The hymn, “Jesus, Love of My Soul” has meant a lot to me these last few days, which is one of Charles Wesley’s most well loved hymns. The occasion for it’s composition is unknown but the comfort that these words have brought is undeniable.
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Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly. While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high! Hide me, O my Savior, hide—till the storm of life is past; safe into the haven guide, O receive my soul at last!
Other refuge have I none—hangs my helpless soul on Thee. Leave, ah, leave me not alone; still support and comfort me! All my trust on Thee is stayed—All my help from Thee I bring. Cover my defenseless head with the shadow of Thy wing.
February 13 2013 | Blog | No Comments »
“When the black clouds gather most, the light is the more brightly revealed to us. When the night lowers and the tempest is coming on, the Heavenly Captain is always closes to his crew. It is a blessed thing, that when we are most cast down, then it is that we are most lifted up by the consolations of the Spirit…Great hearts can only be made by great troubles. The spade of trouble digs the reservoir of comfort deeper, and makes more room for consolation…The humbler a man lies, the more comfort he will always have, because he will be more fitted to receive it. – Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening.
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February 12 2013 | Blog | 1 Comment »
Joni Eareckson Tada made a powerful point in an interview with Marvin Olasky recently where she said:
When I was a little girl, I remember riding my bike down a steep hill. I made a right-hand turn. My wheels skidded out on gravel and I crashed to the ground. My knee was a bloody mess. My dad comes running out. I’m screaming and crying. Although I didn’t ask why, if I had, how cruel it would have been for my father to stand over me and say, “Well, sweetheart, let me answer that question. The next time you’re going down the hill, watch the steepness, be careful about the trajectory of your turn, be observant of gravel.” Those would all have been good answers to the question, “Why did this happen?” But when people are going through great trauma and great grief, they don’t want to know why. They want Daddy to pick them up, press them against his chest, pat them on the back, and say, “There, there, sweetheart, Daddy’s here. It’s OK.” When we are hurting, that’s what we want. We want God to be Daddy: warm, compassionate, real, in the middle of our suffering. We want fatherly assurance that our world is not spinning out of control
HT: Justin Taylor
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January 23 2013 | Blog | No Comments »
Part of pastoral ministry is suffering. This suffering can come in any number of different shapes and sizes, but sadly it oftentimes comes from the sheep. I don’t know of any pastor who knew that better that Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon has been an excellent counselor to me in this area, even in recent days. This is a quote from a sermon that he preached on October 28, 1855 titled “Chastisement”.
If thou thinkest that reproach for Christ’s sake is a dishonor, thou judgest wrongly of it, for it is the greatest honor that can possibly happen to thee.
There are many of you who count that religion is very honorable while you can be respectable in it, while you can walk in respectable society, but if the cause of God brings you into tribulation, if it engenders the laugh and jeer of the worldling, the hiss and scorn of the world, then you think it a dishonor. But my son thou dost not weigh the blessing rightly. . . .
When they say all manner of evil against us falsely, we put that down not in the book of dishonor but in the scroll of glory. When they call us by opprobrious titles, we write not that down for loss, but for gain. We accept their jeers as honors, we count the vile things they cast at us in the pillory of scorn to be a donation of pearls and diamonds: we take their evil speaking, we read it by the light of the Word of God, and we discover that in it lie music, notes of honor and chords of glory to us for ever.
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July 26 2011 | Blog | No Comments »
If there is a sub-theme for the book of Philippians it would certainly be the theme of suffering. Paul introduces this theme early on the book in chapter one:
1:12 – “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” (What had happened to Paul was that he had been beaten countless times and was now awaiting a trial that would determine whether he lived or died.)
1:20b – “…Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
1:29 – “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you said I had now hear that I still have.”
The theme of suffering runs throughout this entire book, but especially through the first chapter. Right here at the very beginning we are confronted with the difficulty of this book. How can Paul possibly say that “to live is Christ and to die is gain”? The last time I checked, dying was something we usually try to avoid. Or, how can Paul say that “it has been granted to you for the sake of Christ to suffer”? These statements should smash into our sensibilities. They are unexpected at best!
The only way that these things can make sense is if, in spite of the loss, we have a treasure that is so far surpassingly more valuable than even our life or even our suffering that no matter what happens to us in life, we can call it GAIN! That far surpassing treasure is Jesus Christ. John Piper has said, “What makes God look good is when we can suffer the loss of all things and still call it gain b/c Christ is so precious to us!”
The foundation for this radical way of living is the gospel.
