It Is GOOD For Me That I Was Afflicted?

When was the last time you thanked God for affliction? Have you ever echoed the words of the psalmist when he asserted, ‘It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.’ (Psalm 119:71) Only an individual radically renovated by grace could make such an assertion!

Chapter 12 of The Imitation of Christ echoes this sentiment. I am not sure what afflictions Thomas and his fellow believers experienced, but as Jesus reminded his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, ‘Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.’

á Kempis writes, ‘It is good for us to have trials and troubles at times, for they often remind us that we are on probation and ought not to hope in any worldly thing.’ {My reflections follow in red ink}

I have never been ‘on probation’ in our Canadian legal system. A few times I have interacted with those who have, who must ‘mind’ their conduct and report to those assigned to supervise them. Trials and troubles test our confidence in God’s sovereignty. How deeply rooted are we in the things of this life? Recall the brief yet pointed exhortation of Jesus when he commanded,  ‘Remember Lot’s wife!’ Here was a woman, married to a righteous man, who had cultivated a deep attachment to her life in Sodom and Gomorrah.

‘It is good for us sometimes to suffer contradiction, to be misjudged by men even though we do well and mean well. These things help us to be humble and shield us from vainglory.’

I don’t prefer to be misunderstood, do you? Social media seems fraught with rapid misunderstandings and simple comments become long rants as people vent their lack of wisdom. I have blown it on several occasions and overreacted to others instead of carefully pondering a response after a season of prayer. 

How do you cultivate humility?’ I recently asked a colleague. ‘Live life,’ was his summative discovery. So true, isn’t it? Ordinary living breaks us and shapes us as God orders our lives through his providential care.

When to all outward appearances men give us no credit, when they do not think well of us, then we are more inclined to seek God who sees our hearts.

So true! What drives you to your knees more than the difficulty in your own life, in the life of your family, in the life of those in your circle of influence? How powerless we are! How powerful God is! Many of us sang ‘Jesus Loves Me’ as our first Christian chorus. Somehow we have forgotten the truth that ‘they are WEAK but HE is STRONG!’

Today, let us keep in the company of the little ones of God’s kingdom. Let’s ask God for the grace to be able to sing from our hearts,

Let sorrow do its work,
Send grief and pain;
Sweet are Thy messengers,
Sweet their refrain,
When they can sing with me: 

More Love, O Christ, to Thee, More Love to Thee…..  Amen and Amen!

 

Hunting For Little Foxes?

Years ago, at Berean Children’s Camp where I was serving as a counselor for boys camp, I heard a devotional which has stuck with me to this day.  It was from a text I have never preached on since, nor have I heard any other expositions, but the topical message, brought to us that day, embedded itself it my memory.

The text that day was Jeremiah 12:5 and the preacher of the day opted for the King James Version of the text – “If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses?”

At 16, I was no fine-tuned interpreter of scripture, but the preacher pressed the issue of application on us. How were we coping with the challenges of being a counselor? If we couldn’t handle small responsbilities in our cabin and throughout the days of camp activities, how would we possibly serve God in a greater way in the future?

I wonder what text Thomas á Kempis was thinking of, when he penned these words –

‘If you do not overcome small, trifling things, how will you overcome the more difficult? Resist temptations in the beginning, and unlearn the evil habit lest perhaps, little by little, it lead to a more evil one.’

Satan’s strategies of temptation often begin with small things. Fail the small test and you will certain blow the big exam! Tell a small white lie today, and tomorrow you can tell a larger ‘untruth’ with ease. Steal a pen from work and soon you will find theft to be ‘second nature.’

Thomas á Kempis urges, like Scripture, a resisting of temptation. ‘Resist the devil, and he will flee from you….’ we are promised.  Cain, one of the earliest sinners recorded in Scripture, was told that sin was crouching at the door, like a wild animal seeking entrance, but that he must master it!

Song of Songs 2:15 reminds us all, ‘Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.’

I have to run and do some hunting! I hope you’ll join me. Maybe we’ll be able to show off some ‘little fox pelts’ and thank God for the victory He grants!

 

What God Has Taught Me Through My Wife

I am interrupting my blogging through The Imitation of Christ to write a post in praise of my wife. The ‘Proverbs 31 woman’ has ‘Her children rise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’

Our paths first crossed when we were both students at Central Baptist Seminary, which was located, in those days, at 95 Jonesville Crescent. She had come there with a goal of teaching and God was directing me into vocational ministry.  If my memory serves me correctly, the Missions Retreat in February of 1981 is when she joined me as I drove a carload of students up to MBC in Huntsville.

