Monday, August 2, 2021

Meditations on 1 Peter (Part 2): Embrace Suffering

To expect suffering is the clear teaching of 1 Peter and the rest of Scripture. It catches me off guard less often now, but Peter also encourages the believers to embrace suffering. An attitude of embracing suffering is essential if we are going to respond to suffering in a way that glorifies God, but this has been one of the hardest aspects in my journey of developing my theology of suffering. To embrace means to “to take or receive gladly, to accept willingly, to avail oneself of (an opportunity).” Accept willingly? See it as an opportunity? Throughout my life I have struggled and pushed back against suffering. I have tried to avoid it. I have railed angrily against those who have caused my suffering and against the God who ordained it. I suspect I am not the only one who has felt this way.

What makes it so hard to embrace suffering? Some reasons are obvious. Whether physical, emotional, relational, or spiritual, suffering is painful - sometimes mild, sometimes excruciating, but never pleasant. It is a natural human response to want to avoid pain.

However, as I have looked at my own heart, I have seen that there is more going on. Suffering simply doesn’t make sense to me. It doesn’t line up with my understanding. I have often asked, not just “Why did this specific thing happen?” but “Why did God have to set things up like this? Why didn’t He make His world differently?” As I have poured over 1 Peter over the last several years, one of the truths that I have wrestled with is that the God of all grace (1 Pet. 5:10) is the same God who calls me to a life of suffering (1 Pet. 2:21). In my pride, I have trouble embracing something that doesn’t make sense to me. I put more trust in my own understanding than in the ways of the all-knowing, all-wise Creator of the world.

Finally, I have realized that I don’t embrace suffering because what I want (by my definition of good) is simply more important to me than what God wants for my life. Building my own little kingdom, with my temporal desires at the center, sometimes matters more to me than knowing God, spreading His kingdom, and becoming more like Christ. There is nothing wrong with wanting a physically and spiritually healthy family or financial security or harmonious, intimate relationships, but when these things idolatrously become what I’m living for, there is no place for anything that threatens these valued treasures. There is no place for suffering. And there is no room for Christ.

Peter helps us understand some of the truths we need to grasp if we are going to embrace the path of suffering God calls us too. First, we must embrace the truth of who God is. He is the God of all grace and that grace flows freely to His people. He is the God who came near to us. He walked the worst path of pain and suffering ever to redeem us from our futile, sinful ways and to make us His children (1 Pet. 1:13-18). This salvation is so glorious that angels are amazed (1 Pet. 1:12). He has not treated us as we deserve but has shown us mercy and made us part of His people. He has given us meaning and purpose that transcends this life (1 Pet. 2:9-10). He is faithful. He is keeping our inheritance safe. He has promised that the those who believe in Christ will not be put to shame. Instead, our future is one of glory and honor with Christ. (1 Pet. 2:6-7). Finally, He is worthy of the sacrifice He calls us to – not just because of what Christ has done for us, but because of His excellencies. To Him belong dominion and power forever (1 Pet. 5:11). It is only right that all creation, including us, bow to Him.

Peter also encourages the believers to focus on God’s good purposes for suffering. In the first chapter Peter discusses the purifying power of trials. Yes, trials are grievous, but they are necessary. They test our faith, purifying it and proving its genuineness. The end result is praise, glory, and honor when Christ appears. Chapter 4 also describes the purifying effect of hardship, “those who have suffered in the flesh have ceased from sin” and no longer live for the passions of the human heart. Suffering exposes sinful desires of our heart in ways we would never see otherwise. Suffering also exposes the futility of living for the idols we have chosen, and the furnace of affliction purifies our hearts as we grow more deeply and singularly devoted to Christ. Finally, Peter makes it clear that when we respond to unjust suffering the way that Christ did, our lives provide a powerful gospel witness displaying God’s glory. Our good and gracious God is displaying his glory, spreading His kingdom, helping us know Him, and refining us through suffering.

Lord, help us to embrace suffering when You call us to it.

Kim Anderson

Monday, July 19, 2021

Prayer Requests from Gary and Barb Bennett

- Barb is having surgery for impacted sinuses on Aug 3. Pray for a successful surgery and that it may resolve some of the issues she has been experiencing.

