The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Personal (page 2 of 7)

Bruised Pride, Bound to Christ

“After conversion we need bruising so that reeds may know themselves to be reeds, and not oaks.  Even reeds need bruising, by reason of the remainder of pride in our nature, and to let us see that we live by mercy” (p. 5).  (The Bruised Reed, Richard Sibbes, one of the most influential figures in the Puritan movement during the earlier years of the 17th century).

Early in reading this book, I came upon that passage.  I thought, “Okay, I’m a reed, not an oak—and, yeah, a bruised one.”  But I was moved to ponderthese words: “Even reeds need bruising, by reason of the remainder of pride in our nature, and to let us see that we live by mercy.”

By know you know well I have primary lateral sclerosis (and you’re probably weary of hearing about it!)—an incurable, degenerative neurological disease that has put me in a wheelchair, keeps everything below my waste from working right and leaves me increasingly weak all over.

Has the sovereign God—our Father in heaven—allowed this, at least partly, because pride in my nature must be rooted out?  Is God humbling me?  Is that what this is about?

Okay, I admit it:  I find pride in my heart.  I’m surprised.  But pride must be there, because I’m humbled by my condition.  I’m humbled at how I look.  At what I can’t do.  At what has to be done for me.  I loathe the humbling process, when I suppose I should be welcoming it as a good thing from our Father.

But I don’t.  I resist it.  I pray for it to be gone.  I don’t pray, “Your will be done.”  Is that pride?  Pride that I want to walk for myself, that I want to look as well as a 73-year-old can, that I want to do for myself and not have to be done for, that I want to care for my wife instead of her taking care of me?

Ah, what to do?  Pray for healing and pray for contentment with God until it comes?  I’ve tried that.  And, honestly, I pray a lot more fervently for healing than contentment.  I pray for healing as something I really want and contentment as something I should want.

Sibbes wrote another line that stands out …

“The heroic deeds of those great worthies do not comfort the church so much as their falls and bruises do” (p. 5).

He refers to David and Paul. “Great worthies”.  I’m not so much comforted by David’s defeat of Goliath as I am his sin with Bathsheba.  Not that I’m tempted to have sex with another man’s wife.  But I’m comforted knowing “the man after God’s own heart” faced strong sexual temptations.  And Paul.  I’m not comforted by his too-much-for-words heavenly vision, but by his thorn in the flesh.  God didn’t deliver him, but promised him the power of grace–“My grace is sufficient for you; for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Sibbes explains “bruising” is necessary for two reasons . . .

One, I must “see that [I] live by mercy.  I deserve no good thing I have.  I’ve merited nothing.  All is mercy, beginning with new life through the crucified and resurrected Christ.  And his mercies are new every morning.  I should look for them—and give thanks for them.

Two, “There must be a conformity to our head, Christ, who was ‘bruised for us’ (Isaiah 53:5) that we may know how much we are bound unto him” (p. 5).

I must be conformed to Christ.  That’s God’s goal . . .

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30).

“ . . . he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son . . . ”  “There must be conformity to our head, Christ . . . ”

So pride (which I thought I didn’t have) must be rooted out and replaced with humility—a humility (like Christ) by which I’m willing to take a lower place.  I must be “bruised”.  Why?  “ . . . that we may know how much we are bound unto him.”

I may be confused about how to pray.  Healing?  Grace?  Both?

But this I must know.

This “bruising”–this illness–doesn’t mean Christ abandoned me..

This “bruising” shows how tightly I’m bound to him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Happy Anniversary

Fifty-five years ago today, I stood at the front of Bethany Church in Paterson, N.J. I was looking over the heads of the congregation to the back doors of the sanctuary.  An angel in white, my beautiful bride, appeared there.  As music played, she walked slowly toward me and almost took my breath away.

We were 19 years old.  I didn’t know what I was getting into.  Had I known, I would have been breathless.  How can I now possibly describe over half-a-century of love?

I was quite immature when Lois married me.  Didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.  For five years bumped from job to job, heading nowhere, while Lois was a rock.  At the end of those five years, when I told her I believed the Lord was calling me into ministry, she didn’t blink an eye.  It meant a life she hadn’t signed up for.  It meant leaving our apartment, putting our furniture in storage, leaving our families and heading off to an unknown future, from Bible college halfway across the country to three pastorates in N.J. and Florida.

