Tag Archives: trust

Mother Church

If you are in a mighty trial, if it is one that fills your heart with grief or worry, anger or hopelessness, you must turn to your best resource. Turn to God’s people. They are the ones who brought you into God’s church. They are that fellowship through which God carries you in the midst of suffering.

They will pray with you. They will pray for you. They will open the Word of God for you and preach to your soul. They represent that God who so often seems so distant, so hard to reach. This is why we’ve been told to gather. It’s not just a party. You are part of a holy people, the one people God himself has made for himself.

Many will say the Scriptures are all we need. Read and pray, self-discipline and exercise faith. Bull. The Scriptures don’t show us people who could pull it off on their own. Everywhere in the story God has given to us, his people have declared and demonstrated how we are to turn to each other and be with each other for all our lives.

“He can no longer have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother; . . . he who gathers elsewhere than in the Church scatters the Church of Christ” (vi.); “nor is there any other home to believers but the one Church” (ix.) Cyprian – De unitate ecclesiae

Brothers, if you cannot find this refuge in your dark hours, something is entirely wrong. You must look hard at your people. Are they a living church? Are you a living lamp among them? Maybe it is time to start asking hard questions and maybe changes are worth considering.

We are none of us perfected, sinless. We have not arrived, nor do we need help no longer. Christ has not redeemed us in this life into a security that makes us complete and safe from all trials. Instead, Christ has made his church, her people to be our sanctuary. If we cannot turn to the people of God in our hours of shadow and weakness, how can we come forward to celebrate with them? One condition cannot abide without the other.


Jesus Christ Is Lord

Believe this and you’ll make it. You’ll make it to the end. You’ll make it better than any returning warrior in a ticker-tape parade. You’ll have a precious savior, a magnificent Lord, a brother and father and you’ll be standing on the only Rock that remains through all the ages.

Sure, you’ve heard all this before. You get it. It’s so cliché by now that you probably cringed when you saw the post title. 

Guess what? I don’t think you get it. I know I don’t get it. No matter how long I’ve pondered this truth above all truths, I’ve not come a smidge close enough to really get it. I’m still working on that. I get it better than five minutes ago. I get it far better than ten years ago. 

Christian, turn to him. Don’t just study him. Turn to him. Pray. Pray that you don’t get it. Tell him you don’t see enough. Plead with your God, “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.” Keep turning around to him. Read His word for this purpose – to discover his absolute involvement in your whole life. To discover how he rules every inch of it. Every speck of dust, every little misery, every majestic joy, every devastating sin, every hard-hearted person, every single one of your hangups. All of these are his realm. 

Turn to him, for judgement is over for you. There was a trial and the verdict was guilty. You were there, and Jesus was too. And he got the sentence instead of you. Can you see that this sentence was for all time? You aren’t getting a retrial every time you blow it. The pain today is not your latest condemnation from heaven. 

Suffering is for dragging you back to Christ. 

Trust Him. 

Amen.


Sometimes It’s Time Again

When you’re rethinking your positions and dangling your feet over precipices, it’s wise to tread softly and reach deep into humility.

So I’m drawing from my poetry at Paper Screams today.

Cleanse This Crumbled Heart

O in your halls
I must fall slowly
With reverence
Upon my face
To bare my breast
For your holy sword

Pierce me
Render to death this flesh
Give breath to my crumbled chest
That I might return
Tomorrow to thee
To thy chastening and mercy

Let me find my hope
In your glorious halls
Where I must die
As you before me
Let me bear the hem
Of your purple robe

Cause this crumbled heart
To beat once more
Lift my countenance
That yours may shine upon
I have not strength
Have mercy on me a sinner

Cleanse this crumbled heart
Cause your seed to root within
Water it with your words
Tune my song to yours
That I might sing your glory
And revel in your story


The Long Dark Hour Of Testing

As we must be careful with orthodoxy, so must we be with orthopraxy.

Our words and actions must at all times be carefully applied. Carefully so as not to burden or make demands that harm the tender link of faith to the Christian. For faith, it is tender; and we face great gulfs of terror if we risk with our zeal the faith of even one.