Philippians 1:27 – “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”
In other words, Paul is saying that the gospel of Jesus Christ is of such far surpassing value and worth that even in the midst of terrible suffering, there is no comparison to the treasure that is mine in the gospel. Peter reminds us of that in 1 Peter 1:18-19 – “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”
The gospel was the lens through which Paul could look at terrible loss and suffering and say that it is GAIN! Because in the gospel we learn how bad off we really are (everyone of us justly deserves eternal torment in hell), but we also learn what Christ has done for us on the cross.
The issue that is always before you in the midst of suffering is, where is your treasure? You can try to store up your treasures in your finances, you can try to store up your treasures in your family, you can try to store up your treasures in your 401k, but it is only when your greatest treasure in life is the precious Lord Jesus Christ that you can with Paul suffer the loss of all things and still cry out GAIN!!! All I have is Christ and all I need is Christ!
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May 24 2011 | Devotional | 2 Comments »
This post has been making it’s way around the internet lately, it gives a powerful testimony to God’s grace in the midst of tremendous suffering. Here’s an excerpt:
Haddon struggled through severe anemia and a virus, and his sweet daddy visited him nearly every hour, loving his little son who looked almost identical to him. For 40 hours we were with him, hearing a roller coaster of good news and bad news. On April 2, the Lord took our sweet boy to be with him. Just before he passed, we were able to sing to him. Ernie sang “It Is Well” and I hummed “A Mighty Fortress” the best I could. I held him for the first time, telling him we’d see him soon. I passed him to Ernie, and when the time came to take all the machines off, Ernie quoted Numbers 6:24-26 as the last words Haddon could hear:
The LORD bless you, and keep you;
The LORD make his face shine on you,
And be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up his countenance on you,
And give you peace.
You can read the rest here.
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May 18 2011 | Blog | No Comments »
Philippians 1:29 says, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” Now, you have to admit that even in English that’s a pretty hard verse to take. I mean how do you reconcile Paul’s words that “it has been granted to you to suffer” with the reality of the darkness and the despair of suffering in this fallen world? But when you dive into the Greek text underneath it, it becomes even more difficult.
Paul uses the word exaristhe, which means “gift of grace” to describe two significant realities, 1) That salvation is entirely a gift of grace, 2) that suffering is in the same way a gift of grace. It’s as if Paul is saying that the same grace which brought about salvation also brings about suffering. They are both equally gifts of grace and if we are to “walk in a manner worthy of the gospel” as he says in verse 27, then we must embrace them both as gifts from God.
So, the question is “How on earth do you get to a point where you can actually look upon suffering as a gift of grace?” I believe that there are two complimentary truths that help us to understand what Paul is driving at here. The first is that when we suffer for the sake of the gospel, we are actually suffering in the place of Christ.
Paul alludes to this on several occasions:
Romans 8:16-17 – 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
In Colossians 1:24 – 24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.
So, how can Paul say that he is filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? I mean, didn’t Jesus suffer enough on the cross? I think what Paul is getting at is that when we suffer for the sake of the gospel, we are doing so in the place of Christ because Christ has already ascended to the Father and yet He has left the church here as his body to continue suffering for him until he returns.
John Calvin said, “The highest honor that is conferred upon us by Divine grace is that we suffer for his name either reproach, or imprisonment, or miseries, or tortures, or even death, for in that case he adorns us with his marks of distinction.”
There are many different ways of suffering for the sake of the gospel in this life. It may be a situation at work where you won’t be able to advance any further because of your faith in Christ, or it may be a more public situation. Back when I lived in WA, there was a time when my name was dragged through the newspaper’s mud because of my stand for the gospel. It may even be from within your family. Maybe your husband is spiritually lazy, or maybe he’s just plain spiritually dead. Perhaps your wife is antagonistic to your faith and your attempts to lead her spiritually. My friends, can I remind you that as John Calvin said every tear that you cry is a mark of distinction for a man or a woman suffering in the place of Christ for the sake of the gospel.
The second complimentary truth that helps us to understand why suffering is a gift of grace is that Christ has gone before us in our suffering. Hebrews 2:10 says, “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” Suffering is one of God’s primary means of drawing his people into closer fellowship and intimacy with Christ, because in suffering we have no place else to turn than to Christ who has gone before us.
Paul talked about this in Philippians 3:10 he said his desire was “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” Paul actually desired to share in the sufferings of Christ, because in those suffering he believed that he would grow to know Christ better. You see, there is no valley so deep and there is no darkness to black that the precious Lord Jesus has not already gone before you and prepared the way for you.
