- 2017Aug 11
Are you discontent with the spiritual progress you are making in your walk with Jesus Christ? Have you ever felt ill-equipped to minister the grace and truth of Jesus to others who are experiencing life’s various challenges? Would you like to experience personal growth and be trained to help others grow as disciples of Christ? Then this announcement is for you.
If you live or serve in the Cleveland area, you should consider receiving training in biblical counseling provided by Cornerstone Community Church in Mayfield Heights. We believe the Bible is inspired by God and is sufficient to instruct us in living a life that glorifies the Savior, which includes working through our personal and relationship problems.
This training course, Fundamentals of Biblical Counseling, will challenge you personally to grow in your spiritual walk, and it will equip you to minister God’s life-changing Word more effectively to those who are looking for answers. It will help any Christian to be more effective in discipling others in overcoming life’s problems. It will lay the foundation of biblical counseling principles and practices, of marriage and family relationships, and problems frequently encountered in counseling cases. And, for those who are interested in pursuing certification in biblical counseling, it will also meet the Basic Training Course Requirement for Phase One in the certification process through the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.
The mission of Cornerstone Community Church is to glorify God by making disciples of Jesus Christ, and offers this training at no cost. [Note: you will be required to purchase your own textbooks.] Training classes begin on Tuesday evenings in September. For more information and to register, click here.
- 2017Jul 27
Job started so well. His faith was as invulnerable to Satan’s onslaughts as a turtle snuggled up inside its shell is to the frantic pawings of a dog. Job tucked his head and feet inside his faith in God and said, “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Later, however, Job was rebuked by God for his complaining spirit. What went wrong? There are at least four reasons Job’s trust in God took a tumble. First, he listened to bad counsel.
Avoid Bad Counsel
If you are going to handle your calamity in a wise, God-honoring manner, you must ignore well-intentioned but unbiblical counsel. If Job’s counselors had been from the church in our era, they probably would have said, “Job, look at these terrible things that are happening to you. We have to break the generational curses that have power over your life. We have to cast out the demons of skin disease. You need to send 500 dollars to the faith-healer, I. M. Acharlatan, at Better-for-aBuck Ministries.” People will say all kinds of crazy things to you when calamity strikes (“don’t worry, God didn’t know this was going to happen.” Really? now I am worried!). Don’t let their well-intended but unbiblical counsel trip you up spiritually and send you sprawling. To handle calamity, you must ignore unbiblical advice with a gentle smile and a thank you. People speak to you because they care; receive their counsel with a gracious attitude, but don’t let their unbiblical advice throw you into a tailspin like Job did.
Time Keeps On Tickin’
A second reason Job went off the rails was that he let the termite of time gnaw at his faith. According to Job 7:3, Job’s grief and the burning torment of his physical ailments had extended for months by the time his friends arrived. Job’s suffering felt eternal; the sheer duration of it was wearing him down. Like an eager marathon runner, Job bolted off the starting line of faith, but as the race of responding to his calamity stretched out mile after mile and day after day, Job’s faith began to stumble and stagger. Time is a killer in trials. Like Job, we start with strong faith, but as we tick off days on the calendar, turn over the page to a new month, eventually buy a new calendar for next year, and then a new one for the year after that, we can easily despair. Time makes trials hard.
The Expectations Trap
A third reason Job stumbled is he had false expectations of God. In chapter 29, Job listed his many accomplishments. For example:
- He was a respected civic leader: “When I went out to the gate of the city … the old men arose and stood” (29:7–8).
- He was adored by the poor and disadvantaged because of his philanthropy: “I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame” (29:15).
- In summary he declared, “My steps were bathed in butter, and the rock poured out for me streams of oil!” (29:6).
Because of his success and his great kindness to others, Job had built up some expectations—things he believed God owed him because he had been good. In chapter 30, Job had this flash of insight into his confused and angry heart: “When I expected good, then evil came; when I waited for light, then darkness came. I am seething within and cannot relax; days of affliction confront me.” (30:26–27)
Job’s summary is both pathetic and perfect: “When I expected good, then evil came” (30:26). The expectation that God owes me good if I have been good is dangerous because it leads to feelings of betrayal and anger at God. God, however, never promises endless good if we are a devoted mother, a patient father, a faithful taxpayer, or if we don’t run with the wrong crowd at school. To handle calamity rightly, Christians must avoid Job’s mistake of building up the expectation that “God owes me because I’ve tried to be good.”
The Shield of Faith
Finally, besides bad counsel, time, and expectations, there was one other reason Job stumbled: he lost his grip on the shield of faith. In chapters 1–2, Job was solidly entrenched behind an impenetrable barrier of faith in God’s wisdom—a perfect example of Paul’s teaching about the shield of faith in Ephesians 6. The soldiers of the ancient world often carried large shields. When enemy archers fired a volley of arrows, they ducked behind those shields and let the arrows harmlessly ricochet off. In Job 1–2, Job had done just that. Satan had fired a barrage of fiery darts at him, but the shield of Job’s faith had deflected them all. That’s how faith works: no arrow of Satan—no matter how hot or deadly—can overwhelm simple, childlike faith: “I’ll trust God whether I understand what he is doing or not.” In chapter 3, Job allowed the handle of the shield of faith to slip from his sweaty fingers. Rather than preoccupy himself with believing trust, Job allowed his thinking to be dominated by frustrated expectations and, later, by the disheartening, untrue accusations of his friends. In the Gospels, the man cried, “I do believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). In calamity, we must voice a similar cry to Christ: “I believe; rescue me from my doubt, fear, anger, and unbelief.”
For these reasons, Job stumbled. But, thankfully, that is not the end of the story. In heartfelt worship, Job returned to a fear-of-the-Lord-faith which enabled him to humbly walk with God the rest of his days.
