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Archive for the ‘Sojourning’ Category

They’re often the nicest people – cheerful and kind, unreservedly helpful to friend and stranger alike.  They’re the ones you want for neighbors and the ones you’re glad to see on a Monday morning at work.  You may even wish you were like them in many ways.  They might follow natural disasters to help in the aftermath; they might build homes or serve medically in impoverished nations; they may sponsor a number of children in deepest Africa.  They would lay down their lives for their spouse and children.  If they attend church, they may be found teaching Sunday school, singing in the choir, or working on the kitchen, lawn, or maintenance crews.  Indeed, they check “Christian” on their census form, believing their good works speak for themselves.  But, as you attempt to talk with them deeply of spiritual matters, there is some vague uncertainty which niggles at you.  You wonder if they’ve just been around enough to be able to talk the talk or if they walk the walk out of mere humanitarian duty instead of a regenerated heart.

 

I’m following a delightful video series from Ligonier Ministries by Derek Thomas on The Pilgrim’s Progress.  This classic piece of literature, once eclipsed in sales only by the Bible, has been set on dusty top shelves and only a few 21st century Christians have read it.  I only read it for the first time a couple years ago and am sorry it was not a part of my literature reading from an early age.

 

There are so many fine (and not fine) characters which the loving pastor, John Bunyan, wrote into his 17th century allegory of The Pilgrim’s Progress (parts I and II) which personifies the pleasures and pitfalls along a Christian pilgrim’s journey to our heavenly home (the Celestial City, as Bunyan writes).

 

Through his travels, Christian, the protagonist of The Pilgrim’s Progress – part I, meets two such travelers who evidence that vague lack that indeed niggles away at Christian and makes him burdened in spirit for them.  One is the man, Ignorance, and the other is Talkative.

 

Ignorance believes that Christ plus works will be his plea when he stands before God’s throne on the last day.  Because of Christ’s death, Ignorance believes that his own obedience is now an acceptable sacrifice unto salvation.  Our friend, Christian, emphatically corrects him: “Thou believes with a fantastical faith for this is no where described in the Word” (p113).

 

Christian declares to Ignorance God’s Word: “There is none righteous, there is none that do good” (Romans 3:10-12) and that “every imagination of the heart of man is only evil, and that continually” (Genesis 6:5). To this Ignorance replies, “I will never believe that my heart is thus bad” and here is Ignorance’s problem (p112).

 

He is under the modern delusion that he may choose Christ and salvation by his own will and on his own terms.  He does not conceive the extent to which he is an enemy to God and spiritually dead in his trespasses and sins, unable to move an iota toward God in this fallen state.  Christian’s traveling companion attempts to set him straight:  “Christ is so hid in God from the natural [understandings of all men], that He cannot by any man be savingly known, unless God the Father reveals him to them.”  It must be [brought about] by the exceeding greatness of His mighty power” (pp. 114-115).

 

Ignorance, at no time, has been under a conviction of his sins before God and so he does not fear that his state is dangerous.  The “naturally ignorant” do not understand “that such convictions [are for one’s good] and therefore they desperately seek to stifle them and presumptuously continue to flatter themselves in the way of their own hearts” (p.115).

 

Ignorance does not understand that the fear of the Lord begins by a saving conviction of one’s sins.  It is this conviction which “drives the soul to lay fast of Christ for salvation” and continues in the soul a “great reverence of God, his Word, and ways; keeping it tender and making it afraid to turn from them to the right hand or to the left – to anything that may dishonor God, break its peace, grieve the Spirit, or cause the Enemy (i.e. Satan) to speak reproachfully” (p. 116).

 

The last we see of Ignorance, Christian is unsuccessfully pleading with him:  “Be awakened then, see thine own wretchedness, and fly to the Lord Jesus; and by his righteousness… thou shalt be delivered from condemnation” (p. 115).

 

Well, Ignorance, will thou yet foolish be,

To slight good Counsel, ten times given thee?

And if thou yet refuses it, thou shalt know

Ere long, the evil of thy doing so.

Remember, man in time – stoop!  Do not fear!

Good Counsel, taken well, saves.  Therefore, hear!

But if thou yet shall slight it, thou will be

The loser, Ignorant, I’ll warrant thee. (p. 115).

 

But there is another who masquerades as a fellow traveler to the Celestial City.  Sadly, like Ignorance, on the day of harvest, he too will be separated from the wheat, perhaps to his own surprise (Matthew 13:29-30).  This wanderer is not willfully ignorant, but is instead, insincerely Talkative.

