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Archive for the ‘Sojourning’ Category

What follows is a guest post from my brother-in-law, Larry.  Yesterday in
church we had a Sharing Day, something we’ve done now and again to
provide testimony to what God is doing on behalf of his people.  Larry
stood up and gave such beautiful voice to many of the thoughts and
feelings that those of us in the family business have experienced during
the past decade as we have struggled with earthly loss only to find
unspeakably great gain in Christ along the way.  Through it all, Jesus has
been careful to teach us, to cut away idols and character flaws that do not
represent him, to provide in ways that we couldn’t have dreamed, to show
us his beautiful, tender nature, and to allow us to share in these
ordained sufferings.  [For more background on that, see here.]

 

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.
For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).

This has proven a true saying as the three (two brothers and their dad)
have been able to lift each other up when one or the other on any given
day was sinking below the weight of care.  God provided personal
encouragement to each man, which was used to encourage the others
in due season.  It is also a testament to the character of these three
and to the power of God within them, that after ten plus stressful
years they find themselves on good and loving terms.

– – – – –

 

In November of 2008, I (Larry) had been sharing about our business troubles that had begun just two years earlier in 2006. Well, just to bring you up to date – things got worse.

 

These have been long and stressful years for my wife Kim and me, for my brother Dana and his wife Kim, and for our Dad, Roland – years filled with financial hardships, difficulties and challenges resulting in many hard and difficult lessons learned.  There have been questions, realizations, and consequences – all stemming from decisions made, actions taken, and probably from actions taken too late.

 

Some verses come to mind –

Proverbs 22:7 “…The borrower is servant to the lender.”

Proverbs 27:23-24 “Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds; for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations.”

Proverbs 23:5 “Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

 

This has not been a quick test for us. The feelings and emotions we’ve experienced during this time along with the reaction to our circumstances have included confusion, frustration, uncertainty, uneasiness, anxiety, weariness, anger, and despondency. We’ve asked “Lord, will this never end?” At times I was tempted to apply Proverbs 31:6-7.

 

Now I have taken note of the difference between my plans and God’s plans. More so, up until this point, I had considered myself a man-of-action. I would go after projects, anticipate, think ahead, make lists, get supplies, get equipped, make – build – create – do – go, go, go!  Proverbs 16:9 tells us: “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps”; and Psalm 46:10 tells me to “be still…”

 

At times God says to me: “No,” “Stop,” “Not now,” “Wait,” “This way,” “Not that way.” Then, while in this position I find myself stuck and in an uncomfortable, unnerving, and seemingly unending set of circumstances. I’ve realized I can’t fix it, I can’t stop it, I can’t change it, I can’t free myself – God has brought me to the end of myself!  I’ve come to treasure this verse from 2 Chronicles 20:12 “…We do not know what to do, Oh God, but our eyes are on you!”

 

We’ve been learning that this is an example of how God may, at times, use the storms and afflictions of our lives to work His will and accomplish His good purposes. What are his purposes? Well, among them, He intends to make us aware of our dependence upon Him; to show His glory and power; to show His goodness and loving care; perhaps to discipline us, his sons (as in Hebrews 12); or perhaps to humble us; to turn our attention away from idols and earthly things – Pastor Walt recently reminded us this world is not our home.  Another important lesson God wants us to learn is the rare jewel of Christian contentment.

 

We can take comfort in knowing and believing that God’s timing is always perfect. He brings the storms. He controls the timing, intensity and duration of the storm. Remember the disciples in the boat with Jesus (Mark 4:35-41)? “…Even the winds and waves obey him!” The Lord our God is sovereign over the times and seasons and all circumstances of my life. From Ecclesiastes 3 we are reminded that there is a time to weep and a time to laugh. Then later in chapter 7 we read: “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other.”

 

God gives us rest. He gives us his peace and comfort. He sustains me. He gives me my daily bread. He gives us hope, his mercies are new every morning! He delivers me, he rescues me. He lifts me up!

 

Perhaps God has brought you through the storm. Perhaps God has proven his faithfulness to you over and over and over again.  Walk with me, dare to trust God and lean on him when you enter the slimy pit and cannot find your own way out. Follow him where he leads, when times are hard and hopeless.  Do not become bitter toward your Savior. Do not be anxious.  Keep your eyes on Jesus. No whining, don’t grumble. Be thankful in all things.