There is a deep darkness awaiting our little selves. When we are alone, sometimes even feeling safe in our solitude, we are not safe. And the burdens that we encounter, even those of the well-meaning and conscientious wise, hoary-heads, are not all ours to bear. They are not always ours to know when to cast off or hide away until another time.

And there is another solitude, that of being carried in the sweeping course of the mass, which is no less dire. One may not realize the insidious, intangible pull of the current that injects more, sometimes less, than can be metabolized. Until far, far beyond the current horizon when a miniscule trip reveals a rent in the flesh more extravagant than all the flagrant insanity of a cult-of-blood.

The darkness is an hour of testing, and it is a lurking thing. It is not well with my soul when I am faced with the things of nightmares. The rising tide of loss and worldly misery may well strengthen my faith. The building-blocks of that same faith may well fail to weather the polish and buttressing of refinement when I am unsteady as often is the case.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
A song in the night, oh my soul!


Home Again – Not Enough Showers to Get Off All the Dirt

Three months seemed more like six or more. But it ended. Gotta say it was far more than I expected, and quite different from the last time I got underway with a ship. I’ve never been to sea with so many people on such a big vessel. Frankly, I don’t think I could’ve predicted the different dynamics. And they were certainly different. I spent most of the time doing everything but the usual things in my job description. Which should illuminate how the whole thing works. The job description is more like a guideline from Pirates of the Caribbean.

Something broke – in me, not the ship – on this trip. I’m still unable to pin down just what goes on. Maybe it’s an early mid-life thingy or just the entirely new environment after several years of being on land. At least those might contribute.

The barrage of humanity – close, heavy, overwhelming and incessant was quick to become a problem. My last experience on a ship did not include the perspective I have of life, the universe and everything that I have now. And I took much of the sailorese, tradition and general dirt of people rather hard. It is difficult like nothing else I can think of to maintain peace and patience in the midst of the world when the world is condensed into a couple of thousand people living in a giant shoe-box on the sea.

To really explain all this out is more than I can put into a single post. That is why several of the previous entries are more poetic attempts to capture some of what I was feeling at the time.

Suffice to say, it was a shock nearly every day to hear the crassness, the dark thoughts and misery of regular people again after so long. I’ve been sheltered for a long time. I don’t like it, but I got the point rather late that there really is a real world and I’m part of it. I got my sailorese – the cussin’ and foulness back fairly quickly and then spent the duration fighting against it.

I lost a lot of faith, in a way, but I gained some insight into the mechanics of The Faith as well. There is something to be said about ivory tower Christianity, but in all, the isolation from Real World may be more of a loss. Though I find it distasteful or distressing (depending on the particulars), I think it’s better to be “in the mix” rather than in a monastery. We forget the complexity of depravity and corruption (our own!)  when we stay in our houses, our little support circles and home-schools. Apart doesn’t mean out-of, though every time I’ve been in there, I’ve wanted to run. A few times should have seen me running but I didn’t, and I hate that.

I also learned that to compare me to those great trials in the Scriptures (or anywhere else), in light of this common world is a difficult and often not-so-profitable exercise. Yes, my difficulties may well pale in comparison to those of the greats – David and Joseph, Paul and Christ – but I am not them – just a shadow of their massive weights on our lives. They set a standard for righteousness and suffering all at once, but I think we forget that they are (especially Jesus) more than we are. They are first things, the Formers and the Designers – hand-picked by God Almighty for essential elements of His plan of redemption and we are not co-actors on that level. We are recipients of their gifts of suffering, goodness, faith and all that entails.

Though I take up my cross daily, in emulation of Christ, I do not take up His Cross. That one I cannot take up; only He could. So I am not safely comparable to Him in my own trials. I am small and weak (made manifestly obvious during the last three months), and need Him for my support. I cannot endure what the greats endured for I am not in that select crew. I am not downplaying the Christian position; rather I am thinking that we over-rate our individual status in suffering and trials in some way that makes us equal to the task.

And we’re not. At least I’m not.

To accept this (provided I’m thinking rightly) may be a key to a right standing before the benevolent Father and His interceding Son. Broken and needy is far greater than safely cushioned in a fall. Fall far enough, fast enough and no amount of pious cushion can save. The impact reveals the lie.