We were married in 1983 and the Lord has blessed us in a multitude of ways, impossible to list in a simple blog.  I simply want to cite a few things God has taught me through Ruth.

#1 Trust in God – On many occasions when I’ve been perplexed about some situation or circumstance, she has encouraged me with three brief words– ‘The Lord knows.’ Honestly, I haven’t always appreciated hearing those words, but she continues to share them. God does know the ups and downs of living, and in his own time, he will bring us through the situation.

#2 Serve where you are gifted. Ruth is a gifted teacher. She is passionate about teaching Scripture and on many occasions, she has blessed groups of adults, teens and children with this God-given ability. Most Sundays, while I’m out preaching in a multitude of contexts, she’s serving in our home church. Many a Junior Dept and Junior High class has benefited from her probing questions, carefully crafted diagrams and practical application.

#3 Remember to apply the Biblical principles you teach. She has often asked me, ‘So what?’ What difference does this doctrine make? What application is God the Holy Spirit pressing on your life as a result of the Scripture we have just started? Following observation and interpretation, an application is a required step in properly handling God’s word.

#4 Biblical praying is effective. She has invested countless hours in praying for our family and the chequered challenges life has sometimes brought to us, our kids, our grandkids or our extended families. ‘The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective….’ She has proven this repeatedly and though she has not recorded them, I can testify to a multitude of answered requests.

#5 Use all of your resources wisely. She has extended our resources immensely through careful shopping. She decorates on a dime, yet the results look like a million dollars. She is the bargain hunter of bargain hunters and sees the value that others often miss.

I could continue, but I think you get the idea….   Proverbs 18:22 states, ‘He who finds a wife find what is good and receives favour from the LORD.’ God has shown me many favours.  One of the greatest he has ever blessed me with is my wife.  Happy Birthday beautiful and Happy Valentine’s Day!  Since I have at least some Scottish blood pulsing through my veins, combining two occasions in one day seems like great value!!!!

M.Y.O.B. Why? Why Not?

Has anybody told you to “m.y.o.b.” recently? “Mind your own business” is a pithy exhortation issued at times when over-zealous people take up personal interest causes in the lives of others, when they should be tending to more pressing matters!

The word translated ‘busybody’ shows up a number of times in scripture. Here’s a link from ‘bible reasons’ which addresses

21 important verses about busybodies   That should be sufficient reason to take the issue seriously, but some of us will not be deterred from meddling!

Recall the occasion when Peter was being restored by Jesus Christ after his repeated denials. In the ‘heat of the moment’ after claiming love for Christ, Peter decided to turn down the heat by inquiring about John, who had been following them. ‘Lord, what about him?’ four simple words, posed as a question, but how did Jesus respond?

“….what is that to you?  You must follow me.”

Thomas á Kempis must have been pondering that encounter along with others as he penned chapter eleven of his infamous text. For today, let’s just explore the first two sentences.

We should enjoy much peace if we did not concern ourselves with what others say and do, for these are no concern of ours. How can a man who meddles in affairs not his own, who seeks strange distractions, and who is little or seldom inwardly recollected, live long in peace?    

Concerning ourselves with what others say and do.

‘Lord, what about him?’

‘Lord, what about her?’

‘Lord, what about them?’

We must show concern in some situations.

We cannot exempt ourselves from sharing the gospel! The eternal welfare, of our families, our neighbours, our friends, surely is a concern we must address.

We cannot exempt ourselves from the process of restoring sinning fellow saints. Read Galatians 6 and note the imperative about restoring gently someone overtaken by a sin issues.

Is the ‘meddling’ not reflected by Jesus in his warning about removing the plank in one’s own eye before attempting to extract a speck from the eye of another? We are not commanded to refrain from judging, but we must judge ourselves first. We must address our own serious issues before we become the corrector of others.

Pick your battles! Not every issue is worth addressing or responding to, especially on Facebook! Does every post of every one of your friends require your comment? Does every comment of every other person warrant your correction?

There is a time to speak and a time to remain silent. May God give us wisdom to know ‘what time it is!’ May He make us wise counselors, whose godly proven wisdom is sought by others who seek it.  As Proverbs 25:11 (KJV) reminds us – A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” Lord, make us ‘fit speakers’ of words!

Every Idle Word

“…out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. ….But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.”     Matthew 12:34b, 36

What is the condition of your heart? With Valentine’s Day coming up next week, lots of ‘hearts’ will decorate the classrooms, offices, and homes of our nation.  ‘I love you with all my heart….’  Hearts are one of the many emoji symbols that are used generously by avid texters.

