Sunday, August 29, 2010

Chosen Afflicted

'I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction' (Isaiah 48:10)

"We are chosen as an afflicted people, and not as a prosperous people, chosen not in the palace, but in the furnace. In the furnace, beauty is marred, fashion is destroyed, strength is melted, glory is consumed, and yet here eternal love reveals its secrets, and declares its choice... In times of severest trial God has made to us our calling and election plain, and we have made it sure: then have we chosen the Lord to be our God, and He has shown that we are assuredly His chosen."  (Spurgeon's Cheque Book of Faith, August 27th) 

"Many of us need no other argument than our own experiences to prove that suffering is indeed God's testing room of faith." 

"It is very easy for us to speak and theorize about faith, but God often casts us into crucibles to try our gold, and to separate it from the dross and alloy. Oh, happy are we if the hurricanes that ripple life's unquiet sea have the effect of making Jesus more precious. Better the storm with Christ than smooth waters without Him."

"What if God could not manage to ripen your life without suffering?" (Streams in the Desert, August 28th)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Space For Quiet

When I finished eighth grade, my parents pulled me out of school to homeschool me. I think it was one of the best things they ever did for me. The most valuable thing about it was the space for quiet it gave me. The schedule I kept when I was in public school did not leave me time to think. I got up very early to get ready, went to school all day long, and was sequestered all evening with homework. I did not spend time with my family, and I did not spend time truly alone, either. Every minute was filled with predigested thought or busy activity. The quiet space that my parents gave to me when they removed me from that bustle allowed me to hear the Lord speak to me. I think we all need quiet space in which to think and hear what the Lord would say to us.

"...Aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business,
and to work with your own hands,
as we commanded you, that you may walk properly
toward those who are outside..."
(1 Thessalonians 4:11)

"Better a handful with quietness than both hands full,
together with toil and grasping for the wind."
(Ecclesiastes 4:6)

"For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:
'In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and confidence shall be your strength.'"
(Isaiah 30:15)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

That We Are

"The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs -- heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,  
if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time
are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."
(Romans 8:16-18)

The Spirit bears witness with us that we are God's children and His heirs. Joint heirs with Christ when we suffer. When we suffer, the Spirit bears witness we are joined to Him in the past, the present, and the future. Suffering in a way marks us as fellowshippers with Him, and joint heirs of His glory, too. And the two aren't worthy to be compared, because the glory far outweighs the suffering.

We think we're left behind when we're suffering. We think we're forsaken in affliction. But the Holy Spirit is present with us, claiming our suffering as His own, even as He claims His glory for our future. Children of God. Marked as His heirs. It isn't, as we so often ask, "If I am a child of God, why am I suffering?" Our suffering marks us as joint heirs with Christ. Our Savior suffered what only men can suffer. And when we suffer, we ought to remember that just as He joined us in human suffering, we will join Him in glory.  Because He has united Himself to us in suffering, and we are united to Him in glory.

Like in any good marriage, our lot is joined for better and for worse, in sickness and in health, in poverty and in riches. But all the worst is now, and the best is yet to come. He came to us in our sickness, our poverty, our worst estate, and He united us to Himself. And we go with Him to His health, His riches, and His glory because He has united us to Himself.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Not Hiding God

 In Psalm 78, Asaph contemplates passing on faith. He says: the things which our fathers have told us, we will not hide from our children; telling to the next generation what we praise God for; the amazing works He did for our parents and for us. We will make them known to our children that the generation to come might know them, that the ones yet to be born might tell their children, that they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God.

Something Asaph thought necessary to pass on:

They spoke against God; they said, "Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? Can He give bread also?  Can He provide meat for His people?"

This is an essential lesson that we must pass down to our children. God can prepare a table in the wilderness. He can give bread. And He can provide meat for His people.

How will they learn to set their hope in God if they are not brought to see that God is not limited by wilderness resources? I can't prepare a table in the wilderness, but He can. I cannot give the multitude bread, but HE can. I can't get enough meat to feed the family in places the animals run from, but He can. We must not only set our hope on Him, we must tell our children about His works so that they will, too.

"They did not believe in God, and did not trust His salvation." Let this not be our epitaph.

It says he rained food down on them -- bread and meat. "In spite of this they still sinned, and did not believe in His wondrous works. Therefore their days He consumed in futility, and their years in fear."

Do you realize this is what comes of not believing God? Of refusing to hope in Him? All our days become futility and fear. Everything we do is useless -- like wandering for forty years in the desert, killing time until it kills us, because what He said we would not believe.

