What Prison and Bunyan Reveal About Our Faith?

bunyan-in-prisonThe great theologian and Pastor John Bunyan once told his church that, “I never had in all my life so great an inlet into the word of God as now: those scriptures that I saw nothing in before, are made in this place and state to shine upon me: Jesus Christ also was never more real and apparent than now; here I have seen and felt Him indeed…I have had sweet sights of the forgiveness of my sins in this place, and of my being with Jesus in another world.”

But what makes this words remarkable is the “place and state” from which they came. They came from prison. Bunyan looked around his prison and concluded that God had never been so good, true or real to him. WOW!

How do you wind up at such a conclusion? You understand that God has called of us to suffer. One of Bunyan’s favorite verses was John 16:33:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

Bunyan new that his imprisonment was a manifestation of Jesus’ prophetic words. He knew that all who followed Christ were called to suffer. And he also knew that his suffering was not a pointless act caused by irrational men. He knew that the great king of heaven who had conquered death on the cross ruled the universe.  He knew that rage and malice of men “can do no more, nor go any further, than God permits them; but when they have done their worst, We know that all things shall work together for good to them that love God.” .

And so as the prison doors shut behind him, Bunyan entrusted his soul, life, and cares to God. Admittedly prison was not easy for Bunyan. He confessed that he was continually “afflicted and oppressed” by his own worries and struggles. Yet, he clung to the cross as the years slipped away. As he stood steadfast, Christ comforted Bunyan, enlarged his faith, and inspired him to write Pilgrim’s Progress. Because of God’s faithfulness, Bunyan could boast of the glories of prison!

How about us? What happens when we encounter trials? Do we praise God? Do find that we have a better understand of the Bible and of God’s love in the midst of suffering? Or do we become distressed, upset, and burned out with religion?

How we answer the question reveals much about our heart and character. In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus talks about two men who build spiritual houses. One builds his house upon the sand of human experience, ideas, and emotions. The other builds his house on the Word of God. And when the storms of life come, the house built on the sand collapses while the house built on the Scriptures remains firm.

What Christ was pointing to and what Bunyan live out was this simple truth: Those who love God will withstand trials. When they get hit by the storms of death, disappointment, and sorrow, they will remain firm. They will grow by God’s grace.

But those who have not trusted in Christ, will be blown away. Their lives will collapse because they never knew Jesus.

So how are you doing when trials come your way? Can you boast about the prisons in your life?

3 Things Your Worrier Needs To Know!

panicI was in a panic. The fire alarms were going off. My worst night mare, dying in a fire, was coming to life. Without a moment’s hesitation, I bounded out of the bed and rushed out the hotel room door determined to get down to the first floor as fast as humanly possible. But in my hurry, I forget one thing, my parents. After a few steps down the hallway, I realized my mistake and fled back to hotel room door and began pounding on it. I was in a panic.

In Mark 4:30-40, we find Jesus disciples in a panic. They were not caught in a fire. They were caught in a terrible storm that threatened to kill them. As each wave crested over the boat, death seemed more and more probable. They began to be overwhelmed by fear.

And they are not alone. Many Christians today struggle with fear. Many of our believing kids struggle with fear. When they lose games, fail tests, and lose friends they can tend to panic. So what do we do when life goes bad? We remember these three truths:

3 Truths

1.       We need to tell our kids that suffering does not equal punishment. God allows the disciples to go through the storm with Jesus. Following Jesus does not mean we get our best life now. Salvation does not mean we will have all the friends we want, win all the trophies we desire, or earn the grades we think we need. As the Pastor Lloyd-Jones said,

If we are living the Christian…on the assumption that it means…you will never have any more worry in the whole of your life, we are harboring a terrible fallacy…a delusion.

In John 16:33, Jesus clear says his children will experience, “tribulation.” We must not be surprised that we encounter struggles. And we must encourage our kids to not be surprised that they face storms in this life.

2.       We must tell our kids to stop letting their circumstance control them. When I panicked and when the disciples panicked, we were looking at one thing, our circumstances. I thought I was about to die in a hotel fire. They thought they were about to die in a storm. And we panicked. We panicked because all we could see was our surroundings. We forgot to focus on God.

We must teach our kids that circumstances are not the measure of God’s love for us. The losing of a game, a bad report card, and the death of a grandparent do not mean that God hates us. Trials do not mean that God has forgotten us. In fact, Romans 5:3-5 clearly states that God uses trials to grow our faith. God brings blessing through hardship. If we have a kid who is in a panic, we need to point them to God. Instead of talking about their grades or softball stats, talk to them about God. Help them shift their focus off of their circumstances and onto heaven.