- Pray for our colleagues in Rwanda, the Fergusons. They have only been back on the field since April and now are the only WorldVenture unit on the field.

- Pray for the need for a new director for New Creation Ministries.

- Pray for Barb as she still needs housing in the St. Paul area while she does her internship with the St. Paul School District.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: A Book Review

How long, O Lord, how long! Where are You? Why don’t You help me? Why don’t you answer my prayers? Why do I still struggle with this after all these years?

How long, O Lord? How long can this go on? When will this be over? When will this stop affecting my family?

Lord, why so much suffering? Why? Why so much pain and sickness and death among those I love and care about?

Over the last couple of months these words have come out of my mouth as I have struggled to process all that is going in my own life and in the world around me. So much suffering and so much sin. Looking around, all is not as it should be. How are we to think about these things?

Back in the fall while attending a virtual counseling conference, I bought the book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament by Mark Vroegop. Like many of the books I buy, it sat on my desk in a growing stack waiting to be read – until one day a friend called it to my attention again. I decided to dust it off and start reading. That was one of the best reading choices I have made in a while. To read of people in the Bible who have cried out with similar words in the midst of much worse circumstances than me has brought comfort and hope. The truths reviewed in this book have been a balm to my soul.

The author began a personal journey of lament as he faced his own deep sorrow, the loss of his stillborn daughter. To cry, the author says, is human, but to lament is Christian (25-26). Over and over, he emphasizes the theme that lament is how we live in the tension between a hard, painful life and a good, sovereign God. And as he has traveled down this pathway of lament, he has found that it leads to an unending supply of grace and mercy. “Dark clouds may come, but divine mercy never ends.” (191)

The book is divided into three main sections. The Part 1 is entitled “Learning to Lament.” Here Vroegop walks the reader through the pattern of lament. Four key elements comprise biblical lament – an address to God, a complaint, a request, and an expression of trust and praise. For a simple way to remember, he uses the words: turn, complain, ask, and trust (29). The author teaches about each element of lament by focusing on a different psalm of lament. In four chapters, he walks the reader through Psalm 77, Psalm 10, Psalm 22, and Psalm 13.

I personally was challenged by these chapters. I was reminded how often I do not cry to God from the heart but simply “wail upon my bed.” (Hos. 7:14) I was convicted that often I don’t ask boldly for help because in my unbelief I don’t really expect God to do anything. Finally, the author’s discussion of Psalm 13 reminded me that I must choose to trust based on the character of God. After voicing his complaints and requests, David confidently declares in Psalm 13, “But I have trusted in your steadfast love.”

In Part 2 “Learning from Lamentations,” the author walks through Lamentations chapter by chapter. “How lonely sits the city that was full of people!” These haunting words begin a two-chapter description of the ravaging affects of sin. Like the ancient Jews, we too live in a world broken by sin. We have defied a holy God, and life is not as it should be. Moving on to chapter 3 of Lamentations, the author challenges us to find hope in the midst of devastation by calling to mind the truths we know about our God. Discussing chapter 4 of Lamentations, the author exhorts us to learn from lament. It is an opportunity to grow. If we are willing to take a look, suffering exposes the other things in which we tend to put our hope. He identifies four common tendencies: trusting in financial security, making people our saviors, craving cultural comfort, and idolizing spiritual leaders. Then he walks through the prayers of Lamentations 5, prayers for God, who reigns forever, to remember and restore Israel.

Finally, Part Three “Living with Lament” call the reader to personal and community lament.

Who is this book for? Are you walking through a season of sorrow, loss, and pain? I think this book will be a great comfort to you. God does not call you to gloss over your pain and pretend that the hope of the gospel removes all pain from life. Are you walking with a friend who is suffering? This book can equip you to love and minister more wisely. Are you at a point of relative ease and rest in your life right now? Sit down with this book, read, and begin to prepare your heart to respond well when suffering does come again.

Kim Anderson

Monday, May 10, 2021

Prayer Requests from Dougg and LeAnn Custer

1). Discover WorldVenture Weekend May 21-23:
        - Pray for the 12 attendees seeking whether God would have them serve in missions with WorldVenture.
        - Pray for those hosting and presenting that weekend, that God would guide and give wisdom, not only for the formal presentations, but individual, informal interactions and conversations.
        - Pray, too, that if the Lord has any others to be invited, He would make that known. 