She felt inadequate because she couldn’t play the piano.  (In the Assemblies of God, way back then, most pastor’s wives played.)  She was far from inadequate.  Piano?  No.  But pastor’s wife?  Yes.  She was always an assistant pastor without the title.  She loved people graciously.  Prayed and taught and encouraged.  Spoke words of wisdom to the pastor.  Looking back over 44 years of ministry, whatever “success” we enjoyed, it was because we served together.

Our marriage had some ups and downs.  But the downs were not so low (most downs my fault), and we always wanted our marriage to be model for other couples.  We didn’t set out deliberately to do that.  We just wanted how we loved each other to influence others.  Only heaven will reveal how much we succeeded.

We’re both retired now.  Pastoral ministry is history.  I’m wheelchair-bound.  Lois has a few wrinkles.  But we still love each other.  No, wait.  That’s not right.  We don’t still love each other:  we love each other more.  How can that be?

Well, I wonder how she can love me more, since I’m far from the dashing young specimen I once was.  But she says she loves me more, and I know I love her more.  How is that possible?  True love weathers.  It’s like a tree on a high mountain–beaten back over the years by winds, but toughened by them, still standing, stronger than ever.  Maybe that’ s not so romantic an image, but a good one.  We’re a bit bent.  But we’re still standing (me, metaphorically), arm in arm, heart to heart deeper in love for the years together and the adverse winds.

Couples who don’t survive decades together, for whatever reason, never have this kind of love to treasure.  In our culture, young love is exciting.  Old love is, well, old.  Don’t get me wrong.  If we could be young lovers again, I’d jump at the chance.  (Not too high.)  True, this old love may not be as exciting, but it runs deep and strong.  Nothing can dim it.  Nothing can wound it.  It’s sweet and tender, but it’s also tough.

That’s because our love has always been grounded in Christ.  We were married before God.  We pledged ourselves to each other in his presence.  We never considered not being together, because he made the two one.

Honey, as we celebrate yet another anniversary, I want you to know . .  .

“You are so beautiful to me,
Can’t you see?
You’re everything I hoped for
Everything I need
You are so beautiful to me.”
https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-adk-adk_sbnt&hsimp=yhs-adk_sbnt&hspart=adk&p=you+are+so+beautiful#id=1&vid=cda8d4d87378f31dc2fc2a4844b9892c&action=view

That old Joe Cocker song isn’t Christ-centered, but every so often (like today) I play it for Lois–and I cry because the simple lyrics say what my heart says and the moving chords pull at my heart’s strings.

I wish I could sing it to you, honey.  But know that, when I play the video. I’m singing to you in my heart.  At 55 years, you’re my more-beautiful than ever bride.  I love you.  Happy Anniversary.

Allan

P.S. Excuse any errors.  I didn’t want my proofreader to see this.

 

 

 

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Follow Me

I’ve always seen Matthew 9:9 as a simple, yet profound picture of Jesus’ call and our response . . .

“As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.”

Matthew must have understood Jesus’ call as the summons of a rabbi to a student.  He was to learn all the rabbi would teach him.  And the final result would be, not a head full of theology, but a life like the rabbi.

“A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).

Matthew couldn’t have known what we know:  that to be “fully trained” would entail inner transformation by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus, however, knew it was enough at that point for Matthew to understand “fully trained” to be ultimately “like his teacher.”

Matthew 9:9 first impressed me when I was a young pastor.  Life was simpler then.  I had a loving wife (as I do now) and one child (a son).  I was pastoring a small church in southern New Jersey.  I wanted to see that church revived and reformed as Jesus would have it.  I expected the Holy Spirit to work in us and among us.  The future was bright.  I was full of faith and hope.

“Follow me” meant “keep learning from me and do what I would do in your place.”  Simple.  Well, not always.  There were problems, to be sure.  But I was doing the Lord’s work.  It was a high and holy calling.  I plunged ahead, practicing what I’d been taught in Bible college and trusting the Lord to guide me where no classes did.  I was following him in my family, in my ministry, in my personal life.

Today I’ve thought of Matthew 9:9 again.  Was it the Holy Spirit?  Probably, because this is a down day.  My list of limitations due to illness is long.  I’m depressed about what I can no longer do.  And then here comes Jesus walking up to me at my pity booth.  He says to me, “Follow me.”

Simple, huh?  Well, not quite.  Unlike Matthew, I can’t get up and follow Jesus.  My legs don’t work anymore; I’m wheelchair-bound.

