Friday, November 28, 2014

How to Distinguish the Holy Spirit from the Serpent

From Ligonier Ministries by Sinclair Ferguson.

How do we distinguish the promptings of the Spirit of grace in His guiding and governing of our lives from the delusions of the spirit of the world and of our own sinful heart? This is a hugely important question if we are to be calm and confident that the spirit with whom we are communing really is the Holy Spirit.
John Owen suggests four ways in which the Spirit and the serpent are to be distinguished:
  1. The leading of the Spirit, he says, is regular, that is, according to theregulum: the rule of Scripture. The Spirit does not work in us to give us a new rule of life, but to help us understand and apply the rule contained in Scripture. Thus, the fundamental question to ask about any guidance will be: Is this course of action consistent with the Word of God? 
  2. The commands of the Spirit are not grievous. They are in harmony with the Word, and the Word is in harmony with the believer as new creation. The Christian believer consciously submitted to the Word will find pleasure in obeying that Word, even if the Lord’s way for us is marked by struggle, pain, and sorrow. Christ’s yoke fits well; His burden never crushes the spirit. (Matthew 11:28-30)
  3. The “motions” of the Spirit are orderly. Just as God’s covenant is ordered in all things and secure, (2 Samuel 23:5) so the promised gift of that covenant, the indwelling Spirit, is orderly in the way in which He deals with us. Restlessness is not a mark of communion with the Spirit but of the activity of the evil one. Perhaps Owen had particular members of his congregations in mind when he wrote: 
We see some poor souls to be in such bondage as to be hurried up and down, in the matter of duties at the pleasure of Satan. They must run from one to another, and commonly neglect that which they should do. When they are at prayer, then they should be at the work of their calling; and when they are at their calling, they are tempted for not laying all aside and running to prayer. Believers know that this is not from the Spirit of God, which makes “every thing beautiful in its season.” 
  1. The “motions,” or promptings of the Spirit, Owen says, always tend to glorify God according to His Word. He brings Jesus’ teaching into our memories; He glorifies the Savior; He pours into our hearts a profound sense of the love of God for us.
How, then, does the Spirit act on the believer? The Spirit comes to us as an earnest, a pledge, a down payment on final redemption. He is here and now the foretaste of future glory. But His presence is also an indication of the incompleteness of our present spiritual experience.
Owen here writes in sharp contrast to those who spoke of release from the influence of indwelling sin and struggle through the liberty of the Spirit. Precisely because He is the firstfruits and not yet the final harvest, there is a sense in which the indwelling of the Spirit is the cause of the believer’s groaning: “We ourselves who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:23) The presence of the Spirit brings us already a foretaste of future glory, but also, simultaneously, creates within us a sense of the incompleteness of our present spiritual experience. This, for Owen, is how communion with the Spirit—understood biblically—brings joy into the life of the believer and yet a deep sense that the fullness of joy is not yet.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Friday, November 21, 2014

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Necessity of Making the Bible Central to Your Life

For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their craftiness," and again, "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile." (1 Cor 3:19-20 ESV)

Here is what John Calvin says about this verse, " This is an excellent passage for bringing down the confidence of the flesh for here God declares from above that whatever the mind of man conceives in purpose is simply nothingness when it is compared to the word of God."  That tells me that we should value the word above all others words we put our minds to on a daily basis - radio, TV, newspaper, FB, tweets, instagram, etc.  We should read it, put our minds to it, meditate on it, and study it.    Are you valuing the word of God above all others words that daily vie for your attention?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


