Journey Through The Storm

In August of 2008 a long and difficult church experience finally came to a close for us. Our children were growing into their young adult years, and I anticipated time to rest and recover from the stress we had endured.

Then in September of 2008 the economy crashed, and the bottom began to fall out of our lives.

These posts are a logbook of my route through the storm of the last few years.

I want you to know the posts I chose to include here were written in real-time suffering. They’re not coming from after the fact, but from the midst of my own valley of affliction. As I write below, the shock of the last few years was piled on top of events of prior years, and the combined impact brought upon me storms of doubt such as I have never before gone through as a Christian. I have included a few details of our circumstances—and some you will see mentioned several times—but the posts are not so much a rehearsal of events, as they are a record of my struggling.

These are for you, my fellow believers in Christ, who are shattered and smashed.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
2 Corinthians 1:3–4

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Gratitude is, without a doubt, the most difficult post I’ve written since I began this blog in May of 2010 because of the intensity of the pain within me as I wrote it.

November 28, 2010 ◊ Gratitude

Giving thanks frequently receives short shrift when we talk about it, because we tend to discuss it either superficially when we are at ease in our circumstances, or else in denial of the pain of difficulties. We give moralizing lectures about it or sometimes present the idea of giving thanks to God as a sort of magic charm (how many times have you been told about the “power of praise”?). In our shallow treatment, we skate over the reality of life in a fallen world and fail to acknowledge that sometimes in our giving of thanks to God, we hold on to God in faith in His character and care for us in the midst of our griefs. Gratitude gives us insight into our understanding of life, of other people, of ourselves and of God. Even Cicero of pagan Rome recognized its importance and stated, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”1

Giving thanks is the antithesis of Romans 1:21. It’s intriguing to me that the long litany of sins in that chapter finds its root in these words:

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
Romans 1:21

In True Spirituality Francis Schaeffer gives a penetrating discussion of giving thanks as he connects ingratitude with the downward spiral of sin.. In the first chapter he quotes Paul from Romans 7:7-9, as Paul states that the command not to covet was the command through which he knew he was a sinner. Schaeffer’s thoughts hinge on these verses as he explains:

Coveting is the negative side of positive commands, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind….[And] thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:37.39).

Love is internal, not external. There can be external manifestations, but love itself will always be an internal factor. Coveting is always internal; the external manifestation is a result. We must see that to love God with all the heart, mind, and soul is not to covet against God; and to love man, to love our neighbor as ourselves, is not to covet against man. When I do not love the Lord as I should, I am coveting against the Lord. And when I do not love my neighbor as I should, I am coveting against him.

“Thou shalt not covet” is the internal commandment that shows the man who thinks himself to be moral that he really needs a Savior….2

While the command not to covet mentions only other people and not God, in our coveting against one another we indicate that we are not in that moment honoring God as God or being thankful to Him for what He has given to us. Schaeffer goes on to say:

A quiet disposition and a heart giving thanks at any given moment is the real test of the extent to which we love God at that moment.3

He then pursues Paul’s words on giving thanks through several New Testament passages: Ephesians 5:3-4, 20; Romans 8:28; Philippians 4:6; Colossians 3:15, 17, 4:2; and 1 Thessalonians 5:18-19, and traces the theme of giving thanks in all things before he comes to the verse I mentioned first, Romans 1:21.

These words about thanksgiving are in one sense hard words. They are beautiful, but they do not give us any room to move—the all things includes all things.

…The beginning of man’s rebellion against God was, and is, the lack of a thankful heart. They did not have proper, thankful hearts—seeing themselves as creatures before the Creator and being bowed not only in their knees, but in their stubborn hearts. The rebellion is a deliberate refusal to be the creature before the Creator, to the extent of being thankful.4

Have you ever thought about the humility, dependency and trust in God necessary to truly be thankful in all things? These are hard words because giving thanks calls from us that which we do not have except by God’s mercy and grace.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:14-16

Giving thanks is the fruit of faith in the personal God Who Is There.5 He does not mock us in affliction by demanding our thanks for pain—although that is what Satan and our natural self will tell us. He calls us to trust Him when we are caught up in the inscrutability of suffering and live in gratitude for what He has given to us.

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
Romans 8:32

How have I seen God help me to give thanks—to believe and trust Him in gratitude when I struggle with fear and despair? Through His people, both present and past. My friend Lisa told me that she found solace in reading the Puritans and the Psalms. People who have been through the valley and stand on the other side reach out a hand of help and a heart of love to give us encouragement to believe. Also, through seeing life through God’s eyes—and here I turn again to Paul who has given me such help as he endured so much and counted all things as loss to know Christ.