So what does, “Follow me”, mean now?  It still means, “Learn from me.  Give heed to my training, so you can become like me.”  It even means, “When you struggle with your immobile body to crawl out of bed in the morning and shakily slide into your wheelchair, do it as I would do it.” 

Wait.  Jesus in a wheelchair?  Wouldn’t he just speak the authoritative word and walk?  Maybe not.  When they nailed him to a cross, he didn’t call ten thousand angels to set him free.

But his death was redemptive.  There’s nothing redemptive about primary lateral sclerosis.  Or, is there?  Is Jesus working some good in me I can’t see?

If I can’t see (and I can’t), that’s up to him.

My part, all these years later in a body that’s falling apart, is still to hear him say, “Follow me”—and to get up into my wheelchair and follow him.

 

 

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Humble Yourself Under God’s Mighty Hand

Last week, I found this article on John Piper’s web site:  http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/god-has-a-purpose-for-my-lyme-disease.

Sarah Walton writes of how she unknowingly passed her lyme disease onto her newborn. One paragraph she wrote shouted to me . . .

“If we get stuck in the cycle of asking ‘why’ and refuse to surrender and humble ourselves under a God who we won’t always understand, then we will find ourselves trapped in the miserable pit of despair. But if we ask Christ to help us bring our grief to the cross we will be able to rest in faith that God is who he says he is and that he will be faithful to his promises.”

Refuse to surrender?  Is that what I’m doing by hating this illness?

Sarah went on to remind her daughter (and herself) “that because he is a loving and good God, the only reason he would prevent me from knowing that I would pass down this awful illness to my children is if he had a good and loving purpose for it. We may not understand it now, but one day, if we place our trust in him, we will no longer battle this disease. One day, we will be with Jesus.”

Is my love for Jesus too little that I want to be healed more than I want to be with him?  Am I making an idol of good health?

I’ve considered many of Scriptures’ answers to my “why” question–Romans 5:2-5; 8:28-30; 2 Corinthians 1:9,10; 4:16-18).  Walton’s article drove me to a command I hadn’t considered . . .

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 4:5,6).

I recalled the occasion of Peter’s letter.  His readers were the “the exiles of the Dispersion” (1:1) in northern Asia Minor provinces, likening them to the old Jews “dispersed” from Palestine. As the Jews had been, so these Christians were dispersed “under the mighty hand of God” and were now verbally maligned for their faith (2:12).  Peter calls them to voluntarily submit to whatever comes as being God-controlled.

And to do it with a purpose in view: “so that he may exalt you in due time.”  The mighty God will exalt them to a place of honor “in due time”.  The  Greek kairos refers to a “fixed, suitable period of time.” Thus, it is often translated “proper time.”  The NLT translates, “in his good time he will honor you.”

When? A quick read of the letter suggests “his good time” is the day of Christ’s return.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1:3-5).

“ . . .so that the genuineness of your faith — being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1:7).

“Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed” (1:13).

“The end of all things is near . . . “ (4:7).

“But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed” (4:13).

“And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away” (5:4).

So, Peter’s counsel:  Your suffering is God-controlled.  Humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand, so that in his time—when Christ comes in glory–he may lift you up.

Questions. Is it pride that says I hate wheelchair-confinement?  Am I exalting myself to want my lower body parts to work right?  Is it arrogance to want my eyes unclouded?  Does “humble yourself” mean “accept this condition”?

I’m surprised that Peter doesn’t say, “Pray for deliverance from your persecutors.” Certainly psalmists did. But Peter just seems to accept suffering as God-ordained in these last days.

Yet healing’s different.  Jesus had compassion on the sick and healed them.  Paul prayed for healing though the Lord didn’t give it (2 Corinthians 12:9,10).  James urged Christians to call for church elders to pray for the sick and promised the Lord would raise them up (James 5:14,15).  Paul told the church the Spirit gives gifts of healing (1 Corinthians 12:9).  On occasion, the Lord heals. Healing is at least possible.

What, then, am I to do?  The answer’s obvious (at least to me):  pray for healing and, until it comes, humble myself under God’s mighty hand.

I’m a poor humbler.  Pride kicks in every time Lois lovingly does something for me I can’t do for myself.  When I feel like a shell of who I once was.  When I have to be driven after humiliating help to get into the truck.