From the Gospel Coalition website.
Small groups increasingly play a significant part in the body life of many congregations. No matter why your church has small groups, it’s clear that not everyone in your church will enter into these groups with the same expectations. In fact, it’s more likely that everyone will join a small group with wildly different expectations. Some join a small group to connect at the church. They’re new to town and know relatively few people, so they join a small group. Or perhaps your church intentionally funnels people into small groups so that they can better be cared for. Your pastors and elders use the small group infrastructure to shepherd the flock. Or perhaps your church has small groups to train your people to grow in godliness and to reach their lost neighbors and friends. Those are all legitimate reasons to have small groups. Yet the church must be clear about the vision, mission, and main purpose of their small groups.
What you believe about why you are in a small group will dictate how you behave in that group. It’s important for a church to be clear why small groups exist. Do they exist to connect, shepherd, and reach unbelievers or to support one another? Are they some combination of those different things? What you believe about your small group will dictate how you approach potential problems when they arise. For example, if you buy a house knowing it will be a fixer-upper, then you approach that faux wood paneling in the family room as an opportunity to upgrade and improve. Whereas if you buy your dream house and find out the basement floods, you’re pretty disappointed and discouraged. Similarly, be clear from the beginning about the vision and values of your church small groups.
I would suggest that a healthy small group is committed to studying and applying God’s Word within the context of Christian community in order to grow as witnesses of Jesus in our respective spheres of influence. At our church, we summarize this goal as “transformation in community for witness.” But whether your small groups are mainly to help believers grow or mainly missional, here are five small group myths that I’ve encountered over the years that need correcting.
Myth 1. A successful small group will not be relationally messy.
While most people wouldn’t explicitly say so, they expect their small group be without relational messiness. They go in thinking that these people will be their best friends (more on that later), and when they find out they’re nothing alike they wonder if they’re in the right group. When someone in the group is passive aggressive or talks way too much about politics, you’re looking for the closest exit. Yet the reality is that small groups are composed of sinners all along the same journey of faith. They're going to get messy relationally, which is precisely why we have the gospel of grace that shows us how we ought to be long suffering and humble toward one another (Phil. 2:1-11).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together: 
The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.
Truth: Small groups are where the grace of God overcomes all types of relational messiness through the blood of Jesus.
​Myth 2: Small groups exist for others to meet my needs.
Don’t misunderstand. It is a wonderful blessing that our relational needs can be met by one another in small groups. It’s a good thing that if you don’t feel connected, or know anyone, you can join a small group and meet others at the church. But the overarching reality is that small groups exist for you to love God by loving his body, the church. Small groups exist for you to love others with the love of Christ. This is a radically different orientation than expecting others to meet your needs. And when we all have this aim—to love each other with the love of Christ—then we do meet each other’s needs.
Truth: Small groups exist for you to love and serve others with the love of Christ.
Myth ​​3. Trust and transparency take many years to cultivate in a small group.
Consider Acts 2 and how the believers had all things in common, making sure none was in need, breaking bread together, praising God together. How long had they known each other? They probably had been in community for a couple of weeks or maybe months, but not much longer. The reality is that more time together doesn’t always mean more trust and transparency. That just tends to be an excuse. Stepping into a small group, where the expectations are properly set, significant trust can be cultivated from day one.
What prevents you from opening up? Perhaps it’s shame over your sin, embarrassment that your marriage is struggling, or heartbreak over your wayward children. This is precisely what the gospel addresses. Christ took the wrath of God at Calvary and with it took our shame, condemnation, and fear of man. We can in fact be open and honest about where we are with God, because God is actively at work in us to conform us to his image.
Truth: Trust and transparency are fruits of recognizing we are all recipients of God’s abundant grace for the forgiveness of sins.
Myth 4. Small group members should become best friends.
Certain expectations are embedded into this myth—idealistic visions of taking vacations together, our kids growing up and marrying each other, attending each other’s birthday parties. While it would be a wonderful blessing if members of the same small group did become lifelong friends, the New Testament is nearly silent on the importance of friendship as a basis for love. Rather, our unity in Christ is the foundation and basis for our sacrificial love for one another. Ephesians 2:11-22is about how Christ demolishes the hostility between Jew and Gentile. Jews and Gentiles may not have been “BFFs” in the first century, but by the unifying work of Jesus on the cross they could be members of the same body. Is this not amazing? Similarly, the blood of Christ unifies us to be members of Christ’s body, committed to encourage, build up, and love one another.
Truth: Small groups are united by the blood of Christ and members of one body.
Myth 5. Small groups should focus only on Bible study, not sharing sins or engaging in outreach.
Small groups that truly focus on Christ and his Word will inevitably get to how the gospel changes our life in all ways (sin, parenting, marriage, singleness, work, and so on) and to how we can share our faith. If your Bible study isn’t helping you to change into Jesus’s likeness you’re doing it wrong. If your study of the Bible doesn’t make you hate your sin more, ask for help in conquering it, and make you want to share your faith, you’re doing it wrong. Unfortunately, some small groups hide behind Bible study in order to avoid talking about the deeper heart issues that the gospel aims to address. If we truly allow God’s Word to speak, it must speak into our lives so that we confront our sin, strive to serve one another, and make intentional efforts to share this good news with the lost in our spheres of influence.
Truth: Small groups focus on how the gospel of Jesus Christ transforms us as his disciples who grow in holiness and as witnesses of his truth.
These five common myths underline a greater goal: the gospel must be central in the vision and mission of your group. If your group exists to meet your personal needs, then when it begins to fall short you go looking for the next group. But if the group exists as a microcosm of the church, where people of all types gather at the foot of the cross, then challenges, sin, and brokenness are an opportunity to apply the gospel of Christ.