Fear. Through the fear of death, all their lifetimes they were subject to bondage. Subject. Their necks were under the foot of fear. Their lives were being ruled by death because they would not hope in God. Christ came to deliver us from that. God is our refuge and hope. Therefore will not we fear though the mountains be removed and thrown into the sea.

The Psalm describes how often He forgave them, being full of compassion. He turned His anger away. But how often they provoked Him in the wilderness, and grieved Him in the desert. "Yes, again, and again they tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel. They did not remember His power; the day when He redeemed them from the enemy." Does the word 'limited' jump off the page at you like it does me? They limited God. This is why we tell our children what He can do, what He does do, and what He will do. Because unbelief limits God.

He would not take them into the land because they would not believe His promises. That entire generation died in the wilderness. And the wilderness will claim us, too, if He is not our hope.

Our goal as parents is that our children would set their hope in the Lord. That they will believe in Him, and trust in His salvation. That training sometimes requires a trip through the wilderness. So that they can see that He can prepare a table in the wilderness. He can give bread. He can provide meat for His people.

When I was a young teenager, my family was in a financial wilderness. There was not enough money to cover the bills, and my parents were scared. But my mom was in the habit of reading the Word to us in the mornings, and praying with us. After reading, we seven children would sit and she would distribute to us the needs we had to pray for. Because she let us see the wilderness, hear the Word, and participate in the requests to the Lord for provision, our faith was built up as we saw God answer. One morning my little brother, who was six or seven at the time, insisted that he wanted to pray for $1000. Mom kept trying to get him to just pray for the needs that we had, and the tug of war between them brought him to tears. Mom said, "Fine. It's okay if you want to pray for $1000." He bowed his head and asked the Lord to send us $1000. We all indulgently waited through his prayer. That day in the mailbox there was a check for $1000.

It was humbling. The Lord prepared table after table after table for us, and it wasn't because of our great faith. He cares for us. And our children need to see that. They need to see me trusting Him with nothing. They need to understand that HE IS OUR HOPE AND OUR REFUGE. So they can teach their children, too.

I was talking with a lady last night who is 87 years old. A man asked her how long she had been walking with the Lord. She told us that she had believed in Jesus when she was 11 years old. Her mother had been very sick, and they thought she would die, so she had to go live with her grandmother. Her grandmother had to tell her about her mother's condition, and when she sat down with her, she told her about Jesus. She told her about who He is, and about His love and His power. Her grandmother taught her to pray. And the Lord spared her mother's life. When we sit down to break the news of death and destruction and loss and wilderness to our children, let it be accompanied with hope in the Lord. With the truth about who He is, and what He's done before. So that when our children are 87 years old, they can tell someone new what God has done.

"I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also." (2 Timothy 1:5)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Choosing Rather

The mystery of suffering confounds us. Conflicts our minds. As much as we say we do not believe prosperity doctrines, I think in each of our hearts we really do. Good Life = Good Stuff. Trusting the Lord = Overflowing Bank Accounts. We think God's love means sex and affection and happiness. God's love meant death for His Son for our sakes. And we act like He hasn't done enough to prove it to us.

I read Psalm 73 recently. That’s the one where Asaph starts out by telling you he had almost stumbled; his steps had nearly slipped because he saw the prosperity of the wicked. “They aren’t suffering pain when they die. They aren’t in trouble like us. We’re plagued, but it isn’t touching them. They have more than they need; they’re always at ease; their money grows.’ He concluded that serving the Lord had no reward, because he was suffering all day long, and being punished every morning. He said he tried to understand it, and it was too painful. “Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end: they’re on slippery ground; they are brought to desolation.”

He says he was grieved and vexed, because he was so foolish and ignorant. “I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand. You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me into glory. My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

“Those who are far from You perish…
but it is good for me to draw near to God;
I have put my trust in the Lord God.”

His suffering did not stop. That’s why he said, ‘my heart and my flesh fail.’ But he came to recognize that an entire lifetime of severe trials and suffering while being continually with the Lord, and being guided by His counsel and being afterward received into glory is preferable to the lives of the wicked who do not suffer, are not in trouble, and prosper.

“Moses by faith refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter,
choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God
than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a time,
esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt,
for he was looking to the reward
for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.
(Hebrews 11:24-26)

Him who is invisible. Jacob, at the time of his exile from his family said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.” Why didn’t he know it? Because he was lonely. Because he was outcast. Because he couldn’t see Him. But He was there. We see riches and equate them with God's presence. In a sense, under affliction, we see Him less. The affliction is the very thing to endure as seeing the Invisible God. There is a fellowship with the very heart of God which is only available to us in our sufferings. We learn who He is. We learn to value what He values. We learn to long for His kingdom, to hope in His coming. We learn in a very small measure what it was for Him to choose to suffer affliction for our sakes. And we learn how to cry with others.

