Nearest When Most Needed

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Yesterday some of us from Orlando Grace stood watch at the hospital. One of our own waited in suspense while her husband, a much treasured servant in our church, underwent a heart catheterization procedure. She got “bad” news. Even as I write this, her man faces bypass surgery in a matter of minutes.

After the shock subsided some, we prayed together. We thanked God for watching over our brother, who does strenuous work as part of his job, that his condition came to light before the worst may have happened. We asked God for His mercy in the procedure to circumvent the triple blockage. Finally we believed God together that our sister and her family would experience the all-sufficient grace of God as never before. He has pledged to be our helper.

So says Psalm 46:1. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (emphasis added).” Charles Spurgeon commented about this massive promise in God’s word:

All creatures have their places of refuge. “ As for the stork, the fir trees are her house. The high hills are a refuge for the Spurgeonwild goats; and the rocks for the conies.” All men also have their places of refuge, though some are “refuges of lies.” But God is our refuge and strength,” the omnipotence of Jehovah is pledged for the defense and support of his people. “A very present help in trouble,”- one who is near at hand; always near, but nearest when he is most needed. Not much entreaty is required to bring him to the aid of his people, for he is close at hand and close at heart, “a very present help in trouble.”

What need, extreme or otherwise, prompts you to say “Help!” Make God your refuge in it. Always near, but nearest when most needed.

Something I’ll Never Say Again

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Never say never. We all know the proverb. I, for one, hereby defy conventional wisdom. I will never say something again as long as I live.

“I can’t imagine anything harder.”

Why? Because every time I do something new comes down the pike that redefines hardness for me.

I said it when I broke free from the authority-cult like church I belonged to as a young follower of Jesus.

Then I had to quit my first church pastoral assignment due to chronic fatigue. That was harder. Couldn’t imagine anything more difficult. Wrong.

For reasons far too complicated to unpack, I resigned from the only church plant I ever founded back in 1998. We left Central Florida for Idaho. No way anything would be tougher than that. Guess again.

Head and neck cancer in 2005. Surgery, radiation, chemo. May I quote my medical oncologist? “We sent you to hell and back to save your life.” Indeed they did. What a miserable year. Hard, harder, hardest. Uh, not so fast.

“Josh is dead.” Six days from now will mark the one year anniversary of our great loss. Every day lately I find myself thinking something like this: one year ago today my son had a week left to live, ___________ days. It’s excruciating counting down the days to remembering the worst possible news. Or was it?

My bride with ovarian cancer. You’re kidding? It’s not possible. I don’t believe is. Oh, yes it it. You’d better believe it.

I give in. This is easily the hardest yet. Hardness to the nth degree. Uncle. I give in. I’ll never say it again. I don’t even want to imagine something harder than this baffling turn of events.

Alright, now that I’ve vented my lament, what is this man, husband, father, pastor, follower of Jesus to do? I have only one answer. It has always been the answer and it will forever remain the answer by God’s grace.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

How grateful I am today to have come across this Puritan prayer entitled simply “Refuge.” It corrals my runaway thoughts and emotions to send them heavenward:

O Lord, Whose power is infinite and wisdom infallible, order things that they may neither hinder, nor discourage me, nor prove obstacles to the progress of Your cause. Stand between me and all strife, that no evil befall, no sin corrupt my gifts, zeal, attainments. May I follow duty and not any foolish devicegod-is-my-refuge of my own. Permit me not to labour at work which You will not bless, that I may serve You without disgrace or debt. Let me dwell in Your most secret place under Your shadow, where is safe impenetrable protection from the arrow that flies by day, the pestilence that walks in darkness, the strife of tongues, the malice of ill-will, the hurt of unkind talk, the snares of company, the perils of youth, the temptations of middle life, the mournings of old age, the fear of death. I am entirely dependent upon You for support, counsel, consolation. Uphold me by Your free Spirit, and may I not think it enough to be preserved from falling, but may I always go forward, always abounding in the work You give me to do. Strengthen me by Your Spirit in my inner self for every purpose of my Christian life. All my jewels I give to the shadow of the safety that is in You—my name anew in Christ, my body, soul, talents, character, my success, wife, children, friends, work, my present, my future, my end. Take them, they are Yours, and I am Yours, now and for ever.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

Angel Work

This quarter’s edition of The Free Grace Broadcaster focuses on Comfort in Affliction.