Finally, through the Lord Jesus…through His example.

I realize this post comes after the American holiday of Thanksgiving. It took me a long time to put it together because it has probably been the hardest one for me to write. I try to always heed John Owen’s words as I write, and for this “diligent endeavor to have the power of truths professed and contended for abiding upon our hearts, that we may not contend for notions, but what we have a practical acquaintance with in our souls.” I struggle to give thanks to God in the midst of hardship; my family has been through difficulties to the extent that we could no longer maintain our own household, and we do not yet see things beginning to turn. We have endured other severe blows, and there have been great disappointments in the last few weeks, and at times I thought I would never be able to finish writing this—and I felt if I could not do so, then I would have to stop writing. It was only last night that the words and thoughts were finally together. I continue to walk with faltering steps. I tell you this so you will know I write out of reality.

All Christians who write or teach do so beyond themselves if God’s hand of blessing is on their work, but that does not mean things should be written or taught without compassion or heed for the struggle of sin. I have found when I have taught out of the crucible of suffering, that God has used my words the most. If we can only declare truth from the shelter of a hothouse environment, then it will only be good for those who are privileged to live in hothouses. But Christ came, not to a place of shelter, but to a shattered and sinful world, and we speak His gospel to that world. Paul wrote that, “We carry this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.” He closes that chapter by saying,

For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:15-18

Paul endured affliction so that the spreading of God’s grace to more people would cause…
the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.

May God bless you and keep you.

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Psalms 12–14: The Afflicted & The Psalms gave voice to my heartache. There is no pretense in David and the other psalmists, and that is such a relief. David writes exactly what it’s like to live in a sinful world and to struggle with your own sin, and he affirms who God is and worships Him in praise.

For some reason we seem to think that if we know God and worship Him, then we will no longer feel pain. We build up false pictures of life and not only impose them on ourselves, but impose them on others. When reality cracks those pictures, we don’t know what to do.  Sometimes we don’t offer the love others need because what we see going on in their lives threatens to crack our façade.

The psalmists give voice to our emotions in all of their widest ranges in words that express our deep-felt struggles, but instead of pulling us away from God, they draw us to Him. The Bible speaks to us of a real God who offers real hope for real life.

February 2, 2011 ◊ Psalms 12–14: The Afflicted & The Psalms

Read the Bible in 2011 ◊ Week 5: Wednesday

Because of the devastation of the afflicted,
because of the groaning of the needy,
Now I will arise,” says the LORD;
“I will set him in the safety for which he longs
.”
Psalm 12:5

Today’s Bible reading is Psalm 12–14. All three are psalms written by David from deep pain. He did not speak of the devastation of the afflicted merely for poetic drama nor did he cry out to God in Psalm 13 from only a slight hurt. When he asked God if He would forget him forever and when he asked God how long his enemy would triumph over him, it was because he suffered and he felt forgotten. When David spoke in Psalm 14 of the Lord being the refuge of the afflicted, it was because David was afflicted and he needed a refuge. I think some Psalms were written after lengthy times of grief and suffering. Psalm 6 was not written after one night of crying, but after many nights. These psalms for today’s Bible reading bear the mark of one who has suffered long and feels worn to the bone in a war of attrition.

How long, O LORD?” Tonight these psalms reflect how I feel. I am stunned sometimes at the psalms that God included in His Word. Psalm 13 is one of them. There are times when we feel as David felt and as we look around we find no one to comfort or we find only those who will judge or attack. Those are the times when we desperately need David’s words—to be able to open our Bible and see that the man who was called a man after God’s own heart knew the exhaustion and affliction and loneliness that we feel—to be able to open our Bible and find that God included words that express the horrors that our own heart knows. In the midst of bearing up under the inscrutability of suffering, God gives us words and in David we find a voice for our pain.

I can only cry out to God and let David’s words be my words. I can only ask God to help me to trust in His lovingkindness.

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As you would think, the book of Job gave me great comfort, not only for his laments of his pain, but because of what he endured from those three friends who alternately lectured and berated him. There are links to my other posts on Job at “My servant Job” in the heading.

Job 17–18: Torn Plans & Trite Words expresses my identification with him. I not only read Job, I lived through similar lectures and experienced similar reactions.

March 3, 2011 ◊ Job 17–18: Torn Plans & Trite Words

Read the Bible in 2011 ◊ Week 9: Thursday

My days are past, my plans are torn apart,
Even the wishes of my heart.”