In one sense, to believe this is God’s mighty hand and not just “what’s happened” is a good thing.  It tells me it has purpose.  God is using it for some good (that for the life of me I can’t see).  And it reminds me that, in his time, he’ll lift me up (either at Jesus’ coming or—please, Lord—even before).

In another sense, though, believing this is God’s mighty hand frustrates me with him.  Everything in me (pride?) rebels.  I detest this.  Don’t want it.  See no possible good in it.  Think of all I could be doing if I could just walk.  It’s the “elephant in the room” whenever I pray.  God’s hand may be mighty; but it doesn’t feel so loving.

So I have to live by faith.  Trust what the Bible says is true (even when I don’t understand).

And  keep begging Jesus to heal me.  I’ll go on seeing myself as one of the sick in the crowd, lying there on the ground, desperate.  Jesus had crossed the lake when he came upon a mass of hopeless, helpless humanity.  They’d heard the rumors.  Friends had dragged them.  They were interrupting Jesus’ plans.  But, when he saw them “he had compassion on them and healed them” (Matthew 14:14).  I’m asking Jesus to look with compassion on me and heal me.

Until he does, Peter’s words are my command: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God . . .” (1 Peter 4:5).  This illness is God-allowed.  It’s under his control.  He means it for good.  I have to accept that.  And be content with him in it.  But, I can’t, not without his grace.

I’m a poor humbler.

 “God, you rule heaven and earth.  In your sovereignty you’ve allowed this disease, though I don’t understand why.  I’ve tried to figure it out, and I get nowhere.  I try to reason with you, and I still get nowhere. I can’t fight your hand—it’s too strong.  So, please give me  grace to humble myself under it (even while I pray to be freed from what it’s brought).  Then I may be at peace with my limitations.  Then I may be able to accept my disease as your hand at work.  And then you may be glorified in my weakness.  (And, please, let “due time” be soon.  I’m ready for a little exaltation.)

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Why Irma, God?

I find myself asking, “Why, God?”, a lot these days.  Today it’s, “Why Irma, God?”  It should barrel into South Florida as a Category 5 or 4.  It will hit the Tampa Bay area late Saturday night into Sunday morning as maybe a Category 3 or 2 storm.

It’s by far the worst we’ve seen since moving here in 1989.  Since we lose power sometimes when it rains, the only question is how long it will be out.  Flooding isn’t a worry, but trees downed by storm winds are.  Our house and pool cage could take direct hits.  Then there’s all the beautiful vegetation Lois has planted and painstakingly nurtured.  She put her heart into it.  Not a life-loss, still a significant loss and a potentially huge mess to clean up.

It doesn’t help that I’m captive to a wheelchair.  My condition makes me virtually useless, and I hate it.  I guess it’s the old “man as protector” thing.

So, “Why Irma, God?”

To cite Paul, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains . . . “ (Romans 8:22).  But the day is coming when “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).  Paul implies that creation itself is impacted by our sin against our Creator.  And, though one day it will be set free, now it’s “groaning in labor pains.”  I take Irma, and Harvey before her, to be some of those “labor pains.”

Scenes of Harvey’s devastation evoked my empathy.  Warnings of Irma’s potential devastation evokes my fear.  It’s fear of the unknown.  I don’t know what to expect.  Don’t know the damage-extent.  Don’t know how long our power will be off and, how long we’ll be drinking warm water and eating out of cans and sweating without A/C.

Compared to flooded homes in Texas, it seems minor—but not insignificant.  Somehow making those comparisons never makes me feel better.

So, God’s children in Christ suffer creation’s labor pains like everybody else.  Irma isn’t jogging around Christians.  Our long-range hope is the day when “creation itself will be set free . . . and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”  But what’s our short-range hope?

Initially, before the Florida-track was inevitable, I asked the Lord to blow Irma out to sea.  Now I pray for “protection”.  That means no trees driven down onto our house or pool screen.  Minimal damage to our yard.  Limited time without power.  Safety for all our family and friends.

It suddenly occurs to me I should be praying for faith to trust the Lord.  For grace to act lovingly toward Lois in my stress.  For grace to accept my wheelchair without getting angry at God.  For grace to be an encouragement—and, yes, even a source of strength—to Lois.  (I’m not implying she’s cringing in a corner!)  For grace to look at the trees surrounding our house and trust that the Lord’s power to hold them up is greater than Irma’s to fell them.

