Two Sides to Every Comfort

October 17, 2014 at 10:23 am | Posted in Two Sides to Every Comfort | 1 Comment
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In this series of lessons, I have been trying to do three things:
1. Recognize our need for comfort
2. Recognize that our comfort comes from God – Who is the God of all comfort
3. Correct the misunderstanding that God’s comforts are one-sided

In other words, God does not comfort us merely because He has a vague and passing interest in not allowing us to suffer too much. So we need to revise our view of some of the specific comforts that God gives to us, turning them over and looking at their other sides. I hope that this will give us a broader view of what it means to be comforted by the God of all comfort – a more comprehensive view that looks beyond the obvious, and looks with eyes of faith, to see at least two sides to every comfort.

There is a difference between being comfortable and being comforted, but the Holy Spirit has a way of comforting the uncomfortable, and making uncomfortable those who are merely complacent. The Christian life is not designed for self-comfort. It’s designed by God to challenge us to walk by faith through the zones of discomfort and find true comfort in God alone. Will you start exploring what He directs you to do, even if it makes you uncomfortable? If so, you will know the sweetness of His unique comfort.

C.onsolation / C.atastrophe
O.pportunity / O.bstacles
M.ercy / M.emory
F.ellowship / F.aults
O.versight / O.bedience
R.est / R.epentance
T.eaching / T.emptation

Teaching / Temptation

October 15, 2014 at 10:06 am | Posted in Biblical Teaching, John, Two Sides to Every Comfort | 3 Comments
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Teaching

In the first lesson in this series I explained the original meaning of the word comfort: “with strength.” Strength is imparted to us by God, but it pleases Him to use circumstances to do it. He has given us His Holy Spirit to guide us and to teach us through these circumstances.

But the Comforter, [which is] the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

John 14:26 (emphasis added)

The Greek word translated as Comforter is parakletos, and it means someone who comes alongside (para) and helps (kletos). One way to describe it is that a parakletos is like a soldier who helps his wounded comrade in battle – except instead of carrying him back to camp, he strengthens him to keep going forward – and he teaches him as he strengthens. The Holy Spirit teaches us the right way to think about our circumstances and the right things to say about our circumstances.

What a comforting thought to know that God has not left us alone to navigate our own sanctification! We could never do it on our own. But remember the comfort that comes from knowing that we have God’s Own Spirit as our teacher has a flip side. The other side of teaching is:

Temptation

God does not teach the way we teach.

Take heed, regard not iniquity: for this hast thou chosen rather than affliction.

Job 36:21

Job was told to be on the lookout for the temptation of iniquity. The “quick-fix” lie of Satan is that we can escape affliction by sinning.

Behold, God exalteth by his power: who teacheth like him?

Job 36:22

God has a very hands-on, trial-by-fire teaching method.

Who hath enjoined him his way? or who can say, Thou hast wrought iniquity?

God is never the author of sin.

Remember that thou magnify his work, which men behold. Every man may see it; man may behold [it] afar off.

Job 36:24-25

God allows temptation, but He also makes the way to escape, and when we emerge victorious over temptation, God gets the glory – and we learn a lesson.

Do you see the connection? We will be tempted, but we will not face it alone, and we will not be left without a comforter. When we fall, He will come along and help us up, and teach us – and we will get comfort.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

John 14:27

The peace that Christ gives is not like the counterfeit peace that the world offers, but it is true peace. It is the blessing and comfort of learning and knowing that God is orchestrating our lives.

Rest / Repentance

October 2, 2014 at 11:17 am | Posted in Hebrews, Two Sides to Every Comfort | 7 Comments
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Rest

“Rest” can have different meanings. It can mean to take it easy – sort of the opposite of hard work. It can also mean to cease from activity. On the seventh day God “rested” – not because He was tired, but because He was finished with the original work of creation. When a lawyer has finished putting on all his evidence and calling all his witnesses, he says, “I rest my case.” But in this lesson I am talking about a specialized kind of “rest” that we find in the Bible.

For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses.

Hebrews 3:16

To set the scene, Hebrews Chapter 3 is discussing the exodus out of Egypt, when God’s people were on their way to the Promised Land and they provoked God with their lack of faith.

But with whom was he grieved forty years? [was it] not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness?

Hebrews 3:17

The people left Egypt, but they did not reach their “rest” at that time because of their disobedience and lack of faith.

And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?

Hebrews 3:18

Notice the Holy Spirit’s logic here. God responded to their unbelief by giving them the logical outworking of failing to trust the God Who had miraculously set them free pursuant to prior fulfilled promises.

