Laudable Linkage

I’m finally caught up on my blog reading! For now. Here are some of the best posts discovered in the last week.

More Than Jumper Cable Christianity, HT to Challies. “We use jumper cables when our car’s battery is depleted, dead, and in need of a jump from another battery to get going. We connect jumper cables to another car, get some juice, and then go about our day and way. I fear far too many of us approach “abiding” in Christ this way. We do some Bible reading, read a devotional book, get some spiritual voltage and roll out.”

Feeding our Longing, HT to Challies. “Have you ever felt like there was more to life than this? Known some sense of longing for the future?”

How to Think About God Promoting His Own Glory, HT to Challies. “Many people misinterpret God’s character when looking at his demands and actions in history because they imagine what they would think of a fallen human being who did the things God has done, and they recoil. Failing to picture God as he is, they picture instead what they’re familiar with—a sinful, human tyrant imposing his preferred laws on people by force, destroying nations, or demanding worship.”

Units of Thought in Narrative Scripture. “One of the most important observations to make in a passage is the structure. And the way to observe structure is to first identify the parts of the passage (the units of thought) so that you can figure out how those parts relate to one another. In this post I’ll show you some of the ways to recognize the units of thought in a narrative.”

Flaunting Your Faithfulness: The Dangers of Conspicuous Christianity. “Conspicuous Christianity is the practice of seeking to appear more godly, not out of devotion to Christ or the love of others, but purely for the sake of winning the approval of other people. Conspicuous Christianity can come in many different forms, but it usually has some of the following characteristics . . .”

Keep Doing the Small Things, HT to Challies. “What if your greatest spiritual growth does not come through some cataclysmic event. What if the most important spiritual breakthroughs in your life are slow and methodical? Are you going to be OK with that?”

All My Not-Enoughness, HT to Challies. “I’m confronted with my not-enoughness a lot lately. As I get dressed, as I parent, as I’m faced with yet another important thing I’ve forgotten. When I try to write and the words won’t come. When I feel so tired that every inch of me longs to slink to the floor and crawl back into bed.”

The Hidden Super-Stars of Missions, HT to Challies. “I coach new missionaries as they prepare to go overseas. I’ve found I can often predict how quickly they’ll be able to raise support based on one crucial factor: whether they have an advocate who will come alongside them.”

Words That Lead, HT to Challies. Loved this post on the myths and responsibilities of writing.

On Reading Widely: Are You Stuck on One Shelf? “Root your thinking in the Word of God first, but be informed about the world around you. Resist being spoon fed by others. Do your own reading and research to form your own opinions.”

The Pilgrim’s Regress

The Pilgrim’s Regress was the first fiction book written by C. S. Lewis after his conversion to Christianity. Lewis’ book is not a retelling of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress: Lewis just borrows the allegorical format.

The book’s protagonist is John, a young man from a land called Puritania. The country is ruled over by a Landlord who is reportedly very good and kind but who will throw anyone who disobeys him into a black hole.

One day John catches a glimpse of a beautiful island through a window. The sight, sounds, and smells raise an ineffable longing to see the island again and even visit it.

John journeys towards the island, but instead finds different philosophers and detractors. He meets a “brown girl,” who assures him she’s what he really wanted. But she represents lust, and John eventually finds he’s dissatisfied with her. (This article makes a good case that Lewis was neither racist or misogynistic by designating lust as a brown girl).

John continues on and meets Mr. Enlightenment, the Spirit of the Age, Mother Kirk, Mr. Sensible, Mr. Neo-Angluar, Mr. Humanist, History, Reason, and others. Some say his island is an illusion. Others offers various suggestions for how to get there. Some argue for or against the against the existence of the Landlord. History tells John the landlord sent truths about himself in the form of various pictures. But many interpreted the pictures the wrong way.

Finally John understands the way to the island. Wikipedia says, “The Regress portion of the title now comes into play as John journeys back home and now sees everything in a new light and sees how the road he took is a knife’s edge between Heaven and Hell.”

