1558) Wishing You Bad Luck

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Chief Justice John Roberts  (1955- )

Last month United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the commencement address at Cardigan Mountain School, a private all-boys school in New Hampshire, where his son was graduating from the ninth grade.  In the following excerpt, Roberts wishes the boys the bad luck and troubles needed to build character and teach compassion.

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            Commencement speakers will typically wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you.  I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why.

            From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly– so that you will come to know the value of justice.

            I hope that you will suffer betrayal– because that will teach you the importance of loyalty.

            Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time– so that you don’t take friends for granted.

            I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time– so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life, and understand that your success is not completely deserved, and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.

            And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then your opponent will gloat over your failure.  It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship.

            I hope you’ll be ignored– so you’ll know the importance of listening to others.

            And I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion.

            Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen.  Whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.

            Commencement speakers are also expected to give some advice.  They give grand advice, and they give some useful tips.  The most common grand advice they give is for you to “be yourself.”  …You should be yourself, but you should understand what that means.

            Unless you are perfect, it does not mean don’t make any changes.  In a certain sense, you should not be yourself.  You should try to become something better.  People say ‘be yourself” because they want youth resist the impulse to conform to what others want you to be.  But you can’t be yourself if you don’t learn who you are, and you can’t learn who you are unless you think about it.

           The Greek philosopher Socrates said, “The unexamined life is it not worth living.”  And while “just do it” might be a good motto for some things, it’s not a good motto when trying to figure out how to live your life that is before you…  The best way to lose the values that are central to who you are is to not think about them at all.

            So that’s the deep advice.  Now some tips as you get ready to go to your new school.  Over the last couple of years, I have gotten to know many of you young men pretty well, and I know you are good guys.  But you are also privileged young men.  And if you weren’t privileged when you came here, you are privileged now because you have been here.  My advice is: Don’t act like it.

            When you get to your new school, walk up and introduce yourself to the person who is raking the leaves, shoveling the snow, or emptying the trash.  Learn their name and call them by their name during your time at the school.

            Another piece of advice: When you pass by people you don’t recognize on the walks, smile, look them in the eye, and say hello.

            The worst thing that will happen is that you will become known as the young man who smiles and says hello.

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Romans 5:3b-4  —  We know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.

James 1:2-4  —  Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

II Corinthians 12:7b-10  —  In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.

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PSALM 119:65-71:

Do good to your servant
    according to your word, Lord.
Teach me knowledge and good judgment,
    for I trust your commands.
Before I was afflicted I went astray,
    but now I obey your word.
You are good, and what you do is good;
    teach me your decrees.
Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies,
    I keep your precepts with all my heart.
Their hearts are callous and unfeeling,
    but I delight in your law.
It was good for me to be afflicted
    so that I might learn your decrees.

1434) Like Who?

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By Joshua Rogers, posted March 14, 2017 at:  http://www.joshuarogers.com

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     My wife and I did not intend to have another year of sweeping changes in 2016.  We never do.

     We told ourselves this year was going to be different.  The roller coaster was finally going to stop.  No more big transitions like the previous eight years of marriage.

     We had already been through the stress of getting married, buying a home in D.C., me getting diagnosed with a disruptive chronic illness, having a baby, having another baby 19 months later, a significant divorce in the family, selling our home in D.C., moving to North Carolina for a new job, moving back to D.C. for another job, and buying another home in D.C.

     Raquel and I wanted a nice, calm 2016 — one that was exciting, but in a good, non-stressful way.  It was not meant to be.

     Before 2016 was over, we began attending a new church after being at the previous one for a decade; we had a new baby who was in pain for his first six weeks; I got a new job; we dealt with a significant conflict; and I had some bizarre developments with my illness.  All this and more sucked up a ton of our emotional energy, and now three months into 2017, we’re still worn out from last year.

     Last night, Raquel and I were talking about the constant bumps during our first nine years of marriage, and we wondered out loud why this seems to happen to us every year.

     “It would be nice to have an easy year like some of our friends did last year,” Raquel said.

     “Like who?” I said.

     We couldn’t think of anyone.

     Some of the many stressful examples in our friends’ lives included cancer, having new babies, starting a church, dealing with persistent and chronic illnesses, poverty, serious marital problems, emotional breakdowns, publishing and promoting a book, buying and selling a home, caring for an elderly mom with dementia, having a falling out with siblings, getting fired, and having a toddler who went for weeks barely sleeping.

