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Archive for September, 2016

3-fictional-characters

A light, little romp today… a bleed over from a currently popular Facebook meme:  “Name three fictional characters with whom you identify.”  I pass this along here because someday my posterity may not know or remember me, but they will surely be able to find these three characters in literature to piece together a fairly accurate sketch of me.

My choices?  Miss Bates (from Jane Austen’s Emma), Puddleglum (from C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair), and Miss Caroline Bingley (from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice).  I desperately wanted Joe Gargery (from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations) for his simpleness, but alas, I know I am not that good.

My reasoning?
1) Miss Bates for her social awkwardness;
2) Puddleglum for his rare mix of pessimism and faith; and
3) Miss Bingley because, well… Hamlet expresses my thoughts in all ways but one; unlike me, he seems unable to answer his own question:

“I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me. I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious; with more offenses at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven?”

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:24-25).

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christians-burden

“I never, ever in my wildest dreams, thought I would one day be going through chemo.”  The world of a professional acquaintance of mine (I’ll call her R) came crashing down mid-August when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

We were in pretty regular email contact last spring when R helped me in a professional capacity.  I happened to email her before school started just as a hi, how are you doing contact.  At that very time she had just received a professional opinion of breast cancer and was awaiting the official results of her diagnostic labs. In a few days, she wrote back and said that the cancer had been confirmed.  She was understandingly reeling from the news and said she needed time to process it all.  I let her know how sorry I was for her troubles.

In God’s providence, I pass by R’s house every day on my way to work.  The Lord has often laid it on my heart to pray for her.  I don’t know what her religious convictions are, so I have just prayed that God would use this great affliction to impress upon her the brevity of our time on earth and her need to answer one of the universal questions of life, namely, Is this all there is?  I asked God to use this crisis in her life to draw her to him.

This week I thought to encourage R by letting her know that I have been praying for her often as I pass her home.  I expressed my hope that her treatments have not been too grueling and she is feeling encouraged and sustained by those around her.  I closed with “peace” and that’s really all I wrote.  Although she knows I teach at a Christian school, she and I have had no conversations of a spiritual nature so I thought it best not to cast pearls.

Her reply has grieved me:

Hi Kim.  I’m here at work at the moment, but barely hanging on by my fingernails.  I am trying to push it until 3:00.  Yesterday was my first day back and I lasted about three hours.  Chemo is horrible.  I’m one week out from my first chemo, three treatments left to go, each spaced three weeks apart.  I have lost 19 pounds.  I have to dig very deep.

I am open to having you pray for me whenever you drive by.  The only thing I’m extremely not open to is when people suggest that this is God’s will for me.  I will not tolerate any of that nonsense.  Thank you for checking on me.

I was reminded of an Isaac Watts hymn to which I’ve very recently been introduced: “How Sweet and Aweful is the Place” (note: Aweful is different than awful), especially these lines:

…Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?

“Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?”

So much is revealed by her reply.  Firstly, there seems to be a glaring disconnect to the human condition in her statement, “I never, ever in my wildest dreams, thought I would one day be going through chemo.”  Really???  I found that statement shocking since I think of that sort of thing all the time (probably my scale tips too far in the other direction).

You see, I know I live in a world where not only humanity is fallen and under a curse (hopelessly separated from the one, true, holy, living God if it were not for our rescue by said God), but all of creation is victim to this curse as well. True, God has given mankind dominion over his creation – an ability to seek and discover the uses and purposes of the treasures God has scattered throughout his universe, but I also know that this very creation has been “subjected to futility” along with mankind and is in “bondage to corruption” (Romans 8:19-21).  It, like I, await with “eager longing” our freedom from this bondage when Christ returns for his children.

I know that all of creation has experienced this decay from its original glory and is no longer as reliable as it once was.  It’s the reason why I don’t eat chocolate with abandon, or rich pasta, or pizza, or boxes of Good & Plenty, or (wait… I digress).  It’s what makes me get on the treadmill or pick up light weights periodically; not because I’m one of those endorphin addicts, but because I experience and confirm the Second Law of Thermodynamics:  “While quantity [of energy] remains the same (the First Law), the quality of matter/energy deteriorates gradually over time.”  Beyond a doubt, my matter is gradually deteriorating over time, as is that of my universe.  I know that given enough time, the resources I might currently rely upon for health (medicine or supplements, movement, heredity, treatments, etc.) will eventually fail me.  One day I will break down completely and die (with further deterioration occurring in the grave).

Beyond shock though, the rest of R’s message just plain makes me sad.  It is a window into how those with no hope beyond their own material resources deal with issues of life and death like cancer.  Her rejection of God’s sovereignty in her affairs is a rejection of that one thing which is my keel in rough seas and affords me peace in times of trial and suffering.  As the hymn writer Annie Flint has put it:  “To added afflictions, He addeth His mercy; to multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.”  In exchange for this, R is left to dig very deep.  And what will she find there, I wonder?