In a preface to the third edition of the book, written ten years after it was originally published, Lewis apologized for the book. Although he hadn’t intended the book to be strictly autobiographical, he hadn’t realized that not everyone’s journey was quite like his.

On the intellectual side my own progress had been from ‘popular realism’ to Philosophical Idealism; from Idealism to Pantheism; from Pantheism to Theism; and from Theism to Christianity. I still think this a very natural road, but I now know that it is a road very rarely trodden. In the early thirties I did not know this. If I had had any notion of my own isolation, I should either have kept silent about my journey or else endeavoured to describe it with more consideration for the reader’s difficulties.

He says that in the new edition (online here), he added headlines before the different sections. He apologizes for doing so, but the headlines would have been a great help if I had read rather than listened to the book.

I think I would have gotten more out of the book of I had read an annotated edition, which explained more about the different references and philosophies (one GoodReads reviewer recommended C. S. Lewis and Narnia for Dummies as an aide). But I got the gist of the story and understood most of the discussions between characters. To me, this book illustrates what Lewis said in Mere Christianity:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.

Laudable Linkage

Hope you’re having a fine weekend! Here are some thought-provoking reads discovered this week.

What We Need More Than the Mountaintop Experience with God. “The apostle Peter heard a voice from heaven during his mountaintop experience. And he concluded that the spiritual formation of Christ-followers relies not on repeating such an experience but on something even more certain.”

Can Cancer Be God’s Servant? What I Saw in My Wife’s Last Four Years by Randy Alcorn, HT to Challies. “By saying sickness comes only from Satan and the fall, not from God, we disconnect Him from our suffering and His deeper purposes. God is sovereign. He never permits or uses evil arbitrarily; everything He does flows from His wisdom and ultimately serves both His holiness and love.”

The Crushing Obligation to Keep Doing More and More, HT to Challies. This is so good. “I think most Christians hear these urgent calls to do more (or feel them internally already) and learn to live with a low-level guilt that comes from not doing enough. We know we can always pray more and give more and evangelize more, so we get used to living in a state of mild disappointment with ourselves. That’s not how the apostle Paul lived.”

When Praying Hurts: How to Go to God in Suffering, HT to Challies. “My desire to pray when I’m suffering can swing wildly in a single day — and sometimes within the hour. Through the severe trials in my life — losing a child, having a debilitating disease, losing my marriage — prayer has been both arduous and exhilarating. Exhausting work and energizing delight.”

Rethink Female Bravery, HT to Challies. “Why is physical dominance our measure for brave women? Why is heroism reserved for the person in charge—or the person with the weapon? Why aren’t there more stories that honor daring in the ordinary?”

An Anchor For Our Tongues, HT to Challies. “Preachers and authors do it all the time. They quote the English definition of a word or refer to its linguistic roots as a way to ground their argument, to establish the meaning of a term or concept. Then they move on, seemingly convinced that they have offered up enough evidence for their audience to trust that they are indeed communicating the true sense of that term. What is not often realized is that, for the Christian, this kind of appeal to the dictionary or history is actually an inadequate grounding.”

In Praise of Stuff, HT to Samuel James, resonates with me. It doesn’t advocate for materialism, but argues that “Experiences matter more than things” is not always right. “There are people whose long-finished lives are only dimly known to me, but whom I meet and cherish every year in the physical memorabilia they handed down: great grandmother’s silver, pottery made by my grandfather’s sister. Even ridiculous kitsch can gain a new dignity this way. Each Thanksgiving I greet a grinning plastic monkey that was my great Aunt Gertrude’s. I would miss him greatly if he were ever gone.”

Six Questions You Should Ask at the Beginning of 2023, HT to Challies. I don’t think we’re too far into the new year to consider these. “What I started doing a couple of years ago was to abandon the idea of New Year’s resolutions and instead start thinking about what I wanted to focus on for the next year in early December. Then I started implementing changes that would make progress on my goals before the new year begins. What this allowed me to do was to get out of the habit of thinking the new year would magically change me into a new person.”