I’ll wrap things up with one of my favorite quotes from Charles Spurgeon
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Christ was also chosen out of the people that he might know our wants and sympathize with us. “He was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin.” In all our sorrows we have his sympathy. Temptation, pain, disappointment, weakness, weariness, poverty—he knows them all, for he has felt all. Remember this, Christian, and let it comfort thee. However difficult and painful thy road, it is marked by the footsteps of thy Saviour; and even when thou reachest the dark valley of the shadow of death, and the deep waters of the swelling Jordan, thou wilt find his footprints there. In all places whithersoever we go, he has been our forerunner; each burden we have to carry, has once been laid on the shoulders of Immanuel.
May 16 2011 | Devotional | 2 Comments »
The other morning I woke up almost in a panic. You see for the last several months I’ve noticed a greater and greater number of individuals and families within our church who are undergoing significant suffering. The issues range from marital troubles, to lack of work, to financial troubles, to death and disease but the common denominator is the issue of suffering.
Now on the one hand, this is life as it is in a Genesis 3 world where everything is broken. On the other hand, I remember enough from my theology classes in seminary to realize that every church has an enemy (the enemy) who prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking to destroy us (1Peter 5:8). In the end, whether it’s the brokenness of this world or our adversary the devil, the result is the same: suffering.
As I made my way over to my early morning men’s group that day, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of despair over the heartache all around me. That is, until God broke through with some powerful reminders about Satanic Attacks and Suffering from the book of Philippians. Here are just a few of the things that warmed my heart that morning.
1) Satan may be able to cause suffering in the lives of believers, but Philippians 1:29 tells us that suffering is actually a gift of grace. So, when I suffer I am actually receiving grace from God, even if Satan is the dispenser of that grace.
2) Suffering is often times the harbinger of greater blessings. This isn’t as much from Philippians as from practical experience, but it seems that oftentimes when the clouds are the darkest God is actually preparing a very special blessing for His people. Spurgeon said that he actually learned to accept times of suffering as messengers of greater blessings to come, because the clouds are always darkest just before the rain.
3) I am not alone when I experience suffering, because Christ has already walked this path before me. The doctrine of the kenosis should be one of the most comforting doctrines in all of Scripture, because it reminds that Jesus has gone before us and has already experienced the full force of Satan’s fury and yet he arose victorious.
Philippians 2:8-10 – And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.
4) Suffering is a means of gaining Christ. As Paul reflected on his pursuit of gaining Christ he wrote, that his desire was “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. “
I don’t think any of these truths lesson the heartache that goes along with suffering, but each of them is a precious reminder to me that suffering is not without purpose and that is a source of hope even in the midst of tears.
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May 09 2011 | Devotional | 2 Comments »
Excellent thoughts here from DA Carson on how a God who is good can allow suffering.
How can God allow suffering and evil in the world? from A Passion for Life on Vimeo.
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November 26 2010 | Blog | No Comments »
Isaiah 61:3 has been an especially meaningful passage to me this last week, “[He will] give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness…” For the Christian there is always the promise of hope in the midst of grief, there is always the expectation that God will give beauty for ashes and will restore the years of famine.
The fact that Christians are able to grieve as those who have hope is one of the principle things that distinguishes us from the world. As Amy and I sat through our recent IEP, I couldn’t help but be struck by the sense of hopelessness in the room. There was no appeal to the greater plan of God, no thought given to the mercy of God in blessing us with a child who has some special needs, no mention of God whatsoever. I certainly don’t begrudge the school system for their approach to an IEP, but one can’t help but notice the fact that life under the sun is full of grief and full of tragedies and without a Christian world view, we ultimately have to chalk all of the suffering in life up to nothing more than chance. But life lived under the Son and His Father’s rule is full of hope, even in the midst of tears.
One final thing that I’ve learned through this process is the fact that grief is not a destination, it is a journey. In our case this journey will almost certainly come with recurring reminders of the path that we are on. Those reminders will come in the form of IEP evaluations, difficult questions about Micah’s future, his career, and a hundred other things we probably haven’t even thought about yet. There’s no doubt that this will be a difficult journey for us as a family, but I believe that this path is actually a gift of grace. This is a path that I have never been down before and because of my unfamiliarity with the terrain, I will need to stay especially close to my Guide who has already experienced the deepest form of grief and yet rose from the dead to offer hope to those who grieve.
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November 04 2010 | Devotional and Learning to Grieve | 4 Comments »