Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The power of faith

Last year I looked at a variety of statements about the nature of faith. I came across a good quote today from an early Canadian Baptist pastor that illustrates the power of faith in the life of a believer:

"What else but faith, unfeigned faith in the death of Christ as the only atonement could make a man forsake all—all his self-righteousness, all his good works, prayers, tears, and religious feelings and exercises, &c—and take up his cross and follow Jesus Christ? What but real faith in the promise of Christ, of everlasting life, would, or could, make a man become the butt of the enmity, malice, revenge, and persecutions of his relations, friends, and neighbours, and deny himself to every fleshly, and every worldly gratification? What but faith in, and love to the Lord Jesus Christ, as the only Saviour of the guilty, could make a man devote himself and his all to the service of God—and make him willing to suffer even unto death, not only for Christ himself, but also for his laws, and his ordinances, and his people? How true is it that faith purifieth the heart (Acts 15:9), overcometh the world (1 John 5:4), worketh by love (Galatians 5:6) and leads us to endure every trial and every affliction in this world (Hebrews 11)."
—Alexander Stewart (1774-1840), pastor of the first Baptist church in York (Toronto), Upper Canada

Thursday, May 08, 2008

"Hold Thou my hand"

I've been thinking of the words of this hymn of Fanny Crosby's this morning. The tune is not that singable but the words are really rich, especially coming from a woman who was herself blind. I imagine that her sense of touch and her consciousness of needing help to walk around, just on a human level, were very real. But here, Fanny applies that to a higher plane - that of needing the help of God to navigate through life, to know God's nearness and touch, to fear his absence and the possibility of stumbling, to need his light to guide our steps, etc. It is encouraging that she sees this need right to the end of her life—right to the gates of death, we will need God's strength, his holding us so that we do not fall, so that we can experience joy and help in our weakness.


Hold Thou my hand: so weak I am, and helpless;

I dare not take one step without Thy aid.

Hold Thou my hand: for then, O Loving Saviour,

No dread of ill shall make my soul afraid.



Hold Thou my hand: and closer, closer draw me

To Thy dear self, my hope, my joy, my all;

Hold Thou my hand: lest haply I should wander,

And missing Thee, my trembling feet should fall.



Hold Thou my hand: the way is dark before me

Without the sunlight of Thy face divine;

But when by faith I catch its radiant glory,

What heights of joy, what rapturous songs are mine!

Hold Thou my hand, that when I reach the margin
Of that lone river Thou didst cross for me,
A heavenly light may flash along its waters,
And every wave like crystal bright shall be.

—Fanny Crosby 1879

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The value of poetry

When we are harassed by sorrows or anxieties, or long oppressed by any powerful feelings which we much keep to ourselves, for which we can obtain and seek no sympathy from any living creature, and which, yet, we cannot, or will not wholly crush, we often, naturally, seek relief in poetry—and often find it too—whether in the effusions of others, which seem to harmonize with our existing case, or in our own attempts to give utterance to those thoughts and feelings in strains less musical, perchance, but more appropriate, and therefore more penetrating and sympathetic, and, for the time, more soothing, or more powerful to rouse and to unburden the oppressed and swollen heart.
—Anne Brontë (Agnes Grey)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A paradox

Commenting on Mark 8:5-9 (and the feeding of the 4,000), Spurgeon writes:

Expect, beloved, to be enriched by your losses, to grow by that which looks as if it would crush you, and to become greater by that which threatens to annihilate you. Only put yourself into Christ’s hands, and he will make good use of you, and leave you better than you were before he used you as the means of helping and blessing others.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The tenderness of God

"Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee" (Mark 5:19)

What a challenge from the lips of Christ — tell your friends and testify to the great things God has done in your life! And, tell with confidence, as such a God who has had compassion on us (and we know our sin, and the many ways in which God has been so kind), will he also not have compassion on others who come to him in their need? Tell of the tenderness, the undeserved kindness, the love, that God has shown to you, that it might woo others to him as well.