Job 17:11

In today’s Bible reading of Job 17–18, Job’s very first words in chapter 17 reflect a man who is listless and numb in his despondency—he realizes there is no help to be had from his friends.

“My spirit is broken, my days are extinguished,
The grave is ready for me.
Surely mockers are with me,
And my eye gazes on their provocation.”
Job 17:1–2

The fascinating thing is that even as he speaks in hopeless resignation, he expresses confidence in how those who are righteous will react to his desolation, and his conviction that his circumstances will not deter them from perseverance in godliness, with their character becoming firmer and more secure.

“My eye has also grown dim because of grief,
And all my members are as a shadow.
The upright will be appalled at this,
And the innocent will stir up himself against the godless.
Nevertheless the righteous will hold to his way,
And he who has clean hands will grow stronger and stronger.”
Job 17:7–9

E. S. P. Heavenor writes:

Delitzsch speaks of the passage [vv. 8–9] as ‘a rocket which shoots above the tragic darkness of the book lighting it up suddenly although only for a short time’. In a similar strain A. B. Davidson describes it as ‘perhaps the most surprising and lofty in the book’.1

Then Job speaks the saddest of words, for he knows he’s not dealing with those who are wise, and that he will not hear a word of comfort from them.

“But come again all of you now,
For I do not find a wise man among you.
My days are past, my plans are torn apart,
Even the wishes of my heart.
They make night into day, saying,
‘The light is near,’ in the presence of darkness.”
Job 17:10–12

When I read of his plans and the wishes of his heart torn apart, I know Job has stood where I have stood. Only words of poetry could have expressed the requisite intensity of his circumstances, and by their poignancy I know that I am not alone in my experience. In Something Wicked This Way Comes, a former pastor, Mike Braun, writes:

Poetry, contrary to popular prejudice, is the art of saying the most with as few words as possible. Far from gilding lilies with unnecessary encumbering words, poetry, at least good poetry, encompasses truth with a sharp and swift observation….profound truth is best expressed in elegant brevity.2

Have you had comforters who have thought they made night into day by merely saying light is near when the reality is darkness? Sometimes when truths are said without understanding of their foundation and with bland superficiality, they become mere mockery of man and God. Upon asking for prayer in a crushing situation I was told that God would answer prayer, but it might not be what I wanted. Or what about hearing in the midst of anguish that the way to have peace and joy is to take your eyes off yourself and put them on God? Yes, those statements are true, but that is not all that needed to be said, nor are the bald words enough without love and kindness, humility and understanding in their expression. To borrow Calvin’s words I quoted yesterday, what a cold character this advice gives to God, utterly removing the notion of the compassion He has for us as He remembers our frame of dust (cf. Psalm 103).

And that brings us to Bildad.

In Job 18, Bildad speaks a second time to Job. He pontificates on a topic that has no application to who Job is or for his distress. It’s as if Bildad has in mind exactly what he wants to say and he’s going to say it whether or not his words have any relevance for Job. His words indicate contempt for Job as he firmly gives exactly the wisdom he believes is needed. Heavenor comments:

“Bildad has nothing new to say and certainly nothing that can have any significance for Job. A portrayal of the doom of the wicked can speak only to a man with a guilty conscience.”3

It’s shocking to see the way in which Bildad doesn’t even take the time before he speaks to think about who Job is and what he knows about Job from the past. He has no empathy for Job and doesn’t bother to understand Job and to consider whether or not his words are even appropriate. Job is the invisible man to Bildad. Sometimes people don’t listen to you or see you as who you are. Whether from thoughtlessness, conceit or discomfort in dealing with a situation beyond their ken, they tell you the answer they think they know and that they think you need to hear whether or not it fits who you are and your circumstances.

When Paul wrote this to the Corinthians,

For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:17–18

he wasn’t speaking glibly. These words are in the context of his love for them and for God. As he speaks from his own knowledge of suffering weighed against eternity, he’s not handing out platitudes, he’s giving encouragement from his knowledge of God.

Like apples of gold in settings of silver
Is a word spoken in right circumstances.
Proverbs 25:11

Follow Paul’s example. Speak from the context of your love for someone and your love for God. Use the Bible to encourage, but ask God for wisdom to use the right verses at the right time for the one you love.