Start the Year Small: Wisdom for Setting New Goals, HT to Challies. “Our flesh keeps us on the couch, waiting for opportunities that appear to promise instant and immense impact. Those who constantly dream of the big victory often overlook the small decisions required to get there.”

The Pro-Life Cause Nobody Marches For. “Ultimately, I had to reckon with what it meant to believe that all people have inherent, God-given worth when everything we give value to is stripped away. It has been a long and painful process, and a sanctifying one—the kind that teaches you to view others who are struggling to understand the size and significance of human dignity through the eyes of tender compassion.”

Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled

The scene is in the upper room, where Jesus met with His disciples to observe the Passover. He washed their feet as an example of humble serving. He instituted what we call the Lord’s supper. He predicted that one of them will betray Him. He gave them a new commandment, to love each other as He loved them.

And now He tells them He is about to leave them.

Peter, almost always the first one to speak up, wants to know where Jesus is going and why they can’t follow. He pledges to lay down his life for Christ.

And then Jesus stuns Peter by predicting Peter will deny Him—not once, but three times.

In John’s narrative, it looks like immediately after this exchange, Jesus goes on to some of His final teaching before He is betrayed and arrested. John is the only gospel-writer to record this extended discourse.

The disciples only know part of what’s coming: that Jesus is leaving, and that at some point persecution will come. Peter is told that he will spectacularly fail. None of them knows that Jesus is about to be arrested that very night and die the next day. But Jesus knew they needed comfort, hope, and strength for what was ahead.

Jesus opens and closes these words with the phrase, “Let not your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1, 27). I had never realized before this reading that Jesus said it twice or that He said it right after predicting Peter’s denial.

In Warren Wiersbe’s book, Be Transformed (John 13-21: Christ’s Triumph Means Your Transformation), he brings out six truths Jesus shared with His disciples at this time:

They are going to heaven (13:36-14:6). Not immediately, but someday they will follow Him to the place He went ahead to prepare.

They know the Father now (14:7-11). Wiersbe points out that “the word Father is used fifty-three times in John 13-17.” Heaven is “my Father’s house.” “Jesus said that knowing Him and seeing Him was the same as knowing and seeing the Father. He was claiming to be God.” Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). They could trust in the Father’s loving care.

They have the privilege of prayer (14:12-15). “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (14:13). Wiersbe notes:

The “whatsoever” in John 14: 13 is qualified by all that God has revealed in His Word about prayer; likewise, the “anything” in John 14:14. God is not giving us carte blanche; “in My name” is the controlling element. To know God’s name means to know His nature, what He is, and what He wants to do. God answers prayer in order to honor His name; therefore, prayer must be in His will (1 John 5:14–15). The first request in “the Lord’s Prayer” is, “Hallowed be thy name” (Matt. 6:9). Any request that does not glorify God’s name should not be asked in His name (Location 587).

They have the Holy Spirit (14:16-18). In God’s plan, the Holy Spirit would come to minister to God’s people in a special way when Jesus went back to heaven. He’s called the Helper and the Comforter. “He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (14:26).

They enjoy the Father’s love (14:19-24). Our love for Him will be manifested by keeping His Word.

They have the gift of His peace (14:25-31). “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (v. 27).

Though our circumstances are different, there is much in the world that could trouble us. The world has never been a friend of God, but it seems to be going further away from Him. Those who know God in Western society have had many privileges the last several decades, but those are fading fast. Christianity is not popular these days. Christ foretold a variety of bad things that would happen before the end.

And besides the large-scale issues, we face rising prices, discord in our country, new diseases, and physical issues.

And, like Peter, sometimes our personal failures haunt us.

Yet God has given us the same resources He gave the first disciples, hasn’t He? We have a relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God has prepared a place in heaven for us to look forward to. Meanwhile, we have the Father’s love, care, forgiveness, and grace, the Word of God, the Holy Spirit’s help, comfort, and guidance, and the peace of Jesus that overcomes the world.