3.       We must encourage our kids to trust God. The disciples panicked because they lacked faith. We panic and our kids panic when we lack faith. When we forget that God saved us, when we forget that God gives us everything we need, when we forget that God rules and we panic. The solution for panic, the antidote for panic is faith. It is not a blind faith. Rather it is a faith in the character of God that has been proven in the Scriptures and throughout the centuries. Once I got back in the room and trusted my parents to get us out safely, things went well for me. We all got down to lobby and discover it had been a false alarm. Only faith can cure the panic.

Now admittedly, we may not feel like believing God. Our kids may feel that losing the tournament championship really is the end of the world. And this is why we need faith. We need to recall the Scriptures. We need to recall that all things are working together for good (Rom. 8:28). We need to recall that God loves us. And then we need to believe. We must exercise faith even when we don’t feel like it. We should take our concerns to God and affirm that we trust him. As I Peter 5:7 says, we are to be “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” If we will trust God, he will deliver us!

A Pastor’s Response To The Recent Break-Ins.

Break inOver the last few weeks, our belief in Mayberry has been shaken.  Car windows all throughout Eastman have being shattered.  The crime spree is dominating our little Eastman new cycle (I.E. Facebook) because at some level we all affected by the crimes.  More than petty cash was stolen. Our feelings of security, comfort, and safety have been snatched away from us. And now, we are left with fear, worry, and hurt.

So how do we respond? How do regain our feeling of security and comfort? Naturally, we should be wise. We should lock our car doors, take our wallets inside, and report suspicious activity to the police.

But what about our hearts and emotions? How do we regain our feelings of security, comfort, and safety? Thankfully, the Bible has a lot to say about crime and fear. Here are five things we can do refocus our hearts!  

  1. Remember Crime is Normal:

We live in a post Genesis 3 world. In other words, we live in a fallen world in habited by fallen people. And not too surprisingly, sinful people do sinful people things (like gossip, lie, and even steal).  We can be 100% certain that people will disappoint us, harm us, and take our stuff. This is what people do apart from Christ.  As Paul writes in Romans 10:12 “no one does good/not even one.” We should never place our hope in humanity.  Rather, let’s place our hope in God!  “He alone is my rock and my salvation/my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken” (Psalm 62:1). Don’t expect a fallen world to be good. 

 

  1. Examine Our Treasures

Being robbed is not fun. My vehicles have been broken into five times over the years. I’ve lost everything from CD players to gyms bags full of stinky clothes. And as much as I hate seeing my window busted out, I’ve come to realize that break-ins do have an upside. The help us see what’s in our hearts.

Jesus says in Mathew 6:20-21: “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

If we are troubled to our core by the loss of a gym bag, a CD player, or our wallet we may a bigger problem than the robbery. We may be living for stuff. And if we live for stuff that can be stolen, we are not living for Jesus. I don’t welcome theft. But when we do encounter it, we should stop and ask ourselves, “Where am I laying up treasure?”

 

  1. Trust God

We are not our stuff. Just because God let someone steal from us doesn’t mean he has forsaken us. He very well might be using the events to teach us (even to admonish us). God’s ultimate goal for us is not too be happy, healthy, and content. Often such a lifestyle of peace and affluence keeps us prideful, self-assured, and independent of our creator.  God wants us to have commune closely with Him. God alone is true happiness. We should  trust in the God who loves us and is working everything together for our good (Rom. 8:28). Sure, we may lose our stuff. But in the end, we will have something far greater that can never be stolen:  the righteousness of God!

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4).

 

  1. Be Merciful

Don’t get angry. I’m not saying we skip down the street singing about the latest break-in. When we are sinned against, we naturally feel hurt. Sin is always linked to death and destruction. But the solution is not to seek our own vengeance or justice. Romans 12:19 says, that we are to “never avenge” ourselves because “”Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”” We are called to love our enemies. We are told to care for those who hurt us. Yes, we should want the police to prosecute criminals. We should want to see justice. But we trust God to execute that justice through the government.

We don’t do it. We should not attack made-up criminals on social media.  We shouldn’t be planning what will do to the thief once he’s caught. Rather, we seek to minister to our enemies. And if we don’t know who they are, we pray for them waiting for an opportunity to show them the love of Christ.   

 

  1. Pray

Pray for the thief and his salvation. Ultimately, jail and counseling don’t fix people. The gospel changes people through the power of God. Pray for God to save the one who hurt you (Matt. 5:44). Pray for your enemies. Next, pray for your safety. Since God truly cares for us, we should appeal to him in times of trouble. Don’t worry about what could happen to you or your stuff. Entrust yourself to Jesus! “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on” (Luke 12:22). And lastly of all, pray for justice. God is a just God. He will vindicate the innocent and his children. Ask him work.

 

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/13238706@N00/92520711″>Car vandalism</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;