She is “open” to my praying for her, but I wonder to what god she assumes I will pray.  Her sense of god seems to be a very small god who, if he exists at all, is not in control of his universe.  In condescending to allow me to pray for her, she is either allowing me my prayers but believing them to be useless, or she believes that this god’s main role is to help us out when we get into trouble or make us feel better so we can be happy.  She will not tolerate any nonsense which hints at this god having a greater purpose for her life than mere well being.

In Sunday School today, I couldn’t help think of R and her darkened understanding as we studied 2 Peter 1:1-4.  Peter writes to those in the faith, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (v2).  Peter knew what I have proven in my life… as I grow in my knowledge and understanding of God, my peace is multiplied.  It does not diminish my peace to know God as sovereign over every aspect of my life, it multiplies my peace.  This is because I know him to be as He has declared:  “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Exodus 34:6).  It is a great peace to me and comfort in times of distress to know as Abraham Kuyper has declared: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”

For her own good and before it’s too late, I pray that R will dig very deep and come to the end of herself; that her finite resources exhausted, she will seek and find rest for her soul as only Jesus can give.  There have been tougher cases than R’s who have eventually bent their knees to the one, true God, Yahweh.   An encouragement to some is a warning to others:  One day “every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).  May R confess Jesus as Lord before that great and terrible day when the destinies of all will be fixed, even as many are suddenly made aware of their gross error in rejecting this mighty, sovereign God.

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cherry

“We know that all things work together for good to them that love God,
to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

– – – – –

I live in a part of the country that has not so honestly come to terms with its rejection of Christ’s rule in the lives of many of its people, not so honestly as perhaps many on the coasts did years and years ago.  Many here, out of tradition or sentimentality, claim an alliance, if not with Christ himself, at least with a local church or sometimes just the mere title “Christian” (like when asked to fill out a form, etc.).  They have some past echo or rhythm or tie to the Christian faith, but in reality, there aren’t too many ties that bind anymore and they live like practical atheists.

Forgive me my bluntness.  I used to think that I was a “glass half empty” person until someone told me they see me more as a realist.  That sounds a lot better to me, so I claim that title when I wish to relate sobering observations without coming off depressingly down… right?

As mentioned before, I’ve been making my way through the Puritan Thomas Watson’s book All Things for Good.  Many will recognize his title as taken from Romans 8:28 (above).  In this relatively short book (127 pp), Watson breaks down the verse and exhaustively examines each phrase.

Thomas Watson set out to comfort his readers by assuring them that “nothing hurts the godly; that ALL things which fall out shall co-operate for their good.”  The snag, though, is that “all things work together for good to them that love God.”  It appears this promise is not for all humanity, but those who bear a love to God.  To help his readers examine themselves in this regard, Watson puts forth fourteen signs or fruits of love to God by which we might impartially test ourselves.

In our weakness, these fruits may bear imperfections.  They may be a bit bruised.  However according to Watson, the test is not in their perfection, but in their appearing and steady growth since they are not native to the natural man, but born of the Spirit: “Happy are they who can find these fruits, so foreign to their natures, growing in their souls.”

– – – – –

The Tests of Love to God (chapter five)

 

A.  The first fruit of love to God is the musing of the mind upon God.

He who is in love, his thoughts are ever upon the object.  He who loves God is ravished and transported with the contemplation of God.  A sinner crowds God out of his thoughts.

B.  The next fruit of love to God is desire of communion.

“My heart and flesh crieth out for the living God (Ps. 84:2) – King David breathes after God and in a holy pathos of desire, cries out for the living God.  By this, let us examine our love to God.  Do we desire intimacy of communion with God?  Lovers cannot be long away from each other.  Those who have a holy affection toward God can bear the want of anything but his presence – they can do without health and friends and without a full table, but they cannot be happy without God.  Sinners shun acquaintance with God.  They count his presence a burden and are these lovers of God?  Does that woman love her husband who cannot endure to be in his presence?

C.  Another fruit of love to God is grief.

Where there is love to God, there is a grieving for our sins of unkindness against Him.  Oh! That I should abuse the love of so dear a Savior!  Did not my Lord suffer enough upon the cross, but must I make him suffer more?  Shall I give him more gall and vinegar to drink?  How have I grieved his Spirit, trampled upon His royal command, slighted His blood!   By this let us test our love to God.  Do we shed the tears of godly sorrow?  Do we grieve for our unkindness against God, our abuse of his mercy, our non-improvement of talents (Mt. 25:14-30)?

D.  Another fruit of love to God is magnanimity.

Love is valorous, it turns cowardice into courage.  He that loves God will stand up in his cause and be an advocate for him.  “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).  Does he love God that can hear his blessed truths spoken against and be silent?  He who loves his friend will stand up for him and vindicate him when he is reproached.  Love animates a Christian; it fires his heart with zeal and steels it with courage.