     Our friends, like us, have often felt spiritually dry and emotionally low during these times.  And a lot of it has to do with the sense that we’re doing something wrong, that the dullness in our souls is a result of our distance from God.  Fears like this take hard circumstances and convert them into hopelessness, and I think that’s exactly what the Enemy of our souls wants.

     In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis tells the story of two demons playing with a man’s mind and diverting him away from experiencing God’s love.  One tactic the demons employ is keeping the man from realizing that emotional peaks and valleys are a natural part of life.

     The senior demon explains that it is in the valleys, “much more than during the peak periods, that a human is growing into the sort of creature God wants it to be.  Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. … He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there, He is pleased even with their stumbles.”

     “Do not be deceived,” he cautions the junior demon, “Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do God’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

     In these times, I have to remind myself that God is not absent, and He can still work in me and through me.  The path through the valley is not an infinite one.  It eventually leads to another mountaintop or at least a plateau.  Relief often comes when I least expect it, but in the meantime, I often feel drained and have little to give.  That’s where I’ve been for the last few days and especially last night.

     I drove home tired and disappointed in myself.  I was overwhelmed at work, I felt disconnected from my church and friends, and I couldn’t find my phone.

     As soon as I opened the door, my five- and seven-year-old daughters came running up wearing their pajamas inside out and asked me to play with them.

     “Daddy, go upstairs and put on your pajamas inside out.  We’re playing the weird game tonight.”

     “Girls,” I said without smiling, “I am really not in a good place right now, and I just need to try to find my phone.”

     They wouldn’t drop it, and for the next hour they kept asking me to change my clothes.  Their persistence finally won out, and to their delight, I took off my suit and put on inside out pajamas.  I ate dinner with them, put my giggling baby boy in his crib, and watched them laughing as they passed gas for fun — and I slowly started feeling a little lighter.

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Job 5:7  —  Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.

Mark 15:34  —  At three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

Psalm 34:18  —  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

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 Ah Lord, my prayers are dead, my affections dead, and my heart is dead:  but you are a living, loving God and I commit myself to you.  Amen.  

–William Bridge

1405) Reduced to Nothing

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By William Willimon, Pulpit Resource, January 31,1999, p. 19.

            It is a sad sight to see someone who seemed to be something reduced to nothing…

            When I first visited him, he was a successful businessman, with a fine home, a beautiful family, and three cars in the custom-built garage.  The last time I saw him, after the trial, he was peering at me through the bars of a state prison and he looked like a scared, helpless, little boy.  It is something to see someone who has been something reduced to nothing.  Something sad.

            Yet, when those who seemed to be something are reduced to nothing, it becomes possible for their lives to be reconstituted into a new something, some new reality outside of themselves and their devising.  Those who once sustained their lives on their own, by their accumulation of success, power, prestige, and glory, in their foolish nothingness, are now free to see a reality greater than themselves, namely, the wisdom of God, in Christ, which is now the word of the cross.  On the cross, Jesus committed his Spirit into the hands of his Father.  When you have been stripped, beaten down, and picked clean, there is nowhere else to go.

            And after the experience of the cross in our life pulls open, stirs up, demolishes our wisdom and power, we are free to encounter a different reality.

            I don’t know wherein your source of self-security lies; that thing on which you lean for support, that security which needs to be ripped from you and brought to nothing by the word of the cross.  Our world has many ways of denying the power of God in the cross and depending on our own power.  I’ve got my diplomas on the wall, my position at the university, my professional titles, my investments and my insurance policies; and you’ve got yours.  And I also know that life has many ways of stripping you down to nothing…

            I pulled up a chair close to her bed.  She was in great pain, flung down by a serious illness that had kept her in the hospital for weeks.

            “I keep asking myself,” she said, “Is this God’s will?  Is God trying to tell me something?”

            “Oh, no,” I said, “God didn’t will this; this isn’t some message from God.  It’s a virus.”

            “How can you be so sure, preacher?” she replied.  “I’m an awfully proud person.  It takes a lot to get my attention.  And think about it—after what God allowed to happen to his Son on that cross, who can be sure what God might do to get through to us?”

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What greater motive could there be to a religious life than the vanity and the poorness of all worldly enjoyments?  What greater call could there be to look toward God than the pains, the sickness, the crosses, and the vexations of this life?  What miracles could more strongly appeal to our senses, or what message from heaven speak louder to us than the daily dying and departure of our fellow creatures?  The one thing needful and the great end of life need not be discovered by fine reasoning and deep reflections.  It is pressed upon us in the plainest manner by the experience of all our senses, by everything that we meet with in life.

–William Law (1686-1761), A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life.

