“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” ~1 Peter 2:9-10
“Go, eat your bread in joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.” ~Ecclesiastes 8:7-8
There are those seasons in life when the days seem to stream by quickly…too quickly. This week has been like that…busy, full, long, and yet over already…. Many older people have told me that as one gains years, the faster the time seems to fly. I am yet young, it is true, but I do believe them. One time I had a long conversation with a lovely one hundred year old woman. She told me that when one gets to be old, not only does time go by so quickly, but also that it is hard to not live in the past – and that living in the present was something she had to work at every day. However, it seemed to me that this godly old lady most definitely was living in the present, seeking to honor God however she could where she was currently. I was very glad that I had the opportunity to get to know her a little bit. She was an interesting person….
Anyways, by my own nature and personality, I tend to be a future-oriented person, so I sometimes need to stop and remind myself of some of the lessons I learned from that little one hundred year old Christian woman. One of those lessons is to remember to take the time to enjoy the blessings that God has given to me. But let me rephrase that – the blessings which God has absolutely showered upon me. Even though Ecclesiastes, with its “dark sayings and riddles,” may be better known as a somber book, I often find it refreshing and a joy to read. I used to be saddened every time I came across it – now I turn there purposefully, especially when I know I need my head screwed back on straight and my perspectives on life sorted out – again – in a more Biblical fashion.
One thing that is impressed upon me about the book of Ecclesiastes is the Preacher’s focus on the fact that we are God’s people and that God is God; and especially how he is the one who cares for us in every way. We do not have to slave throughout our lives in fear, as do those who worship demons – we are, rather, to labor in hope, in joy, building up what has been broken, cultivating what is there to be cultivated and disciplining what there is to be disciplined, knowing that history is not repeating itself in a futile, pagan cycle of life, but is working out to the glory of God and that our place in history is just that – a place in God’s history.
This reminds me of another verse in this book: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (1:9) As the apostle said so many years after the preacher wrote his book, there is no temptation we endure that is not also experienced by our brothers in Christ. Surely this is one way that there is nothing new under the sun. Nations rise and nations fall. Peoples aspire towards nobility wherever the revelation of the law of God goes – and then they transgress and fall. Individuals draw near to God, repent, obey, and he blesses them – and then they sin, despite his bountiful blessings.
Yet, for all this – all this which seems futility to those who would make their own way, to those who would make their own mark on the world and would see their name handed down for generations because of their own power, those who name their land after themselves, only to die and leave it behind to those who will not remember them – for all this, we, as God’s people, are called to live in hope, to live in a new song of praise, to live in joy – why? – for he has already accepted our works, he has already approved what we do. The words “in Christ” usually follow up verse 7 every time I read it or think upon it. For, as the New Testament makes very clear, that is how it is. In Christ – in Christ Jesus alone – we stand accepted before the Father. Our works, done for his glory, imperfect though they be, futile though they may seem to us when we look around at the swirling sin, raging unrepentance, the sorrows and griefs all around us – we are accepted in Christ Jesus and counted as holy in the eyes of the Almighty God.
And thus it is that we are to live in this world – as dying, yet alive; as alive, yet dead already. In Christ, we are accepted, made righteous, brought near to where we can praise the God of creation, worshipping him in the beauty of holiness, filled with hope and confidence that his law will be kept, his word sealed by its fulfillment, and assured that ourselves – our whole selves, body and spirit – will be brought near before the presence of Christ at the last day by the power the word of his never-failing covenant.
Therefore, the end of the matter is this: fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
It’s been a little while since I’ve posted regularly here on Sparks of Reformation and I thought it was about time for some sort of an update here.
First, I’ve still been working on healing from Lyme and Bartonella and their effects on the body, though, by the grace of God, a year later, I have gotten to the point where I’m no longer treating for Babesia and protomyxzoa rhumatica. I can’t say how long the rest of treatment and the accompanying necessary healing will require before I can say that I am truly healthy.