Says C.H. Spurgeon: "That is one of the chief points on which we ought always to speak, not only to tell of the greatness of the change which the grace of God has wrought in us, but especially to testify to the tenderness of God to us. Oh, how gently did he handle our broken bones! That good Physician of ours has a lion’s heart, but he has a lady’s hand; he does not spare us needful pain, but he never inflicts even a twinge that is unnecessary. And, oh! the pity of his heart toward us when he sees the sorrow which our sin has brought upon us."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

And Bartholomew…

Just working on a Spurgeon devotional on the Gospels at the moment and came across this helpful section on Bartholomew:

I think that, as a rule, God’s servants work best in pairs. In other senses than the matrimonial one, it is not good that man should be alone. Moses needs Aaron; Peter needs Andrew; James needs John. It is well to be of such a temperament and disposition that you can work harmoniously with another of your Lord’s servants. If ye cannot, pray God to alter you. Notice that expression, in [Matthew 10:3], ‘and Bartholomew’. I think there is not a single instance in the New Testament where Bartholomew is mentioned without the word ‘and’ before or after his name — ‘and Bartholomew’ or ‘Bartholomew and’ someone else. Perhaps he was not a man who ever began any work by himself, but he was a grand man to join in and help it on when somebody else had started it. So, dear friend, if you are not qualified to be a leader in the church of Christ, be willing to be number two; but do serve the Master, in some capacity or other, with all your might. Be a brother who carries an ‘and’ with him wherever he goes; be like a horse, that has his harness on, and is ready to be hooked into the team.

What a helpful word! We are not 'islands' in God's work. He calls us to work alongside others, joined to the harness with them, in willing and eager service to our God. How much we need to cultivate that bond of fellowship and joint ministry in his kingdom! And what a blessing it is to find others to work alongside and be their 'and' to complement the work that God has given them to do, truly fellow workers in God's cause.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Friendship…published at last!


My friend Hilary and I have been trying to get a book on Friendship by Hugh Black into print for a while now. I came across this title many years ago and found it so helpful. So, after much planning, and me redesigning it and getting it ready for press, it's finally done! Praise God!

I'll give you the summary from the back blurb:

 The high ideal to which friendship was held by the ancient writers, like Plato and Aristotle, seems to be an obsolete sentiment today. Western society, with its busyness and self-centredness, to many people, feels like a cold and lonely place. In this culture of cynicism and malaise Hugh Black directs our attention to the importance of friendship and the blessing that it can be. With elegantly poignant prose, Black draws on ancient writings, poetry and the Scriptures, helping us to rediscover the miracle of genuine friendship and to understand the care and keeping of such treasure.

Along the way, Black addresses the challenges and responsibilities associated with friendship including the tragic consequences of eclipsed or wrecked friendships. He defines the limitations of friendship but also highlights the blessings it can bring. In true friendship, accountability and love inspire us to live with more honour, integrity and grace. Ultimately, we see that in Jesus Christ we can have that “higher friendship”—friendship with God himself—which revolutionizes the way we live, the way we think and the things we value. 

It is available in both hardcover (isbn 9781894400282) and softcover (isbn 9781894400275)

If you are interested in ordering a copy, contact Sola Scriptura Ministries International or call them toll free at 1-800-563-3529


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The atmosphere of a good friend

Hugh Black likens the choice of a good friend to breathing in 'a good atmosphere.' He writes:

Others have a good atmosphere; we can breathe there in safety, and have a joyful sense of security. With some of these it is a local delicate environment, sweet, suggestive, like the aroma of wild violets: we have to look, and sometimes to stoop, to get into its range. With some it is like a Scotch pine forest, or a eucalyptus grove of warmer climes, which perfumes a whole countryside. It is well to know such, Christ’s little ones and Christ’s great ones. They put oxygen into the moral atmosphere and we breathe more freely for it. They give us new insight, and fresh courage, and purer faith, and by the impulse of their example inspire us to nobler life.

How thankful I am for the atmosphere of sweetness that I can breathe around the great friends God has blessed me with!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Reflecting on a new year

In this time of reflecting back and looking ahead, a few lines from Frances Ridley Havergal's new year verses:

One year less
Of wisely-ordered loss
Of sorrow and of weariness
Conflict and cross.

One year more
Of mercies ever new
Of love in never-failing store,
Faithful and true.


----------------------

The future! who may lift the veil
And read its yet unwritten tale?
But sorrow and joy alike we leave
In the Hand that doeth all things well,
And calmly from that Hand receive
All that each coming year may tell.
We would not ask of life or death,
It shall be as the Master saith.


----------------------

So, we rest in God, knowing that throughout the past year he has proved faithful. And we look with both faith and hope to a year of his kind care, knowing that he loves us as his very own!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Deep smiles

I spoke recently with a friend and asked how the church was doing in the country where they minister. Her eyes lit up and she explained how some had come to faith and had been baptized this summer. Exciting indeed, especially in a country where the cost of following Christ can be huge.