E.  The fifth fruit of love to God is sensitiveness.

If we love God our hearts ache for the dishonor done to God by wicked men.  To see, not only the banks of religion, but morality, broken down and a flood of wickedness coming in, to see God’s Sabbaths profaned, his oaths violated, his name dishonored; if there be any love to God in us, we shall lay these things to heart.  Did men love God, they would grieve to see his glory suffer and religion itself become a martyr.

F.  The sixth fruit of love to God is hatred against sin.

He that loves God will have nothing to do with sin unless to give battle to it. Sin strikes not only at God’s honor, but his being.  The love of God and the love of sin cannot dwell together.  He who has any secret sin in his heart allowed, is as far from loving God as heaven and earth are distant, one from the other.

G.  Another fruit of love to God is crucifixion.

A lover of God is dead to the world, to its honors and pleasures.  “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).  Love to God swallows up all other love so when a man’s heart is raised above the world in the admiring and loving of God, how poor and slender are the set things below!  What is there in the earth that we should so set our hearts upon it!  Only the devil makes us look upon it through a magnifying glass.  The world has no real intrinsic worth; it is but paint and deception.

H.  The next fruit of love to God is fear.  In the godly, love and fear do kiss each other.  There is a double fear arises from love.

  1. A fear of displeasing arises from our love to God. The more we love God, the more fearful we are of grieving his Spirit, making one shake and tremble and not dare willingly to offend God.  “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9).
  2. A fear mixed with jealousy arises from our love to God. He that loves God is full of fear lest it should go ill with the church, lest God should go from his people.  The presence of God in his ordinances is the beauty and strength of a nation.  So long as God’s presence is with a people, so long they are safe; but the soul inflamed with love to God fears lest the visible tokens of God’s presence should be removed.  Let us test our love to God by this – many fear lest peace and trading go, but not lest God and his gospel go.  If the Sun of righteousness remove out of our horizon, what can follow but darkness?

I.  If we are lovers of God, we love what God loves.

  1. We love God’s Word – the sweetness of it, above honey, and the value of it, above gold (Ps. 119: 103, 72). Well may we love the Word; it is the lode-star that directs us to heaven, it is the field in which the Pearl is hid.
  2. We love God’s day. “If thou call the Sabbath a delight” (Is. 58:13).  The house of God is the palace of the great King; on the Sabbath God shows himself there through the lattice.  If we love God we prize his day above all other days.  All the week would be dark if it were not for this day; on this day manna falls double.  Now, if ever, heaven-gate stands open and God comes down in a golden shower.  How does a gracious heart prize that day which was made on purpose to enjoy God in!
  3. We love God’s laws which check our sinful excesses. The heart would be ready to run wild in sin if it had not some blessed restraints put upon it by the law of God – the law of repentance, the law of self-denial.  Many say they love God but they hate his laws; they pretend to love Christ as a Savior, but hate him as a King.  He were a strange king that should rule without laws.
  4. We love God’s image shining in the saints. “He that loves Him that begat, loves him also that is begotten of Him” (1 John 5:1).  To love a saint as he is a saint, this is a sign of love to God in the communion of the saints.  Do they love God who hate them that are like God? If we love a saint for his saintship, as having something of God in him, then we love him in these four cases:

a.  We love a saint though he be poor. Though a saint be in rags, we love him because there is something of Christ in him.

b.  We love a saint though he has many personal failing. There is no perfection here.  A saint is like a fair face with a scar; we love the beautiful face of holiness, though there be a scare in it.  You that cannot love another because of his infirmities, how would you have God love you?

c.  We love the saints though in some lesser things they differ from us. Perhaps another Christian has not so much light as you and that may make him err in some things, will you presently un-saint him because he cannot come up to your light?

d.  We love the saints though they are persecuted. Those marks were like the soldier’s scars, honorable.  We must love a saint as well in chains as in scarlet.  If we love Christ, we love his persecuted members.

J.  Another blessed sign of love to God is to entertain good thoughts of God.

“Love thinketh no evil” (1 Cor. 13:5).  He that loves God has a good opinion of God.  Though He afflicts sharply, the soul takes all well – this severe dispensation is either to mortify some corruption or to exercise some grace.  How good is God that will not let me alone in my sins, but smites my body to save my soul!

K.  Another fruit of love to God is obedience.

“He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me” (John 14:21).  If we love God, we shall obey him in those things which cross flesh and blood – in things difficult and in things dangerous.