So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.

Hebrews 3:19

If you are truly a Christian, then you were saved by grace through faith, but you also receive the assurance of salvation by faith.

Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left [us] of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.

Hebrews 4:1 (emphasis added)

This is the kind of rest I’m talking about it in this lesson – the kind of rest that is truly “comforting” now – but not the precise kind of rest that we’re going to have when we reach Heaven.

A mistake that many Bible teachers have made – even some of the hymn writers – is equating the crossing of the Jordan River (the crossing over into Canaan, the Promised Land) with going to Heaven. The entering into Canaan is not an Old Testament picture of believers entering into Heaven, because in Canaan there were still enemies to fight, still giants to drive out, still mountains to conquer, still idol-worshipers and sinful tribes all around to tempt God’s people. None of that will be in Heaven.

There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.

Hebrews 4:9 (emphasis added)

The Greek word translated as “rest” in Hebrews 4:10 has a connotation of the calming of the wind after a storm. It reminds us of Jesus commanding the wind and the waves and telling the storm, “Peace, be still.

Biblical rest comes with inner peace. It is the comforting peace of God that goes beyond even knowing that our sins are forgiven. God could have saved us and locked us away in a dark place other than hell. He could have made us servants like the angels. But instead, God has given us His presence, so we do not have to wait to get to Heaven to experience the peaceful soul-calming rest of knowing God. You can abide in His presence right now – by faith. You are not a slave to sin – and you are not a slave to any laws or rules – if you are in Christ Jesus. You are a child of the Father.

But remember, I said that this rest is not the opposite of work. In fact, if we turn this comfort over and we examine the other side, some of us will be completely surprised with what we find there. Others will not be surprised at all. When you turn over the comfort of “rest,” you see:

Repentance

Repentance is an ongoing part of resting in Christ, and it is not – as some might imagine – antithetical to rest. It is the other side of the same pancake along with rest. In Psalm 38 we can see an extreme example. David was a man who went after God with wild abandon, and he was a man who, when he turned from God and went after sin, he went after it with the same wild abandon.

[There is] no soundness in my flesh because of thine anger; neither [is there any] rest in my bones because of my sin. For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me. My wounds stink [and] are corrupt because of my foolishness. I am troubled; I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long. For my loins are filled with a loathsome [disease]: and [there is] no soundness in my flesh. I am feeble and sore broken: I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart.

Psalm 38:3-8 (emphasis added)

The first step in repentance is admitting that I have sinned and that my sin is against God. Have you ever felt like David in these verses? So distraught and devastated and downcast that you thought couldn’t stand it? Perhaps when you lost your job? When one of your kids got into serious trouble? When the medical tests came back positive? When somebody close to you betrayed you or ignored you or mistreated you?

But what about when we sin? Don’t make the mistake of thinking that sin has separated you from God’s two-sided comforts. David didn’t.

For in thee, O LORD, do I hope: thou wilt hear, O Lord my God.

Psalm 38:15

For I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin.

Pslam 38:18

Forsake me not, O LORD: O my God, be not far from me. Make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation.

Psalm 38:21-22

David was resting in God, but his rest was the flip side of his repentance. They were inextricably linked together. David knew the paradox of the rest/repentance principle. He knew that the man of God, and God’s people, must labor to enter into rest.

Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.

Hebrews 4:11

That’s why, so often at the end of a “hard sermon” on sin, you will see the older saints weeping in repentance: not because they are doubting God’s assurance, but because they find rest in Godly repentance.

Oversight / Obedience

August 29, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Posted in I Peter, Two Sides to Every Comfort | 3 Comments
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Oversight

The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;

I Peter 5:1-2

What a comforting thought for us sheep. Not only is the Good and Great Shepherd watching over us, protecting us, providing for us, and leading us, but He has also assigned undershepherds – here the reference is to a pastor or an elder – to exercise oversight of us, and to help us, and to look out for our best interest. He has assigned them to feed us the Word of God, and to fight off wolves who might come in to deceive us.

The idea that Almighty God would exercise such meticulous oversight is very comforting. He wants every step you and I take to be monitored, but there is another side to the blessing of oversight, which is:

Obedience

Is obedience truly comforting? Don’t we struggle enough with being obedient to God? And now, how humbling! Willingly submitting to another human being!

Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:

I Peter 5:5-6

A previous lesson in this series was partly about opportunity. Here is a great opportunity – the opportunity to humble ourselves before God has to do it for us.

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that [is] unprofitable for you.