Again, by the grace of my God shown towards me, I’ve recently been able to begin college classes again, this time with a different school, New Geneva Christian Leadership Academy. In my studies with them, my emphasis is on Christian education. It has indeed been a blessing to be able to once again read with comprehension – and even write! – despite the fact that I certainly still have a fair share of days when my mind feels like it is under the influence of a fever to one degree or another. In addition, I’m also preparing for a reenacting type of event near the end of this month, so I’m extra busy with sewing and re-thinking my current seamstress business. And then I’m taking the time today to scribble here on my blog a little bit….
In a nutshell, that is what’s going on with me right now.
A little more specifically, covenant theology has come to the forefront of my life once again, as the light and hope of Christ has become even more impressed upon me in these days. The glorious continuity and truth of the Scriptures as the covenant revelation of the One God, the Triune Almighty who has saved a people out of sin and death for his joy and glory, have again brought me joy, thanksgiving, and life.
“So he brought out his people with joy, his chosen ones with singing. And he gave them the lands of the nations, and they took possession of the fruit of the people’s toil, that they might keep his statutes and observe his laws. Praise the LORD!” ~Psalm 105:43-45
“For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, when you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” ~Deuteronomy 30:9b-10
“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life….” ~Philippians 2:12b-16a
“And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered….'” ~Revelation 5:5
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” ~Hebrews 12:1-2
In our journeys through life, we will all encounter seasons when it seems that the only thing we can see is woe, sorrow, and pain. It is in such times, especially, when it is vital for us to turn our eyes to the Lord in faith, looking beyond, over, and through our circumstances. Only by doing such, will we be able to attribute due praise to God and come to possess something of a humble spirit throughout our trials. Someday, we may be able to see the purposes of what God has been doing in us, even as Joseph did when he said to the very ones who had sold him into slavery in a foreign land: “And God sent me here before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you sent me here, but God.” ~Genesis 45:7-8a
Beyond ourselves there is the church, the whole body of Christ’s elect. We know that all things work together for our good – as a body, as well as individually – because we belong to the King of the universe. We must cling to the fact that he has reasons beyond ourselves for all that he calls us to endure. Our pangs and strife is not only for our own sanctification, but also, in one way or another, for the good of the brethren (as Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 1:3-11). The kingdom of Christ goes on. We are a part of a broader purpose and we are not alone.
“May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” ~Colossians 1:11-14
Over and above ourselves is the Lord himself. He calls us, each one, to personally depend upon him, to believe him, and so to trust that he is God, as he has said. We must trust him ourselves, looking over this world, over the church, over all things to the One who has ordained it all. We must fear him before all else, knowing that whatever he sends our way is for his glory and for our good.
“I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.” ~Psalm 119:75
Through the story of our lives up to this point, perhaps we can look back and see things we could not see at the moment they were happening. We must look forward, through the mists of the unknown future of both our own lives and that of all of history, to see the final end to which we are heading. If we forget to look forward, seeing forward through the rest of time, as it were, we forget to give God his due worship. He has shown us what is to come and has told us that he would never leave us. That is enough for faith – for true faith – for none of the strength we call our own is anything but a gift from him in the first place. In our daily lives, we are called to take our place among the cloud of witnesses bearing testimony to what God has done in history.
“All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.” ~Psalm 86:9-10
Little things I see or hear often fill me with joy and even wonder…. The intricate care that God has shown in forming all things, yes, even the most insignificant and “useless” things, is something to pause and think on, indeed…especially when great, complicated matters are filling one’s mind…. It reminds me of this verse: “Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.” ~Psalm 111:1-2
I found this little poem somewhere recently, scratched out in my scrawling hand….My God has declared a covenant. This – this is the gospel! Among the nations he shall be praised; For he is merciful.
Justice is satisfied, Holiness is met; Mercy has triumphed, Love has won.
God has made a covenant eternal, His own he has chosen; Christ has taken up the station, He – he alone – the Mediator.
Come! O, come and hear! Hearing, heed his command! The King is come! Death is overrun and razed!
Salvation is eternal life; Life is to know the Father; To know him is to be born anew; To be re-born is to belong to Christ.