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Sickness is the everyday, in-life experience of vulnerability, finitude, and death.  Sickness, at its worse, is a foretaste of what it is like to have the world go on without you, to be nothing.  Sickness is a reminder that life is fragile, limited, vulnerable– in short, terminal.  Sickness is a brush with death.

Roman Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor died in 1964 at the age of 39 after a twelve year battle with lupus.  She once wrote in a letter:  “I have never been anywhere but sick.  In a sense, sickness is a place, more instructive than a long trip to Europe, and it’s always a place where there’s no company, where nobody can follow.  Sickness before death is a very appropriate thing, and I think those who don’t have it miss one of God’s mercies.”  —Habit of Being, page 163.

A petition from ‘The Great Litany’ in The Book of Common Prayer:

“From a sudden and unprepared death, Good Lord, deliver us.”

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Psalm 31:5  —  Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.

I Corinthians 1:18  —  For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

I Corinthians 1:27-29  —  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.

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Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

–Jesus, Luke 23:46

1379) No Complaints

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From Your New Money Mindset, by Brad Hewitt and James Moline, 2015, Tyndale House Publishers.

     My Grandpa Colby was a young teen when he was summoned to a neighbor’s farm to help milk a less-than-cooperative cow.  Apparently the farmer was off on a drinking binge and had abandoned the cow for days.  She was miserably full of milk and unwilling to let anyone touch her.

     As Colby arrived at the barn and moved toward the unhappy cow, he must have sensed her tension.  He talked to her as he approached and grabbed the milking stool.  But when he knelt down to milk the cow, she lurched forward and kicked him in the leg, opening a deep gash.  His torn flesh bled severely.

     There were no modern ambulances or helicopters to come to his rescue, so getting him to medical attention took precious time– lost time that allowed his young muscles to die from lack of blood.  In the end, in order to save his life, his leg had to be amputated.

     Colby had ventured down the road toward a neighbor’s farm to perform an act of kindness, not realizing his life would change forever.  As I grew up and more fully understood my Grandpa Colby, what struck me was that he wasn’t in the least consumed by his past.  I never even heard him tell his story firsthand; I had to piece it together from family recollections.  He never thought it necessary to tell me how he felt about losing his leg.  The grandpa I grew to know could have been bitter about the drunken farmer, and the call to take responsibility for someone else’s animal.  Yet he never complained about his bad fortune or the fact that the situation left him without a leg.  Instead he stayed focused on the future and the abundance of good things he could do– like catch fish with his grand-kids and beat me at checkers!

     Having the use of two healthy legs is surely a “possession” many of us believe is necessary to enjoy a full, happy, and large life.  This was especially true in the community where Grandpa Colby lived, where being able bodied was essential to earning a livelihood.  But Grandpa Colby simply found a way, as many people do, of living well without the benefit of the full body he was given at birth.  He finished school and became a successful banker and family man.  He was at peace.  He was content, regardless of circumstances.

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Philippians 3:13b-14  —  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Proverbs 23:18-19  —  There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.  Listen, my son, and be wise, and set your heart on the right path.

Jeremiah 29:11  —  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Ephesians 2:14  —  Do everything without grumbling or arguing.

Ephesians 4:31-32  —  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

Romans 8:18  —   I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

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Almighty God, Lord of the storm and of the calm, of day and night, of life and death; grant unto us so to have our hearts stayed upon your faithfulness and your love, so that whatever happens to us, however black the cloud or dark the night, with quiet faith we may trust in you and walk with you; abiding all storms and troubles of this mortal life, begging of you that they may turn to our souls’ true good.  Amen.

–George Dawson (1821-1876) English Baptist minister

1378) One Way God Speaks

By Daniel Ritchie, posted January 16, 2017 at:

http://www.desiringgod.org

Ritchie is the student pastor at Lake Norman Baptist Church in Huntersville, North Carolina.  He is a husband and father of two.

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     I was born without arms.

     That is the best way to summarize my story.  I stepped into suffering at birth.  My physical body is a billboard for my pain.  This has brought mocking, cruel jokes, stares, and the constant feeling that I am not like anyone else that I meet.

     I have never been able to hide.  Many people can bury their pain, but my heartache is written all over my two empty sleeves.  Those sleeves tell a story without my mouth ever saying a word.  My pain almost swallowed me.  But Christ showed me how much greater he was than my empty sleeves.

     I used to think that being born without arms was the most horrible thing that could happen to a person.  Christ has helped me say that the worst and most painful thing that has ever happened to me is also the best thing that has ever happened to me.

