I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Together for the Gospel 2016. I have also enjoyed reflecting upon some of the messages I heard over those three days, and I have posted some brief articles on a number of them (see my “T4G Reflections” articles.
In a general session address, Matt Chandler spoke about encouragement in the midst of persecution. Below is a recap and my own considerations concerning the speaker and the topic.
Matt Chandler has been a joy to me for several years. From podcast listener to infrequent Village Church attender (I attended Saturday night services during a time when I was on staff at another church near by), I have grown in appreciation for what Matt Chandler is and what he does. He is a genuine man and pastor; and this I have learned from personal experience and observation.
Additionally, his public life of suffering and pastoral service has proven to be Christ-honoring indeed. His physical suffering has given him a unique perspective on the kind of teaching and theology that truly brings encouragement during those times of great difficulty. Chandler’s message was a particular challenge to pastors. He implored them to encourage their congregation by way of showing them the depth and riches of God Himself.
Turning to Romans 11:33-36, Chandler sought to emphasize the greatness of God. By way of contrast, he talked about the inadequacies of a thin, flat, or small picture of God. Chandler rightly pointed out the reality that many pastors and (inevitably) their congregations avoid the awe-evoking passages and truths of Scripture. This, however, will only result in Christians being weak and scared among the culture at large. Their fear will be for man, and not God.
In addition to swimming in the depths of God’s greatness, Chandler also beckoned his audience to consider the riches of God. Of course, it is well to remember that God owns everything. The riches of God are immeasurable, and His sovereign ownership extends over those things that are now in the stewardship of evil and malicious men. Chandler coupled this truth with God’s promised inheritance for all who trust and believe, and the combination is spectacularly stabilizing indeed. After all, what should the suffering or persecuted Christian fear if he or she is certain that such an undesirable condition is only temporary and entirely under the sovereign rule of the covenant-making and covenant-keeping King?
Next, Chandler considered the wisdom of God, and this was further steadying still. “Think of all that God knows that I do not,” he quipped. The thought is staggering to be sure! Chandler added, “God is never stressed or is overwhelmed.” This too is an incredible thought, for anxiety and stress are common among modern Americans. It seems that none of us are ever fully free from such things, yet God is always free from them. With each of these, Chandler called our attention to the God of Scripture, the God who is, and the God whose wisdom is majestic beyond measure.
Last, Chandler mentioned one more combination of God’s attributes that is a comfort to any who trust in Him – His timelessness and His aseity. Chandler said, “God doesn’t just know my tomorrow; He is tomorrow.” What a tremendously profound idea is captured here! This denies a common error, that God merely knows or observes whatsoever comes to pass. Many genuine believers have, in his or her own mind, relegated God to a kind of “press box” in the sky. God is only allowed, one might think, to watch the activity from a distance, and maybe occasionally intervene. But, in this way of thinking, God is distant and generally uninvolved at any truly determinant level.
Such thinking is foolish, unbiblical, and destabilizing during those times when God’s personal sovereignty should provide the greatest strength. It is precisely because God is sovereign over whatsoever comes to pass that we may depend upon Him to govern both the means and the ends – for our ultimate good and for His supreme glory.
My own life experience has not been overwhelmingly difficult. I have faced and still walk through the toils and snares that are common among my generation, but I have not yet endured tremendous suffering or persecution. In fact, I often wonder why God has spared me such things, since I know that He has certainly not spared others. Sometimes I think it is because God knows that I am not nearly as capable of enduring as I would like to think I am, but I am sure that time will eventually tell.
In any case, these deeply grounding theological realities are frequent thoughts in my mind. About 13 years ago I was challenged to reconsider the greatness of God, as He had revealed Himself in the Scriptures. Since I began down the rabbit hole those years ago, I have yet to spend much time in the world of big men and a small god – the world in which I once dwelled.