Experiencing God, Experiencing Peace

Throughout this week and next I am posting a number of excerpts from the Good Book Company’s new booklet Experiencing God: Finding true passion, joy, peace and rest in Christ. The third study focuses on experiencing peace and relates to Mark 4 v 35 – 5 v 43.

The Big Idea

We can move from an experience of agitation and anxiety to an experience of comfort and calm through faith in God’s care.

Summary

The four stories in the passage begin with:

  • an agitated sea
  • an agitated man
  • an anxious woman
  • an anxious father

They all end up at peace. The sea is calmed (v 39). The man is in his right mind (5 v 15). Jesus says to the woman: “Go in peace” (5 v 34). The father receives his daughter back from the dead (5 v 41-42). In the process we see the complete authority of Jesus over the natural world, the spirit world, sickness and death. But not everyone is at peace. The disciples are terrified when the see the power of Jesus over the storm because they lack faith (4 v 40-41). The people of the Gerasenes are terrified when they see the power of Jesus over the demon-possessed man (15 v 15). The choice throughout these four stories is between fear and faith (4 v 40-41; 5 v 15, 33-34, 36). An experience of Jesus brings an experience of peace if we have faith in Jesus. The “punchline” is 5 v 36: “Don’t be afraid; just believe”.

Available here from the Good Book Company (US) and from the Good Book Company (UK)

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Gospel living: lives patterned on the cross and resurrection

Christians are united by faith with Christ in his death and resurrection. This is the basis of our salvation: his death is our death that he bears in our place and his new life is our new life. But this union with Christ in his death and resurrection is also the basis for the way we live our lives as Christians.

1. Suffering followed by glory

‘Then [Paul and Barnabas] returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.’ (Acts 14:21-22)

‘Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.’ (Romans 8:17-18)

In this present life we follow the way of the cross. Jesus said: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’ (Luke 9:23) Everywhere you look in the New Testament the cross of Jesus (more than the life of Jesus) defines what it means to live as Christ. It can be summarised with five Ss:

  • sacrifice
  • submission
  • self-denial
  • service
  • suffering
Reflection

The way of cross impacts both our big life choices and our small daily actions: from martyrdom to washing up. Identify what the way of the cross will mean for you in the next five minutes? Five hours? Five days? Five months? Five years?

We follow the way of the cross because it leads to resurrection glory. We live sacrificially because we are living for a glorious inheritance kept in heaven for us. (See Matthew 6:19-21 and Hebrews 11:24-26 and 12:1-3.)

In the meantime we cannot expect glory without the cross (see Mark 10:35-45).

Peter concludes his first letter by saying that he has written ‘encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God’ (5:12). What is this true grace of God? ‘And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.’ (1 Peter 5:10-11) The true grace of God, the grace that makes him ‘the God of all grace’, consists of this: he has called to eternal glory after we have suffered a little while. Suffering followed by glory. The pattern of suffering and glory in the experience of Christ (1:11) is the experience of all believers (1:6-7; 4:13; 5:1-6, 10).

Peter needs to write to confirm that this is the true grace of God, because there are false versions of grace. There are versions of grace that promise glory without suffering.
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Trusting in trials with the Puritan poet, Anne Bradstreet

Here are my notes from Garry Williams’ seminar at New Word Alive on the Puritan poem, Anne Bradstreet. There is a chapter on Anne Bradstreet in the homage to Puritan writings, The Devoted Life (IVP) purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US.

Anne Bradstreet was born as Anne Dudley in 1612 so she came of age when Charles 1 was attempting to move England away from Protestantism to more Roman Catholic approach. In her poetry, Anne protests against this:

Lets bring Baals vestments forth to make a fire,

Their Mystires, Surplices, and all their Tires,

Copes, Rotchets, Crossiers, and such empty trash;

And let their Names consume, but let the flash

Light Christedome, and all the world to see

We hate Romes whore, with all her trumpery.

Anne had a privileged and educated up-bringing, marrying Simon Bradstreet, the son of a non-conformist minister and a graduate of the Puritan Emmanuel College, Cambridge. In 1630 she sailed to America with her husband and parents. Several people died during the crossing and two hundred of the thousand people in the area that Anne settled died of starvation in the first winter (‘the starving time’ it was called). It was world of promise and freedom with the hope of new beginning for Puritans, but it was also a precarious world.