Come and see the Christ! You will see the covenant. Let your heart be changed, Lest you pass by the mercy of God.
Pass by Christ and pass by life; Ignore the Mediator and despise your Maker. Pass by Christ and pass on to death, Where there is only pain and sorrow forever.
Pass by Christ and feel God’s wrath; He has no mercy for you. Pass by Christ and joy you will never know; For God’s covenant you call a lie.
Do you believe? Where is your faith? Are you dead? Beg for life.
He will hear. He has spoken. His covenant stands. His name shall be praised.
It is a good thing to step back and consider what the Lord has done in history, so that I can understand myself in context. It is also a good thing to step back and consider what the Lord has done in my own short life, so that I can better understand my God.
I have recently had a birthday and I am now twenty-six years old. I feel as though I am going around a bend in the road into a new season of my life. At the same time, I think I have rediscovered something I had lost – and dearly missed without knowing quite what it was that I had forgotten. It is very simple and nearly unbelievable: I had almost forgotten how it is that God loves me.
Yes, I know how God loves me. I can describe the love of God in theological language. I tremble at the thought of the justice of the Holy One and at his just love and mercy. So, no, I didn’t exactly forget how God loves his saints. But I failed to remember that – and what that means in my own life. The past ten years, in particular, have been filled with spiritual – and physical – struggles as God has slowly cracked apart my pride. I have struggled long with things that were only symptoms of my failure and lack of knowing God. Many sins have I had to face – sins which turned out to only be at a surface layer, no matter how deep and fundamental I may have thought them at the time of discovering them.
Now the gospel is transforming me yet again – that same gospel I have believed since before I can actually remember anything. In the few very early memories I have, my childish heart was made happy because God loved me. I did not really understand sin, but, while I knew there were horrible terrors unknown to me, all that was “out there somewhere” because I was assured that God loved me and that he would take care of my family and myself. I was happy because God forgave me when I was disobedient because of Jesus, somehow. And in this I was content as a young child.
Then I began to learn of sin a little more. I grew cold and hard. I knew indeed that I was a sinner, but, on account of my pride, I was but rarely able to behold my own iniquity – so I often begged God to show me my sins so that I might repent. He left me in this state for a number of years, though I was secretly miserable because I knew I wasn’t pleasing God. I believed the Scriptures and I knew in my soul that I was living with a sinful heart and committing far more sins that I was aware of. But I yet clung to the fact of Christ, knowing that he stood between my sin and the Father – even when I could not feel it.
Finally, God began to show me a few of the sins in my life, even as he used the Westminster Standards to deeply shape my heart in those formative teenage years. I slowly began to be able to identify more and more what sin was – both in myself and in the culture around me. At this time I began to struggle with ill health and weakness, as well as with my uneasy conscience and abiding fear. I wept in private nearly daily. The blackness of the darkness of evil intruded into my presence often. I clung to the fact that God is – and that I was his because he has spoken. I sought to repent; but my pride proved to be a greater wall than I could ever possibly surmount in my own strength.
Then my life was turned upside down. Or so it seemed at the time. It was at this juncture that I began to understand that a local church truly, Scripturally, ought to be a part of the individual believer’s life and not just an optional thing that is sometimes nice to have. Arrogant and lonely, I struggled with this in a particular congregation, as well as with the other recent upheavals. Even darker days in my heart ensued. My health was still less than perfect – and my very soul was anguished. I cried out to God – but, still, most of the time my Father seemed quite deaf to my voice, even as I remained blind to my own iniquity. Again, the utter blackness of the abyss drew near to me. Rarely did a day pass when I did not weep in private. Yet, I still knew that God was faithful who had promised – I knew the very King of glory stood between myself and his own holy wrath. Even so, my soul drew near to the gates of death in the foolishness of my heart.