Keep the Gospel Central in Small Groups

Here are a few suggestions to get your small group on the right track.
1. Regularly reorient your small group to see that they are members of Christ—rather than members of a particular church, denomination, theological tribe, Sunday school class, demographic (singles, married, people who adopt) or ethnic or racial background. Put Galatians 2:20 at the forefront of your group—we have been crucified with Christ and now Christ lives in us.
2. Help your group set biblical expectations for fellowship/community. We may not all hang out all the time, and we may not become best of friends, but we encourage each other in our faith as we meet regularly to open his Word together and to help each other testify to Jesus in our spheres of influence. We can humbly and sacrificially serve one another because Christ has sacrificed in order that we might be brothers and sisters in Christ.
3. Help your group see the glorious privilege to love one another and how it witnesses to unbelievers around us. Our love for each other confirms and validates the power of the gospel (John 13:35). The gospel takes wildly different people from every walk of life and transforms them to care deeply for each other. When your small group goes out of its way to love and pray for one another, you reveal the transforming grace of Christ and draw in unbelievers to witness this miracle.
Steven Lee serves as the pastor of small groups and community outreach at College Church in Wheaton, Illinois. You can follow him on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What it Will be Like to Experience Ever Increasing Joy in Eternity

I am studying for preaching Revelation chapter 5 and contemplating the fact that the glory we see in chapters 4 and 5 are but a glimpse of the Glory of God the Father and God the Son.  Here is what Stephen Charnock says about our continuing experience of God's glory in eternity.  Read this slowly and a couple of times if you must; it is well worth it.  

After many ages, [our] joys will be as savory and satisfying as if they had been but that moment first tasted by our hungry appetites. When the glory of the Lord shall rise upon you, it shall be so far from ever setting, that after millions of years are expired, as numerous as the sands on the seashore, the sun, in the light of whose countenance you shall live, shall be as bright as at the first appearance; he will be so far from ceasing to flow, that he will flow as strong, as full, as at the first communication of himself in glory to the creature. God is always vigorous and flourishing; a pure act of life, sparkling new and fresh rays of life and light to the creature, flourishing with a perpetual spring, and contenting the most capacious desire; forming your interest, pleasure, and satisfaction; with an infinite variety, without any change or succession; he will have variety to increase delights, and eternity to perpetuate them; this will be the fruit of the enjoyment of an infinite and eternal God.” Discourse on the Eternity of God.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Five Great Words of Pastoral Advice