The Puritans had a conception of an ordered society in which everyone had their roles. They had the opportunity completely to restructure society. They were the radicals of their day. But they did not overturn all social patterns and norms. Anne shares this outlook as her epitaph to her mother reveals.

Here lies

A worthy matron of unspotted life,

A loving mother and obedient wife,

A friendly neighbor, pitiful to poor,

Whom oft she fed, and clothed with her store;

To servants wisely aweful, but yet kind,

And as they did, so they reward did find:

A true instructor of her family,

The which she ordered with dexterity,

The public meetings ever did frequent,

And in her closet constant hours she spent;

Religious in all her words and ways,

Preparing still for death, till end of days:

Of all her children, children lived to see,

Then dying, left a blessed memory.

Anne is known for pushing the boundaries. Writing poetry was considered a male occupation and some of her poems were published under a male pseudonym. Yet she extols the virtues of a loving and submissive wife. The Puritans pushed the social boundaries, but did so within the boundaries of Scripture. This meant the Puritans had a clear sense of identity in contrast to our confused times. People today are constantly redefining themselves. Without any boundaries from God’s word we are adrift.

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Reflections on a still birth

Here’s a moving reflection from Peter Sanlon on the death of his first child while still in the womb.

Our baby boy was given the name we always intended for him – Calvin. Small enough to hold in your hand, he is infinitely precious. Somehow, we know that his all too brief life, was lived for the glory of God. Little Calvin was named after one of the great theologians – John Calvin, born 500 years ago. Our baby Calvin is now a greater theologian than any person on earth; for he sees God face to face, rather than by faith …

“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” Psalm 139:16 As I mourn with my wife the loss of baby Calvin, we humble ourselves beneath the sovereign timing of God’s gracious hand, and praise him that all his books are masterpieces. It just breaks our hearts that some of his books are so tragically short.

Read the whole thing here.

God and suffering #4

On Sundays at the moment we are focusing on and exploring ‘The Questions of Faith that People Ask.’ Here is the final part of the answer to the third question.

God has done something about suffering
Why doesn’t God do something about suffering? He has done something. He suffers with us. And he suffers for us.

At the cross, God turned evil against evil and brought about the practical solution to the problem. He has made atonement for sins, he has conquered de ath, he has triumphed over the devil. He has laid the foundation for hope. What further demonstration do we need?[1]

God will do something about suffering
The cross is not the end of the story: Jesus rose again. His resurrection is the promise of an end to , an end to suffering, a new beginning, a new creation, without pain, without tears.

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Why does God allow so much suffering? #3

On Sundays at the moment we are focusing on and exploring ‘The Questions of Faith that People Ask.’ Here is the third part of the answer to the third question.

Suffering points to the glorious grace of God
What is the point of suffering? We don’t know because we’re not God. But maybe it is to demonstrate the glory of God’s grace. Paul says the purpose of God’s plan for the world is ‘that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.’ (Ephesians 2:7) Maybe suffering is designed to show the horrendous depth and consequences of our rebellion against God; maybe suffering is designed to show the glorious extent and cost of our redemption by God. Maybe without suffering we would never have appreciated God’s grace, nor felt secure in his love.

The reason there is a new heaven and a new earth is because when God conceived of a universe of material things he conceived of everything: ‘It will be created perfect. It will, by my decree, fall. I will labour patiently for thousands of years with a people recalcitrant showing the depth of human sin and I will at the centre and apex of my purpose, send my Son to bear my wrath on my people. And then I will gather a people who believe in him for myself. And then I will return and I will cast all of the unbelievers into hell, which will demonstrate the infinite worth of my glory and the infinite value of my Son’s sacrifice, which they have rejected. And I will renew the earth and I will make my people so beautiful and then tailor this universe for them with this purpose – that when my Son is lifted up with his wounds, they will sing the song of the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world in the mind of God who planned it all.’ Therefore, be it resolved: We will endure any suffering. We will endure any assault, any slander, any reviling, any disease, precisely because we have a great reward in heaven, namely, Jesus Christ crucified.[1]

Does this sound calculating on God’s part, as if human suffering was a price worth paying for his own self-aggrandisement? Then remember that God himself experiences our suffering. He dies experiencing the full extent of godforsakenness: ‘At the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice … “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'”‘ (Mark 15:34) God himself cries out in protest against God!


