26 March, 2009

Meditations from a House of Mourning (In Memory of T.A. Zachry)

Meditations from a House of Mourning
~L. Page

It does not escape my notice that as a general rule, our culture seems to look upon the aging with at best a kind of disdain. Commonly, the aging are featured in their weakest moments in our films and conversations, and scorned and mocked for their lapses in memory or their impatience toward the impertinence of the younger generation.

Not surprisingly, in a society that seems to worship youth, we explore without the slightest pangs of conscience, even the possibility that killing off such weak and failing human beings is perhaps the most merciful - and so we deceive ourselves that we the young are not only worthy of preeminence in this world, but are noble for finding additional ways to exalt ourselves (like the playground bully exalts his own sense of self-importance by picking on the little guy) and remove any frail (condemning? convicting? costly?) presence. And, it seems, the elderly begin to think that perhaps we are correct – they are, after all, a burden on our economy with their end of life care, and a burden on their families, with their increasing dependence, and a burden to themselves with the mounting physical sufferings they must endure as they approach the end of life.

Sacrificing Wisdom on the Altar of Self Worship
What if, for one moment, we could collectively consider the wealth of experience and life-taught discernment and wisdom that we are so quick to abort and discard?

What if, instead of our love for the sound of our own voices, we would pause from our frenzied pace, and ask the tough questions for which it may even seem there are no answers, and listen to what those with years and “hoary hair” might be able to bequeath us?

What if, taking time to “be still” rather than so consumed with our own here and now, we would consider – I mean really consider, such as the kind of which it has been described as “treasuring up all these things and pondering them in your heart” – the years that have preceded us?

*The wars that have been fought on foreign soils and the blood of our fathers and great uncles and so on and the mothers left at home to work their fingers to the bone and the children who had to grow up so fast.
*The technologies that have incrementally improved lives and the cost of obtaining them.
*The effects over time – such that they aren’t always visible to the naked eye – of the loss of a sense of our dependence on a Higher Power, the gradual sacrificing of our sense to the sensual, the cost in years of prolonged adolescence and self-indulgence on not only the family, but on the maturing of our young men and women into responsible, honorable people....

What if we confessed that – contrary to what we would rather believe – we really do not know everything...or always know better?

“Even what he thinks he has will be taken away....”
Holy Writ exclaims that it is better to be in a house of mourning: “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2) It is GOOD for the living, we who remain, to consider the brevity of life, to weigh the matters of eternity and – if it were possible – to make an accounting for our souls’ sake.

I spent a small (relatively speaking) amount of time in a “house of mourning” recently as I watched my Granddad pass from this life into the next. (He didn’t pass away – he passed through, and is now near to his Lord, Jesus Christ who paid the redemption for his soul.)

The phrase “he went peacefully” would be the most likely applicable phrase in the case of my Granddad’s passing. He was 86 years old – by any present standards a “good old age,” a man “satisfied with life.” And his passing, though exacerbated by an advanced and too-late discovered cancer, was accepted by most everyone as the “normal” course of things. And I am grateful – there are plenty of more violent ways that a soul is torn from its body and hurled into the eternal presence of the Creator God. That my Granddad went “peacefully” is, by all accounts, a mercy.

But I take issue with the notion of dying, even peacefully, as the “normal course of things.” As if that means it is an acceptable reality. At least here and now, I am again angered over the course of sin in this life. By this I do not even mean a man’s OWN sin, but rather the effects of sin – the consequences of sin in humanity and in this fallen world – such that all creation veritably “groans” because of it “until the sons of God be revealed!”

It seems to me a great tragedy that we – when we are MOST weak, MOST frail, MOST vulnerable – are MOST subject to the vilest, brutal and gruesome consequences of sin.