Crying out to the Father-Son-Spirit for help sometimes ends up best when I don’t feel safe. Pleading for my life may end best with that uncertainty that comes from a desolate echo in my heart, reminding me that there’s still more to bear, more to fear, more trudging and sweating and groaning.

Remind me, o Spirit,
of my smallness, my weak estate.
for I depend, every second
on thy provision to make
my breath upon my lips
my gaze upon God’s grace
my feet fast on the earth
my trust truly trusting
And not upon my own work
Which fails as it stands.

The claim is that religion is a crutch. That may be fairly accurate from time to time.
Sometime the claim falls sorely short. The Faith is sometimes a gurney.
With an IV, straps, blankets and a half-dozen people trucking along with gauze, pain-killers, sutures and other bloody tools making slow headway in just keeping the patient alive during the trip.


Where we go, will you go?

Where you go, I will go...

Here is what Ruth said to Naomi:

“Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.”

Here is R.C. Sproul’s note on Ruth:

The Hebrew for clung in Ruth 1:14 is the same word used to describe the marriage relationship. In other words, Ruth clung to her mother-in-law in covenant fidelity, knowing that she was bound by her promise before the face of God to remain with and aid her mother-in-law, no matter how difficult it would be. This is the same devotion we are to have to the Lord’s people today. No matter our flaws, we Christians must love and serve one another.

And Matthew Henry’s Commentary:

Nothing could be said more fine, more brave, than this. She seems to have had another spirit, and another speech, now that her sister had gone, and it is an instance of the grace of God inclining the soul to the resolute choice of the better part. Draw me thus, and we will run after thee. Her mother’s dissuasions made her the more resolute; as when Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord,” they said it with the more vehemence, “Nay, but we will.”

We might say today that no one can commit to such a thing as Ruth did without some move of the Spirit. This is an amazing speech from someone like Ruth, amazing and weighted with intensity. She’s entering into the covenant here. And we can’t think she doesn’t know what she’s saying, either. There is plenty of evidence that God’s covenantal structure was present in ancient non-Jewish traditions as well. This fine lady is dropping everything to align herself with Israel.

These are the membership vows we took upon joining our church. I’ve edited so they are personal and line up. The reference is the PCA Book of Church Order, Chapter 57.

I acknowledge myself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save in His sovereign mercy. I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and Savior of sinners, and I receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel? I now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that I will endeavor to live as becomes the followers of Christ. I promise to support the Church in its worship and work to the best of my ability. I submit myself to the government and discipline of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace.

I wonder that Ruth 1:16 isn’t commonly considered in the basic introduction for new believers. I certainly never encountered it. I don’t think it was covered much in the years I was in the church as a kid, either. I think this is something to plumb out in discussion with those who frequently reach out in evangelism. When we follow-up with folks, should we not use such clear examples of covenant-making? I must admit, a die-hard Arminian can see the value in Ruth’s declaration here.

Someone could say that Ruth didn’t know what she was getting into here, and was just being expedient about the whole cleaving to Naomi. Ruth just needed something to hang on to, right? I doubt it was that easy, though certainly some pragmatism should be understood. Ruth wouldn’t have a naive approach to what she committed to, considering it was a Jewish family into which she’d married and a Jewish woman with whom she was returning to Israel. Though Alimelech had taken his family out from Israel, I highly doubt he could have conceived of taking Israel out of his family. The traditions and practices would’ve remained, and from first meeting to final words in that relationship, Ruth and Orpah would have been exposed to the richness of the Israelites’ relationship to God. No doubts she had the best introduction to what she was getting into well before she committed herself to Ruth and the One True God on the roadside.

I wonder that our churches do not query us in the way that Ruth volunteered herself. I wonder if there’s anyone today who has been asked,

“Where we go, will you go? Where we lodge, will you lodge? Will our people be your people, and our God, your God? Where we die, will you die, and there be buried? Shall thus the LORD do to us, and worse, if anything but death parts you and us?”

It sounds a bit harsh for these modern days, doesn’t it?

So there’s another version:

1. Do you acknowledge yourselves to be sinners in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save in His sovereign mercy?

2. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel?

3. Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes the followers of Christ?