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There’s a gap of months between the previous posts and the one below. I wrote many posts during that time including Shadow People, a post that was written not just out of my own experience, but from anger over what other Christians who suffer endure from the church when she responds in judgment or withdrawal. This is one of the heaviest burdens Christians bear as they suffer, and I wrote that post after hearing of a situation that absolutely appalled me.

In the summer of 2010 I had written “The Mark of a Christian,” and I continued to write many times on this theme. If Jesus said obeying His command to love one another is the mark of a Christian, then there are far too few Good Samaritans among us. Although I wrote Tests after the next two posts repeated below, I want to mention it because it was written about the need for Christians to seriously examine themselves to see if they pass the test of adversity when they see other believers suffer. Your reaction to their adversity is your test. Do you “…love one another deeply, from the heart”?*

There are several photographs or paintings  I used frequently because their pathos was a visual expression of my words. Some are repeated in the posts here. I love the statue of The Good Samaritan by Han Wezelaar that’s in the photograph above. I’ve used it and this heart rending painting by Walter Langley, “Never Morning Wore To Evening But Some Heart Did Break.

Psalms 87—89: I Have Cried Out By Day & In The Night was written after weeks of feeling increasingly worn down. I was at my lowest ebb when I came to these psalms. I had forgotten the content of Psalm 88 before I read it that day. It’s a unique psalm, there is not one other psalm like it, and to come to it at that time touched me. I so needed its words. Remember this is part of the Scripture breathed out by God. We are not alone in our experience, and God wants us to know we are not alone.

As in Job there are no glib answers here, and the fact that there are no glib answers means our pain is not trivialized by God. That in turn offsets the depersonalization that suffering afflicts on our heart because we see that what we are going through is taken seriously by God in His provision of Psalm 88 for us.

July 27, 2011 ◊ Psalms 87–89:
I Have Cried Out By Day & In The Night

Read the Bible in 2011 ◊ Week 30: Wednesday

“O LORD, the God of my salvation,
I have cried out by day and in the night before You.
Let my prayer come before You;
Incline Your ear to my cry!
For my soul has had enough troubles,
And my life has drawn near to Sheol.”

Psalm 88:1–3

Wednesday’s Bible reading is Psalms 87–89. In this trio of psalms, Psalm 88 is the type of psalm that is almost shocking to find in Scripture. There is no tight mask of super-spirituality here pretending godly people feel no pain—this is a raw lament of why. It is the psalm of someone who has been ground down by overwhelming, lengthy suffering. It is a psalm that gives a voice to your heart at your lowest ebb.

It’s a psalm that just ends—there’s no crescendo to a change of mood or even a conclusion—it just stops. That’s very fitting for this psalm, because if you have ever lived within the words of this psalm, you know the unrelenting hours of tears and crying out with no answer—only a continuing in endurance.

M’Caw and Motyer write:

This lament is unique in the Psalter because of its gloom and unrelieved misery, devoid even of hope. Contrast the conclusions of Pss. 22 and 31 with vv. 15–18. It seems to be a personal elegy by someone who, like Job, was strained between an undeviating trust in God as the sole source of his salvation, and an intensely bewildering experience which appeared to negate the foundation of all such trust. The divisions of the psalm are marked by those verses in which the psalmist recalls how patiently he has prayed to God: vv. 1, 9b, 13….he complains of the wrath of God, the alienation of friends and his bitter personal distress.1

Now read the rest of the psalm:

“I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit;
I have become like a man without strength,
Forsaken among the dead,
Like the slain who lie in the grave,
Whom You remember no more,
And they are cut off from Your hand.
You have put me in the lowest pit,
In dark places, in the depths.
Your wrath has rested upon me,
And You have afflicted me with all Your waves.
Selah.
You have removed my acquaintances far from me;
You have made me an object of loathing to them;
I am shut up and cannot go out.
My eye has wasted away because of affliction;
I have called upon You every day, O LORD;
I have spread out my hands to You.
Will You perform wonders for the dead?
Will the departed spirits rise and praise You?
Selah.
Will Your lovingkindness be declared in the grave,
Your faithfulness in Abaddon?
Will Your wonders be made known in the darkness?
And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
But I, O LORD, have cried out to You for help,
And in the morning my prayer comes before You.
O LORD, why do You reject my soul?
Why do You hide Your face from me?
I was afflicted and about to die from my youth on;
I suffer Your terrors; I am overcome.
Your burning anger has passed over me;
Your terrors have destroyed me.
They have surrounded me like water all day long;
They have encompassed me altogether.
You have removed lover and friend far from me;
My acquaintances are in darkness.”
Psalm 88:4–19

There can be times in our life when we think and feel exactly as Heman the Ezrahite did when he wrote this psalm. The inclusion of this psalm in God’s Word tells us God wants us to know we are not alone in experiencing the war of attrition that affliction wages against us. We are not alone in experiencing abandonment and alienation from those we thought loved us.

