It is very easy not to tell people about Jesus isn’t it? We have every excuse in the book don’t we? But have you ever considered what you are saying when you choose not to share the gospel?My dad grew up in Denmark after the 2nd world war. He once told me a true story that chilled me to my bones.At a church that was near where my dad grew up there was a young minister in charge of his first church. The church was just across the road from a train station where Nazis used to put Jews on trains bound for Auschwitz. It just so happened that the trains would leave the station at 9:10am on a Sunday morning. So just as the church was singing its first couple of songs the train would leave and the passengers who were going to Auschwitz would scream. As you can understand this would destroy the vibe of the singing in church!So the minister called his bishop who came and led next Sundays service. The singing started, the train went, the screams rose and the singing went down in volume. To which the bishop exclaimed “Just sing louder!!”Are you kidding me? Just sing louder so that singing of songs to God drowns out the screams of people going to their impending death.We are outraged and rightly so.But have you ever thought that every time you decide to not share the gospel with someone because of those reasons we all have what you are really saying to yourself is “Just sing Louder!!” Because aren’t you letting the reasons in your head block out the thought of this person going to hell?Do you really want to say to yourself “Just sing louder?”What motivates you to share the Gospel more freely?You may also like:
I am preaching on having joy in the midst of suffering this Sunday at Resolved. Joy in the midst of suffering is something we need to talk about as Christians because we will all suffer at some point in our lives.
In preparing this sermon I keep thinking about my family as we all struggled through my dad’s cancer and as we continue to live without a great friend, husband and father. I came across this quote from Wayne Grudem as I was not only grieving my loss but preparing this sermon.
“He thus reminds Christians that Gods purposes in present grief may not be fully known in a week, in a year, or even in a lifetime. Indeed, some of gods purposes will not be even known when believers die and go to be with the lord. Some will only be discovered at the day of final judgement when the Lord reveals the secrets of all hearts and commends with special honour those who trusted him in hardship even though they could not see a reason for it: they trusted him simply because he was their God and they knew him to be worthy of trust. It is in times when the reason for hardship cannot be seen that trust in God alone seems to become most pure and precious in his sight. Such faith he will not forget, but will store up as a jewel of great value and beauty to be displayed and delighted in on the day of judgement.”Wayne Grudem. The First Epistle of Peter, pg 65
I love how Grudem point to so eloquently reminds us of our reward in heaven.
The great hope that Christians have when they are suffering is that God will not forget our suffering but will reward our faithfulness.
How do you hold onto this hope when you are suffering?
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Dad was born 21st of April 1948 to Hans and Kristiane Kristensen of SdrVium in Denmark. He was born premature and was not expected to live. But dad, being the fighter that he was, he lived. Early on in Dad’s life his parents taught him the value of hard work mixed in with lots of love and fun. He was taken to church every Sunday where he was taught about Jesus in Sunday School by his grandmother whom he loved dearly. At school dad was a bit of the class clown but he excelled in all his classes without much study.
After school Dad went and did his apprenticeship in carpentry. Around this time he started to race in rallies. Dad had a lot of stories to tell about him and rally driving. He never won a race but one time he did come in 2nd. It was in the worst car he ever drove: a Ford Cortina. His dad told him before the race that if he broke down, don’t come and call him. Well they came 2nd and on the way back home they did break down. My grandfather was called and because they came second, my grandfather picked him up.
Not long after he was finished his apprenticeship, Dad moved to work in Greenland and in 1972, after going back to Denmark for a short time,Dad boarded a ship bound for Australia. When he landed he found a job very quickly and John and Sharn Vanderplas took him under their wing.
Dad told me that when he landed in Australia he had a limited use of English and so he learnt English from the guys on the worksite and also from reading the Telegraph Newspaper and till the day he died Dad Loved reading the Telegraph. But Dad’s grasp of the English language wasn’t perfect. He did get some words wrong and our family had so much fun with this. One time dad was talking about his beloved Magazine Unique Cars but dad called it Uni Q cars. To which we all laughed and said ‘Can you pass the uni q cars? Where is the paper? Under the copy of Uni Q cars.’ Dad had enough of this and said “shut up none of you can speak two languages!” To which I replied “Well neither can you!”