Truly we have every reason to “let not our hearts be troubled,” no matter what comes our way in the future.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

The Savior of the World Is Here

Over 2,000 years ago, Gaius Octavian became the Caesar of the Roman Empire. According to Stephen Davey, “for the first time in the four hundred year old kingdom of Rome, the Roman senate voted to give Caesar Octavian the title of Augustus. Augustus meant ‘revered or holy,’ and, until this time, it had been a title reserved exclusively for the gods.” One inscription referred to him as “the savior of the world.”

But during his time on earth, another baby was born to whom that title rightly belonged.

Which of the two would the world believe to be the real Savior? By birth, wealth, fame, and position, most people would have gone with Augustus. How could an unknown baby born to poor parents in Bethlehem claim that title?

But John wrote, “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14).

Many books could be written and verses shared about how Jesus is the true Son of God and Savior. He claimed those positions for Himself, they were foretold by numerous prophets, His Father testified to them as well as many others.

But though He died to save the world, only those who believe on Him come to know Him as Savior for themselves.

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (John 3:14-18).

If you don’t know Jesus as your own personal Savior, I pray you will believe on Him today.

I wish you all a wonderful, meaningful, joyful Christmas.

I have never heard this song sung at Christmas, but it could be!

I cannot tell why He, whom angels worship,
Should set His love upon the sons of men,
Or why, as Shepherd, He should seek the wand’rers,
To bring them back, they know not how or when.
But this I know, that He was born of Mary,
When Bethl’hem’s manger was His only home,
And that He lived at Nazareth and labored,
And so the Savior, Savior of the world, is come.

I cannot tell how silently He suffered,
As with His peace He graced this place of tears,
Or how His heart upon the Cross was broken,
The crown of pain to three and thirty years.
But this I know, He heals the broken-hearted,
And stays our sin, and calms our lurking fear,
And lifts the burden from the heavy laden,
For yet the Savior, Savior of the world, is here.

I cannot tell how He will win the nations,
How He will claim His earthly heritage,
How satisfy the needs and aspirations
Of east and west, of sinner and of sage.
But this I know, all flesh shall see His glory,
And He shall reap the harvest He has sown,
And some glad day His sun shall shine in splendor
When He the Savior, Savior of the world, is known.

I cannot tell how all the lands shall worship,
When, at His bidding, every storm is stilled,
Or who can say how great the jubilation
When all the hearts of men with love are filled.
But this I know, the skies will thrill with rapture,
And myriad, myriad human voices sing,
And earth to heaven, and heaven to earth, will answer:
At last the Savior, Savior of the world, is King.

–W. Y. Fullerton, 1920

_____
Thanks to Stephen Davey for inspiring these thoughts in his radio message from December 15, The Inside Story.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Why Did Jesus Come as a Baby?

“Often in the account of salvation history, the future of God’s plan rests with a baby or a child.” (1).

“In Bible history, very often the birth of a baby has made the difference between defeat and victory for God’s people” (2)

In one sense, every baby born represents a new beginning with potential and hope for the future. But sometimes a baby was a major turning point in Bible history.

The first child born on earth, Cain, killed his brother, Able. Cain was exiled, but God sent Adam and Eve another son, Seth.

God had made a historic covenant with Abraham that his descendants would be as many as the dust of the earth (Genesis 13:14-17) or the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5). In him all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). But Abraham had no child with Sarah, his wife, for about 25 years after the promise was made. Finally Isaac, the child of promise, was born.

When God’s people were captive in Egypt, Pharaoh demanded that all the Jewish baby boys be killed. But “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict” (Hebrews 11:23). Moses grew up to be the deliverer of his people: God used him to bear witness to Egypt through the plagues, to lead Israel out of Egypt and to the promised land, and to give them God’s law.

In another low point in Israel’s history, when injustice was running rampant, one desperate woman prayed for a child that she promised she would give back to the Lord. God gave her Samuel, who was the pivot between the time of the judges and the kings and who called his people back to worship and serve the one true God.

A bitter woman named Naomi had lost her husband and both sons. Now she was alone with her daughter-in-law, Ruth. But God raised up a godly man to marry Ruth and give Naomi a grandson—a grandson whose grandson would be David, the great king of Israel, a man after God’s own heart.