In the text which I cited to start this post, I cited the words of Jesus Christ who reminded his listeners that the words trickling or pouring out of our mouths come from the content of our hearts.  Who we are inwardly shows up in the single words, phrases and sentences which we opt to use in a single day.

The ability to speak is a wonderful God-given gift. But what shall we say?  What kind of filter should we place over our mouths before we release words for public consumption?

Thomas á Kempis knew the value of words and in this next chapter exhorts a careful evaluation of our speech.  His words are in blue. My brief reflections are in red.

Shun the gossip of men as much as possible, for discussion of worldly affairs, even though sincere, is a great distraction inasmuch as we are quickly ensnared and captivated by vanity.

Isn’t it amazing how conversations can get out of control? I love good conversation, but what shall we talk about? How shall we manage the tsunami of information that comes at us every day? I’ve been learning the value of the ‘OFF’ button on my radio and television.

Many a time I wish that I had held my peace and had not associated with men.

It’s amazing how a conversation will continue to go over and over in one’s head. How often have we apologized for speaking inappropriately? Words wound or heal. Words cut down or build up. Is it even possible to live without regret? When I leave a coffee shop or home or church or _________ after good conversations, I am at peace. When joking has bordered on coarse jesting, when sharing prayer requests has transitioned into gossip, when just talking has turned into slander, I leave with a guilty conscience. Who was listening? To whom do I owe an apology? May God enable us to keep a watch over our tongues.

Why, indeed, do we converse and gossip among ourselves when we so seldom part without a troubled conscience?

We do so because we seek comfort from one another’s conversation and wish to ease the mind wearied by diverse thoughts.

We seek comfort.  We give and receive counsel throughout each week, some times on minor issues, other times on life altering situations. May our words bring comfort and hope to troubled hearts.

Hence, we talk and think quite fondly of things we like very much or of things we dislike intensely.

But, sad to say, we often talk vainly and to no purpose; for this external pleasure  effectively bars inward and divine consolation.    

Therefore we must watch and pray lest time pass idly.    

Idle words…wasted opportunities…missed opportunities. 

When the right and opportune moment comes for speaking, say something that will edify.   

What a great goal for each day. Carpe diem! Seize the day.  Seize the opportunity to say something worthwhile. Pray before you speak. Pray while you speak. Pray after you speak.  ‘Lord, speak to me, that I may speak in living echoes of Thy tone….’ 

  Bad habits and indifference to spiritual progress do much to remove the  guard from the tongue.

So what bad habits do we need to eliminate? What good habits do we need to replace them with on a gradual basis?

Devout conversation on spiritual matters, on the contrary, is a great aid to spiritual progress, especially when persons of the same mind and spirit associate together in God.

Wouldn’t this be a great ‘motto’ to accompany clear scriptural instruction? Maybe church business meetings or prayer meetings or any gathering of God’s people should read James 3 and perhaps this quote to set the tone of the meeting? What do you think?

Submit? Do I Have To?

Under whose authority are you living? For many people the word ‘submit’ is not part of their vocabulary. Noone is going to tell them what to do. They opt to chart their own destiny.

As we read this next chapter of The Imitation of Christ, remember that Thomas is penning these words of this ninth chapter of Book I in a monastery. He has opted himself to submit to the authority of a monastic movement as part of his desire to obey God’s will. Voluntary submission is quite different than forced compliance, isn’t it?

“It is a very great thing to obey, to live under a superior and not to be one’s own master, for it is much safer to be subject than it is to command.”

A great thing to obey? Yes and a challenging one too. Remember Thomas is living and serving in a monastery. He has voluntarily chosen to place himself under the authority of the spiritual leader of the order he has joined. I compare this to membership in a local church–a voluntary submission to the governance of those God has raised up to shepherd His flock. This is not blind submission. Leaders who demand unquestioning submission should be exposed for such unChristlike attitudes.  But individual believers who never obey 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 and Hebrews 13:17 are in clear violation of God’s word. 

1 Thess. 5:12-13 (written to an entire congregation) ‘Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are OVER YOU IN THE LORD and WHO ADMONISH YOU. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work…..”

Hebrews 13:17 “OBEY YOUR LEADERS and SUBMIT TO THEIR AUTHORITY. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. OBEY THEM so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

“Many live in obedience more from necessity than from love.”

O that individually and collectively we would be marked by love, the kind of love that only the Spirit of God can produce (Galatians 5:22), the kind of love that Jesus Christ called for among His followers (John 13:34,35)

“Such become discontented and dejected on the slightest pretext; they will never gain peace of mind unless they subject themselves wholeheartedly for the love of God.”

A lack of peace MAY be caused by a lack of submission.  Notice I said ‘may’ because other factors may contribute to such restlessness. Those who have difficulty submitting to God manifest such resistance in their relationships with others.