Some time after that Dad started working for the guy he would call boss for almost 40 years, Ysbrand Verhuel. In this time dad came home with many stories about working with Ysbrand, Kenny, Lee, Darrell,Weemalah Bill, Doug and many others. He took great pride in his workand to all those he worked with I just want to say he loved you guys like brothers. Thanks so much for being the best bunch of mates for my dad. And thank you for giving my dad so many good times, stories and jokes. The last time I remember my dad really laughing was recounting a joke that Kenny told. My dad loved you guys and you guys loved Dad.Thanks for that.
It was around the same time that dad started working for Ysbrand that Dad saw her. She was a leggy brunette with a big smile. They were at the German club in Stanmore in Sydney and she had just told one of her Girlfriends that “all the good guys were taken!” and then dad asked her for a dance. The girl was my mum and that was the first and last time Dad asked mum for a dance. In the year that Mum and Dad were dating dad would finish work in Bega and then Narrabri at 3:30pm and then he would get in his car and drive the many hours it took to see Mum.On the 18th of December 1976 mum and Dad were married. Mum had snagged the guy she would later dub her handsome hunk of humanity!Mum and dad had a very loving marriage, one where there were a lot of laughs. time I remember Mum had gone out clothes shopping that day and since come home. She had changed into her house cleaning clothes and then dad came home and mum said to him “I bought some new clothes today” and Dad looked up at mum in her daggy housecleaning clothes and said “Mmm looks Good”.
On the 8th of may 1978 Mum and Dad welcomed into the world their first child, a beautiful girl named Sarah. A few years later Mum and dad welcomed me into their lives. Dad loved us kids like anything and he would consistently go out of his way to help us fulfill our dreams.Whether it be driving me to Gunnedah every 2nd week for guitar lessons or helping Sarah out with…… Dad was only too ready to do all he could for his kids.
Growing up, our home was full of laughter and where laughter was,dad was usually to be found. It seemed like every week dad had a funny story or joke to tell that he heard from work. But Dad had the amazing ability to get a rise out of us at will. Whether it be watching the news with mum and saying something totally inappropriate to which mum turn to dad and react, or saying something to Sarah that was politically very right wing, or arguing with me that Elvis Presley was the best guitarist ever and that Jimi Hendrix couldn’t play compared to Elvis,Dad knew how to get a rise out of us. And when we bit hard and argue back, that cheeky smile came across his face which meant that dad was having a stir and loving every minute of it!
Growing up, Dad taught Sarah and I about hard work, not taking yourself seriously and about loving and respecting everyone. For Dad it didn’t matter where you were from, what colour your skin was or whether you were rich or poor. As long as you worked hard, respect others and liked a good joke, you were okay in Dad’s book.
Dad wasn’t part of the generation where guys were open with their feelings of affection for each other. Dad showed his love for people by doing things for them. Whether it be being the Danish translator town for a lot of people or helping out chopping some wood for someone, or just doing some odd job, I think most of us could say something that Dad helped us with. And if you gauge how much Dad Loved by how much he helped others, dad was one of the most loving men we have ever known.
Dad loved his family in Denmark and I think he would say that some of his best times were when we went as a family over to Denmark. We Had many trips to Denmark and we all loved every minute of them.And over the years we have had many visits from various friends of the family or cousins, and in the last few years Mum and Dad were blessed with three visits from Karen and Knud, Dad’s sister and brother in law.
In 2009 dad had a cancerous kidney removed but unfortunately that cancer had already spread. Dad was diagnosed with Bone Cancer in January 2010 and the prognosis was dire. In the time that he had cancer, although dad was frustrated, tired and sometimes in pain, mum says that Dad never complained once, never got angry and always hoped for the best. It was in this time that our family experienced the great skill and care of Dr Jack Shepherd and Dr Scott Finlay along with the great nursing staff at Moree hospital. Moree is extremely blessed by God to have such skillful and caring medical practitioners and I want to thank them on behalf of our family for all they did for dad. But the other person that deserves high praise is mum. Mum, you worked around the clock tirelessly for dad, you always were so upbeat and positive and you never asked anyone for sympathy, you just did the job of loving dad and you did a great job. I think dad lasted so long because you were such a compassionate, faithful and loving wife.