2) Student Mobilization Philippines Team Debrief May 26-29:
        - Pray for Dougg's team members who will be leading the Debrief, that they can see, hear and understand what is being said and how to help.
        - Pray for all the logistics that are being worked out.
        - Pray that God will use this Debrief to encourage, help and energize these workers in the Philippines.

3) Dougg was contacted by a former pastor who would like to help mobilize and train workers to work among unevangelized peoples using the Discipleship Making Movement model. He has received the official job description. 
        -Pray for wisdom for him and Dougg, that God would make His will known as to whether and how to move forward.

4) WorldVenture is planning another golf fundraiser which Dougg is overseeing and with which LeAnn is helping. A different model is being tried this time and he is looking for sponsors to pay for the course, so that any players' fees will be profit for WorldVenture. Thank God for a friend who is willing to help with this fund raising. One of our main goals is to introduce WorldVenture to more and more people, which we hope will lead to more and more people hearing about Jesus. 
        -Pray God will lead in all the details, and that He will use this fundraiser to serve His purposes through WorldVenture around the world.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Evangelism Encouragements and Free Book Offer from Sunday, 4/25/21

Below are the words shared by Pastor Ben on Sunday, 4/25 related to evangelism and Bethany Community Church:

2 Timothy 4:1–2 says
[1] I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: [2] preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

As believers, we get the joy of being a part of God's evangelism ministry to the world--telling other beggars where we, as beggars, found bread. What a delight to be a part of God's mission. Does He need us? No. But He delights in including us in the mission. Think of a father and young son working on a project in the garage. The good father tells his son--come over here and help me drive this nail. The son, smiling from ear to ear, wraps his hands around the hammer, the father wraps his hands around his son's hand, and the work begins. Both delighting in the work.

The Great commission starts, "Go and make disciples"...locally and to the ends of the earth and ends with "and I’m with you always." His hands are around ours!
As a church, we want to see a culture of evangelism where the Father calls us to join Him in the work of evangelism--and we joyfully put our hands to work as His hands envelop ours.

Our church's purpose is to glorify God by proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord and preparing His people to worship Him together.
When it comes to the proclaiming side of that purpose, we use 3 words starting with the letter "I" to help us understand what that means:

We involve ourselves in the lives of those around us who do not know Jesus, so we look for opportunities to be introduced to new relationships with unbelieving neighbors, co-workers, and others in their community. We do this because we believe not everyone knows someone who truly follows Jesus.

We deepen these new relationships and old relationships by giving sacrificially of our lives in order to care for those who do not know Christ.

Along the way, we exhort our friends and acquaintances to place their faith in Christ alone. We do this by being equipped to do all of the above with theologically strong and question-based strategies to share the gospel.

Let me share an example of one BCCer putting his hands to the joyful work of evangelism. Craig Hodges, one of our elders, shared with me that:
A man came to his house to pick up an online item Craig was selling. In the conversation, the man mentioned that he wanted to retire in the next few years and hoped to have 10 years remaining to enjoy life. Craig had been reading a book on evangelism "God Space: Where Spiritual Conversations Happen Naturally" by Doug Pollock and his comment struck Craig as an obvious opening to talk about the hope that a believer has for after this life. So Craig asked him whether he believed it would make a difference after he dies whether he had this 10 years to enjoy or not. His response revealed a "mash" of ideas about Christ, Karma, Positive Energy, and good works he has done. He did have some church involvement in his earlier years. Craig says, "I shared with him that I knew I didn't have good works to earn God's favor and that I had sinned against God. Jesus came as a savior to reconcile us with God and through Him I can have eternal life, far better than 10 years after retirement. Because we had limited time, I asked him if he had a Bible and would he be willing to go back and read the book of John. He said he would. I've already thought of ways I think I could be better prepared and share better next time."

Was it about Craig getting it perfect? No! It was about Craig being faithful to do what God has called us all to do--joyfully look for opportunities to turn everyday conversations into conversations about Christ.

Daniel will be preaching on evangelism today and we want to give a free book to every household on the topic. This book talks about being a church with a culture of evangelism.
It's called Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus by Mack Stiles. All of our elders and deacons already have one. If we run out, there is a sign up sheet to get yours.