Sage advice from The Gospel Driven Church.  I took my first vocational ministry position the summer I graduated high school (1994), becoming the youth minister for Zion Chinese Baptist Church. (You read that right.) In the twenty years since, I’ve heard a lot of good words on ministry and ministry life, and while a lot has been good, a few choice bits of wisdom have stuck with me since I heard them and have proven truer and truer over the years. Here are just five.
1. “The core you start with isn’t the core you finish with.” – Bill Hybels
Hybels did not say this to me personally, but he said it in a workshop at the 1996 Willow Creek Church Leadership Conference. I don’t know why it stuck with me then — I was a youth pastor at a Willow model church, but I wasn’t thinking in terms of church planting or anything then. I’ve sifted out a lot I’ve heard from the church growth guys, but this one I’ve kept and it’s pretty true, in a variety of ways. I’ve had guys I was close with, been on leadership teams and in the trenches with, decide the whole “living a Christian life thing” wasn’t for them. You’re biggest fans can turn into your biggest critics, and often do. Mainly because they are your biggest fans because there’s some kind of idolatry they’re getting out of you, seeing you as a functional savior in some way. And then you disappoint them and BOOM: it’s all over. But even if nobody turns on you or falls out with you, the longer you go in ministry, you see the seasons of life and the growth of a church or ministry takes the rose-colored glasses off of “doing ministry” with the same people forever. Some people get to do that. Most don’t. The core you start with is not the core you finish with.
2. “You must renounce comfort as the chief value of your life.” – Mike Ayers
Mike was my first pastoral mentor, the guy whose ministry actually kept my wife and I sane and in ministry after I’d had a bad experience at a previous church that almost made me give up church altogether. He was the first guy to really take me under his wing and trust me and empower me and take me seriously, even as a young punk. I served as a youth minister at his church and learned a lot, especially about loving the lost and building relationships. Mike and his family have been through a lot themselves, so when I heard him say this line in a sermon, I knew it came from a place of authenticity. It stuck with me. And it’s exceptionally important for all Christians, including pastors, who can get too comfortable with praise and growth and too despondent with criticism and conflict.

3. “Whatever your elders are, your church will become.” – Ray Ortlund
It’s no news to regular readers that Ray is my Yoda. I don’t remember the context of him saying this, but I remember him saying it and I took it to heart. When we went about establishing elders at Middletown, I remembered this sound word of wisdom. So I looked not just for guys who met the biblical requirements for eldership, as high a bar as that is, I also tried to get guys with different personality types and outlooks and perspectives on theological non-essentials. But I also became a stickler for the biblical qualifications that many churches seem to gloss over — long-temperedness, gentleness, good public reputations, etc. If my church is going to be come like the leadership that is modeled for them, I wanted conformity on the biblical qualifications and orthodoxy but high maturity and as much diversity as possible otherwise.

4. “Don’t say something about someone you won’t say to them.” – Andy Stanley
I heard this in a Stanley teaching series called “Life Rules,” which with only a few caveats I recommend. I’ve used it numerous times. As with Hybels, I don’t resonate with a whole lot Stanley says, but this word of advice has stuck with me and I’ve used it with great fruitfulness. In Christian community and in pastoral ministry, the opportunities for gossip and other relational sins are practically infinite. I am a great sinner who screws up a lot, but I’ve tried to maintain this rule for how I talk about people. If I have a problem with someone, I either swallow it or I take it to them. If I’m not willing or able to do that, I certainly can’t talk about it with others. There’s so much crooked speech in the church, it’s ridiculous. Stanley’s advice is good for keeping the lines straight and the accounts current.

5. “You don’t just wipe away the web; you’ve got to crush the spider.” – Steven Taylor
Pastor Steve was one of my pastors when I was a kid. I think I was in the ninth grade when he said this in a sermon at Sandia Baptist Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I confess I have forgotten a lot of what he preached, but this line hooked into my brain and got me. For a kid with a tender conscience and struggling with lust, my eyes were opened to how I ought to approach the war on the flesh. Pastor Steve said you don’t just wipe away the effects of sin; you’ve got to be “extreme,” go to the source of temptation. In my adolescent way of thinking at the time, I went home and took the TV set out of my room. Since then, I’ve been able to apply this principle to even deeper actions of spiritual warfare, looking to the idolatrous roots of my behavioral sins as often as I can. But the advice is still good. Don’t just wipe away the web; crush the spider.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Christ Centered Preaching

9780801027987I need to pull this off the bookshelf to read!  From the Unashamed Workman site.
 book that I love and frequently return to, gets a review over at 9Marks.  The crit of Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching reminded me of some of the strengths of that book:
1) It clearly defines expository preaching.
2) It gives excellent practical instruction about how to prepare sermons (for example, the chapter on application – ch.8 -  is one of the best you will read).
3) It instills into the reader a theology of Christ-centered preaching.
If you haven’t taken time to read it, you should!