Study the topic of submission in the life of our Master, Jesus Christ. Ponder his submission to his parents, at the maturing age of 12, when they discover him in Jerusalem after what must have been a few days of distressing searching.  Though ultimately submissive to His Father’s will, Jesus ‘went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.’ ‘Honor your father and your mother’ was far more than an ancient law given by God through the mediator of the Old Covenant, Moses, the man of God.

Go where you may, you will find no rest except in humble obedience to the rule of authority. Dreams of happiness expected from change and different places have deceived many.

I’ve learned that lesson at times the hard way! Resistance to authority in one location may mean greater resistance in a new setting, as God prunes the unfruitful branches in our lives. Some of us are constantly restless and have not learned ‘to be content whatever the circumstances.’ (Philippians 4)

May God enable us to sing honestly, prayerfully, deliberately this day and every day…

‘Have Thine own way, Lord, have thine own way…. Thou art the Potter, I am the clay….  Mould me and make me after Thy will….. While I am waiting, yielded and still….

 

Let’s Take Another Look….

What evaluation did you make of the counsel of á Kempis from the last post? I’m proposing a process of careful cross-examination!

[The words of á Kempis are in green. My comments are in red.]

Do not open your heart to every man, but discuss your affairs with one who is wise and who fears God.

‘Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly….’ (Psalm 1) comes to mind. The book of Proverbs is filled with instruction about wisdom and seeking counsel from the wise. If ‘the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,’ then I should seek knowledge from those who fear the LORD, right?

Do not keep company with young people and strangers.

I’m not sure those in youth ministry are called to follow this instruction. I’ve learned many wise principles from younger people. How old was Timothy when Paul urged him ‘Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.’ (I Timothy 4:12) Young people, at times, are much more zealous, much more passionate about their Saviour, than those of us who incorporate grey hair into our appearance!

Though I might not seek the counsel of strangers, or at least would be cautious, the love of strangers is the essence of hospitality. Sometimes a ‘random’ encounter (a God provided meeting is my preferred description) brings us into contact with fresh wisdom. My missions trips have proven thus as God has ‘gone ahead’ of me and prepared open doors for me to walk through. Don’t forget the counsel of Hebrews 13:2 ‘Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.’

Do not fawn upon the rich, and do not be fond of mingling with the great.

Here, it seems to me, á Kempis is applying James 2:1ff where believers are warned against favouritism. Our preference to the rich or our assessment of assets may prove radically dangerous as we gather together with God’s people.

There are rich believers. In fact, the Bible traces in detail the wealth of Abraham and Job, patriarchal leaders whose assets certainly moved them well past the poverty line!  I’ve also met my share of asset poor believers, yet who possessed a rich, vibrant faith in the living God.  I recall one visit to a needy nation, some years back, where sitting in the darkness (no electricity was available), my translator pointed out the primitive plaque on the wall. I looked around and saw little of this world’s goods yet the text on the wall read (in Spanish) The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.’ 

Associate with the humble and the simple, with the devout and virtuous, and with them speak of edifying things.

Again, the book of James comes to my mind in critiquing this counsel.

Be not intimate with any woman, but generally commend all good women to God.  

Don’t forget Paul’s counsel to Titus, where the younger women were to be discipled by the older women.  I’ve known a significant number of leaders who’ve ignored this counsel and today bear the consequences of such sin.

Seek only the intimacy of God and of His angels, and avoid the notice of men.  

What else does Jesus mean when he urges, ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness….?’ It’s a question of priorities, isn’t it? Well might we sing, ‘Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer blessed Lord,….’  As a poster, on the wall of a teens Sunday School room I once attended, stated – “If you’re not as close to God as you used to be, guess who moved?”

We ought to have charity for all men but familiarity with all is not expedient.

Are we really marked by love? We may have lots of social media ‘friends,’ but we don’t have to unpack every suitcase in front of them! Let’s use discretion and demonstrate some quantity of self-control the Spirit of God longs to produce in our lives.

Sometimes it happens that a person enjoys a good reputation among those who do not know him, but at the same time is held in slight regard by those who do.

What came to my mind was the declaration of Jesus, namely, “A prophet is not without honour except in his own country.”

Frequently we think we are pleasing others by our presence and we begin rather to displease them by the faults they find in us.

May we be like Onesiphorus, referenced by Paul in 2 Timothy 1, as a man who ‘often refreshed’ him. May God help us to become wise and demonstrate wisdom in every aspect of our lives. This is grace. In shoe leather. Period. Case closed!

 

Digging deeper into the depths of Scripture…

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