4. Do you promise to support the Church in its worship and work to the best of your ability?

5. Do you submit yourselves to the government and discipline of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace?

Updated for modern parlance and conversant with the realized covenant of Grace, of course, but isn’t it quite similar? The God of Israel instituted the church; and it is Christ’s body, sustained by Him, founded on Him, with all members finding their place in Him. We can all agree on that, it being well-developed throughout the New Testament.

So I find that this pair of vows, in Ruth and in the church are important enough to make me wonder what in the world could possibly be right about a church that refuses to require this of her members? Shouldn’t that be cause for deep concern? That one who hasn’t committed to the people of God, to Israel, to Christ is seen as an accepted, acceptable part of the Body? Good Lord! What standard is there for communion if not this? It would be like the President just walking in after elections and taking over the Oval Office without first standing in front of the nation and taking the Oath of Office! Only worse! God’s people are in office for far more than 4 years in a country far larger than one nation. We’re eternally bound to God and His country! And in our commitment, do we not absolutely have to have a door into that commitment? Dare I say a public one?

I didn’t have a problem taking the vows of membership at New Life. Now, after a year here, having learned much more about what Reformed, Confessional, Creedal and Covenantal really mean, I would retake those vows in a heartbeat, and say them again with far more gravity than the first time. I realize that we have a situation very analogous to Ruth’s covenant promise when we come to Christ’s church. I don’t see how a church could survive otherwise, for without these covenant oaths, there isn’t even a door-keeper. Ruth understood that, and said the password – and I don’t for a minute assume she didn’t intend to make this in front of God as much as Naomi and then expect to have to maintain the same before the Israel she was about to encounter.

Sheesh. The severity of these oaths, the commitment God has delivered to us, in light of the salvation He has made for us, all should take our breath away. If the continuity of God’s covenants and the Biblical consistency of our own promises which we make in return isn’t obvious by now, where can we go? I guess the test really is, at some point, to look carefully and see if we can honestly say, along with Ruth,

“where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.”

If that can happen, then we’ve at least the satisfaction of the keepers of the keys to Heaven.


Open Letter To My Girls

(And anyone else who needs to hear it). Of course this letter is long. Long for my 14 and definitely not reading for my 7. But it’ll be around for a while. And I need to say it. I tell my girls portions of the message below on a daily basis, so this is more of a developed line of thought that I hope will serve some benefit.

The blogosphere is awash with open letters of late. I’m a good copycat, so here comes mine.

Beloved, you are getting too old for me. I am ever more in awe of our Lord, every day, it seems, when you show just that little bit more understanding of His ways. You demonstrate a knowledge of the Scriptures that I’m sure I did not have when I was your age. You know the Gospel, the theology that has only been in my mind for less than seven years and you can discuss it with impressive capacity. I love it and I know your Mama loves it. And we know God is most pleased with your growth in knowledge of His things.

But I want to encourage you. That’s what this letter is all about. There are hard parts to knowing God’s Word and being His disciples. I think it’s especially hard when you are home, as children, with parents who are so anxious to see you grow in the fear and admonition of the Lord. We desire so much for you to lay claim to the promises of God and to live out the life that He has set before you. I think that you hear about obedience more than anything else at times, and I know focusing on that can become an obsession in all of us. Enough that it may appear to blot out the most important part of God’s message to you.

God’s message is that you have been forgiven. Because Jesus lived in perfect obedience and also took the your sins with Him to the cross and took the punishment for them there, you are forgiven. You girls believe that. I’ve heard it from your lips a maybe a thousand times in your short little lives and just hearing your confession is a blessing to my weak heart. You see, I’m not any sort of super guy as far as being faithful and trusting in our Lord. I’m sure you feel the same way too sometimes. Maybe a lot of times. When you, Mama and I are all weak and sinful in our family, we usually lose sight of the promises of God, at least for a while. And so you should hear this. I hope it makes good sense and that you keep it for those long days ahead when you need the message most.

Beloved, you’re forgiven. You’ve believed the Gospel and God has made you promises that you can trust. When you hear me and Mama calling for you to obey, we’re not telling you anything you can’t do. We’re believing a promise too. God has promised that, because you believe, the Holy Spirit is making it so you can do good works. So you see, we’re just working with you to make you stronger in Him, to do just what He has made possible for you. I think if you look at us as helpers, especially when you’re grown up and remember all these days of homework and chores and lessons on loving each other, you’ll see the Gospel message, God’s promises, and not just a bunch of laws and rules and discipline.