 

“It is good for me that I was afflicted” (Psalm 119:71).  Don’t give up on God before his work in you is completed. Remember Joseph in prison – wait on the Lord. He brought me in and he will bring me out!

 

I like the concept of restoration. These are comforting verses:

Psalm 90:15 “Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble.”

Joel 2:25 “I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten…”

 

I don’t know for sure what God has planned for all of my tomorrows. I know that my life is but a mist, a vapor that appears for a while and then vanishes (James 4:14). This world and all its troubles will soon be forgotten. But I do know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth (Job 19:25).

 

We want to express our sincere appreciation and thanks to all of you who have been praying for us.  We are privileged to call you our brothers and sisters in Christ!

 

So in closing I can say though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, …no sheep in the pens, no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior (Habakkuk 3:17-18)!  Praise the Lord!

 

– – – –
Painting: “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” by Rembrandt

 

 

 

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SONY DSC

“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day
with no mistakes in it yet?” 

~ L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables

   – – – – – –

This is a hopeful thought as I sit to write on this quiet, blue morning before the world begins to spin faster and dictate my day.  In some ways last year was a challenging one for Dana and I (and for some of you, too) and sometimes it’s easier to believe that our mistakes lie in wait for us in the next day or the next year.

 

To some extent this is true; we all bare the imprint of our fallen parents and to walk without error is not possible.  But to walk without hope is the domain of those who have not seen the glory of the Lord in the land of the living.

 

In studying the Good Shepherd of John 10 this year, I have come to see I would be an empty wanderer in this world and without a true home if Jesus were not my Shepherd.  As a good shepherd, He carefully goes before me and calls me by name.  He is lovingly leading Dana and I where we may learn of Him and learn his voice – through Valleys of Despair, Sloughs of Despondency, Shadows of Death, Doubting Castles, and Vanity Fairs; and He will surely lead us in our last days through the great River and safely to His Celestial City.  “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Ps. 23:6).

 

Although I may bring my own mistakes with me, I know that which befalls me in this new year is no mistake… I am being led.  For those of us who hear the voice of the Shepherd, this is a comforting thought indeed as we enter the unknown of 2017.

If this is not your prospect in the new year, Jesus declares to you: “I am the door.   If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture… I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:9, 14).

 

 

May this peace be yours in 2017.

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grave-i

Folks don’t often make death a ready topic, even among Christians who claim that Earth is not our home and we await the better country of heaven (Hebrews 11:16).  The agrarian society of our ancestors lived a lot closer to death than we do today and most of us are quite removed from much exposure to it.  Even the glut of violent media we consume does not prepare us for the illness and death of those for whom we actually care.  Our dear pastor, Walt Barrett, is taking about a month and a half to preach on what happens after we die.  As he has said, it is a bit of an elephant in the room.

 

In opening up the Scriptures to us regarding our eternal hope and home, Pastor Walt shared a deeply introspective poem about one man’s desire to finish his earthly assignment well.  This has reminded me of two other poems, one of which was set to music by Robert Lowry in the 19th century; the other, I am told, was one Abraham Lincoln’s favorite poems.

 

This latter poem, Mortality, written by William Knox (who himself died at the age of 36 years), is a bit Ecclesiastes-like.  It provides no Christian hope, but certainly speaks to the brevity of life and the proximity of death as Pastor Walt puts it.  There is an inescapable conclusion: The grave is a sure end for all who breathe this Earth’s air.  That there is anything of substance after the grave is never addressed, but perhaps seeing the frailness of life is a good first step to awakening the hope that our lives might have meaning past our Earthly existence.

– – – – –

Mortality
by William Knox, 1789-1825

O why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Like a fast-flitting meteor, a fast-flying cloud,
A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave,
He passes from life to his rest in the grave.

The leaves of the oak and the willow shall fade,
Be scattered around, and together be laid;
And the young and the old, and the low and the high,
Shall moulder to dust, and together shall lie.

The child that a mother attended and loved,
The mother that infant’s affection that proved;
The husband that mother and infant that blessed,
Each, all, are away to their dwelling of rest.