*Cutting off the flow of blood to the ends of our limbs.
*Clotting where it ought not be clotting.
*Arteries blocked off where there ought to be free passage for life giving blood.
*Nerve endings and synapses no longer firing as they ought and so ushering in confusion and the body unable to repair itself as it was designed (!) to do.
*Unable to take in the nutrition it needs just to function!
*Muscle control succumbing to the seizing up and violent shakes and shudders of arthritis and loss of neurological command even over the most rudimentary of motor function.
*Lungs no longer taking in air except in labored, clutching, heaving breaths, until finally even that is stolen away.

And what to do when the body in decline becomes your own prison and the instrument of your torment and torture!

You strain against your own flesh just to try to make eye contact with your loved one by your bed. You muster all the powers of your mind to try to control your lips and your dehydrated and now crusting tongue just to say, one last time to your daughter holding your unresponsive hand that you love her, and she’ll always be your little girl. And at last, the only thing that you can manage is a single tear which escapes your unblinking eyes and rolls down your cheek as your grandchildren sing to you of the sweetness of the Lord whose eye is on the sparrow, and you know he watches you, even now, as you are longing for heaven. And home.

The effects and consequences of sin on the body, bringing about death, rob him of his words of wisdom, his experiences, his expressions of love for his family which has – over the years and by the grace of God – only multiplied! When, in the life of a man, he has the MOST to offer, and he is least able to give it. And “even what he thinks he has will be taken away.”

Should this not cause us to shudder? Should this not cause us to fear – for even in the BEST of circumstances, even if we would go peacefully (!), we have but the mere delusion of control over our lives, over even our breaths.

How dare we suspect we could over-state this!
I fear how often we willfully neglect the truth of such things! I fear how often we avoid the bedside of the dying, and comfort ourselves with platitudes and common phrases of acceptance – our way, it would seem, of trying to maintain SOME illusion of control even of our dying.

Our scoffing at the aging – using an iconic toothless, wrinkled and sun dried character as the “fool” of story – is only a symptom of our greater efforts, deceiving even ourselves (!), to keep from thinking about the fact that some day we will no longer be able to hide from the strain and pull and snatching and snagging death grip of sin! After all, it comes only to take its due! Its wages, its just recompense!

There is no “peaceful” dying!
There is no “peaceful” way that the soul is stolen from its flesh, and the man – any man! – is immediately face to face with God, more brilliant than any sun or star, and infinitely more consuming!

It truly IS better to go to a house of mourning than the house of feasting – because in death we lose our self-deceptions. And though the kindness of the Lord, indeed even the mercy visited upon us in our dying, may well be visible, it is nevertheless the mercy of the Lord as concerns our living toward which we should be sober-minded and alert.

Who will pay our Redemption? How will we find hope in the face of death? How can we have any hope to withstand the all-consuming blaze of the Holy Father God – be it not even his wrath (!) but just his glory! Only ONE has ever truly paid the penalty, himself a sacrificial, “pleasing aroma” to God. If we will not have Jesus, to whom will we go; who is left? If we will not yield our lives to the Lord’s Christ, what other hope have we?

We cannot even keep breathing by our own strength and will!

...How frail we are.

16 March, 2009

Edwards: The emerald rainbow around the throne of God....

**I have reflected on this very thing - the emerald rainbow around the throne of God - I have seen, similarly, a statistic to the effect that the color "Green" is the most soothing to the human eye. It would stand to reason, then, that God himself would surround himself in a light upon which it is most SOOTHING to gaze for eternity! How right, then, that we could consider such a mediating glow that of God's covenantal LOVE for his children in Christ!**


"...Love is the principal thing which the gospel reveals in God and Christ. The gospel brings to light the love between the Father and the Son, and declares how that love has been manifested in mercy; how that Christ is God's beloved Son in whom he is well pleased. And there we have the effects of God's love to his Son set before us in appointing him to the honor of a mediatorial kingdom, in appointing him to be the Lord and Judge of the world, in appointing that all men should honor the Son even as they honor the Father.