Hebrews 13:17

We make a big mistake when we think of obedience as drudgery instead of comfort. God says that obedience to His ordained authorities is profitable – that it is working itself out for our benefit.

Consolation / Catastrophe

May 30, 2014 at 10:29 am | Posted in II Corinthians, Two Sides to Every Comfort | 8 Comments
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The Bible has much to say about comfort, and comfort is something we all need, for none of us are above things like fear, depression, anxiety – even hopelessness. One of the many names that the Bible gives us for our God is “the God of all comfort.”

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy [our] brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia: Grace [be] to you and peace from God our Father, and [from] the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed [be] God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;

II Corinthians 1:1-3

“Comfort” is a word that comes from combining two other words. “Com” simply means “with” and “fort” means “strength.” For example, a military “fort” is supposed to be a position of safety and strength. Some types of foods are described as being “fortified,” which means they are strengthened with vitamins or minerals. We say someone who is courageous has “intestinal fortitude,” which colloquially means that he has “strong guts” (gross). So when the Bible says that God is the God of all comfort it is reminding us that the strength that we need – our “fortification” – will always come from God… which is, of course, a “comforting” thought. But it is also an often misunderstood thought.

Here is how it is misunderstood. We become frightened or confused or stressed out or panicked, and we want comfort. We remember that God is the God of all comfort, and we expect Him to show us comfort or to give comfort or to bring comfort in certain ways, but those ways do not at first always make us “feel” comforted. Therefore, we lose sight of God’s promises, and we begin to doubt God.

Look at what the next part of the passage from II Corinthians says:

Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.

II Corinthians 1:4-5

Words like “tribulation” and “trouble” and “suffering” don’t sound very comforting, but the Bible is reminding us that every comfort that comes from the God of all comfort has two sides to it. You may have heard the expression “two sides to every coin.” Bill Parcells, when he was Head Coach for the Dallas Cowboys, used to like to remind the media that “there is another side to that pancake,” expressing a similar sentiment. In this series of lessons I want to look at some of the specific “comforts” that God gives to us, and turn them over, and look at the flip side.

Consolation

And whether we be afflicted, [it is] for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, [it is] for your consolation and salvation. And our hope of you [is] stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so [shall ye be] also of the consolation.

II Corinthians 1:6-7

Consolation is a great gift from the God of all comfort, but we tend think of consolation as kind of the “loser’s prize.” A “consolation game” is where two competitors who have already lost and been eliminated from a tournament play each other without any real consequences riding on the outcome. Consolation is not like that with God. God’s consolation comes with real relief, real rescue, and real redemption.

However, there is a flip side to consolation:

Catastrophe

In order to experience true consolation, you have to first experience some kind of catastrophe – some kind of trouble that you can not get yourself out of in your own strength. We talk about “tragedy” and “accidents” and “mistakes,” forgetting that God is sovereign and that He ordains the catastrophe so that He may grant the consolation. Who would think of a catastrophe as bringing comfort? But be honest: When have you drawn closer to God than ever before in your life? In the good times or the bad times? And how are you going to share the consolation with which God has comforted you, unless you have been through the same catastrophe that someone else is going through? When catastrophe strikes, draw near to God, depend upon Him, and wait for Him to turn the page from catastrophe to consolation.

Letter to a Grieving Mother

November 30, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Posted in John, Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Dear Ms. Smith:

My family and I were sorry to hear about your daughter. I wish I had known her better. My wife and I and our daughters have cried about Sally, and we have prayed for you. I don’t imagine there is anybody besides Jesus who can honestly say they know what you are going through right now. Over the years I have counseled with people whose children have passed away, and sometimes they try to describe their feelings, but it’s not really possible. When I was a small boy my dad would take me fishing and he would get so angry when I didn’t cast the lure properly, because the fishing line would snap back into the reel and cause a huge knot. Sometimes he could get the knot out – through clenched teeth and flared nostrils – and sometimes he gave up and threw the rod down in disgust: it was too tangled. My friends who have experienced the death of a young child sometimes feel sad, confused, angry at themselves, angry at others – even angry at God. Sometimes they feel loneliness, despair, hopelessness, aggravation, numb, or lost – sometimes all of these things at once. Like a big tangled knot of fishing line that can’t be sorted out. Please don’t think that I’m saying that’s what you’re feeling about the loss of your beautiful young daughter. I don’t have any way of knowing what you are going through. But I still want to tell you some things that I know to be true.