Having visited her about 18 months ago and going to the house church in their city, I remembered a few things about the people who were there. As she related how one of the men was taking such a pastoring role with the people and was so passionate for evangelism, she started to try to explain to me who she meant. It took just a few words for me to figure out who she meant. It was "the man who is always smiling" — I knew right away. When I met this man, though I could not speak his language, you just knew that he had joy in his heart.

Driving home later that night I thought about this man’s smile... and this man’s story. Because of his faith in Christ, his Muslim wife eventually left him and divorced him. He hasn’t been allowed to see his children for years. In short, knowing Christ has meant big costs in this man’s life. But what was it that stuck out to both my friend and I? He had a JOY in his life that shone from his face into his whole life.

What an encouragement to "press on" is the memory of this man's radiant smile!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Cultivating friendships

From Hugh Black's book Friendship, a few ways to cultivate friendship:

-------------------------
Attention to detail is the secret of success in every sphere of life, and little kindnesses, little acts of considerateness, little appreciations, little confidences, are all that most of us are called on to perform, but they are all that are needed to keep a friendship sweet. Such thoughtfulness keeps our sentiment in evidence to both parties. If we never show our kind feeling, what guarantee has our friend, or even ourself, that it exists? Faithfulness in deed is the outward result of constancy of soul, which is the rarest, and the greatness, of virtues. If there has come to us the miracle of friendship, if there is a soul to which our soul has been drawn, it is surely worth while being loyal and true. Through the little occasions for helpfulness, we are training for the great trial, if it should ever come, when the fabric of friendship will be tested to the very foundation. The culture of friendship, and its abiding worth, never found nobler expression than in the beautiful proverb, “A friend loveth at all times, and is a brother born for adversity."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Wilberforce and Bacon

I am reading a great biography of William Wilberforce at the moment – Hero for Humanity by Kevin Belmonte [This being an important year in remembering the abolition of the slave trade in England (200 years ago).] It has been interesting to read how God worked in Wilberforce's life to bring him to salvation. Once he became a Christian, and already a member of Parliament, he struggled a bit with whether he should quit being an MP and pursue some type of "full-time" Christian service. Encouraged by William Pitt and others to remain in Parliament and serve God there (and obviously, God ended up using his position in a mighty way to end a horrible practice), Wilberforce remained an MP in following years and used his influence to effect much good.

An avid reader of Sir Francis Bacon, Wilberforce quotes this in his diary (around 1784/5):

Illi mors gravis incubat, qui notus nimis omnibus, ignotus moritur sibi
It is a sad fate for a man to die too well known to everybody else, and still unknown to himself.

Wilberforce concluded: "The shortening of private devotions starves the soul, it grows lean and faint. This must not be."

I find myself rebuked by these words.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A God who is near

I was struck recently by some verses in Isaiah 63. The union of God with his people and the way he enters into their afflictions and upholds them is clearly revealed in this passage. This is no aloof God who has "wound up the world and it is just ticking away"… rather, he is engaged in the troubles of his people, cares for them like a father, showers them with undeserved kindness and grace, and carries them through the afflictions of life. Perhaps it is my mom's cancer and chemo treatments that have me looking to the Word for reassurance…I'm not sure… but how God delivers in verse 9!

In all their distress he too was distressed,
and the angel of his presence saved them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them
all the days of old.


I'll just share a little insight from John Calvin on this verse:
_________

In all their distress he too was distressed
"By speaking in this manner, he declares the incomparable love which God bears toward his people. In order to move us more powerfully and draw us to himself, the Lord accommodates himself to the manner of men, by attributing to himself all the affection, love, and compassion which a father can have."
_________

In his love
"…he shews that there was no other cause for so great benefits than the absolute and undeserved goodness of God."
_________

he lifted them up and carried them…
"The people experienced the grace of God, not only once, when they were redeemed, but during the whole course of their life, so that to him alone ought to be ascribed all the benefits which they have received."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The river of grace

A friend sent me this quote from Spurgeon today. I thought it was a real gem of comfort:

"The heats of ...cares and scorching trials make me need the cooling influences of the river of His grace: I may go at once and drink to the full from the inexhaustible fountain, for in summer and in winter it pours forth its flood… The streams which take their rise on the mountains of divine sovereignty and infinite love shall ever be full to the brim…"
—C.H. Spurgeon

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Value of blogging…and the challenges of life

I see it has now been a year since I entered the world of blogging... strangely enough I think this blog has probably been more helpful for me than for anyone else. Just the discipline of having to articulate or share something has been good. And as I reflect on some of the things I have been thinking about this past year - faith, truth, friendship, encouragement, trust, etc. - and the sharing of poetry and things that have been so helpful to me throughout the year, I find myself both challenged and encouraged in my own faith once again. So, as I say, that seems a strange thing but I am thankful for it.