But one of the greatest things that Dad did in his last 18 months on earth was to reconnect with Jesus. Dad always had a belief that God was there but it seemed as though because the end was imminent,dad took these beliefs more seriously. And so we need to ask, what hope is there for my dad now that he is no longer here with us? But we also have to ask what hope is there for any of us in the face of death? Because one day we will all be where dad is right now. There is so much hope in the face of death in the two passages we had read before that mum and Sarah chose.
In the first one Jesus is having his last meal with his mates, his followers, and he has told them he is going to die and so they are freaking out. But did you see Jesus words:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Jesus says to his followers that he will prepare a place for them. Jesus has prepared a place for dad too. See, so many have said to me and my family that dad is in a better place now and that is true. But Dad being in a better place now is not mere sentimentality, it is reality. It is this hope that we can all be assured of. That you can be assured of. But how can I be so confident? Well it is because of what Jesus says.
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Jesus, in effect, says ‘If you want this hope you have to connect with me.’ See the message of Jesus that my dad believed in is that God Lovingly created each one of us with beauty and with dignity and worth and yet despite our best intentions we have pushed God aside and said ‘Hey man, I will run my own life.’ But it is God who fixes the situation that we are in. It is God who came down as a man named Jesus and it is this Jesus who took the punishment for our rebellion when he died on the cross. It is this Jesus who rose physically from the dead guaranteeing that death, although it is final on this earth,it is not the end. Jesus is preparing a place for us. See dad is not in heaven because he was a good bloke or because he went to church or whatever. Dad is heaven because of what Jesus has done for Dad and because dad trusted Jesus when he reconnected with him.
But what is that place like? What is heaven like? Well that is what our 2nd passage talks about.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
There are two things that we see here what this place is like. The first thing is that God will be with his people. The relationship that we broke is now fully restored. And secondly, did you see what is not there?There will be no more pain or crying, no more death or mourning, no more cancer, no more. I dunno about you but I am sick of mourning,I am sick of crying, I am sick of death. But the hope that Jesus gives is that he is preparing a place for us that is exactly like this.
One of the things I hope you will do today as you celebrate my dad’s life is you will ask yourself whether you have this hope that my dad had in the end. Dad was not scared of death because he knew where he was going.
Last Friday when dad died, there was no mention of dad on the Prime News, or Seven news or the ABC news. There was no mention of him in his beloved telegraph newspaper. But when he died, all heaven was on their feet welcoming dad home. That is the future we can all experience. That is the future my dad is experiencing all because of Jesus.
One of the sweetest doctrines is Grace. It is amazing to know we stand before God forgiven and in a right relationship with him based not on what we have done but only on what he has done. This doctrine hits home when I consider my dad’s and my own mortality. We all know that one day we will face God but when was the last time you considered that you will be standing before God with nothing but the righteousness he has given you? When was the last time you considered that one day you will stand before God and in that moment all you have is the grace he has shown to you in Jesus?
But grace works itself out in different ways also. It is only by God’s gracious provision that he has put me and my family in Australia where Dad has been benefitting from some of the best medical treatment in the world. It is only by God’s grace that we live in Australia where this treatment cost mum and dad next to nothing. I always thought I was blessed by God to live in Australia but it has only been since dad has been diagnosed with cancer do I realise how much God’s grace has been shown to me in him placing me in Australia.
But the ultimate form of Grace is shown in the cross where Jesus took my sin and the punishment for that sin in himself so I could be forgiven.
It is this grace which will keep me going through the rest of dad’s cancer.
It is this grace which will see my Dad stand before Jesus right with him.
It is this grace I pray that my dad accepts and I keep living in until that final day.