     I am thankful for my pain.  All of the frustration that has come with it has reaped a bounty that I never could have produced on my own.  God stepped in and carried me along in my weakness, letting me taste his strength, grace, and love in new ways.

God’s Megaphone

     I have always been drawn to C.S. Lewis and his perspective on pain.  Lewis lost his mother at an early age, saw his dad emotionally abandon him, suffered from a respiratory illness as a teenager, fought and was wounded in World War I, and finally had to bury his beloved wife.  Lewis wrote about his heartache in his book The Problem of Pain, in which he penned one of his most famous lines:

Pain insists upon being attended to.  God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

     We are most keenly aware of God’s character in our suffering.  It is when our self-sufficiency is peeled away that we see how weak we really are.  It is in that moment of weakness that, as God tells Paul in II Corinthians 12:9, “my power is made perfect in weakness.”  It is in our pain that God has us taste his power most intimately.

     I see the reality of Lewis’s statement clearly in my own life.  God has shouted to me through my pain and reminded me of his truth.  As the mocking words of men fell on my heart like an avalanche, God showed me that it is only his words that bring life (Psalm 119:25).  It was in my brokenness that I saw God’s true strength as he carried me along.  God used my hurt so that he could clearly write the lessons of his grace on my heart and set my affections on him (Psalm 119:67).  

Using God’s Megaphone to Speak to a Dying World

     One of the most interesting realities of suffering is that our personal pain also speaks to those around us.  Our pain becomes God’s megaphone to a watching world.  The world gravitates to the cancer patient who has hope and peace.  Bystanders are astounded over the parents who cling to their heavenly Father as they bury their own child.  My friends are taken back when I can shrug off hateful words of my disability and turn my focus to what God says about me.

     Our pain gives us a platform.  The question becomes then, what am I saying to the world in the midst of my pain?  Do I let my faith become the product of my circumstances or is God still good even if my circumstances are not?  As I trust God, even in my heartache, I let my life speak of a hope that extends well beyond what we can see or touch.

Rejoice in Trials

     We have the difficult call of I Peter 1:6-7 where we are commanded to rejoice when we are grieved by various trials.  Why are we rejoicing?  “So that the tested genuineness of your faith . . . may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  Our willingness to suffer joyfully for the glory of God carries a testimony that none of us could ever express.  We point to a glorious God who offers treasure that neither moth nor rust can destroy (Matthew 6:19-20).

     As we suffer and trust, we receive unique comfort from the Father.  In our pain, we know God is still reigning, whether we taste comfort or affliction.  As Paul says in II Corinthians 1:3-6:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.  If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.

     Christ comforts us so that we might share his comfort with a hurting world.  His grace to us is meant to be displayed and not hidden by our silence.  As our pain shouts to a hurting world, may our lives always sing of the fact that God is glorious even when our circumstances are not.

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Help me, O Lord, to make a true use of all disappointments and calamities in this life, in such a way that they may unite my heart more closely with you.  Cause them to separate my affections from worldly things and inspire my soul with more vigor in the pursuit of true happiness.  Amen.

–Susanna Wesley (1669-1742), mother of John and Charles Wesley and 17 other children

1356) When You Are Sick

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Lovis Corinth, Franz Heinrich Corinth on his Sick Bed, 1888

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By Lutheran pastor Al Rogness (1908-1992), Book of Comfort, Augsburg Publishing House, 1979, pages 32-35.

     I had usually thanked God for health and prayed that he might keep me from being ill.  One evening in 1962, while speaking in a church, I suddenly collapsed.  For two weeks I rested in a hospital waiting for my duodenal ulcer to stop bleeding.

     I don’t remember thinking that if I had stronger faith the bleeding would stop, or that someone with the gift of healing could lay hands on my head and make it stop.  I relied on the skills that the Lord had given his servants, the doctors, and on the recuperative powers God had placed in my body.  Of course I prayed for healing.  Who doesn’t when ill?   You may have forgotten to pray for almost anything, but you do look to God when illness strikes.  Even people who have trouble taking God’s intervention seriously at all will pray in a crisis.  From World War I came the line, “There are not atheists in foxholes.”  There is an old Russian proverb– Kak travoga, tak do boga—“In dire extremity man remembers his God.”

     I had no trouble thanking God for restoring my health, and I didn’t bother my mind about whether it was through the science of medicine (which is God’s) or through the healing powers of my body (which is God’s), or whether God intervened in some special way.

     Most of us will not exclude God’s activity in medicine.  It has always seemed to me that Christian Scientists limit God (by not going to doctors), denying part of the divine greatness and goodness.