At the moment my mom is going through chemotherapy, she started yesterday, and it is a reminder to me of the frailty of life -- yet it also challenges me to reflect on God's care and to look with faith to him for the future. He is the One who holds the future and I need each day to rest in that. I am thankful that the One who made us is powerful, and able to heal and renew.

I have often been reminded of Psalm 139:13-18 these past few months:

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!

Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand.
When I awake,
I am still with you.


There are many poignant lines in this psalm of David's. I am reminded that the One who knew us before one of our days came to be, who knit us together in our mother's womb, is able to knit mom's body back together. But most of all, I am blessed to know as vv.17-18 attests, that God remembers us, he thinks about us, and he is always with us. What a comfort that is when all around us seems to be in flux and turmoil! As David rested in the kind providence of God, I pray that I may too.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Books…books…books…

I've always thought this quote of Baxter's very thought-provoking (odd, perhaps, for someone who loves books, designs books, edits books…)

It is not the reading of many books which is necessary to make one wise, but the well-reading of a few, could they be sure to have the best...
— Richard Baxter

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Prayer…

“More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.”
—Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The dawn of heaven breaks

Just wanted to recommend a little book I worked on this year for Evangelical Press called The dawn of heaven breaks: Anticipating eternity by Sharon James (ISBN 9780852346419). It is a wonderful anthology of hymns, Bible verses and other writings on the theme of heaven. It is a great thing to give a believer, old or young, going through an illness, bereavement, struggles or even facing death.

I'll give you a little taste here from page 4-5 from Richard Baxter:

The Saints’ Everlasting Rest

How often do you think about heaven? One of the greatest pastors in church history, Richard Baxter (1615-1691) urged all Christians to set aside time each day to meditate on heaven. His first book was published in 1650, entitled The Saints’ Everlasting Rest. In it, he urged his readers to get alone, and think, and read, and pray:

Go away into a private place, at a convenient time, and put aside other distractions. Look up towards heaven. Remember that your everlasting rest is there. Meditate on its wonder and reality. Rise from sense to faith, by comparing heavenly with earthly joys, until you are transformed from a forgetful sinner, and a lover of the world, to an ardent lover of God. Meditate on heaven until you are changed from a fearful coward to a resolved Christian. Meditate until your unfruitful sadness is turned to joy. Meditate until your heart is weaned away from earth to heaven, until you are taken up with the delight of walking with God.

You will be as one who stands on the top of a high mountain looking down on the world below: fields, woods, cities and towns will seem like little spots. In fact that is how insignificant all earthly things will now appear! The most powerful rulers will seem as grasshoppers; the busy, contentious, covetous world, will be like a heap of ants. You will not fear the threats of men. You will not be attracted by the honours of the world. Temptations will lose their strong appeal. Afflictions will seem less grievous. Every mercy will be more greatly appreciated. And, by God’s grace, it is for you to choose whether you live this blessed life or not!

~ Richard Baxter ~

Friday, June 08, 2007

Helpful blog...

Check out David Robinson's very helpful look at Psalm 88. If you, or someone you know, suffers from depression, he has some good words to share.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Thomas Watson on Romans 8:28

I acquired a little book recently called A divine cordial by Thomas Watson (more recently published in the Banner of Truth Puritan paperback series as All things for good). I had read little of Watson prior to this but what a treasure this book is. Perhaps it is just that God provides just what we need at the time when we are able to receive it, I don't know. Anyhow, this book has been just a real encouragement.

It is written in a very Puritan style, with many points and divisions, in places more like a sermon outline it seems, but what deep truths I have found, seemingly in every paragraph. Full of pith and depth, Watson explores and mines Romans 8:28 like someone seeking to glean every last nugget out of a gold deposit.