Irma is a reminder that life in this fallen world can be, not only hard, but dangerous.  Labor pains are intense (right, moms?).  But mothers forget the pains at the joy of holding their little one.  So Irma will leave (the sooner the better), and we’ll thank God for his care.

Irma is a reminder, too, of how dependent we are on our Father.  Our sense of daily security is illusory.  In the end our houses, our jobs, our money, our physical strength—none of it makes us secure.  Only our Father.  So, when Irma barrels in, we’re (as always) in his hands.

And his Son’s hands are nail-scarred to make us forever (and even threatened by Irma’s winds) his.  That’s what I’m counting on.

The Nail

 

 

 

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Did Jesus “Come”?

By last evening, the weakness/numbness/ache (I don’t know how to describe it) had crept from my feet into my upper body and into my head.  I felt consumed by it, shriveling up.  I was suddenly afraid of what lay ahead.

This head-numbness has come before.  It’s made writing my blog impossible, because it saps my mental energy and leaves me in a strange “fog”.  But last evening was the worst.

I was alone in the house, because Lois had taken Scooby-Girl, our dog, for a needed walk.  I decided to lay down in bed, hoping that might alleviate my symptoms.

I prayed my feeble prayer  (“feeble” because it’s more desperation than faith):  “Jesus, take pity on me.  Have compassion on me and heal me.  Reverse the progress of this illness and restore what it’s taken.”  I placed first one hand, then the other, over my eyes and forehead, repeating my prayer and waiting in silence, in darkness.

Suddenly, it  felt as if Jesus was there.  It wasn’t a physical feeling—a spiritual sense, I’d call it. I saw nothing.  I had no vision of him.  But I imagined (though, I think, not intentionally) Jesus coming to me, telling me it was okay, that he was healing me.  Then, peace quieted me.

After about 15 minutes, I decided I had to act on what I believed just happened.  So I got up.  No numbness in my head; it felt fine.  It remained so for the rest of the evening and again this morning.

What should I make of this?

Did Jesus really “come” and heal my head?  That has been the worst part of my illness, because I’m not able to seriously read or creatively write when the numbness “hits”.  Did the Lord reverse the progress of this illness, at least in my head?  Is this the start of a total reversal?  Or was Jesus’ “coming” just my imagination, and I felt better because I had laid down?  My head is okay yet this morning, but often the numbness doesn’t reach it until later in the day.

One thing I know (like the healed blind man in John 9).  Before I laid down and prayed, my head was consumed by my illness.  And I was afraid.  When I got up, my head was fine and fear was gone.

Maybe Jesus healed my head just for last evening, because the condition was so bad.  If so, I’m thankful for that respite.  Of course,  I hope and pray for more: that Jesus might have started a reversal he’ll continue.  Maybe it will be total (wouldn’t that be amazing!), maybe partial.  Though I want all, I’ll take whatever healing he gives.

But suppose Jesus’ “coming” last evening was my imagination?  Suppose my head numbness returns?  Will I be disappointed, discouraged?  I’d like to say I’d be thankful for one better evening; but I won’t.  No way I wouldn’t be disappointed and discouraged.

But, for now, I’m going to keep hoping and keep praying.

P.S.  I hesitated writing this until I knew more.  But I figured if Jesus healed my head only for last night, he should receive glory for it.  And if it all was just my imagination, well, I’m willing to be called crazy for believing Jesus still does that sort of thing.

 

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Where Have I Been?

Ten days since I posted a blog–until yesterday.  Where have I been?  (Please, don’t dent my ego by saying you didn’t notice!)   I’ve not felt well enough to write.

Maybe I shouldn’t explain.  Might sound like I’m looking for pity.  I’m really not.  I’m telling my story, because it’s on my mind.  But more, because my experience may help you sometime.

In the last ten days, my weakness/numbness, always below my waist, seemed on occasion to climb into my head—bad enough to make serious thinking impossible.  But something else blocked my writing.  Unconsciously, I think I shied away from God’s Word because he seemed silent to my pleas for help and some healing.

I was acting like our dog.  A few days ago, I was about to give her a treat, when I must have unknowingly pinched her leg or paw under my wheelchair.  Whatever happened, she yelped.  Ever since, she won’t come close to get a treat. I’ve been acting like her.   God is sovereign, therefore he either sent or at least allowed my illness.  So unconsciously, I’ve shied away from his Word.  If I had to reason it out, I’d say I had little interest in the One who caused me to suffer.

