ezekiel 9. See the state of Israel and Judah. Ask yourself whether you are laughing and enjoying the fruit of the world and its abomination.

If we truly desire revival, we need to begin learning once again how to sigh and groan over the abominations. We need to seek forgiveness for our own areas where we fail to meet the perfect, holy standard that is Jesus Christ. We must hold ourselves accountable and strive to become more like the Master.

May you and I who truly know Jesus Christ as our Savior remember that like Israel of old, we are called to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:5). Unlike the abominable offerings that God refused to accept from Israel, we MUST offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Take the world, BUT GIVE ME JESUS!