Strange, slow days for my heart followed this. I suddenly was brought face to face with the humiliating fact that, not only the very sins I had been denying were present in my life, but also that I was exceedingly selfish and dishonoring God in my heart. Even though I was greatly humbled, I yet remained centered on myself. I regained my health to a great degree – but after encountering a very large disappointment, my health began to erode again. I was afraid to admit that because I was too afraid, too self-important, and too self-reliant. I planned things. I embarked upon things. I continued to learn, little by little, more and more about the importance of other believers in the life of the Christian – and a little bit about proper humility towards the due authorities appointed by God, especially in the church. I learned more about sin and suffering, more about Scripture and its applications in my own soul. And, little by little, I learned more of the awesome, fearsome, holy, kingship of my Lord and Savior and of his everlasting covenant. I believed that nothing I ever did could ever change that word of God – and in that there was great comfort, though I yet was uneasy in his presence.
Then it so happened that God destroyed me. Slowly, one by one, he took my skills, my plans, my hopes, my abilities, plucking them from my greedy, clutching hands. He took my church family from me – family which meant more to me than my extended family. He took from me the capacity to enjoy things I previously delighted in – including the ability to think, reason, and converse coherently. He took from me strength, stamina, and the ability to work hard. My health was slipping quickly and I felt as though he was even taking from me my sanity. I was disappointed, frustrated, crushed, frightened, and, in some respects, truly outcast. In these dark days, I learned of God’s love – more precisely, of the strength of his love to his people in defending them and judging their enemies. God shall never leave the ones for whom Christ died unvindicated. Yet – all this! – and I was still filled with pride. Anguish overwhelmed me because I believed I was no longer good enough to work hard – ergo, that I was unable to love others; thus, unable to obey and please God. I was humiliated because I was ill; staggering, though not drunk; weeping, though not truly “depressed”; mourning as one doomed to die, but not dead, afraid of the justice of God, knowing I could not please him; seeing primarily the strong, hard face of my King set against those who rebel against him and against his holy Father – my Father.
I do not quite know what happened next – save this – my Father granted me mercy. Somehow, he showed me that which I had long known and declared: it was not the quantity of expenditure of energy in my deeds that would come before him and find his approval, gaining his attention and love. I was already – and had been all along – one beloved for the sake of Christ – and for his sake alone. My obedience added absolutely nothing to that. I knew that – Oh! how I knew that! – but I had forgotten to remember to apply that deeply and broadly to every area of my life – I had retained my pride to a great degree, keeping it hidden under the face of love. I still do not know how it was that God finally granted me this understanding – I do not know if it was through blessing me in a different, loving congregation of his church; or perhaps through reducing me to sitting nearly idle and lifeless, listless and too weary to be ashamed of my inactivity, too confused to be able to confront life; or perhaps through placing me into the loving, protecting, comforting arms of my family at such a time. However – in my anguish he showed me a truth so profound as to leave no room for that humiliation that results from pride – only for a quiet, silent, humble wonder at the mercy of God beyond any I had yet known. The gospel – perhaps I have finally learned it. For Christ’s sake – Christ, the Lamb of God and my merciful High Priest, for me, as well as for the whole church – for Christ’s sake, I am one beloved, one provided for. This is my name. My given name means “the barren one, gift of God” – and my barrenness and weaknesses have indeed proved a gift of God in order to destroy some fundamental falsehoods I had been cultivating for the past ten years.
This is my testimony: I am a sinner. I am beloved of Christ. I do not have to labor to deserve his favor and blessing – his love is freely given – as freely given to the weak as to the strong, who are better able to engage in the deeds associated with the advancement of the kingdom of Christ. The response of faith is heart-obedience – and the measure of heart-obedience is not calories expended, but in willingness to put aside self – all self – willingness to be weak, willingness to be patient, willingness to trust Christ wholly, entirely, and to draw strength only from him and his promise. It is not labor alone that sanctifies us. Nor is labor itself love. Love is the reason for the labor. Love is obedience – and love is the impetus for obedience.
I know not what lessons come next. I have learned much of thanksgiving, of praise, of hope, of steadfast love, discipline, patience, work, fear, humility – but I have much yet to learn. I am twenty six years old now. I have hope that my body shall yet fully be healed, even as I have been blessed significantly already. I must re-learn self-discipline for holy reasons. I must learn how to walk in love – in love freely bestowed. I must learn how to accept love freely bestowed. I must learn how to lean on Christ. I must learn how to pray without ceasing. I must learn how to identify the wicked, creeping pride that buries itself under good things, that I may, in a godly, truly humble way, make war on the wicked parasite of selfish pride and fear of what others might say. This – this – only because I am now free, no longer enslaved to pride as I once was, because God loves me freely.