That I can’t see any good in this just exacerbated my disinterest.  God works for the good in all things?  This suffering produces perseverance which produces proven character which enlarges my capacity to hope for coming glory?  My weakness increases my reliance on the Lord?  I didn’t see any of that.  In my heart, none of it seemed true.  And when someone suggested that maybe I, in my finiteness, wasn’t able to see the good the infinite God saw, I waved it off.  Convenient rationalization!

If God was, in effect, taking my writing (and serious reading) away . . . well, I couldn’t handle that!  I’ll just go sulk in my corner.

It didn’t help that I was reading a book on spiritual gifts, in which one of four authors argued that miraculous gifts ceased with the apostles’ deaths. He pointed out that Jesus’ miracles were signs of his messiahship, signs of his kingdom breaking in.  Miracles for then, for that unique period of salvation-history, but not for now.  His words dampened my hope for a miracle.

Then I recalled two Scripture texts.  (Was it the Holy Spirit?)  The first was John 6:53-68. Jesus had just told the Jews they had to “eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood; otherwise they would have no life in them.  “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.  So, Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’  Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life . . . ‘” .

“Lord, to whom shall we go?”  A provocative question.  If I turn away from Jesus because the all-loving, all-powerful God allows so much suffering, to whom shall I go?  If suffering disproves the existence of an all-loving, all-powerful God, I have nowhere else to turn.  Either I keep faith in this God who’s run his wheelchair over my paw, or I have no one, nothing.

I recalled a second Scripture–about Jesus having compassion on the sick. I found it—Matthew 14:13,14 . . .

“When Jesus heard [that John had been beheaded], he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”

Matthew goes on to report how Jesus miraculously fed 5000.  The feeding was a sign, but healing the sick is described as an act of compassion.  So, I started whispering this prayer . . .

“Jesus, look on me with compassion.  Take pity on me and heal me.”

Do you see what was happening?  I dismissed the idea that my illness came so I’d learn to lean more on the Lord.  But that’s exactly what was happening!  Unconsciously I was shying away from him who allowed me hurt.  Consciously I realized I had no one else to turn to.  So, I went to him–without any plea but for his pity and power.  To him who held power to protect me–or heal me–but hadn’t.  To him who allowed my hurt.  To him who I unconsciously shied away from.  I turned to him–as if drawn by a silent power greater than mine.

How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33b).  Or as these worshippers sang it  , , ,

Now for the last two days, I’ve felt better.  Not great, but better.  And, more importantly, I’ve felt closer to him–or him closer to me.  It may become more difficult to write.  But I’ll keep on as long as he enables me.  And I’ll stop acting like our dog, because . . .

“if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (1 Timothy 2:13).

“If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31b-39).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Muddled Prayers

Puritans held a high view of God’s sovereignty and humans’ sinfulness.  Nothing happened outside his will.  He is the King and his kingdom rules over all (Psalm 115:13).  Humans are depraved and incapable of doing anything toward their salvation.

Here’s a sample from a Puritan prayer in The Valley of Vision . . . 

“I can plead nothing in myself
in regard of any worthiness and grace
in regard of thy providence and promises,
but only thy good pleasure . . .

Help me to pray in faith
and so find thy will,
by leaning hard on thy rich free mercy,
by believing thou wilt give what thou hast promised . . .

So shall I wait thy will, pray for it to be done,
and by thy grace become fully obedient.”

The prayer harmonizes with the apostle John’s promise and with the psalmist’s proclamation . . .

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us– whatever we ask– we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14,15).

“The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19).

I draw two conclusions.  One, my illness is God’s will.  Satan may be involved in some way, but ultimately the sovereign God has allowed it as what he wants for me at this time in my life.  Two, I must pray for God’s will to be done with me in this illness.

Does that mean I should pray for contentment with him, for grace sufficient to endure?  Or can I pray for healing?  If I were content in him, he would be glorified. If I were miraculously healed, he would be glorified.  How I should pray—and what the results would be (whether contentment or healing)—would result in God’s glory.  So God’s glory doesn’t tell how I should pray.

I’ve written here before that in his weekly phone call my brother-in-law prays for my healing.  So does a prayer group in his church (the church in which Lois and I grew up).  And so do I, pointing to Matthew 14:13,14) . . .

“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”

And I pray: “Jesus see me.  Look on me with compassion.  And please heal me.”