God had promised that the Messiah would come through David’s line. But wicked queen Athaliah killed all the king’s sons—she thought. Jehosheba, the aunt of little Joash, hid him away with a nurse until he could be made king and carry on the Davidic line.

Malachi ends the Old Testament with a promise that God would “send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (4:5-6). Then there were 400 years of silence. And suddenly one day, an old, childless priest was startled by an angel’s visit announcing that he and his aged wife, after many long years of now-abandoned prayers, would have a baby who would “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:16-17).

And then, in yet another low point in the history of God’s people, when they were under the Rome’s rule, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).

Why did God send His Son to earth as a baby? I don’t know all the reasons. But here are a few:

To be the Son of Man But he took on our flesh that he might be Son of Man as well as the Son of God.

To defeat death. “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

To be made like His brethren (Hebrews 2:17a).

To become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God (Hebrews 2:17b).

To make propitiation for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:17c), To take our sin and punishment on Himself to atone for our sins.

To help those who are being tempted “because he himself has suffered when tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).

Those things explain why He took on flesh. But why as a baby? Partly so that He could live a whole righteous life in our place. But perhaps Charles Spurgeon is on to another reason when he says, “We might tremble to approach a throne, but we cannot fear to approach a manger. Never could there be a more approachable being than Christ.” (3)

“The greatest forces in the world are not the earthquakes and the thunderbolts. The greatest forces in the world are babies” (4). Especially this baby.

____________
1. Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Distinct (2 Kings & 2 Chronicles): Standing Firmly Against the World’s Tides, p. 224.

2. Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Basic (Genesis 1-11): Believing the Simple Truth of God’s Word, p. 94.

3. Charles Spurgeon, Joy to the World: Daily Readings for Advent.

4. Dr. E. T. Sullivan as quoted in Warren Wiersbe, Be Compassionate (Luke 1-13): Let the World Know That Jesus Cares, p. 26.

Thanks to Dr. Wiersbe for emphasizing God’s use of babies in so many of his commentaries and whose thoughts inspired mine.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Laudable Linkage

I haven’t been reading online much this week, but here are some good things I found::

Delayed Obedience Is Disobedience (Except When It Isn’t). “Though Ezra called the people to act and seemed to do so right away, they pushed back, not because they wanted to delay their obedience, but because they knew the matter was complicated and that it was important to handle it with wisdom, care, and prudence.”

Honoring Dishonorable Parents, HT to Challies. “The holiday season is one in which happy families get together to eat lovely meals and have laughter-filled conversations followed by games of charades or meaningful talks around a fireplace – or at least that’s how Hallmark portrays the holidays. For many of us, however, the holiday season is one in which we face a very difficult problem.”

3 Misconceptions That Many Muslims Have About Christianity and constructive ways to talk to them, HT to Challies.

When Christmas Is Hard, HT to The Story Warren. “This season can be hard. When you’re broken or hurting, the celebrations and decorations can just make you hurt more. The Christmas carols remind you of everything and everyone you’re missing.”

Oh Holy Night, HT to The Story Warren. “It’s neat to think back to the depth of theology I was singing as a young child, having little to no understanding of the true meaning of those lyrics. Yet something resonated.”

18 Games for the Car (Or Any Kind of Travel, HT to The Story Warren. Just in time for Christmas trips.

9 Bible Reading Plans for 2023. Right after Christmas, we start planning for the new year. One of the most frequent resolutions for Christians is to read the Bible regularly.If you don’t have a regular Bible reading plan, or you’d like to change things up, this post offers several options.

God is always working, even when we don’t see

One morning last week, I was a little discouraged as I prayed for a long-term prayer request. I hadn’t seen any movement on that front in a long time. It didn’t look like anything was happening.

I felt sure that I was praying according to God’s will. 1 John 5:14-15 says, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” That doesn’t mean He will answer everything in just the time and way we want. Sometimes He might even say no if that is better for us than a yes. Sometimes He has something different and better in mind. Sometimes He wants us to wait.