In the book is:
1-A resource that can help you walk through the gospel with someone. I've not seen many better than this one. It's called What is the Gospel?
2-Also, there is a bookmark prepared by us in the book with ideas for how you can be faithful in the joy of evangelism. Here are some of the things on the bookmark about how to invest, impart, and implore. Some things listed include:
-Being intentional to invite someone each time you are heading to this building

-Popping in on a neighbor with some cookies and asking if they have any prayer requests

-Coming to a June training on Sunday mornings to get more help in how to turn conversations to spiritual ones--The easiest one? "Did you know that I am a church goer? What are your opinions on God and the church?"

It's our practice for someone to lead us as a church in prayer during our service. Join me now in prayer for those who don't know Christ and for our outreach to them:

We are so grateful for your kindness to us in sending your Son, Jesus, to pay the penalty of sin that we deserved to pay ourselves.

Thank you for the gospel message today. We want to respond to it. Not in a way where we believe we can pay you back--that would be impossible! Not in a way where we are guilted into action by legalism. May our response be one that is overwhelming joy in knowing you and knowing you deeply. If this is the case, we realize that the gospel will pour out of us with no fear, no awkwardness, no shame. We simply are sharing about our closest relationship, the one with our Savior, with those who need a Savior.

Lord, we pray for the 18 .... All the missionaries we support as a church body. We pray for them to be faithful and joy-filled in their outreach. We pray for them not as super heroes of the faith--as they are people just like us--but we pray for them as fellow ambassadors in the faith. May we all be more like your Son Jesus is proclaiming His name.

God, we pray for local churches in our area. We pray for faithfulness and joy in sharing the gospel for these local expressions of your global body. May we be united in the gospel and reach the dying around us--may there be no arrogance in our speech, our social media, our writing, our attitudes. May those that do not know Christ be drawn to You by our humility and desire to listen.

Father, I pray for BCC...may we continue to build a culture of evangelism here. In the midst of the personal trials, sickness, and suffering, may we be a light to our care givers, our families, our neighbors/co-workers, store clerks and yes, even online shoppers coming to our home to pick up a purchase.

Help us to invest into new relationships, impart our lives to new and old relationships, and implore all to receive Christ alone so they, too, can be 100% sure they are going to heaven.
Thank you, Lord.
In Jesus Name,


Monday, April 19, 2021

Meditations on 1 Peter (Part 1): Expect Suffering

Several years ago, when I first heard the term “theology of suffering” I thought, ‘Hhmm, not my favorite topic.” But as I listened, I became more aware that God’s Word addresses the subject often and that I needed to let God’s Word shape my thinking about the topic of suffering. Shortly after this, the Lord brought me into my own period of intense personal suffering, and I quickly realized that whatever my professed theology of suffering was, my practical theology of suffering was simply, “Run the other direction as quickly as possible!”In my own journey to make sense of how a good, sovereign God connects with the intense personal pain of suffering, I have often turned to the book of 1 Peter, written to encourage those facing difficult times to remain faithful. Recently I led a Bible study through the book of 1 Peter and was once again challenged to evaluate how I think about and respond to hardships in my life. As I’ve studied and meditated on 1 Peter over the last nine weeks, four words have helped me summarize a few of the key ideas of Peter’s teaching on suffering: Expect, Embrace, Entrust, and Engage. I’d like to spend some time looking at each of these words.

First of all, as believers in Christ we are to expect suffering. In 1 Peter 4:12 Peter exhorts the believers, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” Especially in our American culture of prosperity, we are often surprised at suffering. We are so used to having so many comforts. Some days my biggest immediate problem is that the internet is out, and I can’t stream the movie I want to watch. Meanwhile, much of the population of the world lacks access to food, water, shelter, and the security of political stability. My acquaintances may laugh at me or think I’m stupid if I voice my allegiance to Christ, but around the world my brothers and sisters are thrown in jail, kicked out of villages, or even killed. I am used to a life of comfort and ease and am surprised by even the slightest hardships.