There is revealed the love which Christ has to the Father, and the wonderful fruits of that love, as particularly his doing such great things, and suffering such great things in obedience to the Father, and for the honor of the Father's justice, authority and law. There it is revealed how the Father and the Son are one in love, that we might be induced in like manner to be one with them, and with one another, agreeable to Christ's prayer, John 17:21-23, "That they all may be one; as thou Father art in me and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me."

The gospel teaches us the doctrine of the eternal electing love of God, and reveals how God loved those that are redeemed by Christ before the foundation of the world; and how he then gave them to the Son, and the Son loved them as his own. The gospel reveals the wonderful love of God the Father to poor sinful, miserable men, in giving Christ not only to love them while in the world, but to love them to the end. And all this love is spoken of as bestowed on us while we were wanderers, outcasts, worthless, guilty, and even enemies.

The gospel reveals such love as nothing else reveals. John 15:13, "Greater love hath no man than this." Rom. 5:7-8, "Scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

God and Christ in the gospel revelation appear as clothed with love, as being as it were on a throne of mercy and grace, a seat of love encompassed about with pleasant beams of love.

Love is the light and glory which are about the throne on which God sits.

This seems to be intended in that vision which the apostle John, that loving and beloved disciple, had of God in Rev. 4:3. He tells us that when he had a vision of God on his throne there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.

That is, God as he sat on his throne was encompassed round with a circle of exceeding sweet and pleasant light,' pleasant like the beautiful colors of the rainbow, like an emerald. An emerald is a precious stone of exceeding pleasant and beautiful color. This represents that the light and glory with which God appears surrounded in the gospel is especially the glory of his love and covenant grace. For the rainbow, you know, was given as a token of God's love and covenant grace to Noah. Therefore this spirit, even a spirit of love, is the spirit to which the gospel revelation does especially hold forth motives and incitements. And this is especially and eminently the Christian spirit, the right spirit of the gospel...."

(Jonathan Edwards, from Charity and its Fruits)


10 March, 2009

Don't Lose Sight of Those who Need Jesus!

"...There's not just critics, there's also converts. There's not just ignorance of foolish people, there are people who need Jesus. And what can happen is when the ignorance of foolish people is so loud, you can lose sight of, ear for, heart toward those who do not yet know Jesus. You can waste all your time engaging those who want to criticize you rather than devoting your time to serving those who need Jesus. And what Peter is saying is don't waste all your energy defending yourself, use your energy to serve. To do good. To be a servant. He says to live as people who are free. Free from sin, free to worship. Free from Satan to Jesus. Free from self to love neighbor. Free not to do as we want, but free to do as we ought....What he says is DON'T use your freedom as a cover up for evil. Because we are a minority group, because the world is watching, because how we conduct ourselves speaks of Jesus and his people, we need to be exceedingly careful...."

-Mark Driscoll


First, REPENT!

"All you need to do to be a heretic is accommodate sin, tolerate sin, bless sin, sanction sin, excuse sin, not oppose sin. [Packer] said 'The 1st word of the Gospel is REPENT! That's what Jesus preached....Anyone that does not call their people to repentance does not love them, does not love the Lord, does not love the Word.' I agree with him. I think that's a brilliant insight. We live in a day when it's all about encouragement & pithy truisms & nice insightful statements & motivational speeches. And there is not the declaration, proclamation that God's word is true & that everyone needs to repent! And that's the word that Jesus preached! Ultimately there will be opposition. Some repent & others do not. The Puritans were fond of saying 'The same sun that melts the ice hardens the clay.' Meaning when you preach, those with soft hearts will melt & repent. Those with hard hearts get angry & upset, they argue, they gossip, they fight...."

-Mark Driscoll


08 March, 2009

Today's Grace Gem - "humbled into the dust before God"

Stripped of his peacock feathers

(Arthur Pink, "Unworthiness" 1940)

GRACE is favor shown to the undeserving and ill-deserving.

When Divine grace bestows salvation upon the ill-deserving, it makes them conscious of the infinite favor that has been shown them. Fallen man is naturally proud, self-complacent, and self-righteous.