     God is on the side of life and health.  If I understand Scripture right, God intended us for everlasting life, uninterrupted by death.  God did not want us to be sick and die.  Sin and sickness and death are intruders.  I’ve never hesitated to urge the sick to pray for health.  I think we’re on God’s side when we do everything possible to guard the gift of life and health.

     God’s plan is that sin and illness and death will at last be destroyed.  Until that moment comes, God allows death to be the gateway through which we pass to inherit a life that is unending.  We have no guarantee that we will outmaneuver death and live forever on this side, no matter how many healers we employ.  Even Jesus, who brought back from the dead Lazarus, the widow’s son at Nain, and Jairus’ daughter, did not give them eternal tenure on this side.  Eventually they did have to die.

     Think of the comfort of healing God has given us in the last century through the spectacular advances in medical science.  Many of the old killers— smallpox, diphtheria, peritonitis, pneumonia— are virtually gone.

     Most doctors will say that they only remove or correct obstructions that keep the body from doing its own healing work.  But often we don’t cooperate with God in allowing the recuperative powers of our own bodies to take effect.  We overeat.  We drink damaging beverages.  We fail to exercise.

     In 1962 I took stock of my neglects.  I had plunged ahead in my work, been neglectful of rest and sleep, and in other ways ignored the rights of my body.  How could expect God to keep me well if I defied his laws?

     How about God’s direct intervention through extraordinary means?  Are there “divine healers”?  The New Testament seems to indicate that God does give the gift of healing to certain people.  And many people are sure that the Lord has, through these people, intervened in ways beyond the reach of science or the normal recuperative powers of the body.

     When one of my friends was ill with a puzzling disease, people urged his wife to summon Oral Roberts or some person with a reputation for healing.  She hesitated to summon anyone.  Hundreds, even thousands of people were already pleading with God for his healing.  She asked herself, “What kind of a God would ignore the prayers of thousands and sit unmoved in his heavens, withholding healing till some “assigned” person came?”  She said, “I’d have to change my whole idea of a merciful God if I were to think that he would let my husband die unless a special person prayed.”

     On the other hand, there is the testimony of many people who believe firmly that God has used some person (not the doctor) for special healing.  Perhaps this is one of the mysteries we’ll have to live with.

     Much as we desire healing and life, we must try to keep illness in the right perspective.  We know that life on this side is uncertain.  We know too that the excellence of a life is not measured by its length, any more than the excellence of a painting depends on the size of the canvas.  We live in the anticipation of life everlasting on the other side, which a gracious God in love and forgiveness has promised us in Christ Jesus.

     To be sick puts you on trial.  To be on your back in the hospital, in pain and perhaps with scant hope of recovery, is one of the hardest assignments life can give you.  If you are able to exercise patience, love, cheerfulness, a sense of humor, faith, and hope in such an hour, you may have given your family and friends the most treasured memories they will ever have; and your own measure of comfort will be great.

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Psalm 119:71  —  It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.

Psalm 10:17  —  You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry.

Psalm 41:3  —  The Lord sustains them on their sickbed and restores them from their bed of illness.

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A PRAYER FOR HEALING:

Lord, bless all the means that are used for my recovery, and restore me to my health in good time; but if you have appointed that it should be otherwise, may your blessed will be done.  Draw me away from an affection for things below, and fill me with an ardent desire for heaven.  Lord, make me fit for yourself, and then, when it pleases you, call me to those eternal joys that you have promised.  For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

–Thomas Ken  (1637-1711)

1197) Learning Patience

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Chapter Five, John Ploughman’s Talks: Plain Advice for Plain People, 1869, Charles Spurgeon, English preacher and author, (1834-1892)

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     Patience is better than wisdom: an ounce of patience is worth a pound of brains.  All men praise patience, but few enough can practice it.  It is a medicine which is good for all diseases…  When one’s flesh and bones are full of aches and pains, it is as natural for us to murmur as for a horse to shake his head when the flies tease him, or a wheel to rattle when a spoke is loose.  But nature should not be the rule with Christians, or what is their religion worth?  If a soldier fights no better than a plow-boy, then off with his uniform.  We expect more fruit from an apple tree than from a thorn, and we have a right to do so.  The disciples of a patient Savior should be patient themselves.  ‘Grin and bear it’ is the old-fashioned advice, but ‘sing and bear it’ is a great deal better.  After all, we get very few cuts of the whip, considering what bad cattle we are; and when we do smart a little, it is soon over.  Pain past is pleasure, and experience comes by it…