A few years ago I was sitting in Hungry Jacks in Kings Cross at around 9pm when a bunch of prostitutes walked in. They were loud, raucous and quickly made themselves the centre of attention. A song came on over the radio called Heaven by the Eurogliders. The lyrics of the chorus are:
Heaven, must be there-ere
Well, it’s just got to be there-ere
I’ve never – never seen Eden
I don’t wanna live in this place
One of the prostitutes turned to another and said “Do you think it exists? Heaven I mean.” The other one said “Sure, cause I don’t wanna live in this place!” At this they laughed, ordered their food and loudly went on their way.
When I see my dad racked by pain, hardly able to eat anything and I know there is no human way he will survive this cancer I think of heaven. Because when I see my dad in so much pain I don’t wanna live in this place! I want be in a place which is described like this:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1-5)
I want to be in a place where there are no more tears or cancer or hatred or violence or death or mourning. That is the place I want to be. So when I see my dad racked with pain or when I see him exhausted and sleeping on the couch, a mere shell of the man he once, I was I realise my hope, my future and my home is heaven.
The Bible states that our resurrection will be patterned after Jesus’ own resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:35-44) and so our resurrection, just like Jesus’, will be physical. This gives me great hope for myself that one day, no matter what happens in this life, my body will be resurrected and made new.
When I think about the resurrection and I think about my dad I remember what he used to be like before the cancer struck. He was a man who was thin and yet very tough and strong, he had boundless energy and was always working. But now he has lost a tonne of weight, he now cannot do one tenth of the things he used to do, he sleeps a lot and doesn’t have a quarter of the energy he once had. The resurrection says that this will not be the final picture of my dad I will see. If my dad believes in Jesus he too will be resurrected and given a new body, an imperishable body , a body that is not racked with cancer one that is fit and with boundless energy.
It seems like every year there is a bishop or pastor who will deny the physicality of the resurrection. Remember that when they do that they are not just denying something that is integral to the Christian faith they are denying me and my dad hope. Hope that one day my dad will run again, hope that one day my dad will be able to work like he used to hope that one day everyone who trusts in Jesus will be raised physically to a new and eternal life!
So make sure when you preach the resurrection this Easter people go away knowing that Jesus was raised physically!
Can God sympathise with me in my pain? Is God sitting up there watching us “from a distance” like Bette Midler talks about. These questions are answered in the incarnation and ultimately the cross. For in the incarnation and the cross we see God becoming man and suffering. But this brings up the question of Impassibility. Impassibility states that God cannot suffer that he is without ‘passions’. What our church fathers sought to do in affirming the impassibility of God is to make sure that God is not just a souped up human who is affected like us by the trials of life. They sought to affirm that God doesn’t need us that he is not dependant on him and that we cannot change God’s nature by how we relate to him. I think as a reformed evangelical I want to affirm all these things. The Bible presents a picture of God who is wholly other, who doesn’t need us to survive.