[1] John Piper, sermon transcript, ‘The Triumph of the Gospel in the New Heavens and the New Earth.’ (desiringgod.org)

Suffering may not be pointless

On Sundays at the moment we are focusing on and exploring ‘The Questions of Faith that People Ask.’ Here is the second part of the answer to the third question.

Suffering may not be pointless
‘A good and powerful God would and could prevent suffering so, since suffering exists, God cannot exist.’ So the argument goes. But this presumes that suffering serves no purpose; that it is pointless. Someone might say, ‘I can see that some suffering has purpose (pain warns us of illness). But what about the suffering of a child? What about so much suffering?’ But just because I can’t see the point doesn’t mean there isn’t one. To conclude there’s no point reveals an enormous leap of faith – faith in our the ability of our reason to understand life.

Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers and then falsely imprisoned for many years. No doubt he often felt his suffering was pointless. But it meant he was in the right place at the right time to save thousands of people from famine. Looking back he could say to his brothers: ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.’ (Genesis 50:20) We normally don’t get the chance to look back like Joshua and see the point. But that doesn’t mean there is no point.

The Bible tells the story of Job, a man who lost his property, his children and his health. Job demands answers from God and God does respond. But he does not come to answer Job, but to question Job. ‘Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me’ (Job 38:2-3). Job did not make the world, nor does he govern it. Job has no idea what the creatures ‘behemoth’ and ‘leviathan’ are for. The only sense they make, they make to God. The natural order and the moral order are incomprehensible to us. God is ultimately inscrutable. Job doesn’t receive answers; he doesn’t get a theory. But he does receive God. ‘Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know … My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.’ (Job 42:3-6) C. S. Lewis writes:

When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer’. It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.’ Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswer-able. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask – half our great theological and metaphysical problems – are like that.[1]


[1] C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, Dent, 58-59.

Our outrage at suffering points to a just God

On Sundays at the moment we are focusing on and exploring ‘The Questions of Faith that People Ask.’ Here is the first part of the answer to the third question.

Watch: Suffering

Our outrage at suffering points to a just God
‘How can anyone believe in God when there’s so much suffering in the world?’ exclaimed my friend Alan. ‘Life’s just a matter of the survival of the fittest.’ A few minutes later he was decrying dictators who exploit their people. ‘But Alan,’ I said, ‘you can’t have it both ways. If life is a struggle for then cruel dictators are its heroes.’

Why does suffering bring God into question? Why does it appal us? Ask these questions and people will talk about love, cruelty, justice, wrong, fairness. But these ideas all presuppose a moral standard by which we can evaluate the world. Our outrage at suffering implies things ought to be different. But why is there an ‘ought’ unless right and wrong have been written into the universe by its Creator. Suffering appears to make theism meaningless. But the alternative, atheism, makes suffering meaningless for everything is permissible.

Suffering causes us to protest against God. But the only protest that can be sustained is one that appeals to God’s justice. Our protest against suffering only makes sense if there is a God against whom we can protest. Our cry of ‘Why?’ only makes sense if there is a God who knows the answer.

New Word Alive: John Piper on suffering and the praise of God’s grace

John Piper began his second address at New Word Alive (here are my notes on the first) by expanding his statement that suffering is judicial. Romans 8:20 says that creation subjected to futility by him (that is, God) in hope. Genesis 3:16-18 also speak of pain as God’s response to sin. The agony of pain is God’s witness to the outrage of sin.

This does not mean that when Christians suffer they are being punished. It dishonours Christ and his cross when a Christian feels judged by God since Christ has born our punishment in full (8:1, 3). For someone who never trusts Christ suffering is judgment. For a Christian suffering is purifying. For someone who is on their way to becoming a Christian suffering is awakening. So when asked by someone to interpret their suffering, you should respond, ‘It depends.’ It continue to reject Christ you’re your suffering is judgment, but your suffering could be God trying to get your attention in love.

God was not merely responding to sin when he subjected the world to futility. It was part of his eternal plan to glorify his grace.

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