     Impatient people water their miseries and plow up their comforts; sorrows are visitors that come without invitation, but complaining minds send a wagon in which to bring their troubles home.  Many people are born crying, live complaining, and die disappointed; they chew the bitter pill which they would not even know to be bitter if they had the sense to swallow it whole in a cup of patience and water.  They think every other man’s burden to be light and their own feathers to be heavy as lead… no one’s toes are so often trodden on as theirs, the snow falls thickest round their door, and the hail rattles hardest on their windows.  Yet, if the truth were known, it is their fancy rather than their fate which makes things go so hard with them,… and they would be well off if they could but think so.  A little sprig of the herb called ‘content,’ if put into the poorest soup will make it taste as rich as the Lord Mayor’s turtle soup…

     To be poor is not always pleasant, but things can always be worse.  Small shoes are apt to pinch, but not if you have a small foot; if we have little means it will be well to have little desires.  Poverty is no shame, but being discontented with it is.  In some things, the poor are better off than the rich.  A poor man’s table is soon spread…  Plenty makes one expect perfection, but hunger finds no fault with the cook.  Hard work brings health, and an ounce of health is worth a sack of diamonds.  It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.  It is not the quantity of our goods, but the blessing of God on what we have that makes us truly rich…  ‘Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith’ (Proverbs 15:16).  A little wood will heat my little oven; why, then, should I murmur because all the woods are not mine?

     When troubles come, it is of no use to fly in the face of God by hard thoughts of providence; that is kicking against the pricks and hurting your feet.  The trees bow in the wind, and so must we.  Every time the sheep bleats it loses a mouthful, and every time we complain we miss a blessing.  Grumbling is a bad trade, and yields no profit, but patience has a golden hand.  Our evils will soon be over.  After rain comes clear shining; every winter turns to spring; every night breaks into morning…  If one door should be shut, God will open another; if the peas do not yield well, the beans may; if one hen leaves her eggs, another will bring out all her brood.  There’s a bright side to all things, and a good God everywhere.  Somewhere or other in the worst flood of trouble there always is a dry spot for contentment to get its foot on…

     Friends, let us be patient, and not then catch ‘the miserables.’  And let’s not give others the disease by wickedly finding fault with God.  The best remedy for affliction is submitting to providence.  What can’t be cured must be endured.  If we cannot get bacon, let us bless God that there are still some cabbages in the garden.  Whatever comes to us from God is worth having, even though it be a rod.  We cannot, by nature, love trouble any more than a mouse can fall in love with a cat, and yet by grace Paul found glory in tribulations also.  Losses and crosses are heavy to bear, but when our hearts are right with God, it is wonderful how easy the yoke becomes.  We must go to glory by the way of the Cross; and as we were never promised that we should ride to heaven in a feather bed, we must not be disappointed when we see the road to be rough, as our fathers found it before us.  All’s well that ends well; and, therefore, let us plow the heaviest soil with our eye on the harvest, and learn to sing at our labor while others murmur.

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Proverbs 19:11  —  A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense .

Colossians 3:2  —  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

James 5:7  —  Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.  See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.

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Dear Father, give us our daily bread, favorable seasons, and health.  Preserve us from war, disease, and poverty.  If your will is to test us a little by withholding your blessings for a while, then may your will be done.  When our time and hour comes, deliver us from all evil.  Until then, give us strength and patience.  Amen.  

 –Martin Luther

515) Snakes and Healing (part two)

   NUMBERS 21:4-9

     (…continued)  Death comes to us all, and, whether we are young or old, the amount of time we have left is uncertain.  The only certainty is that no matter what we have or who we are, the day will come when we will lose it all and we will be no more.  Believing in Jesus does not change the uncertainty about how much time we have left, nor does it change the certainty that we will die.  Those troubles remain, just like the snakes in the story.  We live every day in ‘the valley of the shadow of death.’  But we can look up to Jesus and find in him a promise that goes beyond death.  That’s what Jesus meant when he spoke of looking up to the snake on the pole that was lifted up in the desert.  By looking up to Jesus, we have that most wonderful and powerful of all promises, that promise of eternal life.  And so it is that immediately after Jesus refered to that strange old snake story we read the best loved verse in the whole Bible, John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

    Snakes, or serpents (as they are called in the older translations), appear 53 times in the Bible.  The best known appearance of a serpent is in the story of the temptation of Adam and Eve, and there the serpent is purely evil.  But that is not always the case.  God, speaking out of the burning bush, convinces Moses of his power by turning his shepherd’s staff into a snake, and then back again.  Later, in his appearance before Pharaoh, the Egyptian magicians do the same trick, making snakes appear out of nowhere.  But then Moses’ snake devours the magician’s snakes, thus making that snake a positive symbol of God’s power.