I pray relying on Jesus’ mercy, because, while I have great confidence that he can heal me, I don’t have great confidence that he will.  So sometimes I pray for a gift of faith.   Often I’m just confused.

Praying for contentment in the Lord while enduring this illness seems like surrendering to it.  Everything in me wants to fight back.  To stubbornly refuse to give ground.  To stomp it out.  (Not by myself—with the Lord’s grace and healing work.)

Yet I find a certain peace in simply praying, “Your will be done.”  I can rest, not be agitated over healing I want but so far can’t have.  I can focus my thoughts on the Lord.  (Sounds so spiritual.  Honestly, often when I do the question intrudes, “But why won’t he heal me?”)

Despite that nagging intrusion, I think I should pray, “Your will be done” (keeping my prayer for healing on the perimeter).  The sovereign Lord has led me into this valley for this season of my life.  He will keep me here as long as he wants—until my dying day or until my healing.  (Either way, he has eternal healing for me!)  And here, instead of slipping into a mire of depression, I can meet with him in his Word and in prayer.  I can seek contentment in him.  I can admit what is more than ever painfully obvious:  I am utterly dependent on him.  Instead of withdrawing in anger or disappointment, I can draw near to him.  I can know Jesus in the fellowship of suffering (Philippians 3:10).  I can pray this Valley of the Vision prayer . . .

LORD, HIGH AND HOLY, MEEK AND LOWLY,

Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin, I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox

          that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,       

          that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from the deepest wells
and the deeper the wells the brighter the stars shine.

Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.

( I will inevitably sneak in:  “And if you want to heal me today, please do!”  That’s okay, right?  Ah, my muddled prayers!)

 

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I Will Not Die But Live

The words.  Suddenly, there they were.  In my mind.

“I will not die but live.”

It was last Thursday afternoon.  I don’t remember now what I was doing.

I had been thinking lately about death.  Primary Lateral Sclerosis is chronic, not terminal.  But complications arise and, who knows?  Besides, I sometimes feel like I’m dying.  (That’s probably more emotional than physical.)

So death-on-my-mind was the larger context.  But I wasn’t thinking about it when the words came . . .

“I will not die but live.”

Scripture?  Sounded like it.  But I couldn’t place it.  So I cranked up by Bible software and found it.  Psalm 118:17.  Here’s the whole verse . . .

  “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.”

And here’s the critical question that immediately came with it:  Where did the words come from?  I’d certainly read that verse–that psalm–before.  So:  inexplicable recall?  Too much rich dessert the night before?  The Holy Spirit?

I read through the whole psalm–a psalm of thanksgiving to the LORD for his steadfast love . . .

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.  Let Israel say: ‘His love endures forever.’ Let the house of Aaron say: ‘His love endures forever.’  Let those who fear the LORD say: ‘His love endures forever’” (118:1-4).

The psalmist testifies how the LORD rescued him from death . . .

“In my anguish I cried to the LORD, and he answered by setting me free. The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? The LORD is with me; he is my helper. I will look in triumph on my enemies. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.  All the nations surrounded me, but in the name of the LORD I cut them off.  They surrounded me on every side, but in the name of the LORD I cut them off.  They swarmed around me like bees, but they died out as quickly as burning thorns; in the name of the LORD I cut them off.  I was pushed back and about to fall, but the LORD helped me.  The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.  Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: “The LORD’s right hand has done mighty things! The LORD’s right hand is lifted high; the LORD’s right hand has done mighty things!”  I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done. The LORD has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death” (118:5-18).

He goes on, then, to describe a festive occasion when all the people celebrate the LORD’s steadfast love that endures forever . . .

 “Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.  This is the gate of the LORD through which the righteous may enter.  I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation.  The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.  This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you. The LORD is God, and he has made his light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God, and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever” (118:19-29).

It’s a triumphant, celebratory psalm that Israel sang and was used of Jesus during his Jerusalem entry (Matthew 21:9).  But here’s my question:  dare I used verse 17 of me?  In other words, given the fact that it just popped from nowhere into my mind, was that the doing of the Holy Spirit for me?

I did a quick exegesis.  I understood that the psalmist spoke, “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done” after the LORD had rescued him from possible death.  So our situations (his and mine) weren’t the same.  I was still fighting my battle.  Even  though I wasn’t surrounded by “all the nations”, could the Holy Spirit have “spoken” the words to me and for me?