  1. We shall obey him in things difficult. One difficult obedience is mortifying sin.  There are some sins which are not only near to us as the garment, but dear to us as the eye.  If we love God, we shall set ourselves against these, both in purpose and practice.  Another difficult obedience is in forgiving our enemies.  This is hard; it is crossing the stream.  We are apt to forget kindnesses and remember injuries, but if we love God, we shall pass by offenses.  When we seriously consider how many talents God has forgiven us (Mt. 25:14-30), how many affronts and provocations He has put up with at our hands, this makes us endeavor rather to bury an injury than to retaliate it.
  2. We shall obey him in things dangerous. When God calls us to suffer for him, we shall obey.  It is true that every Christian is not a martyr, but he has the spirit of martyrdom in him.  He says as Paul, “I am ready not only to be bound, but to die for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13).  He has a disposition of mind to suffer if God call.  If love to their country will make men suffer, much more should love to Christ.  By this, let us test our love to God.  Have we the spirit of martyrdom?  Many will not forego the least comfort or undergo the least cross for his sake, yet how did divine affection carry the early saints above the love of life and the fear of death (ex: Stephen’s stoning, Luke, hung on an olive tree, and Peter, crucified with his head downwards)!  These divine heroes were willing to suffer rather than by their cowardice to make the name of God suffer.

L.  He who loves God will endeavor to make him appear glorious in the eyes of others.

If we love God, we shall spread abroad his excellences that so we may raise his fame and esteem and may induce others to fall in love with him.

M.  Another fruit of love to God is to long for Christ’s appearing.

“Henceforth, there is a crown of righteousness laid up for me,
and not for me only, but for them also which love Christ’s appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).

His appearing now is very comforting, when He appears for us as an Advocate (Heb. 9:24).  But his second appearing will be infinitely more so, when He shall appear for us as our Husband!  Such as love Christ are joyful to think of his coming in the clouds.  They shall then be delivered from all their sins and fears; they shall be acquitted before men and angels; and shall be forever translated into the paradise of God.

N.  For the sake of love to God, we will stoop to the meanest offices.

Love is a humble grace and will creep upon its hands; it will stoop and submit to anything whereby it may be serviceable to Christ.  If we love God, we shall not think any work too mean for us, by which we may be helpful to Christ’s members.  Love is not squeamish; it will visit the sick, relieve the poor, wash the saints’ wounds.

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Pilgrim's Progress Map

You may or may not know that the housing industry is a leading economic indicator.  That’s why housing starts and home purchases are a regular news item.  So when the nation began to reel under the housing crisis of 2008, those of us in the industry had already been feeling the downward effects since 2006.  Now, ten years through this, we no longer live moment-by-moment, wondering if we will still be in business in an hour; but because of the heavy toll the crisis and our weak economy has exacted on us, our small manufacturing business continues day-to-day, waiting to see how the Lord will provide for our daily bread (and that of our employees) and preaching to ourselves that God is good and does good (Ps. 119:68) even when he withholds provision.

Perhaps this is why today’s closing hymn affected Dana and I so deeply.  It was new to us, but is actually an old, old hymn written by John Newton in the 1700s.  As I understand it, the music has fallen into disuse, but we sang it set to the tune of the Water is Wide.  The song is titled These Inward Trials and took us completely by surprise.

It begins straight-forward enough with this simple prayer:

I asked the Lord, that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.

But the second verse hints at an answer to this prayer that in many ways reflects God’s answer to us over these last ten years.

T’was He who taught me thus to pray
and He I trust has answered prayer,
but it has been in such a way
it almost drove me to despair.

You see, we would seek, like Newton, to be transformed and gain victory over sin merely by our blood-bought association with Christ; but it does not seem to be God’s way to lead us untroubled to Christ-likeness, to bearing the image of his Son.

I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request,
and by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Gratefully, long before God put us into the lab to test our head knowledge, we were carefully taught that one of God’s main means for our sanctification is to grow us by testing our faith through trial.  His intent, as Bruce Wilkinson taught us years and years ago, is not to break his children, but for us to come through on the other side with a deeper, more abiding and unshakeable confidence in the character and steadfastness of our God.

Instead of this, He made me feel
the hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds,* and laid me low.

The cry of verse seven mirrors feelings we have expressed in our darkest moments, moments (as recent as this month) when Dana was laid low in weariness, pleading for God to release him from his burden – a burden which places him in a position of responsibility to employees and lenders and yet allows him no earthly means to affect change, health, or growth.  Yet, as the verse goes on we see that this has been our road, by God’s design, to accomplish his high purposes in our lives.  And we stand to bear testimony that it has been only by God’s grace that his pilgrims have progressed!

‘Lord, why is this?’ I trembling cried,
‘Wilt thou pursue Thy worm to death?’
‘This in this way,’ the Lord replied,
‘I answer prayer for grace and faith.

And what comfort or ease can be greater than the Lord’s good and godly purposes in our lives?  Yes, my soul – He is good and does good!  

These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou mayst seek thy all in Me.’

* [Jonah 4]

– – – –

…We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom 5:3-5).

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