Monday, November 10, 2014

How Basic Economics and Effective Church Leadership Go Together

church-leadership-economicsAn excellent and practical pice on how the knowledge of economics can help us minister more effectively form Pastoralized.  
I’m currently about halfway through Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics: A Commonsense Guide to the Economy. Not only have I learned a lot about economics, I’ve gleaned many lessons that can be applied in a church context. So much so that I wanted to share some things even before I finish the book.
First of all, I should dismiss the misconception that economics is primarily about money. Sowell states:
“Although the word ‘economics’ suggest money to some people, for a society as a whole money is just an artificial device to get real things done. Otherwise, the government could make us all rich by simply printing more money. It is not money but the volume of goods and services which determines whether a country is poverty stricken or prosperous” (p. 6).
So if economics isn’t about money, then what is it about? (I’m glad you asked.) The key principle of Sowell’s book, which he applies to over a hundred economic examples, is this:
“The key task facing any economy is the allocation of scarce resources which have alternative uses” (Basic Economics, p. 11). The discipline of economics studies how these decisions are made, and what their effects are on a society (Basic Economics, p. 3).
Let’s break this principle down with ministry language:
1. Your church has scarce resources: limited time, pastors, budget, volunteers, facilities, etc.
2. Your scarce resources can be applied to an innumerable list of alternative ministry uses: soup kitchens, small group curriculum, salaries, missions, etc.
3. Because you are finite, you have to choose only a few of those innumerable possibilities to allocate your scarce resources to.
These three things being the case, we may infer a principle of economically wise church leadership: out of all the ministry opportunities before you, allocate your limited resources to the most effective ministry opportunities. So, essentially, this is a matter of stewardship. Will you steward your resources for maximum kingdom impact?

How does this concept work out in everyday ministry decisions?

Here are some basic church resources, and the different uses they can be allocated toward:
1. How is your church building being used during the week? Your building, if you have one, is a major resource. How are you allocating it? Does it lie dormant during the workweek? Does it get used in ways that taxes your maintenance team without much ministry fruitfulness?
How could you use it for effective ministry without overextending your resources for maintaining your facilities? Could you make yourself available for a local parachurch ministry, like ESL classes or crisis counseling? Could you rent your space to some organization, providing a little extra income for your church, but also an opportunity to build relationships with people who don’t know Jesus?
2. What ministries are you funding in your budget? Do the line items on your budget change from year to year, because that’s how you’ve always budgeted? Or do they change every year based on your proactive strategic thinking about what ministries will be most fruitful?
Do a couple hundred dollars here and there go toward historic ministries led by longtime members that are showing little fruit for gospel growth? What ministries could explode if they were just given a little seed money to get going? Just like our personal budgets prove what is most important to us individually, church budgets reveal what is most important to the church. Is it effective ministry, or politics and status quo?
3. What are people being used for? Do you give your administrative assistant busywork just to validate his or her employment, or are you being intentional about the projects he or she works on? What could they do that would cause your ministry to be more effective? What ministries do your pastoral staff lead, and are they the best ones? Should they bring some ministries to an end so that they can launch new ones?
What ministries are your lay leaders heading up, and are they best? Or do you let them lead those ministries because some ministry is better that nothing (even though it detracts from the growth of those who are involved in that ministry)? And what about all the people in your church who aren’t serving? How can you start prospecting into their giftedness?
And there are many more ministry resources we could ask such questions about. These are important choices because how you use your resources matters more than the amount of your resources. Sowell states, “[economic] decisions and their consequences can be more important than the resources themselves” (Basic Economics, p. 3). This is because institutions with few resources – if they make the right decisions – can experience remarkable effectiveness. On the other hand resource-rich institutions can easily cripple themselves with poor decisions. The same is true for church ministries: even if you don’t have a big budget and a big building, you can still make a big impact for God’s kingdom. You just have to put those resources toward their most effective ministries.