 

Talkative walks with Christian and his friend, Faithful, through several pages of our book and wields many pious words and speeches, often seemingly in agreement with the two travelers.  Faithful is willing to take Talkative at his word and claim him as a fellow pilgrim, but Christian is not so sure.

 

“Religion has no place in his heart or house or conversation; all he has, lies in his tongue, and his religion is to make a noise with it” (p. 62).  “He talks of prayer, of repentance, of faith, and of the new-birth; but he knows only to talk of them…  He is a saint abroad, and a devil at home” (p. 63).  For Talkative, “saying and doing are two things” (p. 63).

 

We know this person.  They can speak about biblical truths and they know all the right words.  It’s not uncommon for them to speak of answered prayer and the help they receive from their faith or from God (general), but there is something missing.  They rarely use the name of Jesus out loud or marvel at his goodness or saving grace in their lives.  And there is little evidence they’ve grieved over there personal sins which caused Christ to endure the wrath of the Father on their behalf.  When Faithful begins to see Talkative for who his is, he explains that when the grace of God is in the heart, “it shows itself by inclining the soul to abhor its sin.”

 

Here, Derek Thomas is helpful in exposing what is lacking in these Talkative ones:

“It is not enough to say that sin does bad things or that there are consequences for bad behavior.  You have to hate that sin.  You have to turn away from that sin and walk toward Jesus.

“A man may cry out against sin… but one must not simply cry out against sin (or I might add, cluck our tongues at the evil in the world), but we must abhor sin. People will readily decry the ungodliness of the world, but does our friend do the utmost to see it in his own heart, to decry its residence there, and to determinedly rid himself of it?”

 

Faithful rightly declares, “Great knowledge may be obtained in the mysteries of the Gospel and yet no work of grace in the soul.  Yea, if a man has all knowledge, he may yet be nothing and so, consequently, be no child of God” (p. 65).  “A work of grace in the soul,” Faithful continues “gives [one] conviction of sin… This sight and sense of things works in him sorrow and shame for sin… and the absolute necessity of [settling with the Savior] for life… hungering and thirsting after Him” (p. 66).

 

Talkative bristles at being caught in his charade.  He does as many do who are so exposed – he tries to divert the blame to Faithful.  He accuses him of being judgmental and peevish and “not fit to be [talked] with” (p. 67) and so bids him farewell.  Christian, observing the whole exchange, says to Faithful, “I told you how it would happen – your words and his lusts could not agree.  He had rather leave your company, than reform his life… The loss is no man’s, but his own.”

 

How Talkative at first lifts up his plumes!

How bravely does he speak!  How he presumes

To drive down all before him!  But so soon

As Faithful talks of heart-work, like the moon

That’s past the full, into the wain he goes.

And so will all, but he that heart-work knows (p. 68).

 

In the end we see that both Ignorance and Talkative desire “a God without wrath [Who] brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through… a Christ without a cross” (H. Richard Niebuhr).

 

As Talkative walks away, Faithful recalls Ezekiel’s charge to be a watchman.5 He settles the matter in his own mind, “I have dealt plainly with him and so am clear of his blood if he perishes” (p. 67).  This is our sober charge as well – to be faithful ourselves in the proclaiming of truth.  In the end, Faithful clings to one hope:  “I am glad we had this little discourse with him.  It may happen that he will think of it again.”  And this is our sober hope as well.

 

 

All dialogue is quoted from The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan and Cynthia Wall, W.W. Norton, 2009, pp. 62-68, 112–116.

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In the midst of a time of grieving (his and ours), Andrew sent us this beautiful reminder of our secure hope.

It is not death to die
To leave this weary road
And join the saints who dwell on high
Who’ve found their home with God.

It is not death to close
The eyes long dimmed by tears
And wake in joy before Your throne
Delivered from our fears.

It is not death to fling
Aside this earthly dust
And rise with strong and noble wing
To live among the just.

It is not death to hear
The key unlock the door
That sets us free from mortal years
To praise You evermore.

 

©Integrity’s Praise! Music/Sovereign Grace Praise.
Words: Henri Malan (1787-1864), tr. George Bethune (1847); Bob Kauflin
Music: Bob Kauflin.

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As if in response to my previous post, I was given this quote from Pastor John Piper:

 

Occasionally, weep deeply over the life you hoped for.
Grieve the losses.  Feel the pain.

…Then wash your face.  Trust God.  And embrace the life you have.