But as I was praying for His working in a heart to bring a person to faith in Himself, I felt sure that He would do all in His power to answer that request.

Sometimes sin can hinder answers to prayer, but I wasn’t aware of anything I needed to confess to the Lord or anything that would hinder answered prayer.

I’ve had enough experience with the Lord that I know He’s working, even if I don’t see any evidence of it. So I encouraged myself by reminding myself of times in Scripture or in my own life where I saw His answer after an extended period of seeming inactivity.

From the garden of Eden, God promised Adam and Eve that a redeemer would come to defeat Satan. It was thousands of years before that redeemer came. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). God was at work all those years, preparing people for the coming of His Son.

Abraham and Sarah waited 25 years before the son God promised them arrived. Why did God make them wait so long? Perhaps to strengthen their faith.

David was anointed king years before actually coming to the throne. Meanwhile he had to flee for his life while the current king, Saul, sought to kill him.

Daniel and others were in exile in Babylon for seventy years before God brought some of them back to Israel.

Hebrews 11 lists several more who saw God do great things after long years. Some of them even “died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar” (verse 13). They trusted God would answer and bring about His will even though they never saw the answer in their lifetime.

In my own life, I remember aching over the breakup of my family and the loss of all that was familiar when we moved to a new city when I was a teenager. I clung with all my might to Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” I am not even sure I was saved then. I had made a profession as a young child, but had not been in church or in the Bible regularly. I couldn’t remember much about what I prayed when I came forward in a friend’s church in third grade. But I knew enough that I could go to God for help. After a very long and lonely summer, God led us to a school and church where I was regularly taught His Word and where I made sure of my salvation in my teens. God had been drawing me to Himself all the while, even when I felt so alone.

I didn’t have a long period of singleness, but it felt plenty long at the time. I spent several years in a Christian college with eligible young men all around me. But none of them seemed interested in me. Then after several years of praying for the right one, a friendship blossomed into something more. God had been laying the foundation and preparing both of us for each other, even when we were unaware of what He had in mind.

One of the biggest demonstrations of God’s unseen working occurred in my father. I knew my father loved me, but he also got angry easily. He was big on respect and authority, and he took any arguments or disagreements from his children as disrespect or “sass.” Consequently, I was afraid to talk to him about things he might disagree with. He had always believed there was a God, but as far as I knew hadn’t believed in Him in a personal way.

When I went off to college, I’d share verses at the end of letters to my father. I always wrote them out because I didn’t figure he’d look up the references. He never responded to them. I pictured him either skipping over them in disgust or shaking his head and thinking, “There she goes again.”

Several years after my husband and I got married and had a couple of children, my father came to visit us in SC for the first time. He wasn’t well. He had gotten out of the hospital with pneumonia not long before flying out, so we felt maybe he just traveled too soon. But on the day he was supposed to fly back to TX, he ended up in the hospital.

One evening as we came down the hospital hall to visit him, the nurse told us they had almost lost him, and he was in ICU. When she took us to him, he said, “I know one thing. When I get home, me and the pastor are going to have a long talk.” We asked if he would like our pastor in SC to come and see him. He said yes.

On an interesting side note, before he got so sick, he had come with us to the field day at my oldest son’s elementary school. He met my pastor and his wife there, as they had a child in the same school. My pastor’s wife was from west TX, as my dad was. She knew the little town he was from, a town most people had never heard of. I think that little detail drew him to them and caused my dad to be open to the pastor’s coming when he might not have been if he had never met them.

While my dad was in ICU, we could only visit with him 15 minutes at a time once or twice a day. My pastor came often—I think he may have come every day for a while.

Finally my dad was moved out of ICU into a private room. The first day we visited him there, almost as soon as we walked in, he said something like, “I just want you to know that the pastor came by today, and I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.”

I almost fell over. To have my father express faith so clearly and openly was something I hadn’t expected.