My access to money and resources tempts me to think I have control over my life. I expend a lot of effort obtaining comfort and avoiding hardships, not that all of these efforts are wrong. They are not, but when all my efforts don’t keep all hardship at bay, I am surprised. The effects of the Fall still break into my life. So many factors are outside of my control. My best efforts can’t eliminate the decaying of my body. My best efforts can’t prevent the pain and losses of life. My best efforts can’t hold back encroaching death. My best efforts can’t stop other people from making sinful, foolish choices that hurt me. And I am often surprised at that.

In so many religions in the world, people go through all kinds of rituals, sacrifices, and behaviors to keep bad things from happening to themselves or their families. I think even subtly, we adopt a similar mindset. Almost automatically, difficult circumstances draw out the questions, “What did I do wrong? Is God angry with me? What sin caused this to happen?” If I do well enough at the Christian life, I hope God might spare me hardships. We may even think if I serve Him well enough, then God owes me a life free of suffering. So when suffering comes we are surprised.

But we have a Savior who clearly said, “In this world you will be have trouble. Others will hate you because they hated me first.” And we have a Savior who laid out the path of the Christian life – suffering, then glory (1 Pet. 1:11) This has always been God’s plan. The Savior would walk a path of suffering. Then He would be exalted in glory. We are called to follow our Savior down this same path (1 Pet. 2:21). Suffering should not surprise us. It should not catch us off guard. Our God has told us to expect it.

Kim Anderson

Monday, March 22, 2021

A Sobering Sampling of a Noteworthy and Helpful Book, “The Enemy Within”, by Kris Lundgaard

Remember that the mind is the watchman of the soul, commanded to judge and determine whether something is good and pleasing to God, so that the affections can long for it and the will can choose it. If the mind fails to identify as sin as evil, wicked, vile and bitter, the affections will not be safe from clinging to it, nor will the will from giving consent. This is one side of the castle wall, the first line of defense: to keep in mind that every sin is a forsaking of God (Jeremiah 2:19), to never forget the polluting, corrupting, defiling power of sin-to be shaken to the core by how much God loathes sin.

When Paul said Christ's love compelled him (2 Corinthians 5:14), he described the other side of this first defense: the mind must stay fixed on God, especially on his grace and goodness towards us. His love propels, fuels, drives us to obey. It is the fountain of our obedience, and our highest motive to finding out what pleases the Lord and doing it.

In order to walk before God, this is the mind's first duty: to know and hold on to the evil of sin and the love of God. This is how Joseph stood up against overwhelming temptation.

By now you may have guessed that the law of sin in us, as much as it hates God and as deceitful as it is, doesn't throw up its arms in surrender at this first line of defense. The flesh has its explosives ready to undermine the wall. Its first and most wretched attack is to abuse God's grace in order to make sense seem less sinful, less dangerous, less threatening,

You must understand this: the flesh weakens conviction against sin by separating the remedy of grace from the design of grace. The scriptures teach nothing more clearly than that God's design in showing mercy is to make us holy people: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2: 11-12). But God also provides a remedy for our lapses: his loving pardon gives us peace, so that we know that if we do sin, “we have no one who speaks to the Father in our defense” (1 John 2:1).

The flesh works to make you forget the design (that you are saved to be holy) and think only of the remedy (if you sin you'll be forgiven). It preaches half a gospel (a twisted gospel) to us: “Go ahead and indulge-it's already paid for.” Those who fall prey to such deception are evidently many, since the Scriptures go to such lengths to condemn it (Romans 3:5-8; 6:1-4; Jude 4).

You know the flesh has made a breach in your defenses when your heart is hardened by its deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:13) so that you are careless about sin.

Jesus blood alone can deliver from sin. Live in his blood and you will die a conqueror-you will, by the good provision of God, live to see your lust dead at your feet. Here's how to work your faith:

By faith, fill your soul with thoughts of the purpose of Christ's death.
By faith except help to come from Christ.
Set your faith particularly on Christ death, blood, and cross-that is, on Jesus as the slain lamb.

In your struggle against sin, never forget your duty-but neither forget the power of the Spirit. The killing of the flesh is your duty, but his work.

“If by the Spirit, you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13)

As you by faith apply all the means of grace God has given to kill the flesh, remember that it is the Spirit who works in every part to bring the victory from Christ.

Page 64-65; 143-147
Kent Kloter