Over the past few years my family has been hit so hard by the economy we’ve experienced shock, disorientation and grief. We’ve experienced abandonment as we’ve had very few Christians who have stayed with us through the long haul, loved us and been willing to walk beside us through this valley. When the psalmist tells God that He’s removed his friends from him, and my acquaintances are darkness, I know exactly what he feels—it is one of the hardest things to bear. I think even more so because I have known the difference the love of Christians makes in enabling you to live in hope and trust in God when you are suffering. Charles Spurgeon wrote:

Lost friends require but small excuse for turning their backs on the afflicted. The swallows offer no apology for leaving us to winter by ourselves. Yet it is a piercing pain which arises from the desertion of dear associates; it is a wound which festers and refuses to be healed.2

Many of my posts are a struggle to write because of the tension I feel between wanting to be authentic and offer something helpful while at the same time being at the lowest ebb I can ever remember; however, the discipline of trying to write on God’s Word has kept me tied to His Word. There are days when I have felt I am slogging through mud—then there are times like today when a portion of His Word expresses who I am. God keeps me tied to Himself through His Word. It meant something to me to encounter this psalm today.

How can this psalm help us? There are times when commentaries are as dry as dust, and the authors seem far removed from the Bible in their erudite research. Then there are those scholars who have walked through the text in their lives. I have some commentaries on Job written by men who have lived there—I don’t see how you could even begin to write one on that book if you had not. In writing on this psalm, M’Caw and Motyer have some helpful words:

13 But again, though distress has reached critical proportions, faith greets each new day with prayer, in spite of the fact that he is utterly perplexed by God’s purposes as seen in his life. 14, 15 Divine wrath, which he cannot explain, has been his long-standing lot, and 16, 17 now the wrath which he has long experienced rises like a flood to swamp and destroy. 18 Not only so, but it is God who has alienated human sympathy from the sufferer so that, literally, ‘my friends are darkness’, i.e., there is nothing to be seen but darkness and hopelessness where he might reasonably and rightly expect light and relief (cf. Jb. 6:14–20), Aptly, but dreadfully, the last word of the psalm is darkness, and yet therein lies its wonder—the wonder of triumphant faith, that a man should see no light at all but yet go on supplicating in fervent, trustful, ceaseless prayer (cf. Is. 50:10). Truly the OT saint can be our master and teacher!3

I don’t think the psalmist’s faith is triumphant as we think of the word—he certainly is not feeling victorious—but his faith is persistent. He endures; he continues to pray; he constantly brings his case before God.

“LORD, the God of my salvation,
I have cried out by day and in the night before You.
Let my prayer come before You;
Incline Your ear to my cry!
For my soul has had enough troubles,
And my life has drawn near to Sheol.”
Psalm 88:1–3

In Suffering & Lovingkindness I’ve written about showing kindness to someone who is suffering.
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Only three days later, I came to the final chapters in Luke, and I was able to write Luke 23–24: Eyewitnesses & Faith.

July 30, 2011 ◊ Luke 23–24: Eyewitnesses & Faith

Read the Bible in 2011 ◊ Week 30: Saturday

Then He opened their minds to understand the
Scriptures, and he said to them,

“Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Luke 24:45–49

Saturday’s Bible reading is Luke 23–24. In these last two chapters, Luke writes of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He also tells of Jesus’ journey on the road to Emmaus with two of His followers, and Jesus’ charge to those gathered with the eleven remaining apostles.

As I was thinking over the mission of the apostles as eyewitnesses to Jesus, I thought of these words Peter wrote as an eyewitness some thirty years later,1 to those who had never seen the Lord Jesus:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 1:3–9

In their distress over their various trials, those who had never seen the Lord Jesus needed the comfort and assurance that Peter, an eyewitness, could provide. In his commentary on 1 Peter, Edmund Clowney writes:

…Peter knows that his witness is true, that Jesus Christ is real. He has tasted that the Lord is good, and that his goodness will not fail. ‘This is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it’ (5:12).2

Clowney translates, “have been distressed” as “have had to suffer grief.” I think that’s a much more graphic description. Our trials leave us grieving and suffering pain. We need the words of an eyewitness to tell us, yes, Jesus is real; yes, this is the true grace of God; yes, stand fast in it.