Later, as we talked with my pastor, he shared with us some of the discussions he’d had with my dad. He said at one point, my dad talked about the verses I used to send him and said, “My daughter has been trying to get me to do this for years.” To my shame, I had been praying for his salvation but had not wanted to push. I think I might have written out the full plan of salvation once or twice. But mostly I just sent verses as a postscript without comment. All that time I thought my dad had just skipped over those verses, God had been using them to plant seeds in his heart.

He came with us to church before he went home. I wish he had lived closer, so he could have come with us more and we could have encouraged him spiritually. For some reason, he never got into the church back in TX.

So there wasn’t a dramatic change in his life. My pastor encouraged me that when someone is saved later in life (my dad was 61), they’ve had more years on the other side of things. It takes a lifetime to grow spiritually, and my dad had had more time on one side than the other.

But there were subtle changes. He liked to read, and he was open to my sending him Christian books. One of them was about Christians behind the Iron Curtain. On the phone we discussed the amazing ways God helped and encouraged those people in such hard circumstances.

As I hung up the phone, I thought, “I just had a conversation with my dad about the Lord.” A miracle.

When seeds are planted, they remain underground for a while before anything of the plant comes up. Different plants grow at different rates: some take a long time. The flat ground looks lifeless. But underneath, things are happening. Then that first green blade appears and rejoices the heart of the planter.

I love John Piper‘s quote that “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.”

Though sometimes we have to wait long, we can wait in faith and hope, knowing God is at work behind the scenes.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Hope in Darkness

God gives hope in darkness.

The darkness and barren landscape and often overcast skies of late autumn and winter can be depressing to me. I probably could not live in a country with just a few hours of daylight. I’ve written before about some things that help me through the “winter blues.”

But I decided this week to do a quick Bible study about darkness to encourage myself (and hopefully you, as well).

I remind myself God made the seasons. He mentions them in creation (Genesis 1:14-15). And he told Noah, after the flood, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22). He has a purpose for winter’s darkness as well as summer’s light.

God created light and darkness that we might know Him and know He is the only God: “I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:5-7).

Darkness signals time to rest. The need for rest reminds us of our limitations. We can trust he who “will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4) will watch over us. Psalm 104:19-23 says:

He made the moon to mark the seasons;
    the sun knows its time for setting.
20 You make darkness, and it is night,
    when all the beasts of the forest creep about.
21 The young lions roar for their prey,
    seeking their food from God.
22 When the sun rises, they steal away
    and lie down in their dens.
23 Man goes out to his work
    and to his labor until the evening.
24 O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all.

Darkness sometimes indicates God’s chastening. This is a recurrent theme in the prophets. “Hear and give ear; be not proud, for the Lord has spoken. Give glory to the Lord your God before he brings darkness, before your feet stumble on the twilight mountains, and while you look for light he turns it into gloom and makes it deep darkness. But if you will not listen, my soul will weep in secret for your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears, because the Lord’s flock has been taken captive” (Jeremiah 13:15-17). But Micah looks forward with hope even though Israel is in darkness due to sin: “I will bear the indignation of the LORD because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication” (Micah 7:9).

God delivers us from darkness. Many verses bring out this truth. Psalm 107:10-12 speaks of people imprisoned in darkness because of their sin and rebellion. Then verses 13-15 say, “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and burst their bonds apart. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!”

Another passage is Ezekiel 34:11-12: “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.”

Darkness is not a problem for God. We don’t like darkness partly because we can’t see. We don’t know what’s outside when we hear a strange noise. But “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you” (Psalm 139:11-12).

God knows what is in the darkness: “He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him” (Daniel 2:22).

God protects us in darkness: “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday” (Psalm 91:4-6).

God gives the treasures of darkness. “I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name” (Isaiah 45:3). In context, this passage is addressed to Cyrus, a foreign king who did not know the Lord, about how God chose him and was going to use him and reward him. The couple of commentaries I looked at said that “treasures in darkness” referred to the fact that in that day, people hid treasures away in dark places so no one else could find them. But God was going to give these hidden treasures to Cyrus. I think we have to be careful about over-spiritualizing historic events in the Bible, but I think we can see a parallel with the treasures that God will give His children.

We can trust God in darkness. “Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10).