When I was a young child, my favorite song was “Jesus Loves Me.” I think I sing it now, again, with a little bit greater understanding:
“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong; they are weak, but he is strong.”
For the glory of God!
“And it shall be said, ‘Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people’s way.’ For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.'” ~Isaiah 57:14-15
“The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” ~Psalm 121:7-8
For me, life is always interesting. And sometimes life is very interesting. And sometimes I can’t figure out what is going on.
Today is a day like that–which is also interesting.
It is a rainy spring evening in the American Midwest. The sky is a soft, pale grey, the air is still quite chilly, the rain is blowing and dripping heavily, and the wind is slipping by as quickly as the time seems to be flying….
I awoke this morning with my head full of the things I had been planning on doing this week–I have a few sewing projects with my name on them all cut out and ready to assemble. But I have not done this because I have felt ill all day long, dull of mind, and weak. Experience has taught me that, in such a state, I surely would have merely bumbled my sewing, made huge messes, and ended up with a less-than-excellently made garment…. When I am in a slightly more “normal” state of mind, I love the process of “building” clothing–especially when it is to be pretty outfits for a specific event…but I simply cannot find it in myself to enjoy this work in the state in which I found myself this morning.
The other foremost thoughts in my mind upon awakening were of my grandfather who lives with us. He had a long day out and about yesterday getting his dislocated hip reset–only to discover that it was quite visibly out of joint again by bedtime. My exhausted father was immediately on the phone with various hospitals and doctors, which resulted in a plan to take him in first thing in the morning. My grandfather has had significant decline since he broke his hip the end of November last year–but the amount and significance of his decline of the past week, in particular, has been difficult to watch. By this afternoon, I learn that he also has a previously undiagnosed heart condition which has (most likely) been somewhat contributing to his current frailty.
Meantime, along with all this and many more thoughts scattering around my dulled consciousness, I am wondering what is going on with me and my indwelling spirochetes, protozoa, bacteria, and viruses, for my symptom sets seem to be shifting here recently and I don’t know what to make of it…but the words of Psalm 121 keep running through my head. When my mind is as grey and befuddled as it is today, I can’t seem to keep focus on any series of thoughts for very long–at least, not to any significant depth. The short Psalms of ascents are especially suited to such days…. Not only have I read Psalm 121 multiple times in my daily Scripture reading over the past week, but the sermon at church yesterday drew heavily from this passage, as well. Indeed, yesterday “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!'” (Psalm 122:1). Some of us in my family have been taking turns staying home from church with my grandfather and I had thought that it was my turn to stay home yesterday. But the good providence of God had arranged otherwise–and I also was among those who were assembled together to worship our gracious Lord. Not only that, I was feeling pretty good; so I was doubly blessed yesterday.
Here, then, are a few of my bumbling thoughts from Psalm 121….
“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” Up, up…looking up the side of a mountain, up to the fortress, up to the stronghold, up to the throne of the King…it is from there, from on high, not from the earth or from any earthly physical power that we are given strength to persevere. Not only that–our God finds and helps each one of us individually…and it is with the same power of him who made heaven and earth that he stretches forth his hand to help us, each one….
“He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” The Shepherd of Israel, the King of the Church, watches over all his own, he keeps each one of us, he knows all our paths–all the time…. In the hour when we are not able to sleep, he is there. In the times when we are given sweet rest, he never slumbers. Always he watches and guards each one of his own….
“The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” Not only does our Shepherd and King never sleep in his watching over us and strengthening us, he promises he will keep us and bring us safely at last into his presence forever. We are his–our lives are in his hand because we belong to Christ–and he will preserve us through all those things he has ordained for us to pass through, for our good, for the good of his people, for his name’s sake, for his glory……