Well then it seems that if we subscribe to Impassibility (which I want to do) we now have a God who is unlike us and who cannot sympathise with us. But here we need to hear Carson’s words:
It is no answer to espouse a form of impassibility [Here Defined as: Primarily means that God is incapable of suffering, however, can mean to not experience any emotion of desire, or any emotions, period] that denies that God has an emotional life and that insists that all of the biblical evidence to the contrary is nothing more than anthropopathism [Here Defined as: to ascribe human feelings and passions to God]. The price is too heavy. You can then rest in God’s sovereignty, but you can no longer rejoice in his love. You may rejoice only in a linguistic expression that is an accommodation of some reality of which we cannot conceive, couched in the anthropopathism of love. Give me a break. Paul did not pray that his readers might be able to grasp the height and depth and length and breadth of an anthropopathism and know this anthropopathism that surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:14-15). D.A Carson The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God pg.60
Carson’s words ring true we must make sure that we don’t craft a doctrine in such a way that doesn’t negate things that are obvious in the Bible. So therefore we need a rightly crafted doctrine of impassibility. We need to show that God has emotions but they are unlike ours. I think Robert Reymond has nailed it:
“Thus whenever divine impassibility is interpreted to mean that God is impervious to human pain or incapable of empathizing with human grief it must be roundly denounced and rejected. When the Confession of Faith declares that God is “without…passions” it should be understood to mean that God has no bodily passions such as hunger or the human drive for sexual fulfillment…”
“We do, however, affirm that the creature cannot inflict suffering, pain, or any sort of distress upon him against his will. In this sense God is impassible.” Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith pg. 179
So God can feel and he does experience pain. But he does this because he chooses to suffer. It is not like we have hurt God. No, God has come down as a man to experience our pain and our suffering in the cross. It was his choice to suffer and it is his choice to love. As Carson states:
“If God loves, it is because he chooses to love, if he suffers, it is because he chooses to suffer. God is impassible in the sense that he sustains no ‘passion,’ no emotion, that makes him vulnerable from the outside, over which he has no control, or which he has not foreseen.” (Love of God, 60)
The comfort I receive when I consider the cross is that God came and experienced our pain even though he didn’t need to. Therefore, in a real and complete way he knows and understands my pain of seeing my dad battle terminal cancer. He knows my dad’s pain in suffering. Therefore I can pray to God knowing he sympathizes with me. I can be angry at sin and ask God to change this world which is wracked by sin, knowing that he has let sin impact him. I can ask him to heal my dad of his pain because he has felt real physical pain.
This is the God I serve, this is the God who reveals himself in the cross. This is the God I take comfort in.
One of the core truths of the Bible is the God is in control of everything, especially over suffering. This truth is seen graphically in two places. Firstly in the story of Joseph (Genesis 37-50) where Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery but God, through sins against Joseph and other circumstances, gives Joseph the weighty task of being a ruler in Egypt. As you know, one of the highpoints in the narrative is when Joseph’s brothers come before him to plead for their life. It is then Joseph says “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” (Genesis 50:19-21) It is here where we see the evil acts of man are not outside of the plan of God. In fact, both God and man are working in the same act but bringing different intentions to the act itself, God’s intention was to save, man’s intention to do evil. The second place where this doctrine is seen is the cross, especially as it is unpacked in Acts 4. In Acts 4 after a wave of persecution the believers pray this prayer about the cross “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” (Acts 4:27-28) Once again we see two intentions at work in the cross, one to bring life and one to bring death. We once again see God in control of evil and suffering. I could talk about this theme in Job or in Pauls letters but I think the above references point out the theme of God being control of suffering is a biblical one.
I find it comforting that God is not in heaven wondering about the evil and suffering in the world. God is not in heaven wondering “What happened to Niels Kristensen?” Why isn’t he wondering that? Because he is in control of my Dads cancer. This is comforting because I know that God has a reason for doing all this. I am not sure of his reason(s) but I know whatever happens God will be glorified and people will be saved. Therefore, I can rest in knowing there is some purpose behind my dad and my family’s suffering and it is not some random thing put upon us by dumb luck. Because dad’s suffering is under the watchful eye of God and it is under his control it has some higher meaning, meaning that I may never know but meaning none the less.
I also find it comforting that God is in control in my prayer life. I can’t fathom how God people can pray to a God who is not in control of a situation (i.e. open theism) or is not powerful enough to enact change (deism). But the God of the Bible is in control of everything, even down to the hairs on our head, and is powerful enough to enact change even on a cellular level. So when I pray for God to heal my dad I pray knowing he is in control and he is powerful enough to heal if he chooses to do so.
One of the great things we need to preach as pastors is God being in control of all things especially suffering. This is a very hard truth to grasp but one when meditated on I have found comfort in.
As some of you may know my Dad has terminal cancer. It was diagnosed at the start of last year and he has been fighting it since. As I have gone through the pain and the anguish of seeing my dad suffering in this way 5 doctrines have given me comfort. For the next five days I will outline one of these doctrines and why in the face of death and suffering it gives me comfort hopefully it will help us all (especially me) think about suffering and death more biblically.