--------------------
Here are a few points from Chapter One on how the best things work for good to the godly:

• God's power works for good in supporting us in trouble. Underneath are the everlasting arms (Deut. 33:27). What upheld Daniel in the lion's den? Jonah in the whale's belly? The three Hebrews in the furnace? Only the power of God. Is it not strange to see a bruised reed grow and flourish? How is a weak Christian able, not only to endure affliction, but to rejoice in it? He is upheld by the arms of the Almighty. My strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).

• The goodness of God works for good to the godly. God's goodness is a means to make us good. The goodness of God leadeth to repentance (Rom. 2:4). The goodness of God is a spiritual sunbeam to melt the heart into tears. Oh, says the soul, has God been so good to me? ...

• The promises are notes of God's hand; is it not good to have security? ... They are called precious promises (1 Peter 1:4). They are as cordials to the soul that is ready to faint...
... Are we in great trouble? There is a promise that works for our good, I will be with him in trouble (Ps. 91:15). God does not bring His people into troubles, and leave them there. He will stand by them; He will hold their heads and hearts when they are fainting. And there is another promise, He is their strength in the time of trouble (Ps. 37:39). "Oh," says the soul, "I shall faint in the day of trial." But God will be the strength of our hearts; He will join His forces with us. Either He will make His hand lighter, or our faith stronger.

•... the mercies of God work for good... Lord, why is it that notwithstanding all my unworthiness, a fresh tide of mercy comes in every day?... The mercies of God have a melting influence upon the soul; they dissolve it in love to God.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The anchor of hope

"The use of hope is to keep us from fainting, so that we be not confounded through any assaults of our enemies. Hope is the anchor that sees believers through storms and tempests, keeping the ship safe and sure… Hope empowers endurance, and patience, waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises… The purpose of hope is to enable us to wait, and still to wait, and do it patiently… It is the function of hope to make us look so much the more steadfastly upon God, especially since we are prone by nature to suppose that God forgets us and remembers not his promise to us."
—William Gouge (The Whole Armour of God, 1627)

Rest on God's Word and promise

"Resolve within yourself that you will believe and rest upon what God has said in his Word, though a thousand devils and your own heart also should say something to the contrary when you have no feeling or comfort at all in the assurance of his favour… Rest on God’s Word and promise… We live by our faith, and not by our feeling… Unbelief makes us vulnerable to every temptation… Trust in God, and be persuaded of his love."
—Arthur Hildersam (1563-1632)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

One day at a time…

Just a poem from the pen of Annie Johnson Flint that mom shared with me this morning:

One day at a time, with its failures and fears,
With its hurts and mistakes, with its weakness and tears,
With its portion of pain and its burden of care;
One day at a time we must meet and must bear.

One day at a time to be patient and strong;
To be calm under trial and sweet under wrong;
Then its toiling shall pass and its sorrow shall cease;
It shall darken and die, and the night shall bring peace.

One day at a time — but the day is so long,
And the heart is not brave and the soul is not strong.
O Thou pitiful Christ, be Thou near all the way;
Give courage and patience and strength for the day.

Swift cometh His answer, so clear and so sweet;
"Yea, I will be with thee, thy troubles to meet;
I will not forget thee, nor fail thee, nor grieve;
I will not forsake thee; I never will leave."

Not yesterday's load are we called to bear,
Nor the morrow's uncertain and shadowy care;
Why should we look forward or back with dismay?
Our needs, as our mercies, are but for the day.

One day at a time, and the day is His day;
He hath numbered its hours, though they haste or delay.
His grace is sufficient; we walk not alone;
As the day, so the strength that He giveth His own.

—Annie Johnson Flint

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Sinking our hope in the depths of God's love

The Apostle Paul writes "To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints" (Romans 1:7):

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
'For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.'
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:35-39)


Today my mom had surgery for breast cancer and what verses these are to rest our hope upon! Nothing... nothing can/will or ever shall... separate us from the love of God that is in Christ. These are truly verses to sink our minds into and consider as we face "trials of many kinds." I am thankful for these mighty encouragements from His Word esp. at this time. We can look to our God with hope in this life, and ultimately, rest in the sure hope we have for the life to come. We have a kind God who loves his people with an incomparable love!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A few lines from Anne Steele…

In every dark, distressful hour,
When sin and Satan join their power,
Let this dear hope repel the dart —
That Jesus bears us on his heart.

Great Advocate, Almighty Friend!
On him our humble hopes depend;
Our cause can never, never fail,
For Jesus pleads, and must prevail.
—Anne Steele


See also Hebrews 7:25:

Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.