 

Scoffers will say I’d read it before.  It was there in my memory.  Just happened to come to conscious level because I had been thinking of death.  Theologians might say, “Those words were the psalmist’s for his celebration.  Not yours.”

But that’s what I’m doing.  I’m daring to say those words didn’t come from nowhere, or from unconscious memory, or too much chocolate.  Label them however–prophecy, word of knowledge, impression.  I choose to believe they came from the Holy Spirit.  They are his words to and for me.

Sure, I’ll die.  Just not soon.  Maybe not for a few years.  Meanwhile, I won’t give in to this dreadful illness.  By God’s grace, I’ll do all I can.

After all, I have a mission:  “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.”  Blog the Bible.  Blog lessons learned and questions raised.  Preach the Lord’s wonderful deeds.

Yesterday and today I’ve not felt well.   Two down days.  But, yes, the Holy Spirit still speaks.  And, yes, he’s spoken to me.  He spoke his inscripturated word for me.  So, even on down days I’ll wield his words like a weapon.  Against Satan.  Against my unbelief.  They’re my triumphant proclamation until the day (not soon) when he does hand me over to death.  Until then (not soon), listen . . .

“I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.”

 

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Put Here For . . .

Yesterday during our prayer time, Lois read from Paul  . . .

“ . . . I am put here for the defense of the gospel” (Philippians 1:16  ). 

Remarkable.  He’s writing, not from a podium before an interested crowd, but from imprisonment in Rome.  He had been in Jerusalem in the temple courtyard, when Jews from Asia “stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him” (Acts 21:27).  “They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple . . . [and] as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion” (Acts 21:31).  Soldiers and centurions rushed to the riot.  And “when [the crowd] saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.  Then the tribune came up and arrested Paul and ordered him to be bound with two chains” (Acts 21:32,33).

Then came a trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin.  Back to jail where a plot to kill Paul was discovered.  He was spirited north to Caesarea for a trial before the Roman governor.  Finally, as a Roman citizen, Paul made an appeal for a trial before Caesar.  Waiting for that to be honored, King Agrippa tried him.  Finally, Paul was herded aboard a ship for Rome.  A ferocious storm wrecked the ship and survivors were stranded on the island of Malta.  Three months later another ship takes Paul to Rome where he is imprisoned awaiting trial before Caesar.  Now, note this:  since his arrest in Jerusalem three years have passed.  Three years.

Despite it all, Paul writes, “I am put here for the defense of the gospel.”  He’s saying, “God led me through all the suffering of the last three years to put me here, and I’m here to defend the gospel.”  This man doesn’t believe in chance; he believes God is sovereign in all things.  This man wrote these majestic words  as he stood in awe of his Lord . . .

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?’  ‘Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?’  For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” (Romans 11:32-36).

And he believed the sovereign Lord who was the hidden director behind every thing in his life, orchestrated the days of his life for a purpose:    Even this.  ” . . . for the defense of the gospel.” 

“Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.  As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.  Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (Philippians 1:12-14).

Is Paul the only Christian who can make a “put here for” claim?  I would argue that the Philippians also can.  They were put in Philippi to suffer for Christ’s sake . . .

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him (Philippians 2:9).

Suffering for Christ there is part of God’s call to them in Christ.  Like Paul, they had been put there for the defense of the gospel.

Which brings me to the question: Can I say I’ve been put here?  Is my primary lateral sclerosis that binds me to a wheelchair and makes me virtually useless waist-down . . . is this God-put?

I have believed it’s God-allowed–Satan on a leash, like with Job.  I’ve also thought maybe it was God-sent to teach me to rely more on him and refine my faith.  But God-put sheds a different light on it.  Especially when coupled with “for the defense of the gospel”. 

This means not only God’s intentionality, but my ministry.  Not just suffering for the sake of my sanctification, but serving others for Jesus’ sake.  With Lois, I intercede for others from a hurting body.  I study God’s Word weekly with my grandson when I’m not functioning well.  And I create this blog and write from my wheelchair to hopefully encourage readers in the faith.

I’m put here –in this particular place–for the defense of the gospel.

I wouldn’t chose this “put-here” place.  Sometimes I rail against it or fall depressed over it.  But, “put here for” gives this chapter of my life eternal purpose and keeps me going.

Where are you?  Whatever and wherever your place, know this:  you’re put there for the defense of the gospel.

 

 

 

 

 

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