“But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me” (Micah 7:7-8).

We can serve others in darkness. “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday” (Isaiah 58:10).

Darkness will not overcome God’s light. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).

Then I thought of the darkness of the seed in the ground and the butterfly forming in the chrysalis. Some day beauty will come from patient waiting in darkness. Light and warmth will surge into new growth. Elisabeth Elliot used to say that you can’t have resurrection without first having death. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).

This turned out to be a more extensive study than I thought it would be. And that’s not even including verses about night.

Darkness is still not my favorite, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be. In John 3:19, Jesus said, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” There’s so much imagery, especially in the New Testament, about Jesus being light and our need to turn from darkness to light (Acts 26:18), cast off the works of darkness (Romans 13:12), and so on.

Also, sometimes darkness doesn’t indicate evil, but something hidden and unknown. For instance, in 1 Kings 8, Solomon’s temple has just been finished and the ark of the covenant has been brought in. “And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. Then Solomon said, ‘The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness'” (verses 10-12). When Moses was given the Ten Commandments, “These words the Lord spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and he added no more. And he wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me” (Deuteronomy 5:22).

Ecclesiastes 11:8 says, “So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity.” A note on the word vanity says it means “vapor” or “a mere breath.” Our lives seem to pass away like mist.

But “It is you who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness” (Psalm 18:28). God gives us abundant hope in darkness.

Psalm 18:28. God lightens my darkness.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Laudable Linkage

Some of the thought-provoking reads from this week:

The Worshiper, HT to Challies. Interesting twist at the end of this one.

How to Make the Bible Come Alive. I always cringe at this phrase, because the Bible IS living (Hebrews 4:12)–we don’t make it come alive. But that’s exactly what Ryan Higginbottom talks about here: how to deal with and present the Bible in the faith that it is living and active. I especially liked this: “Some leaders break out the bells and whistles. They think that if they jazz up the setting, or the presentation, or the activities, then people will really pay attention and get a lot out of the Bible study. However, this approach is doomed from the start. It presumes that the Bible is (at worst) boring or (at best) inert, and that what God really needs is a good carnival barker.”

The Halloween Night That Changed My Life, HT to Challies. I loved reading this testimony that “God’s grace is stronger than the hardest heart.”

When Art Reminds Us of Eternal Truth, HT to the Story Warren. “‘…The Lion of Lucerne is the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.’ —Mark Twain. Art has a transcendent quality. It can cause us to contemplate the struggles and joys of human experience. Sometimes it overwhelms us with the beauty of the mundane or the eternal. I believe that the search for truth, beauty, and goodness is inherent to the artistic process and is so embedded in the human heart that even if artists do not acknowledge the Creator in their hearts, their art often communicates some truth of the Divine.”

Toxic, HT to Challies. “‘Toxic’. It’s a word that has invaded Christian speech, but could I suggest a moratorium on this adjective, please? For two reasons: . .” I especially like the second one.

In the End, There Are Yellow Tulips, HT to Challies. “When I walked into the church, she stood there with an apron on and a bouquet of yellow tulips extended towards me. I put my hands out and took them as she pulled me close in a hug. She knew those yellow tulips wouldn’t fix the hurt. She knew those yellow tulips would die in a few days. But that wasn’t the point. She saw me.”

A Grandmother’s Heart for Her Loved Ones, HT to Challies. “Grandmama bear wanted to confront those who’d wreaked havoc, demand an explanation, and describe the painful aftermath of their actions. But in the two decades since the horn-blowing incident, my spirit has become quieter and gentler because of the influence of the Spirit that dwells within me. So instead of lashing out, I took my jumbled emotions to the One who hears it all and bears it all.”

Should I Charge Other Christians for My Expertise? HT to Challies. “People just ask them to do little jobs or little consultations, say, in the evening or after church — it’s their gift, after all — without even thinking how this may be unbiblical by mooching or exploiting.”

It’s not about the nail, HT to Tammy. This video is a hilarious take on the “Don’t try to fix it, just listen” stance.

Thankful quote from Spurgeon