You see, some people don’t seem to realize that there’s a need for the Law after the Gospel. Or sometimes they don’t seem to see what the Gospel does to us. It really does make a difference when we believe. It’s not just a thing that happens one day and then we have to start keeping the Law in order to get good grades in God’s test. The rules, those things we’ve learned from the Bible as Law, change their purpose when we belong to Jesus. They’re now the instructions that help us to know what is the right way to live, to live like He originally designed us.

You remember the verse that Jesus says in Matthew 22.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

All the rules that we hold you to are based on this message from our Lord. Oh, we hope that you see this. Sometimes I’m sure it’s very hard to keep in mind, when it seems there are days when you know you can’t get anything right. Believe me, Mama and I have the same feelings ourselves, when we also sin day in and day out, without being able to see any improvement. And we forget the promise of God, that He has given us a heart, a new heart made of flesh, not of stone like the old one we had before we believed Him. We want you (and us too) to live our lives in love of God! That’s what we’re aiming for! And we believe you’ll get there, not because we make it happen but because God will make it happen!

I think God works in us quietly and without any sign to keep us mindful that it is not us growing ourselves. You guys get that lesson enough from us that I’m pretty sure you know it. Our improvement in God’s ways, trying to be like Jesus, is not something we do ourselves. Our improvement is because of the Holy Spirit the Jesus promised us. The Spirit that is working in us, so secretly most of the time, that we don’t realize what’s happening.

We go to church, learn, celebrate with our fellow Christians over the resurrection of our Lord. We confess our sins and are forgiven. We cling to the hope that this week will be better than last week. But it usually seems like nothing’s changed. You guys get busted. Mama and I, we lose our cool. We all sin. Just like last time and the time before that.

But have you noticed? Have you noticed that we all hate that thing about sinning? Pay attention to that hope you had on Sunday. Remember, I just said that we hope this week will be better than last week. That’s the thing you need to think about. We don’t love our sin. We don’t love to disobey our Lord. None of us do. It’s clear enough, isn’t it? That’s the sign you need to think about. God changed you in a heartbeat when you believed Him. You are now free to love and follow Him. No more being trapped in sin, loving to sin, looking forward to your next bad deed. He’s made it so, even when you sin, you don’t want to and really know and want to do the good works you were designed for!

Pretty soon you’ll have another sign to think about, one most powerful and significant that will follow you for the rest of your life. Your baptism is coming up and though I regret we waited so long to get you there, I am more excited about that than anything. And your Mama is too. And your church! Think about that! There are a couple hundred people all excitedly awaiting the day when you’re baptized. That day is when you get marked out for good, on the outside, for all the things God has already done on the inside! You’ll belong in a whole new way, to your Christian family, including even your aunts, uncles, grandparents, nieces and nephew!

That right there, I hope, sticks with you along your whole life. It’ll be a great reminder of God’s faithfulness, even when you’re stuck in some rotten sin that even though you hate it, you just can’t seem to get over it fast enough. One great benefit that you have in your baptism coming so late is that you’re really well educated on what it means. Remember the Ring! You know the promises and benefits of being baptised. That makes it worthwhile for certain.

So, bottom line, my beloved, don’t look at growing up in our house as rules rules rules. Look at it as me and your Mama working for God to bring you together into doing the things He’s already prepared you for. Look at it like this: when you sin, when you mess up the stuff and we’re bugging you about it, your forgiveness is guaranteed, you’re still beloved Christian sisters who are our neighbors in Heaven and you belong to Jesus!

That’s where you come from when you do good works. No points in Heaven, just rewards. All the work is done in you by our mighty Lord. He is mighty to save us. And He saves us every time we turn around, from our little sins and our big sins and our sadness and our worries. Best girls, trust your Lord and Savior. He won’t depart from you. Ever.

Soli Deo Gloria
For God’s glory alone
In Him,

Your loving Daddy.

Yes, comments are open. Don’t worry about it being a personal letter. It’s personal enough that I certainly welcome criticism, applause or just plain perspective comments.


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