 

The lapse between the first and last lines is individual, but our trust in our good Lord’s loving Providence must certainly lead us to the latter attitude.

 

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen… And without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:1, 6).

 

Yes, my conscience; He [does] us great good.

 

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Many of us are mourning the loss of an American era with the passing of a man, I think we won’t soon see the likes of again.  The beloved preacher and evangelist, the Reverend Billy Graham, passed away on Wednesday, February 21, 2018, and was laid to rest in Charlotte, North Carolina, after his March 2nd funeral.  He was 99 years old.  Among other endearing terms, Rev. Graham is being remembered as God’s Ambassador and America’s Pastor, having provided spiritual counsel for every United States president since Harry S. Truman (our 33rd) right on to Barack Obama (our 44th president).

When I think of Dr. Graham, I can’t help think of my Dad who always encouraged us girls to sit and listen whenever a crusade was being televised (on network T.V. no less). I never told dad or mom, but I responded to one of those crusades, back when we lived in town (so prior to 8th grade). I sent for the follow-up material too, writing to “Billy Graham, Minneapolis, MN – that’s all the address you need” as Billy directed us from every crusade.  What came was a summary of his Steps to Peace with God and a study of the book of John.

I attribute that experience to a sensitive period in my life when God was softening my heart and mind to his, eventually leading me to receive the gospel truth.  I would not fully put it all together until my college years when God through his Word in Ephesians 2:8-9 caused me to once and for all lay down my works which I had been trying to offer all my life as an acceptable arrangement; one which I hoped would make God pleased with me and lead me to eternal life.  My plan had been Jesus + me = salvation, never realizing that the only thing I could contribute to Christ’s offering, was the sin that made it necessary.  Using the small faith God gave me for just that moment, I gave all that I knew of myself (my whole sin-saturated self and my inadequate works) to all I knew of Christ (my only rescue).

During college, Dana and I would counsel for a Billy Graham movie or two (World Wide Pictures) at the Cinema Theater in town (now the WDAZ studios).  After one particular movie, The Prodigal, Dana was completely broken and rededicated his life to the Lord.

A highlight for us was counseling for the Billy Graham live crusade in Fargo the summer of 1987 when we were expecting Ashley. We brought my cousin Paul with us one of the days (who was living in Grand Forks at the time, in the restaurant business with my Uncle Warren).  I’m sad to say, though, that I seem to recall my dad was unable to go to Fargo with us to see Billy in person, amounting to a double loss since the entertainment was another of Dad’s favorites, Johnny Cash (and his wife, Rosalind).

Rev. Graham’s gravestone briefly summarizes his life – Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ – and then makes reference to John 14:6, “Jesus said to [Thomas], ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.'” One of my favorite Billy Graham quotes was printed on his funeral brochure:  “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now.”  I pray God will enable me to be faithful and about the King’s work to the end – in whatever capacity I am able – just as the world has observed in the life of God’s good and faithful servant, Billy Graham.

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Elisabeth Elliot was this mom’s mentor in the young years of my parenting.  She spoke common sense; and she did not allow the fear of man to be a snare.  She plainly divided the Word of Truth and applied it to everyday, commonplace life whether it was popular or not.  She gave me a mantra in those early days which helped when I found it difficult to keep my head above water while rearing and oft-times homeschooling four extraordinary children.  It is brought to mind and found useful even to this day.  Her mantra? Do the next thing.

Somewhere along the way I had forgotten that this wonderfully practical advice came to Mrs. Elliot via an old poem.  Justin Taylor recently highlighted the poem (author unknown) in its full.  It helps to flesh out this simple saying and reminds us of the resource we have when we know not what else to do.  Over the years I’ve heard the variation – do the next right thing – which can be a helpful determiner when faced with a number of options.

On this new year, if we resolve nothing further, let us resolve to do this one thing – do the next thing.

Do the Next Thing,
author unknown

From an old English parsonage down by the sea,
There came in the twilight a message to me.
Its quaint Saxon legend deeply engraven
Hath, as it seems to me, teaching from heaven.
And all through the hours the quiet words ring,
Like low inspiration – Do the next thing.

Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from heaven,
Time, opportunity, guidance are given:
Fear not tomorrow, child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, do the next thing.

Do it immediately, do it with prayer,
Do it reliantly, casting all care.
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand,
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all results, do the next thing.

Looking to Jesus, ever serener,
Working or suffering by thy demeanor;
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
and the light of His countenance, be for thy psalm.
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing;
Then, as He beckons thee, do the next thing.

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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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