I have taken much of value away from the articles within, especially a sermon by Charles Spurgeon called Cheer Up, My Dear Friends.

In it he addressed those discouraged that they could do nothing due to being laid aside by sickness or some other hard providence. I pass it on for its encouragement, especially with respect to the high work of refreshing God’s saints.

The refreshing of God’s saints is one of the highest works in which anyone can be occupied. God will send prophets to his servants at times when they need to be rebuked; if he wants to comfort them he generally sends an angel to them, for that is angel’s work. Jesus Christ himself, we read, had angels sent to minister to him. When? Was it not in the garden of Gethsemane, when he was bowed down with sorrow? Comforting is not ordinary work: it is a kind of angelic work. “There appeared unto him an angel strengthening him.” A prophet was sent to warn the Israelites of their sin; but when a Gideon was to be encouraged to go and fight for his country, it was the angel of the Lord that came to him. So I gather that comforting work is angel’s work. You, dear kind Christian men and women, who think that you are not able to do anything but to condole or to console with cheery words some souls cast down and sore dismayed, you are fulfilling a most blessed office, and doing work which many ministers find it difficult to perform. I have known some who have never known suffering or ill-health, and when they try to comfort God’s weary people they are dreadfully awkward over it. They are like elephants picking up pins: they can do it, but it is with a wonderful effort. God’s tried people comfort each other con amore; they take to the work as a fish to water. They understand the art of speaking a word in season to him that is weary, and when this is the case they may not complain that they are doing nothing.

Paul certainly thought highly of this angelic work. In 2 Timothy 1:16-18 he praised one such angelic servant in these terms:

[16] May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, [17] but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me—[18] may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day!—and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.

Can you think of someone who might need refreshing through a kind word or note of encouragement. Why not undertake some angel work today?

Vastly Different Perspectives on Sickness

While suffering recently through the most prolonged bout with the Epstein Barr virus I have experienced in years, I received two vastly different perspectives on sickness.

The first came from an old high school acquaintance. While I was ill she phoned me about our 40th high school reunion coming up in October. I explained that I couldn’t really talk with her because of my sickness. She asked, “What’s wrong.” “Long story,” I replied, hoping to evade going any deeper. Then she offered to pray for me. I gratefully accepted. Then she pressed. “Do you have the flu?” I think she asked. “No, I have a virus.” “What kind of virus?” I reluctantly explained, including some description of the debilitating fatigue that comes with the bug. Before launching into a very vigorous prayer, she added without the slightest trace of doubt, “God doesn’t want you sick.” You may well imagine what denominational tradition has shaped her theology of illness. I let it go.

Contrast that with the content of an email someone in OGC sent me. It’s a quote by J. C. Ryle.

Sickness helps to remind men of death. Most live as if they were never going to die. They follow business, or pleasure, or politics, or science, as if earth was their eternal home. They plan and scheme for the future, like the rich fool in the parable, as if they had a long lease of life, and were not, tenants at will. A heavy illness sometimes goes far to dispel these delusions. It awakens men from their day-dreams, and reminds them they have to die as well as to live. Now this I say emphatically is a mighty good (Practical Religion, “Sickness”, [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1998], 360).

I rather think Job would have cast his vote for the second perspective given his reaction to trials that included boils on his body in Job 42:1-6. I suspect Paul would have done the same given his account of a divinely given thorn in the flesh (assuming it was some kind of physical malady, of course) that taught him the all-sufficiency of God’s grace for every extremity in 2 Cor. 12:1-10.

I’m certain my old high school friend meant well with her prayer ministry on my behalf. But I can’t help but believe along with Ryle that God pursues multiple redemptive purposes in our sicknesses and this emphatically is a mighty good.