But wherever the miracle of regenerating grace is wrought--all this is reversed. Its subject is
stripped of his peacock feathers, made poor in spirit, and humbled into the dust before God. He is made painfully aware of the loathsome plague of his heart, given a sight of his vileness in the light of God's holiness, and brought to realize that he is a spiritual pauper, dependent upon Divine charity. He now readily acknowledges that he is a Hell-deserving sinner.

"I am not worthy of the least of all Your mercies and unfailing love, which You have shown to me, Your servant" (Genesis 32:10). This is the confession made by all who are the recipients of the saving grace of God. Whenever a miracle of saving grace is wrought in the heart--pride is subdued, self is effaced, and a sense of ill-desert takes possession of the heart.

One of the elements of great faith--is deep humility. "For I am the least of the Apostles, that am not worthy to be called an Apostle" (1 Cor. 15:9). "I am less than the least of all saints" (Eph. 3:8). What complete self-abasement! The most eminent Christians--are always the most lowly ones; those most honored in Christ's service--are deeply conscious of their unprofitableness.

01 March, 2009

O God, let me not -even a little- step on your glory!

from Ps. 9:1
I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart....

"Even irreligious men, when they have obtained some memorable victory, are ashamed to defraud God of the praise which is due to him; but we see that as soon as they have uttered a single expression in acknowledgment of the assistance God has afforded them, they immediately begin to boast loudly, and to sing triumphs in honour of their own valour, as if they were under no obligations whatever to God. In short, it is a piece of pure mockery when they profess that their exploits have been done by the help of God; for after having made oblation to him, they sacrifice to their own (!) counsels, skills, courage, and resources....

...It is not praising God with the whole heart when a mortal man dares to appropriate the smallest portion of the glory which God claims for himself. God cannot bear with seeing his glory appropriated by the creature in even the smallest degree, so intolerable to him is the sacreligious arrogance of those who, by praising themselves, obscure his glory as far as they can."

(John Calvin, from his commentary on the Psalms)


**It occurs to me just how disdainfully Calvin's expression of (as Keith Green might put it) "stepping on God's glory" is detailed. And yet I am cut to the quick! How often do I, perhaps even in legitimate, God-enabled humility, initially express my dependence on God in this or that endeavor, give credit to him where it is due, only to turn around and as Calvin's "irreligious man" immediately take up with the notion that somehow I have brought about my own success?? I am profoundly guilty of this very offense! And WORSE! How often do I go about my ways and acknowledge him not even at all! I do not wait to be led by the Spirit (Rom. 8:14), and even when led, I do not glorify him by giving praise, except perhaps in a momentary afterthought.

The only cause I can at this moment secure by reflection is that a) I am even still truly unaware of my great need for the Lord's grace and empowering; and if Calvin's reflections are to here be trusted (and they are!), b) therefore, it reveals in me a divided heart. I am, as yet, James' "double-minded man, unstable in all his ways," (James 1:8) rather than one who, in all his ways, acknowledging God rather than leaning on his own understanding, finds that God himself has made his path straight, has "led" his steps (Prov. 3: 5-6).

My God, I am more apt to trust myself, neglect my dependence on you and rather take credit (!) for my [presumed] great insights, or understanding, or accomplishments -- I am worse than Calvin's "irreligious man" because at least he starts with giving you some credit - for fear! And I, though for LOVE'S sake!, still forget my dependence on you! How great is my desperate need! that I regularly, and without second thought!, rob you of your glory! It is NATURAL for me to be led by my own understanding, and so I am quick to seek (and give!) my own praise!

Not only does this magnify your great patience to me - that you do not give me the judgment I truly deserve for my pride! - but I am humbled, too, by the reality that in so nursing my own pride in my [perceived] successes, I simultaneously disable myself to receive your mercy and the ministry of your kindness to me in my failings - feeling only that I deserve your condemnation! My God, teach me, then, to be LED by your Spirit, so I may praise you with my WHOLE heart, and taste and see that you are GOOD (1 Peter 2:1-3).