The maid on whose cheek, on whose brow, in whose eye,
Shone beauty and pleasure,—her triumphs are by;
And the memory of those that beloved her and praised
Are alike from the minds of the living erased.

The hand of the king that the scepter hath borne,
The brow of the priest that the miter hath worn,
The eye of the sage, and the heart of the brave,
Are hidden and lost in the depths of the grave.

The peasant whose lot was to sow and to reap,
The herdsman who climbed with his goats to the steep,
The beggar that wandered in search of his bread,
Have faded away like the grass that we tread.

The saint that enjoyed the communion of heaven,
The sinner that dared to remain unforgiven,
The wise and the foolish, the guilty and just,
Have quietly mingled their bones in the dust.

So the multitude goes, like the flower and the weed
That wither away to let others succeed;
So the multitude comes, even those we behold,
To repeat every tale that hath often been told.

For we are the same that our fathers have been;
We see the same sights that our fathers have seen,—
We drink the same stream, and we feel the same sun,
And we run the same course that our fathers have run.

The thoughts we are thinking, our fathers would think;
From the death we are shrinking, they too would shrink;
To the life we are clinging to, they too would cling;
But it speeds from the earth like a bird on the wing.

They loved, but the story we cannot unfold;
They scorned, but the heart of the haughty is cold;
They grieved, but no wail from their slumber may come;
They enjoyed, but the voice of their gladness is dumb.

They died, ay! they died! and we things that are now,
Who walk on the turf that lies over their brow,
Who make in their dwellings a transient abode,
Meet the changes they met on their pilgrimage road.

Yea! hope and despondence, and pleasure and pain,
Are mingled together like sunshine and rain;
And the smile and the tear, and the song and the dirge,
Still follow each other, like surge upon surge.

‘Tis the wink of an eye, ‘tis the draught of a breath,
From the blossom of health to the paleness of death,
From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud,—
O why should the spirit of mortal be proud?

– – – – –

The poem to follow is the one shared by Pastor Walt, titled Let Me Get Home Before Dark.  I’m given to understand that the author, Robertson McQuilken, had watched his wife succumb to early on-set Alzheimers.   McQuilken was forced to resign his position as president at Columbia International University to care for her.  His resignation speech regarding his intentions is an ode in itself to love, loyalty, and sacrifice.  As he was growing old, he began to be concerned that he was not going to finish his earthly mission well.  He did not want to ruin Christ’s reputation by making shipwreck of his faith in the end.  This is a topic to which Dana and I return for ourselves – we want to be found faithful when we meet the Lord.  It is the very language I hear Joni Eareckson Tada use as she struggles with her 50+ years of paraplegia after a diving accident in her teens.

Let Me Get Home Before Dark

It’s sundown, Lord.
The shadows of my life stretch back
into the dimness of the years long spent.
I fear not death, for that grim foe betrays himself at last,
thrusting me forever into life:

Life with You, unsoiled and free.
But I do fear.
I fear the Dark Specter may come too soon
– or do I mean, too late?
That I should end before I finish or finish, but not well.
That I should stain Your honor, shame Your name,
grieve Your loving heart.

Few, they tell me, finish well . . .
Lord, let me get home before dark.

The darkness of a spirit grown mean and small,
fruit shriveled on the vine,
bitter to the taste of my companions,
burden to be borne by those brave few who love me still.
No, Lord.  Let the fruit grow lush and sweet,
A joy to all who taste;
Spirit- sign of God at work,
stronger, fuller, brighter at the end.
Lord, let me get home before dark.

The darkness of tattered gifts,
rust-locked, half-spent or ill-spent,
A life that once was used of God now set aside.
Grief for glories gone or
Fretting for a task God never gave.
Mourning in the hollow chambers of memory,
Gazing on the faded banners of victories long gone.
Cannot I run well unto the end?
Lord, let me get home before dark.

The outer me decays –
I do not fret or ask reprieve.
The ebbing strength but weans me from mother earth
and grows me up for heaven.
I do not cling to shadows cast by immortality.
I do not patch the scaffold lent to build the real, eternal me.
I do not clutch about me my cocoon,
vainly struggling to hold hostage
a free spirit pressing to be born.