To make these decisions wisely, you need a clear mission

Without a stated mission, churches tend to make decisions from an inward-looking, self-preservation attitude. Are our people happy, or are they complaining? Is this work too hard to be worth it? Will this affect giving? If this is how you measure the fruitfulness of your ministries, you will have only accidental long-term impact.
But a clear mission provides a measurement device for everything your church does. Our mission at Chapel Hill Bible Church is being transformed by the gospel: us, our cities, and our world. This statement provides all we need in order to know whether we are allocating our scarce resources that have alternative uses to our most effective ministries. Are people being transformed by the gospel, or not (a qualitative measurement)? Are as many people being transformed by the gospel as possible, or can we change things to impact even more people (a quantitative measurement)? Do we see this transformation happening within our church, locally, and globally? Based on where we see personal, gospel-driven transformation, we can make strategic and educated decisions on where to put our money, people, facilities, and attention.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Three Old Testament Biblical Theologies

Found this at Pastoralized.  I have been brushing up on my OT knowledge the last fw years and will have to add the first as I have the other two.
When I first began learning about biblical theology at Wheaton Graduate School, I was immediately hooked. To this day one of my greatest joys in studying Scripture is discovering new twists and turns that the themes of the Bible take on their journey from Genesis 1-3 through Jesus’ ministry and on to Revelation 21-22.
To spur you on to biblical theological love and good works, I thought I’d recommend a few Old Testament theologies that you ought not to neglect to meet together with.
A House for My Name: A Survey of the Old Testament, by Peter J. Leithart. While Leithart’s work can be considered a survey insomuch as he aims mostly at the key themes and stories of the OT, don’t let the title fool you, this is not Old Testament 101. Not that it is super academic or inaccessible either, but Leithart aims for much more than conveying an elementary knowledge of the OT.
Dominion and Dynasty: A Biblical Theology of the Hebrew Bible, by Stephen G. Dempster. Generally speaking, biblical theologies take one of two approaches: either exploring individual books of the Bible and drawing out their themes individually, or tracing overarching themes through the entire testament or canon. Dempster accomplishes both goals in his book, giving the basic thrust of each individual book (although he takes some together as a corpus, like the minor prophets), but also showing how each book contributes to the storyline of the whole Old Testament, as it is arranged in the Hebrew.
A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New, by G.K. Beale. How did an NT theology make this list? It’s all in the subtitle. Beale spills a lot of ink on the OT in order to show how its themes come to full flower in the NT. His work is invaluable for learning about both testaments.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Another Definition of Worship

I posted a great definition of worship by William Temple; here is another by AW Tozer. . . 
“The worship of God’s assembled people is a collaboration of individuals committed to God’s presence, and He to theirs. What we have experienced individually, He has connected when we come together to delight in God’s presence among the assembly of believers.”

– AW Tozer

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Significance of the Church

I have been thinking of the church as I preach through Revelation chapters 4 & 5 add looking at the corporate nature of worship. Found this bold
quote by John Piper in a new book excerpt on the church:

The church of Jesus Christ is the most important institution in the world. The assembly of the redeemed, the company of the saints, the children of God are more significant in world history than any other group, organization, or nation. The United States of America compares to the church of Jesus Christ like a speck of dust compares to the sun. The drama of international relations compares to the mission of the church like a kindergarten riddle compares to Hamlet or King Lear. And all pomp of May Day in Red Square and the pageantry of New Year's in Pasadena fade into a formless grey against the splendor of the bride of Christ. Take heed how you judge. Things are not what they seem. "All flesh is like grass. And all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord (and all his family) abide forever" (1 Peter 1:24, 25). The media and all the powers, and authorities, and rulers, and stars that they present are a mirage. "For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15). The gates of Hades, the powers of death, will prevail against every institution but one, the church.