A Huguenot Cross

Clowney tells a very moving story about the suffering of some who had never seen Jesus, but believed in Him:

The Museum of the Desert in the Cevennes mountains of southern France commemorates the sufferings of the Huguenot martyrs. When Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes is 1685, Protestant public worship became a crime. Men caught at secret worship services in the fields were sent to the galleys. Chained to a rowing bench, they slaved at the oars until they died. A replica of one of the great galley oars hangs in the museum today. Underneath is a model of a galley. Beside it are inscribed the words of a Reformed Christian galley slave: ‘My chains are the chains of Christ’s love.’

Peter reflects on the love that his readers have for Christ, love that makes them ready to suffer so that their proven love can be his tribute. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Peter, of course, has seen the Lord. His love for Jesus could bring pictures to mind…Through the witness of Peter and the other apostles we learn about what Jesus said and did. They bear witness through the Holy Spirit, and by the witness of the Spirit we are brought to know and love the living Lord.

We did not see Jesus; we do not now see Jesus; but we shall see Jesus. Peter contrasts the past and the present with the future (1:8). The day is coming when Jesus will be revealed. In that day the goal of our faith will be realized. Our eyes will behold the One we have trusted and loved.3

I want to tell you another story. During my life I have suffered the loss of my hearing, lengthy illnesses, the death of my brother to AIDS as well as afflictions of varying intensity because of my Christian beliefs (nothing like the Huguenots!). The shock of the last few years was piled on top of those events of prior years, and that impact combined with the severity of recent loss and abandonment has made my grieving like a hemorrhaging wound. I have never gone through such storms of doubt as a Christian, and I have never gone through any affliction with so little comfort. When something like that happens, you keep going, you persevere—but the grieving is real because the loss is real.

This morning as I was praying, I told God my grief was a wound that kept hemorrhaging and would not stop; I could not end it, and I asked Him to stop the bleeding. I knew I was to read these last two chapters in Luke, and because I’ve read them before I generally knew what they contained, but I didn’t know how they could help me. As I read, however, I thought of 1 Peter, and then because I’ve been helped by Clowney in the past, I turned back to his commentary. I reread the story of the Huguenots and I reread his translation: “have had to suffer grief.” Grief, the same word I had used. It is so descriptive of how I have felt.

You see, suffering hurts. There is grieving over what has happened. When we suffer we need those who will weep with us when we weep. Their identification with our pain eases ours; their love witnesses to us that God loves us when our life has fallen apart, and their love calms the storms of doubt. Those storms accelerate into hurricanes when the love of other Christians is not present. Os Guinness describes the struggle to trust God so well:

…the hard question is whether we can say, ‘Father I do not understand you, but I trust you’ while we are still in the darkness….

Can faith bear the pain and trust God, suspending judgement and resting in the knowledge that God is there, God is good, and God knows best? Or will the pain be so great that only meaning will make it endurable so that reason must be pressed further and further and judgements must be made?…To suffer is one thing, to suffer without meaning is another, but to suffer and choose not to press for any meaning is different again.

…To suspend judgement and simply trust is the hardest thing. Faith must reach deep into its reserves of courage and endurance if the rising panic of incomprehensible pain is not to be overwhelming.5

Incomprehensible pain can almost overwhelm us. We need to read and know the words of the eyewitnesses to Jesus Christ to give us courage and endurance. God gave us His Word because He loves us, and He knew we would need to read what those eyewitnesses could tell us about the reality of His Son, Jesus Christ, as we suffer and struggle to trust Him. God knew the circumstances of my life, and that today I would read Luke 23–24 and remember Peter’s letter. God knew that Dr. Clowney had translated Peter’s words with the same word I had used in my prayer this morning: grief. So the Holy Spirit comforts my heart and strengthens me in the midst of my darkness to trust God.

The faith of those of us who have never seen Christ, but who love Him reaches back to those first eyewitnesses who saw Him, loved Him, and who yet witness to us about Him.

I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.4
1 Peter 5:12

‘My chains are the chains of Christ’s love.’

__________

After I wrote that post on the last two chapters in Luke, I had the idea to put posts together for this page, but I wasn’t sure how to end it. In the meantime, on August 10, 2011, I published the post Anchor of Hope as a page in the header.

When I wrote Read the Bible in 2011 ◊ Week 35: House On The Rock, on August 28, I knew I had the final post to tell my journey through the storm. Not that I’m at the end of this storm, oh, no; not that I won’t know other storms; not that I haven’t shed tears and had some blows since I wrote the post on Luke; however, on that last Saturday in July the Holy Spirit comforted my heart and strengthened me in the midst of my darkness to trust God, and it marked a day of setting up my own “Stone of Help.”