But whatever things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.
But no, rather, I also count all things to be loss
for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord,
for whose sake I have suffered the loss of all things,
and count them to be dung,
so that I may win Christ and be found in Him;
not having my own righteousness, which is of the Law,
but through the faith of Christ, the righteousness of God by faith,
that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection
and the fellowship of His sufferings,
being made conformable to His death;
if by any means I might attain to the resurrection of the dead.
(Philippians 3:7-11)

I don't think feelings of happiness are the automatic result of walking with the Lord. Those who hope in the Lord have often lived in unhappy situations, suffering poverty and misery. It comes down to whether we will sell our inheritance for a bowl full of porridge. We are offered our Father's whole estate. If we believe that, a few hunger pangs for a few hours are worth the pain. Esau was a man who valued a full belly now as more valuable than the blessing of God and the inheritance of his father. "Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated," said the Lord. A lot of people fault Jacob for his actions in life, but one thing about Jacob was that he valued God's gifts. He thought they were worth being exiled for -- without the inheritance he'd won from his brother.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Promise From God

'I beseech you do not treat God's promises as if they were curiosities for a museum; but use them as everyday sources of comfort. Trust the Lord whenever your time of need comes on.' (C.H. Spurgeon)

I read that in Streams in the Desert this morning, and pondered God's promises for my time of need. I thought about how often He has helped us in the past, and how able He is for today and tomorrow. My Grandma's voice filled my mind.

More times than I can count, my Grandma has reminded me that Philippians 4:19 says, "And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." She has written it to me in letters and in emails, and she's reminded me of it on the telephone. And sure enough, when I turned to Philippians 4:19, there it was written in black and white. God's Word says He'll supply all my need according to His riches by Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Wrongs Done to Us

We used to sing a song that had the line:

"Where the wrongs we have done
and the wrongs done to us
are nailed there with Him,
there on the cross."

The provision of the cross is enough for our sins, and also for the sins committed against us. It's ministered to me so many times to count the wrongs done against me as done to Christ. Exchanging my lot for His. He is a Man acquainted with grief, afflicted, and a Man of Sorrows. But He offers us joy. I need to let Him take my sorrows and let them die with Him there.

"If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge it to My account."

Sunday, August 8, 2010

In All These Things

‎"None of us can know which shock or illness (headache or operation, disappointment or disillusionment with a friend, criticism or other human attack, loss of job or loss of house and land, news of a loved one's death) will turn out to be the most important opportunity we are ever going to have to honestly love God and truly trust Him in a way which will bring Him joy and defeat Satan.We cannot know which is the most important moment in our lives."

(Edith Schaeffer, Affliction: A Compassionate Look at the Reality of Pain and Suffering)

There was something so comforting in the thought (which never occurred to me before) that suffering pain and affliction in itself, seeing no end to the trial and yet hoping in the Lord -- not in the end of the trial, but in the Lord -- is in itself a victory.

In all these things we are more than conquerors. In what things? Miracles and deliverances? Not in that passage. The things we are more than conquerors in are not victorious sounding things. Tribulation. Distress. Persecution. Famine. Nakedness. Peril. Sword. Being killed all day long. None of them shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Spurgeon For Moms

"O dear mothers, please understand that you have a very sacred trust reposed in you by God! He has in effect said to you, 'Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages' (Exodus 2:9). You are called to equip the future man of God, that he may be 'thoroughly furnished unto all good works' (2 Timothy 3:17). If God spares you, you may live to hear that pretty boy speak to thousands, and you will have the sweet reflection in your heart that the quiet teachings of the nursery led the adult man to love his God and serve Him.

"Those who think that a woman detained at home by her little family is doing nothing, think the reverse of what is true. Scarcely can the godly mother quit her home for a place of worship. However, dream not that she is lost to the work of the church. Far from it, she is doing the best possible service for her Lord.

"Mothers, the godly training of your offspring is your first and most pressing duty. Christian women, by teaching children the Holy Scriptures, are as much fulfilling their part for the Lord as Moses did in judging Israel, or Solomon in building the temple."

(Charles Spurgeon, Spiritual Parenting)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Thought

The average American's life revolves around production.
Mine revolves around reproduction.
God said, "Be fruitful and multiply." He didn't say, "Build a portfolio and accumulate."