[This post is a chapter excerpt from Joel James’ helpful mini-book, HELP! I Can’t Handle All These Trials. If you find yourself in the midst of a painful trial, or know a friend who is, you both will benefit from reading Joel’s counsel from the life of Job.]
Image courtesy: ©Ilya Repin [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
- 2017Jul 26
When you receive bad news what is your first response? Do you get angry? Do you get depressed? Or do you experience a little of both? Does disappointment provoke you to become angry with God or others whom you perceive to get in your way? Do you panic? How do you respond when bad things happen? There are many different ways to respond, but in the first chapter of Nehemiah we see the best response of all—prayer.
Stop. Before you keep reading this post, read Nehemiah 1:1:-11.
In the providence of God, Nehemiah was given a tough assignment. His burden was to regather the Jews who had returned to Judah after the exile to Babylon, rebuild God’s city, and return the people of God to the Word of God. When he first heard the bad news concerning his fellow Jews and city, he could have become angry or slip into depression. Instead he prayed, and God answered, and God used Nehemiah to bring comfort and hope to His people.
In his example, we see 4 essential elements of compelling prayer.
Be consecrated in body and mind (v. 4).
As soon as Nehemiah heard the bad news, he prayed; prayer was his immediate response. Long before it was written, Nehemiah understood the admonition given in the NT: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). The text says he “wept and mourned for days” and “continued fasting and praying.” He was moved with compassion for his people, which compelled him to pray with fasting.
In OT times, fasting was an outward manifestation of an inner affliction of the soul. This affliction may have been the result of grief over loss, or deep sorrow over the ugliness of one's sin. When the humiliation was deep and profound, fasting was usually accompanied by tearing one's clothes, putting on sackcloth (a course fabric made of goat's hair), and sprinkling ashes on the head. Prayer often accompanied fasting, and facilitated increased concentration in prayer (See, for example, Daniel 9:3 and 2 Samuel 12).
However, fasting was not only present in the Old Testament. We see a number of examples in the New Testament, as well. John the Baptist directed his disciples to fast. Jesus said, “When you fast,” which implies He expected His disciples to fast at times. Probably the most memorable NT example is when the church of Antioch prayed and fasted to discern God’s will in regard to sending out servants into the harvest. It was when they had fasted and prayed, the Spirit directed the whole congregation to send out Barnabas and Paul (Acts 13).
What all of these examples teach is this: Fasting sometimes accompanied prayer as a demonstration of humility and deep intent to seek the will of God and surrender to it in humility,
Be confident in God's character and promises (vv. 5, 8-10).
The title "the great and awesome God” indicates Nehemiah’s appreciation of who God is: the one whom Nehemiah feared and the source and object of his deep faith. "God’s awesomeness is the impression his total character and person leaves on all who encounter him. Those who know and trust God are those who fear him" (Brenemen). This same fear of God is modeled in Psalm 86:1-10.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace.In the day of my trouble I call upon you,for you answer me.There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,nor are there any works like yours.All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord,and shall glorify your name.For you are great and do wondrous things;you alone are God.
Nehemiah prayed, “Remember the word.” This does not imply that God forgets, but is a way of saying, “Lord, I believe You. I trust you to keep your Word, to fulfill your promises.” To ask God to remember is to ask Him to intervene. Therefore, Nehemiah was asking God to intervene on his behalf, and on behalf of the people whom He had redeemed from Egyptian bondage. Before they entered the Promised Land, God warned them through Moses (Deut. 24:25-27). He had promised to chastise them because of their sin. However, God also promised to restore them once chastening had done its work of bringing them to repentance (Jeremiah 29:10-13). Nehemiah prayed with confidence because he trusted in God, that He is faithful to honor His Word and fulfill every promise He has ever made.
Be contrite in spirit when confessing sin (vv.6-7).
When Nehemiah approached God in prayer, he did so as God’s “servant;” i.e. with humility and meekness. He then proceeded to confess his and their sins to God. The Bible celebrates a contrite spirit. In Isaiah 66:2, the Lord says, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.” And in Psalm 51:17, as King David confessed his sin before God, he said, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
The Hebrew and Greek words often translated contrite mean “crushed, crippled, or broken.” A contrite heart refers to a conscience that is crushed under the weight of its own guilt. God draws near to the person who has a contrite spirit. In Isaiah 57:15, God says, “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15). In contrast, God turns His ear away from the proud heart. The psalmist confessed, “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear” (Ps 66:18). Unconfessed sin short-circuits prayer, but brokenness and humble confession open the door to answered prayer.
Be courageous to make big requests (v. 11).
Nehemiah asked God to grant him favor in the eyes of the king. Now read Nehemiah 2:1-8 to see God’s answer. Nehemiah took a big risk when he showed his transparent sadness before the king, but God went before him—He prepared the way—because this servant prayed.
Sometimes we fail to bring big requests to God because deep-down we believe whatever we long for is not possible, or that God is somehow less than good. What is your “impossible”?
- Maybe it is the salvation of a hardhearted friend or family member
- Or restoration of a marriage (yours or someone else's)
- The return of a prodigal son or daughter
- Or an employment need
- Perhaps it is for the Lord to overcome your infertility
- You name it...
Whatever your “impossible” is, know this: Scripture testifies that nothing is impossible for the Lord (Genesis 18:14). God says, “I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jer. 32:27).
God is good, too. “You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees” (Psalm 119:68). “The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” (Psalm 145:9). There is nothing God cannot do, and He is surpassingly good. Therefore, do not fear. Bring your big requests to Him.
[This post is an abbreviated summary of this past Sunday’s sermon preached at Cornerstone Community Church in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.]
If you desire to grow in the spiritual discipline of prayer, you may be consider reading one of my books on prayer: