Doug Eaton

An Encounter with the Word

It is good when the Word of God troubles our souls. If the depth and majesty it reveals about the Lord of all creation does not produce the fear of Him in our hearts, then the blessings it pronounces do not belong to us either. Think through your most recent encounters with the Word. How did your heart respond to it?

We often approach the Word of God as if we are above it—as if we are the judge to determine what is significant and what is not. We do this unconsciously when we give Scripture a surface-level reading and think we have given it the consideration it deserves. We regularly sit as judges over the Word of God when we attend church and listen to sermons.
Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones once asked, “When did we last go to church and expect something to happen?” We usually expect church to be the same old routine it has always been because we have conformed to this world’s pattern. We listen to a sermon and then make our worldly declarations over it. We determine what is good and what is lacking. Did we like the pastor’s voice? Were his anecdotes funny? And on and on we go. When we do this, we fail to realize that if the pastor was faithful to the text he preached, we did not encounter a preacher; we had an encounter with the Word of God. Yet our hearts were unresponsive.
Hebrews 4:12 tells us that the Word of God is living and active.
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The Power of Prayer

Prayer is a powerful means of grace that God has provided to us. He has good things to give us that we do not have because we have not asked. Some may argue, but God knows what we need even if we do not ask. That is true, but refusing to pray is disobedience, and there are rewards to obedience in prayer that we will not experience any other way. 

Sometimes, to protect a passage of scripture from the abuses it receives from those who twist it, we add so many qualifications that we eliminate not only the false teaching but also the profound truth it communicates. We find one such passage in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you (Matt. 7:7).
If you watch prosperity preachers, you will find several who pervert this passage of scripture. They turn it into some name it and claim it doctrine, and most of what they want to claim has more to do with worldly well-being than spiritual. Other teachers have said that God cannot work until you pray. He is hindered until you allow him to work by giving him permission in prayer, as if God is not soveriegn.
Others will say this verse has such a clear promise that if God is not answering your prayers, it must be because you lack faith. Convenient for them, you can show God you have enough faith and get your prayers answered by financially donating to their ministry. Men and women who do such things are wolves who feed on the flock instead of feeding the sheep. If they do not repent, their judgment awaits.
We are right in protecting this passage from abuse, but sometimes we go too far. For example. Someone might say, “There is power in prayer.” And a well-meaning Christian will respond, “The power is not actually in prayer, but in God. We do not trust in prayer; we trust in him.”
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Finding Peace beyond the Illusion of Control

Everything could fall apart. The darkest things imaginable could happen, except one: that God would lose one of us who has been saved by faith and fail to complete the work He has begun in us. We will see Jesus face to face in all of His glory. One day, all believers will inhabit a place without sickness, without tears, and without death. A place where it can no longer come undone, but this is not it.

There is something about me that always wants to be in control. If I am sick, I want to outlearn the disease and overcome it. If relationships start to fail, I want to be able to charm them back to life. We all desire control. I think this is why we buy into so many fad diets promising snake-oil results. I do not say this as a judgment on eating right; it is wise, but how much stems from the desire to bend reality to fit our ideals? If there is something I can do, then it is something I can control. “I am the master of my ship.” The desire to govern this world has even entered Christian circles. “If you can muster enough faith, all will go right. Positive thoughts create positive results.” The problem is it is not true. We could do all of this, and it could still fall apart. We are not the masters of our destinies.
With every peal of thunder, I realize that I am not the center of the universe. When it comes to orchestrating the master plan for creation, I am no more special than the other 7 billion people on the planet. We all tend to live as if we are, but it is a delusion. You and I could come into contact with something in this fallen world that could end our lives within a matter of days, and there is nothing we can do about it.
Once we are gone, our co-workers would remember us and then replace us. Sure, they may even put up a picture for a few years to commemorate our contribution, but they would continue without us. Our demise would most likely hit our family the hardest, but our children would move on with their lives just like we would want them to. Even the one we love, if the Lord wills, would find someone else to love and with whom to share the rest of their life.
I dislike thinking about these things, but it is good. It reminds me that the world is not yet how it should be, so I should not put my trust and hope in it. There is something eternal that deserves my devotion and attention. Something else should be my refuge.
Though storms swell around us, we have found salvation in the cleft of the rock: Christ Jesus. All the sins that caused us to be fearful of God have been forgiven. The great and righteous judge of the universe has reconciled us to Himself through the cross. Yes, we, sinners, are friends of God. He calls us His children.
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Fierce Furnace, Gentle Grace

Jesus has selected a suitable furnace for me, not a hot and hasty one, which seems likely to harden and consume me–but one with a gentle and lingering heat, which melts my heart gradually, and lets out some of its dross. Though I cannot love the furnace, yet the longer I live, the more I see of its need and its use. A believer seldom walks steadily and brightly, unless he is well-furnaced.

The following is an excerpt from a letter from John Berridge to a fellow minister who had recently injured himself in a bad fall.
Dear Sir,
I received your letter, and dare not say that I am sorry for your fall, nor indeed for any afflictions that God lays on His children; they are tokens of His fatherly love, and needful medicine for us. Rather would I pray that while God keeps you in the furnace, you may be still, and feel your dross and tin being purged away.
The Lord Jesus gives me a dose of this medicine most days; and I am never so well as when I am taking it, though I frequently make a crooked face at it.
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Finding Strength in Hard Times

For Christians, hard times might not be the blight on our existence we think them to be. If we believe God’s word, which reminds us that God is working in our favor as much in the hard times as in the good, we have no reason to panic during the difficult days, as we are prone to do.

The good times are to be expected, and the hard times are surprising and strange. Perhaps that unconscious assumption is causing us grief. In his book Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry describes the “old-timers” in a way that seems lost on many people today. He says: “As much as any of the old-timers, he regarded the Depression as not over and done with but merely absent for a while, like Halley’s comet.”
Though many wrongly interpret this disposition as fear, there can be health in this way of thinking. For many of us, politicians have promised us the world, and we have believed them. Conservatives and liberals alike often feel that the state of our existence should always be one of constant progress and that if we had the right politicians in place, humanity could build its tower to heaven. This thinking, of course, is foolish. There are good days and bad days ahead for all of us. Sickness, economic collapse, and natural disasters are nothing new. They have all happened in the past, and they will occur again in the future. Scripture tells us that when fiery trials come upon us, we should not think something strange is happening to us (1 Pet. 4:12). Though this verse applies primarily to persecution, it is true of any hardship.
To make this more personal, as long as our health is robust and our jobs feel secure, we think we can handle anything, but in the words of the late Rich Mullins, “We are not as strong as we think we are.”
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8 Characteristics Incompatible with Christian Contentment

Christian contentment opposes despair. For the believer, there should never be a time when we believe there is no hope. God can always open the doors of heaven (2 Kings 7:2). In other words, just because we do not see a way out does not mean God’s hands are tied. There is no situation in the life of God’s child where he will fail to keep us. Even if we do not understand the affliction, he is doing greater things than we can ever imagine.

We may say we are fully content with God and that he is all we need, but we all wrestle with certain sinful attitudes and behaviors that communicate otherwise. They are characteristics incompatible with fulfillment in God, but there is hope. The more we grow in Christian contentment, the more these tendencies will lose their grip on us. To summarize Jeremiah Burroughs, here are eight things godly contentment opposes in our lives.
1. Murmuring and Complaining
When we see the people of God in the Old Testament complaining as they wander in the wilderness, it is because they are not content with God’s leadership. They have not found him to be enough and think they need more than he has provided to be satisfied. Christian contentment finds its complete satisfaction in God himself and is not compatible with murmuring and complaining.
2. Worry and Fret
Christian contentment and disordered anxiety are contradictory to each other. Anxiety is the result of not trusting the One who is in sovereign control of our lives. As Christians, we serve a God who has bought us with his blood and holds the whole world in his hands. He knows how to rescue the godly and bring them through the trials of this life to be with him forever. Christian contentment understands this and knows that any affliction allowed in their life by our sovereign God may appear to be dark clouds, but they are filled with deep mercy. This is why Scripture tells us to be anxious for nothing.
3. A Perplexed Spirit
We may be crushed but not perplexed. Whether providence has provided us with much or little, the believer does not need to run around confusedly. There is truth in the old cliché’, we do not need to know what tomorrow holds because we know who holds tomorrow. As we mature as Christians, it will become more and more evident how little we understand and can control our lives. But at the same time, we will trust more and more in the goodness of our heavenly Father.
4. Distraction from Obedience to God
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3 Misunderstandings of Christian Contentment

Godliness with contentment is great gain, but we must not misinterpret what it is to such a degree that we turn this wonderful doctrine into something wretched. Godly contentment is not incompatible with feeling the pain of affliction, making our complaints known to God, or seeking lawful ways of escape.

As Jeremiah Burroughs puts it, Christian contentment is a rare jewel. Every believer should strive to possess it, but often, we misunderstand what it is and expect it to do things it will never do. To summarize Burroughs, here are three things Christian contentment does not include.
Firstly, Christian contentment does not mean we will not feel the weight of our afflictions. The crosses we must bear, whether persecution, illnesses, or any other trial, will cause our hearts to ache. As Peter indicates, being “grieved by various trials” is part of the Christian life (1 Peter 1:6-7). When you feel the pain of suffering, it does not mean you lack contentment in God. On the contrary, if we could not feel our afflictions, contentment would not be needed.
Secondly, contentment, which is submission to God’s sovereign will in hardship, is not in opposition to making our complaint known to Him or fellow Christians. However, when we make our lament, we must make it with humility. We show deference to God instead of being rebellious in heart and will. A godly complaint or lament will acknowledge the affliction is upon us and let God and other believers know in order to seek relief from the God of all comfort.
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Enemies on the Narrow Road

To believe that a life of self-punishment and shame is needed for us to be right with God is to believe that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was insufficient. That is a lie of the enemy. There is complete freedom in Jesus. The reason they are unable to hurt us now is because He has disarmed them and put them to open shame (Colossians 2:15). Our sin is what gave them their power, but He has canceled our debt (Colossians 2:14). Even death has lost its sting in His resurrection.

They were gaining on me. Every breath I took was weighed down by the awareness that they were close behind. I had entered at the narrow gate, but somehow, they had managed to follow me onto the path. I could hear their taunts. Every one of their footsteps was like the sound of a war drum. There are days when they are out of sight. During those times, I feel the warm breeze of the Celestial City beckoning me homeward, but even then, I know they are lying in wait.
I did not think they could follow me onto the narrow path, but here they are. When I entered the narrow way, under the shadow of the cross, my sins were forgiven. He had delivered me from the slavery of sin that held me captive. Since He had opened the way and called me in, I thought I would be out of the reach of my enemies, yet they pursue me daily.
Every time I fall, the enemy shouts from behind, “You do not belong on this path! You belong to us, and we will catch and destroy you! I have learned the names of some, but I am still trying to figure out others. There are two who give chase called Shame and Regret. They often disguise themselves as messengers of the King. They tell me that, since my heart is prone to wander, the King prefers that I stay out of sight. That is Shame’s strategy. He convinces us that we need to hide. He does this to keep us from finding the assistance available in the congregation of the saints, and he works closely with regret to keep us from approaching the Throne of Grace.
Many other enemies desire to sink their teeth into me as well, like sickness and sorrow, sin and sadness, and the final enemy death who boasts of his many conquests. In those moments when I am running scared, I have learned that there is a song being sung.
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Evangelical Assumptions About the Christian Life

Do not forget what he has called you to. Our time is limited. “Live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:2).  If we are bored with the Christian life, I would suggest it is not Christianity leaving us unfulfilled. We likely have one foot in the world and one in the faith, and it is the world that is leaving us uninspired.

Many of us have slipped into an Evangelical assumption about the Christian life that does not align with Scripture. We live a Christian existence that is far from the biblical reality. We have begun to see the spiritual life as not much more than attending church to listen to sermons—some good, some bad, doing our devotions, and then focusing on earthly things the remainder of the time. As an Evangelical, I realize this is not what historic Evangelicalism teaches, but it is how we often live our lives. No wonder so many are bored.
Peter calls us to much more than this malaise in his second epistle. He tells us that “God’s divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Yet we seem to have little life and little godliness, yet all of this is available through the knowledge of God. If we think a sermon a week and ten-minute daily devotions is sufficient to know such an awe-inspiring God, we have barely scratched the surface. Nor do we realize that he should encompass everything about us.
“He has granted to us his precious and very great promises” (2 Peter 1:4a). These promises include all things pertaining to justification and sanctification, but we often neglect the latter. Through these promises, “You may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4b). To be clear, this does not mean we become little gods. It means something less heretical and better for us. Peter is telling us the only true living God has taken up residence in us through the Holy Spirit. He is also telling us we can grow in holiness like our Father in heaven.
This news is glorious because we have “escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:4c). Or have we?
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Was the Gospel Preached to the Dead? – Understanding 1 Peter 4:6

1 Peter 4:6 offers a profound reflection on the enduring power of the gospel in any situation. It challenges believers to set their minds on spiritual things, for the things of the world are passing away. The spiritual life we need can only be found in Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, and even physical death cannot end that life.

Does Peter tell us the gospel was preached to the dead? 1 Peter 4:6 presents a theological complexity that warrants careful examination. It reads, “For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.”
In dissecting this verse, we should acknowledge its complexity and the various interpretations it may yield. One plausible interpretation, held by men like John Calvin, links this verse to the mention of Jesus preaching to spirits in prison in chapter 3, verse 19. That would require a specific interpretation of that verse, many of which exist. R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Robert Leighton, and many others diverge from Calvin’s interpretation.
There are various opinions here, but the “preaching to the dead” mentioned in chapter 4 does not seem to link back to the mention of the “preaching to spirits” in chapter 3. The verse does not explicitly state that Jesus was the one who preached to these dead people, nor does it say they were deceased at the time of hearing the gospel. Moreover, the verse suggests that these individuals believed the gospel when they heard it and now “live in the spirit the way God does.”
It seems most accurate to say this verse implies that the gospel was preached to people who believed it and had since died. There would be no scriptural reason to preach to the dead because the Bible is clear; “It is appointed once for men to die, and then the judgment.”
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