But will I reach the gate
in lingering pain, body distorted, grotesque?
Or will it be a mind wandering untethered
among light phantasies or grim terrors?

Of Your grace, Father, I humbly ask. . .
Let me get home before dark.

– – – – –

The last poem I share is the brightest of the mix.  It was penned by the beloved hymn writer, Fanny Crosby, who was blinded at six weeks of age.  In her life she is said to have written over 8,000 hymns.  Regarding her blindness, Fanny said:

“It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.”

Her hymn All the Way My Savior Leads Me has long given Christian believers the words to declare their eternal hope.  All the way – through life, death, and life after death – our Savior will lead us.  What’s more?  Whatever may befall us on our journey… Jesus doeth all things well.

All the Way My Savior Leads Me

All the way my Savior leads me;
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well;
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.

All the way my Savior leads me,
Cheers each winding path I tread;
Gives me grace for every trial,
Feeds me with the living bread.
Though my weary steps may falter,
And my soul athirst may be,
Gushing from the rock before me,
Lo! A spring of joy I see;
Gushing from the rock before me,
Lo! A spring of joy I see.

All the way my Savior leads me
O the fullness of His love!
Perfect rest to me is promised
In my Father’s house above.
When my spirit, clothed immortal,
Wings its flight to realms of day
This my song through endless ages—
Jesus led me all the way;
This my song through endless ages—
Jesus led me all the way.

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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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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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envy

Contentment… arghhh!

I keep getting this message from a variety of sources!  Perhaps you share my condition – I think the Lord would have us move this from our heads to our hearts, don’t you?  I mean, I totally assent to the doctrine of contentment, but I don’t always lay hold of it.  I think my problem lies somewhere in the enemy’s lure to cause me to despair of my Father’s goodness.

We see and are fed on discontent all around us, aren’t we?  The world “out there” wants and lusts after what is not theirs, often just because someone else has it… and the world in me does the same.  Doesn’t it, you?

Years ago when last president summarized capitalism as greed he asked, “When did greed become a virtue?” I remember Dana responding, “When did covetousness become a virtue?”  Brother and sister, this should not be so among us – we who know personally the careful rule of our abounding-in-lovingkindness God.  We must hold firm to a deep and absolute conviction of the goodness of God and the rightness of his ways in our lives – “You are good and do good” (Ps. 119:68). As my pastor has put it, God is not Lucy from the Peanuts cartoons, holding out his best to us only to snatch it away in the last minute.

The enticement of our enemy would have me despair of the goodness of God in my affairs or particular circumstances.  That if Yahweh were really a good God, I would not be experiencing thus and such or I’d have X like so and so has or I wouldn’t look or act this way, I’d look or act like her or … the list goes on and on and on, doesn’t it?

The enemy of our souls has used this accusation in a million ways since the dawn of time.  We see it used on Eve (“Did God really say…?” –Genesis 3) and on Jesus himself (“If you’re the Son of God… well, command these stones to become bread.” –Matthew 4).  He has done it in a million ways since the dawn of time.  We see it in the lives of Achan “Why doesn’t God want you to partake of some of these spoils?  You’ve been living without such things in the wilderness for far too long” (Joshua 7); to the people of Israel “Don’t you want a king with skin on like all the other nations?” (1 Samuel 8); to David “She is lovely.  You’re the king; why can’t you have her?” (2 Samuel 11); to Peter “Why must you suffer more than… say John?” (John 21); to me “What about…?” “Why can’t you have…?” “Look at what they have.”  “How come their road seems so easy and yours… well?”

Satan uses this old device over and over in the lives of God’s people.  One author has put it rightly, “He will tempt us in our areas of weakness, being watchful to understand our desires, and he will attack… His hope, and ultimate end, is to steal, kill and destroy.”  Our enemy is not omniscient, but he is a keen observer and uses our sinful desires to lure us to discontent and away from God’s best, which in the moment may look rocky and difficult. James saw this clearly, “…Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (James 1:14).

I’ve been reading a book recommended to me by my daughter, entitled The Envy of Eve1.  Having read Burroughs2 on contentment, I had low expectations of discovering something new – how arrogant of me.  One truth that the author has caused me to own is the idea that when I grumble, I accuse God of not ruling well in my life.  I don’t want to do that, I’m sure you do not either; but I have to admit, that is the underlying accusation when I murmur with discontent about the road upon which God has placed me.