     In this story, the image is a mixture of positive and negative.  The snakes are killing the people, and that’s bad; but then, the people are saved by looking to an image of a snake, and that’s good.  The snake is a powerful image, because snakes are so despised by people.  They are probably the most despised of all God‘s creatures.  And that makes this positive use of a snake a deep and dark and yet profound image of salvation.  Somehow, in the hands of God, evil and good, threat and promise, life and death, can sometimes be all mixed together.  What we fear most, may sometimes be the source of a great blessing.  God can make it so.  Serious illness, always unpleasant and never on anyone’s wish list, has often prompted people to return to God.  Financial difficulties probably lead to more prayer than does abounding wealth.  And death, that most fearsome of all things, becomes in God’s hands merely the doorway into eternal life.  God’s way is to take what is bad and use it to work toward an even greater good.  The greatest example of that is what happened on that day we now call Good Friday.  No one who loved Jesus would have called the Friday afternoon that Jesus was tortured and then crucified a good day.  But the Easter resurrection and the promise of Jesus that by his death on that cross all our sins are forgiven, made good come out of what happened on that most evil of all days.

     It is often the case that what the Old Testament hints at, the New Testament fulfills in an even greater way.  In Numbers 21 the people are saved by looking up to a snake.  They are saved, but in rather unappealing way.  In the New Testament, we learn that we are saved by looking up to a cross, in another unpleasant story.  But we look not primarily to the cross but to the man on the cross, Jesus, who told us himself that we will never find a better friend than what we have in him.  “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends,” said Jesus, “and if you believe in me, you are my friends.”  We would be lost without Jesus, but with Jesus we are quite safe, now and forever.

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Genesis 3:1  —  Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.  He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

John 3:14-15  —  Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.

John 3:16-17  —  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

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Grant, almighty God, that since the dullness and harshness of our flesh is so great that it is needful for us in various ways to be afflicted, we may patiently bear your chastisement, and under a deep feeling of sorrow flee to your mercy displayed to us in Christ; and that, not depending upon the earthly blessings of this perishable life, but relying only upon your Word, we may go forward in the course of our calling; until at length we are gathered to that blessed rest which is laid up for us in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.   –John Calvin

Blessed Lord Jesus, who knows the depths of loneliness and the dark hours of the absence of human sympathy and friendliness:  help me to pass the weary hours of the night and the heavy hours of the day, as you did, and know that you are with me, as your Father was with you; lift up my heart to full communion with you; strengthen me for my duty; keep me constant to my trust, and let me know that however dark or desolate the hour, I am not alone, for you are with me; your rod and your staff are my comfort; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end.  Amen.
Old Army and Navy Service Book

514) Snakes and Healing (part one)

 

      Shown above is the logo of the American Medical Association.  It is a snake, wrapped around a pole.  Of all the things doctors do and work with, why would the AMA pick a snake as the logo for their association?  People don’t like snakes.  And what do snakes have to do with doctors, anyway?  When you think of doctors you might think of a stethoscope, or a thermometer, or a scalpel, or a bottle of pills, or a white jacket, or a needle for giving shots.  There a hundred other things you would think of when you think of doctors and medical care before you would think of a snake.

     I went to the AMA website for an explanation of their logo.  It says there that the design comes from an ancient Greek symbol of medicine, which is the staff of Aesculapius.  According to Greek mythology, Aesculapius was the son of the sun god Apollo and was gifted in the healing arts; and, he had learned a thing or two from watching one snake bring a dead snake back to life with some magical herbs.

     The AMA should have instead based their logo on the Bible which has a better story of snakes and healing.  The Old Testament book of Numbers tells of how Moses led the people through the wilderness to the promised land.  God had just freed these people from slavery in Egypt, and they had seen God act on their behalf with one incredible miracle after another.  One would think that they would have by then known enough to trust God.  But there is no end to their grumbling and complaining, and now God, who for so long had been extremely patient, has had enough.  Therefore, says Numbers 21:6: “The Lord sent venomous snakes among them, and they bit the people and many Israelites died.”