When a child is crying and can’t be consoled sometimes the child’s mother will hold the child’s face in her hands. Using her thumbs like miniature windshield wipers, she will wipe away the tears under the child’s eyes. She will look the child in the face and say, “Everything’s going to be okay.” And it helps – it really does. But, the thing is, there will be times after that when the child will cry again. I have no way of knowing if Sally was crying when she went to see Jesus. Maybe she was. But if so, the Bible tells what happened to her next: Jesus wiped away her tears. Jesus did not look like a stranger to Sally. He did not look mean or scary or intimidating or stern. He looked beautiful and comforting and loving to Sally, and He wiped away her tears in a way that made it so that she will never ever cry or be sad or lonely or scared or confused ever again. She knows things we have no clue about right now, and she wouldn’t leave where she is for the world. The words “happy” and “joyful” and “having fun” do not even begin to describe the sublime bliss and peace and excitement that Sally is experiencing for all eternity. She is in the best place in the whole universe, and she will be forever, and it will only get better and better.

When you try to comfort someone whose child has died you are not supposed to say stuff like this. You are supposed to shut your mouth and just be there for them and pray for them. The chances of making a grieving parent feel worse are high, and the chances of making her feel better are miniscule. I’m breaking that rule in writing to you, because I hope you already know the truth, but in case you don’t, I want you to know it. When Jesus told His disciples He was going to be arrested and put to death they were scared and confused. In those days when the government killed a criminal they tortured him publicly and killed him slowly over a period of days. The disciples were thinking, “If they’re going to do that to Jesus, they might do it to us, too.” So here’s what Jesus told them:

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

John 14:1-3

Jesus was telling them it would be okay. Heaven is real. He really has gone there, and if we have believed the Gospel and placed our trust in Him, we are going to where He and Sally already are. Please make sure you have believed the Gospel and trusted in Jesus.

Sincerely,

Healing for Truly Broken Hearts

September 20, 2010 at 9:53 am | Posted in Bible Studies, Salvation, Selected Psalms | 6 Comments
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Lord, help us today to get our eyes off of uncertainty. Help us to take our focus off of questions like, “Why now?” “Why did it happen?” Help us instead to look at something we don’t have to wonder about – something we can know for sure – Your Word. In Jesus Christ’s Name I pray. Amen.

God is the God of comfort. “Comfort” means “with strength.” God has provided for us three main things which work together to comfort us. A table with three legs has strength and stability to stand. A table with less than three legs would be very unstable. The three legs of Christian comfort, stability, and strength are: God’s Spirit; God’s Church; and God’s Word.

God’s Word is a living Word. Psalm 147 is a Psalm of comfort. Its Words were written down long ago, but they are written in present tense because God – and His Word – are still doing these things today.
“He gathereth together.”
“He lifteth up the meek.”
“He maketh peace.”
“He sendeth out His Word.”
In modern English we would say, “He is gathering; He is lifting; He is making peace; He is sending out His Word…”

Today, you may be brokenhearted. If so, no creature is able to heal a broken heart. But there is One that we see only by faith – and He can heal… even a broken heart.

He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.

Psalm 147:3

Even now He is healing broken hearts, and He is binding up wounds. Different people have different kinds of wounds, but God knows exactly what type of binding you need.

He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names. Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.

Psalm 147:4-5

There is nothing about you that God does not know. There is nothing broken in you that God can not heal. Understanding that God knows everything about you may make you uncomfortable. We know it’s true, but it’s scary. The Lord Jesus said:

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Matthew 5:4

That used to bother me. It’s so upside down from the way we’ve been taught. The way to get comfort is to mourn? “No,” says the common wisdom of man, “the way to get over mourning is to get your mind off it, to find something fun to distract you – then you won’t mourn.”
That’s not what Christ is saying. He is saying the ones who are blessed are the ones who have come to Him mourning over their own sins.

Has there been a day when you came to Jesus mourning over your own sins? If so, then Jesus kept His Word. You were comforted. And today you are truly blessed.

But if you’ve never come to Jesus Christ mourning over your own sins, please do it – receive the blessed comfort of healing and forgiveness.

“Your” time in this world is not really “your” time. It is really God’s time. There is going to come a time in the next few minutes or hours or days when something happens to make you mourn. When you want to ask, “Why the loss?” – remember all the times when you failed to ask, “Why the blessing?”

Blessed are they who mourn. They mourn over taking God’s time and using it for themselves. They come to Jesus and they are mourning because they have sinned against Him. Then He heals their broken hearts, and binds all their wounds. Will you tell Jesus you’re sorry for your sins? Will you go to Him mourning for yourself today? Will you ask Him to heal you? Jesus wants you to. His Word CAN NOT lie.


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