Another revealing truth is the one mentioned above, that the enemy of our souls would have us despair of the goodness of God in our affairs or particular circumstances.  That if He were really a good God, I would not be experiencing thus and such or I’d have X like so and so has or I wouldn’t look or act this way, I’d look or act like her or … the list goes on and on and on, doesn’t it?

Kruger offers a great guideline for our souls.  It is a short, practical list from the 19th century British theologian, E.B. Pusey – guardrails against discontentment.  They take a great deal of discipline and reliance on God to live by, but very little skill – something any child of God pleading for strength from his Father can begin immediately to exercise.  They resonate a good deal with me and give me concrete action to employ when my prone-to-wander heart is tempted to accuse God of withholding good from me.

  1. Allow thyself to complain of nothing, not even the weather.
  2. Never picture thyself to thyself under any circumstance in which thou are not.
  3. Never compare thine own lot with that of another.
  4. Never allow thyself to dwell on the wish that this or that had been, or were, otherwise than what it was or is.  God Almighty loves thee better and more wisely than thou doest thyself.
  5. Never dwell on the morrow.  Remember that it is God’s, not thine.  The heaviest part of sorrow often is to look forward to it.  “The Lord will provide.”

I know only a couple people who live this way… I desire and beg it for myself.

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1 Kruger, Melissa B. The Envy of Eve: Finding Contentment in a Covetous World. Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications, 2012. Print.

2 Burroughs, Jeremiah. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. Edinburgh: Banner Truth Trust, 1979. Print.

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Pals pic

On the afternoon of Sunday, July 31, Jamison & Kathryne Pals, along with their three children Ezra (3 years), Violet (23 months), and Calvin (2 months) were all killed in a rear-end collision. They were pronounced dead at the scene in Nebraska. They were traveling to Colorado to participate in their final training session for their long-term deployment to be global partners with Christ Bible Institute in Nagoya, Japan. (See article in Omaha World Herald.)

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I would love for you to first meet the Pals family through the pages of Dad Jamison’s blog: For the Joy of Japan.  The most recent entry, “An Update on our Children,” dated July 26, 2016, will allow you to see each of Jamison and Kathryne’s beautiful, lively children – Ezra, Violet, and baby Calvin – ages 3 years to 2 ½ months.  Scrolling down the blog there are many, many other posts which give us a window into this young family’s life in St. Paul while they prepared to go to Japan as long-term missionaries with World Venture.  Why Japan? Jamison writes:

So, why Japan? Well, depending on who you talk to, the Japanese people are either the largest or second largest unreached people group on earth. It just seems fitting to go to the place where there are the most people without sufficient witness to the gospel and all its awesomeness. The Church in Japan is not yet large enough to share Christ and disciple new believers on its own. There is a need for more laborers … It burdens us to know that over 126 million people in Japan don’t have Who we have. We cherish Jesus Christ. We know that he is worthy of love, trust, adoration and obedience, no matter what people group you belong to or culture you identify with. We simply want to play a small part in bringing these things about for people in Japan. We want Jesus Christ for Japan.  That’s what “the joy of Japan” really means.

In perusing his blog, don’t fail to read the exquisitely beautiful “A Second Proposal.”  Here is a love story of a different kind.  It is Jamison wooing Kathryne for a second time.  However, it is not toward the altar, but toward missions.  You should read Kathryne’s journey from uncertainty to yielding in her own words, but let me share her closing paragraph: “It may just be that God’s aim is to reach the nations through weak mothers relying daily on his strength, so that in everything he might be glorified.”  The Pals work in Japan was to begin in October. 

So, when we read about this family in the pages of their blog, smile at the photos of their sweet children, and enter vicariously into their vision for Japan, it is almost beyond belief when we read their pastors’ August 1, 2016, post (above) on the Bethlehem Baptist website:  “On the afternoon of Sunday, July 31, Jamison & Kathryne Pals, along with their three children Ezra (3 years), Violet (23 months), and Calvin (2 months) were all killed in a rear-end collision.  they were pronounced dead at the scene in Nebraska.”