     This finally got everyone’s attention and they realized how ungrateful they had been.  They cried out to Moses, admitted their sin, and asked Moses to pray to God to forgive them and rid them of all those deadly snakes.  So, says verse seven, Moses prayed for the people.  And God answered the prayer– but NOT by taking the snakes away.  God allowed the snakes to remain in the camp, and allowed them to continue biting the people with their deadly poison.  God did, however, provide for a cure, as described in verses eight and nine:  “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.’  Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked up at the bronze snake, he lived.”  It was by obeying God and looking to a snake on a pole that they were healed.   I think that would be a better story for the American Medical Association’s logo.

     What a strange and powerful story this is!  Think about it.  The snakes remained in the camp, the camp where people lived and slept in tents.  God allowed the snakes to remain and do their slithering around and biting everyone.  What God did provide was a cure, a solution to the problem, and a chance to stay alive.  But God did not take away the snakes.

     This is an accurate illustration of what life is really like.  When has God ever, in response to anyone’s prayer, taken away all their troubles?  Never.  That never happens. God heals, God delivers, God protects, God gives strength, God gives solutions and assistance in all sorts of ways– but never does God take ALL of the troubles away. Some of the irritations, the troubles, the heartache, the worry, the sadness, the stress, or whatever it is for you, remains.  The ‘snakes’ remain in one form or another.  And, just like in Numbers 21, as we continue to get bit by our troubles, we must continue to look up to God.  If, in our present state of sin, God would ever bless us with a perfect life, the first thing we would do is forget all about God.  That is the story of the Old Testament in a nutshell– the better things would go for the people, the more apt they would be to forget all about God.  That’s the nature of human ingratitude.

     This old story really does ‘tell it like it is.’  God provides rescue and deliverance in the midst of the problems that continue to plague us.  Jesus himself picked up on this illustration and applied it to himself and his mission in the world saying, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man (Jesus), must be lifted up, (not on a pole but on a cross), so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14).    (continued…)

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Numbers 21:4-9  —  They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom.  But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  There is no bread!  There is no water!  And we detest this miserable food!”

     Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.  The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.”  So Moses prayed for the people.

     The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”  So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole.  Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.  (NOTE:  The verse says ‘anyone who is‘ bitten, not ‘was‘ bitten.  The present  tense indicates that the snakes were still there and people could still be bitten.)

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Help me, O Lord, to make a true use of all disappointments and calamities in this life, in such a way that they may unite my heart more closely with you.  Cause them to separate my affections from worldly things and inspire my soul with more vigor in the pursuit of true happiness.  Amen.

–Susanna Wesley (1669-1742), mother of John and Charles Wesley and 17 other children

252) Meditating on Affliction

Affliction is God’s shepherd dog to drive us back to the fold.  –Anonymous

God sweetens outward pain with inward peace.  –Thomas Watson

When we grow careless of keeping our souls, then God recovers our taste of good things again by sharp crosses.  –Richard Sibbes

God measures out affliction to our need.  –St. John Chrysostom, Homily IV

The winter prepares the earth for the spring, so do afflictions prepare the soul for glory.  –Richard Sibbes

Do not even such things as are most bitter to the flesh, tend to awaken Christians to faith and prayer, to a sight of the emptiness of this world, and to the fadingness of the best it yields?  Doth not God by these things oftentimes call our sins to remembrance, and provoke us to amendment of life?  How then can we be offended at things by which we reap so much good?  –John Bunyan

As the wicked are hurt by the best things, so the godly are bettered by the worst.  —William Jenkyn

I am mended by my sickness, enriched by my poverty, and strengthened by my weakness…  What fools are we, then, to frown upon our afflictions!  These, no matter how unpleasant, are our best friends.  They are not indeed for our pleasure, they are for our profit.  –Abraham Wright

Poverty and affliction take away the fuel that feeds pride.  –Richard Sibbes

Afflictions are light when compared with what we really deserve.  They are light when compared with the sufferings of the Lord Jesus.  But perhaps their real lightness is best seen by comparing them with the weight of glory which is awaiting us.  –Arthur W. Pink

The Lord gets his best soldiers out of the highlands of affliction.  –Charles Spurgeon

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Job 36:15-16a  —  But those who suffer He delivers in their suffering; He speaks to them in their affliction.  He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction…

Psalm 119:67  —  Before I was afflicted I went astray:  But now I have kept thy word.

II Corinthians 4;17  —  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

Psalm 34:19  —  Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.

Psalm 113:13-14  —  As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.

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Help me, O Lord, to make a true use of all disappointments and calamities in this life, in such a way that they may unite my heart more closely with you.  Cause them to separate my affections from worldly things and inspire my soul with more vigor in the pursuit of true happiness.  Amen.  –Susanna Wesley (1669-1742), mother of John and Charles Wesley and 17 other children