See the whole sermon here.

Monday, November 3, 2014

We Are Not Our Own: On God, Brittany Maynard, and Physician-Assisted Suicide

From John Piper on Assisted suicide.
In several heart-wrenching videos (here, here, and here), 29-year-old Brittany Maynard has talked about her intent to take her life, possibly tomorrow, by means of physician-assisted suicide in Oregon, because of a fast-growing, inoperable, fatal brain tumor.

Joni Eareckson Tada, who has suffered more and longer than most of us, has responded to Brittany’s sorrowful plan with empathy and biblical conviction. All of Joni’s concerns merit serious consideration. The one I want to expand on is this: She said, “I understand Brittany may be in great pain, and her treatment options are limited and have their own devastating side effects, but I believe Brittany is missing a critical factor in her formula for death: God.” Others have written open appeals to Brittany; I write mainly for those who are considering this issue afresh in light of Brittany’s story.

Cancer Is an Enemy

I hate cancer. It is regularly an accomplice in the life-robbing work of our “final enemy,” death (1 Corinthians 15:26). Death was not part of paradise, as God created it in the beginning. And death will not be part of the New Earth, as God brings it in the resurrection. In that sense, it opposes the ultimate goodness that God designed for this creation. It is an enemy.

But in the resurrection, “Death will be no more” (Revelation 21:4). Death came into human existence through the devil’s incitement to sin. But the devil himself was stripped of his condemning power when Christ died for sinners. God gets the last word. His Son “took on human nature so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).

So death remains, for now. It hisses with fearsome rage. But for those who are in Christ, its fangs have been removed.

Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:54–55)
Answer: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:56–57). In other words, Christ bore the curse of God’s law for us (Galatians 3:13). Therefore, it cannot condemn us for our sins (Colossians 2:14–15). They are covered. The sting — the fangs — has been removed.

Therefore, in Christ, we will die physically, but not spiritually. Our souls will go “home” (2 Corinthians 5:8); they will go to be “with Christ” (Philippians 1:23). Then at his coming to earth, our bodies will be raised and glorified (1 Thessalonians 4:15–16).

Subjection to Futility — In Hope

But even though, in the beginning, Satan incited sin, and death came through sin (Romans 5:12), God himself was the judge who brought the sentence of death on the human race. The horror of death is God’s appointed response to the horror of sin. Death, by God’s design, is the physical mirror of the moral outrage of human rebellion against God.

Thus God tells us that in response to sin, “creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope . . .” (Romans 8:20). Only God could do that. Neither Adam nor Satan acted with a view to the hope of the age to come. This was God’s doing. God appointed death for the human race. He did it with a view to death’s final defeat and removal. But it was he who did it.

So the Bible continues, “. . . in the hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption, and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). There is a bondage to the corruption of death for now. But the day of freedom is coming. God has appointed these times.

Until then, we die. And we live, with Christ. This death, and this life, are by God’s appointment. Satan incited sin. Adam and Eve acted sin. And God decreed the consequence of sin, namely, death.

And he is removing that consequence in stages. At the first coming of Christ, the immeasurable penalty of sin was paid (Colossians 2:14). And at the second coming, the miserable effects of sin will be fully removed. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). Death will be no more.

But until then, the final disposition of death and life belong to God. He brought it in; he will take it out. And while it is here, he claims unique rights over it. “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39; see also 1 Samuel 2:6).

Therefore, Job’s reverent and grief-stricken response to the death of his ten children was profoundly and painfully right: “The Lᴏʀᴅ gave, and the Lᴏʀᴅ has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lᴏʀᴅ” (Job 1:21).

How Then Shall We Die?

How then should we think about our rights with regard to death? Should life be in our control? Does it belong to us, to create or eliminate?