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The memorial service was fittingly a mixture of lament for what has been lost by friends and family and rejoicing for what has been gained through the blood-bought redemption won for the Pals by Jesus Christ.  Former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist, Pastor John Piper, offered the prayer at the funeral.  He opened with five paragraphs of lament which began, “O Lord, God of might and mercy and mystery, you have driven the arrows of your quiver into the breast of your people, your beloved. You have filled our throat with bitterness and gall. You have made our teeth grind on gravel, and laid us down with wounds in the ashes of dreams.” 

Pastor Piper did not allow for grief with no hope, though, and went on to thank God for this family who “did not count their lives to be more valuable than obedience; who set their faces, like flint, toward Japan and the finishing of their course and the ministry they had received from the Lord Jesus.”  And lest we doubt, Pastor Piper was careful to remind us that the Pals did indeed finish their course and ministry; just like the apostle Paul wrote from Rome, “I have finished my course,” even though he never did get to Spain as he had planned. 

Bethlehem Pastor Jason Meyer gave the funeral message (you can watch video of the service here).  He began: “Don’t let the fact that this is a funeral and this is a funeral message fool you into thinking that Jamison and Kathryne and Ezra and Violet and Calvin are dead.  They are not dead.  It was the great preacher, D.L. Moody, who gave a voice to this blessed hope: 

Some day you will read in the papers, “D.L. Moody of East Northfield is dead.”  Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now.

Pastor Meyer exhorted the mourners that because of Christ we dare not call tragedy what the Bible calls victory (1 Corinthians 15:54-57), nor do we call loss what the Bible calls gain (Philippians 1:21). He began, “This grace of Jesus coming and living and dying and rising again secures the victory over the only things that could truly kill us forever. Before [the Pals] could receive the blessing of his face shining upon them in grace, the sacred head of Jesus had to bear the cursed crown of thorns. He bore the wrath of God in their place — that is grace — pure, glorious grace. They saw the bright light of the glory of God in the radiant face of the resurrected Jesus and they were never the same again.”

So, while we grieve, we rise up with resurrection faith as we embrace together our blessed hope that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. And so, we celebrate the fact that the Pals family is not dead, but more alive than ever because of the grace of God that is ours in Jesus Christ.  Little Ezra loved to sing “10,000 Reasons,” and “now he is singing 10 billion reasons.”

But what of the loss to Japan?  Accounting for God’s sovereignty in life, in salvation, and in death, how can we reconcile this?  Fellow World Venture missionary, Meredith Barrett, reflects on the friendship she and her husband, Jeff, developed with the Pals during their training (the Barretts are currently beginning their assignment to the Albanian people).  She writes that the Pals had “so much hope looking toward the future and excitement about what God had in store ahead.”  But she profoundly adds:

I can’t help but be struck by the fact that God never intended them to actually go.  His plan and purpose was not for them to be in Japan but rather in the going to Japan.  The season of preparing, planning, waiting. That was what God had for them and then He called them all home.

But what of God’s plan and purposes for Japan?  After the death of the Pals family, World Venture received a call that went something like this:

My wife and I have been wondering if we should someday serve as missionaries to Japan. We heard the news of the tragic loss of the Pals family and God is making it clear to us that we should step into their place and go. I speak Japanese and I have a Bible degree. My wife and I have four children. Let’s talk and pray together.

“God is not done,” Pastor Meyer declared resoundingly,He is at work. His purposes cannot fail.”

I’ll close with Jamison’s compelling “Second Proposal.” He closed his proposition to Kathryne with these words by Samuel Rutherford:

“How soon will some few years pass away, and then when the day is ended, and this life’s lease expired, what have men of the world’s glory, but dreams and thoughts? O happy soul forevermore, who can rightly compare this life with that long-lasting life to come, and can balance the weighty glory of the one with the light golden vanity of the other.”

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Note: You may send memorial gifts to the Jamison and Kathryne Pals Family Foundation, 3570 Vicksburg Ln N, Ste 100, Plymouth, MN 55447. Gifts will be used to spread the gospel of joy through Jesus Christ to Japan and beyond. Learn more about the foundation and share thoughts and memories of Jamison, Kathryne, Ezra, Violet, and Calvin at palsfamilyfound.org.

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