I absolutely needed the words of an eyewitness of Jesus Christ to tell me, “…this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it,” to stop the hemorrhaging caused by doubt. There’s a reason why God had Peter, the disciple who denied Christ rather than endure mockery, be the eyewitness who wrote a letter on enduring suffering! Who else would better understand how hard it is? Who else would know we would need to hear again his witness that this is the true grace of God? Who else would know we would need to be encouraged to stand fast?  God’s ministry to me that day was an Ebenezer which I could set up and know, Thus far the LORD has helped me.

August 28, 2011 ◊ Read the Bible in 2011
◊ Week 35: House On The Rock

Week 35 of Read the Bible in 2011 begins today. You can read the complete explanation of what I’m doing here.

Why is it so important for us to read God’s Word?

When I started the blog I never expected to have so many posts with nautical themes, but in the Bible storms are a vivid analogy of adversity and our hope is depicted as the anchor of our soul, and so ships and sea have made it into my writing. Last August in Steerage, I wrote that when a ship is crippled in naval warfare, it becomes hors de combat or “out of the fight.”1 Its masts broken, with sails shredded and hull or rudder damaged, the ship is at risk of being boarded and taken by the enemy. John Owen wrote:

Without absolutes revealed from without by God Himself, we are left rudderless in a sea of conflicting ideas about manners, justice, and right and wrong, issuing from a multitude of self-opinionated thinkers. We could never know who God is, how He is to be worshiped, or wherein true happiness lies…2

God safeguards Christians from becoming hors de combat by His Word, the Bible.

In the passage we call the “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus finished his teaching by telling a story of two houses.


“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.

“Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”

When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

Matthew 7:24-29

I have been like a crippled ship with broken masts and shredded sails—or a house assaulted by wind and wave. Go back and read some of my posts and you can tell. The shock of the last few years was piled on top of events of prior years, and the combined impact brought upon me storms of doubt such as I have never before gone through as a Christian. I think Gratitude was the hardest post I have written because I wrote it out of a devastated heart. It was also one of the most important posts for me personally because I knew if I couldn’t write it, then I would have to stop writing altogether.

In January I started posting on reading through the Bible. It was a discipline for me that I knew would keep me writing and keep me in God’s Word. Some of those posts have been difficult to write and there have been times I thought I would drown, but through reading the Bible and writing about it, God kept me lashed and held tight to the mast of His Word so I wouldn’t be swept overboard into the sea.

Over halfway through the Bible, after going through book after book after book— sometimes there were psalms I could hardly bear to read—I came to the final chapters of Luke, and God enabled me to write Luke 23–24: Eyewitnesses & Faith. (That post was slightly edited and published as a post on August 13th and in the heading as ‘…the chains of Christ’s love’ under Anchor of Hope).

Through His Word, the Holy Spirit comforted my heart and in the midst of my storm strengthened me to trust God. That post was, I think, the accumulation of days, weeks and months of reading His Word, and it was as important a milestone for me as Gratitude.

Christ came, not to a place of shelter, but to a shattered and sinful world, and we live in that world and we tell His gospel to that world. That means sometimes our lives are shattered. Paul wrote, “We carry this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.” He closes the chapter by saying,

For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:15-18

The night before He was crucified, Jesus said:

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

Reality has ripped and roared, but the solid ground of the Rock has held.

That’s why it’s important to read His Word.

__________

Journey Through The Storm

We serve as lights, you and I, for our perseverance in the midst of anguish bears witness to the Lord Jesus Christ and the truth of our faith to those lost in their sin—some of whom are crushed and broken by evil. As they are, we, too, are caught up in living in a world that groans in its rebellion against God, and ofttimes reasons for suffering are beyond ourselves and our understanding. We demonstrate an authenticity to others when we don’t hand out platitudes, but instead, with love, identify with them and in our patience and endurance point them to God who is full of compassion and mercy. To our fellow believers we are also an example and pattern of walking with God.

…and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard him), I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it!
1 Peter 5:5b–12

We will continue to journey through the storm, but Jesus said to take courage; He has overcome the world. As we persevere in our suffering—even though we wrestle with our doubts and despair—we prove ourselves servants of God. Do you know what God calls Job over and over again? “My servant Job.” At the beginning of the book and at the end of the book, God gives Job that accolade.

Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.

As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.
James 5:7–11

You and I, my dear friend, as our eye weeps to God in our suffering, and as we bear the scoffing of friends, can also be servants of God; there is no greater purpose; there is no greater praise.

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.

But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I BELIEVED, THEREFORE I SPOKE,” we also believe, therefore we also speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:6–18

And when we enter that eternal glory, we will hear the Lord Jesus say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.

…this is the true grace of God.
Stand firm in it!

With love in our Lord Jesus Christ,

__________

Grand Turk Logbook, photo taken by Georges Jansoone: GNU Free Documentation License, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.
*This translation of 1 Peter 1:22b is by Edmund Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1988) 74.

Gratitude
Waiting: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
1Robert A. Emmons, Thanks! (2007) 15. This quote can be found in numerous sources.
Dr. Emmons is not a Christian and I have my points of disagreement, however, his book contains careful research and profound thinking on gratitude.
2Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1971) 8.
3Schaeffer, True Spirituality, 9.
4Schaeffer, True Spirituality, 11-12.
5These are Schaeffer’s descriptive phrases that he frequently uses. I have previously quoted from his book, The God Who Is There.

Psalm 12–14: The Afflicted & The Psalms
Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
Miedo ajeno, RayNata: Public Domain.

Job 17–18: Torn Plans & Trite Words
Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
Job and his friends, Ilya Yefimovich Repin: Public Domain.
1, 3E. S. P. Heavenor, “Job,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 431.
2Mike Braun, “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”

Psalms 87–89: I Have Cried Out By Day & In The Night
Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
Miedo-ajeno, RayNata: Public Domain
1, 3Leslie S. M’Caw, J. A. Motyer, “Psalms,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 505–506.
2Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Psalm 88.
The Ninth Wave, Ivan Aivazovsky: Public Domain.

Luke 23–24: Eyewitnesses & Faith
Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
Croix huguenote au Musée protestant de la grange de Wassy (Haute-Marne), Ji-Elle: Cropped.
GNU Free Documentation License, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.
1, 2, 3, 4Edmund Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1988) 25, 51, 53–54, 22. Clowney dates 1 Peter as having been written in AD 62. The last verse in the post is his translation of 1 Peter 5:12.
5Os Guiness, Doubt (Lion Publishing plc, England: 1976, Third ed.,1987) 206–207.

The National Huguenot Society has this explanation of the symbolism of the Huguenot Cross:

The insignia consists of an open four-petal Lily of France — reminiscent of the Mother Country of France — in which each petal radiates outward in the shape of a “V” to form a Maltese Cross. The four petals signify the Four Gospels. Each petal, or arm, has at its outside periphery two rounded points at the corners. These rounded points are regarded as signifying the Eight Beatitudes.

The four petals are joined together by four fleur-de-lis, also reminiscent of the Mother Country of France. Each fleur-de-lis has has three petals. The twelve petals of the four fleur-de-lis signify the Twelve Apostles.

An open space in the shape of heart is formed between each fleur-de-lis and the arms of the two petals with which it is joined. This shape—a symbol of loyalty—suggests the seal of the great French Reformer, John Calvin.

A descending dove pendant representing the Saint Esprit or “Sainted Spirit” — the guide and counselor of the Church — is suspended from a ring of gold attached to the lower central petal.

The above small thumbnail picture of a Huguenot cross was created by Syryatsu: GNU Free Documentation License, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.


John Calvin’s personal seal depicts a hand holding out a heart to heaven. This photograph is from Dan Phillips’ post, The Extraordinary Life of John Calvin, Steven Lawson (PCRT 2009 Sacramento), at Pyromaniacs.

Read the Bible in 2011 ◊ Week 35: House On The Rock
Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
The Ninth Wave by Ivan Aivazovsky, Public Domain via Wikipedia.
Waves crashing over The North Pier, Tynemouth: FreeFoto.com
1Admiral William Henry Smyth, The Sailor’s Word-Book (1867).
2John Owen, Biblical Theology: The History of Theology from Adam to Christ, xl. Via: Kubecki.com

Journey Through The Storm
Barmhartige Samaritaan (The Good Samaritan), Han Wezelaar: Gouwenaar: Public Domain.
Never Morning Wore To Evening But Some Heart Did Break,” Walter Langley: Public Domain.
A Mariner’s Compass: Public Domain.
Ships Riding Quietly at Anchor, Willem van de Velde, the younger: Public Domain.

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Original content: Copyright ©2010–2012 Iwana Carpenter

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