The apostle Paul did not leave us without help on this question. Whose are we? To whom do we belong? Who owns our body? He answers: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).

These words were spoken to guide us in relation to our sexuality. But the principle holds for death. The more serious the consequences in regard to body and soul, the more firmly the principle holds. And death brings the greatest consequences to soul and body. It is the moment that sets the final destiny of both (Luke 16:26; Hebrews 9:27). Therefore, the principle holds at death: We are not our own.

Our bodies — their life, their death — belong to Christ. He bought them. They are not ours to dispose of as we will. They are his. And they exist for his will, and his glory.

Paul speaks this way, not only about sexuality, but about death and dying.

None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. (Romans 14:7–9)
All three points from 1 Corinthians 6 are here again, not in regard to sex, but explicitly in regard to death. Christ paid the price of his life to be the rightful Lord over the living and the dead. Therefore, we are not our own; we are the Lord’s. Therefore, we live and we die “to the Lord.” That is, life and death are not our private concern. They are not our choice. He bought us. He owns us. We live and we die to him — in reliance on him, in accordance with his will, for his glory.

Thus, “Thou shalt not murder,” is put on an entirely new footing. Not only do our lives belong to God by virtue of being created in his image, but now we are his — in life and death — by virtue of the purchase of Christ. We are doubly not our own. Our life and our death belong to God. He gives, and he takes. And he has put a double seal on that unique divine right: You are mine, by birth and by blood. You do not live, and you do not die, on your own terms.

What are his terms? We may risk our lives for the sake of saving others (Acts 20:24; Philippians 2:30). And in suffering, we may seek to lessen the pain — for others and for ourselves (1 Timothy 5:23; Luke 10:37). God has put this privilege in our hands. It is part of the limited lifting of the curse of the fall. But the right to end our lives, he has not put in our hands.

Our Final Sufferings Are Not Meaningless

The fact that suffering almost inevitably increases with the approach of death is often a terrifying prospect. Even those who are fearless of death, tremble at the process of dying. I have seen terrible suffering in the hour of death. At one young mother’s funeral I said, “The great triumph was that she never cursed God.” Otherwise it was horrible.

But this tragic fact — which the suffering apostle knew better than any of us — did not change the truth: Giving and taking life belongs to God, not to us. And the suffering of our final days is not meaningless.

Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)
Before anyone mocks the phrase “light momentary,” let that person realize that Paul was referring to his lifetime of suffering, the details of which are almost unbearable to read (2 Corinthians 11:23–28). “Light” contrasts with weight of glory. “Momentary” contrasts with eternal. Paul knew what it was to be “so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). Such suffering was not light. It was not momentary. Except in comparison to the length and the glory of heaven.

But the point of this text is that our final sufferings are not meaningless. They are “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). “Preparing” — working, effecting, bringing about. They are not aimless tortures.

And the grieving spouses and mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and sons and daughters are not merely watching. They are serving, caring, loving. Yes, suicide spares them the pain of watching. But it also denies them the privilege of serving. There are moments in the tireless care of the dying beloved that are so intense with self-giving love that they would not be traded for any death.

On the Edge of the Grand Canyon

Brittany Maynard has sweetened her last days with trips to the Alaskan glaciers, and the Kenai Fjords, and the Grand Canyon. In one sense, this it totally understandable. We were made for beauty. But in another sense, it is puzzling. For there is one thing that standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon does not do for you: It does not enhance your sense of autonomy. It makes you feel small and vulnerable in the presence of greatness and majesty.

That is a good thing. For we are small and fragile. We are not autonomous. We were never meant to be. Beauty, Yes. Joy, Yes. Greatness, Yes — outside of us, filling us with worship and wonder. We were made for God.

In one of her videos, Brittany wisely says, “Make sure you’re not missing out. Seize the day. What do you care about? What matters? Pursue that. Forget the rest.”

I could not agree more. What matters is that we have been bought with a price. We are not our own. We live and we die and we suffer for the glory of Christ, our Lord. And we never forget the truth that makes everything worth it: “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).