Friday, February 29, 2008

February 29 - redux

I was surprised to find that my blog was featured on the ESV Bible Blog today, referencing my plans for February 29 Bible Reading. As you may know, I needed to modify my original plans, and now I want to update you as to what actually happened.

First, I was able to listen to all of the Scripture during my drive. Isaiah 53, Psalms 22-24, and the entire Gospel of John. However, I was not able to listen to any of the other material that I placed on the iPod, due to the fact that I had to pick-up two co-workers in Santa Fe, and they wanted to discuss business matters going and coming from our meetings in Las Vegas, NM.

However, what was extraordinary was the timing of the Scripture readings. I started the iPod as I pulled out of my office parking lot, and finished John 21 within 1/4 mile of my office on my return trip. In other words, if you ever want to listen to Scripture while making a round trip between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, my selections fit perfectly!

The more that I listen to Max McLean, the more I appreciate his ministry. His readings are pleasant, unrushed, and reflective. It is amazing how listening to Scripture impacts you in a different way from reading the words from a page. The pace allowed me to capture the message and let it sink in. Even though I was concentrating on traffic I was still able to pay attention to the Biblical message. As a result, I will probably take more opportunities to listen to Scripture while driving.

While today didn't become quite the "Day of Jubilee" that I originally envisioned, due to work demands, it did have some "redeemed" time that would not be part of my normal schedule.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

While we are talking about Providence...

...I came across this today in Ravi Zacharias' The Grand Weaver:

In September 1985, Readers Digest ran a story titled "Letter in the Wallet," written by Arnold Fine. Fine tells how one bitterly cold day he stumbled upon a wallet on the street. It had just three dollars in it and a crumpled-up letter that obviously had been carried around for many years. The letter was dated sixty years earlier and began, "Dear Michael." The beautifully written, sadly worded letter ended a romance because of a parents demands. The last line promised, "I will always love you, Michael," and was signed, "Yours, Hannah."

Fine decided to try to track down the owner of the wallet. Using Hannah's address, still legible on the letter, he finally retrieved a telephone number. But when he called it, he was disappointed to learn that Hannah and her family had long ago moved out of the house. The person on the other end of the line, however, knew the name of the nursing home to which Hannah's mother had gone. So Fine called the nursing home and learned that Hannah's mother was no longer living. When he told them what he was trying to do, however, they gave him the address and telephone number they had on file for Hannah. He called the number and found out that Hannah herself now lived in a nursing home. Fine asked for the name of the home and found the phone number. Soon he was able to confirm that, yes, Hannah was a resident there. As soon as he could, Fine decided to visit the nursing home and try to talk with Hannah.

The director met him at the door and told him that Hannah was watching television on the third floor. An escort quickly took Fine there and then left. Fine introduced himself to Hannah and explained how he had found the letter in a wallet. He showed her the letter and asked if she was the one who had written it.

"Yes," Hannah replied, "I sent this letter to Michael because I was only sixteen and my mother wouldn't let us see each other anymore. He was very handsome, you know, like Sean Connery." Fine could see both twinkle in her eye and the joy on her face that spoke of her love for Michael. "Yes, Michael Goldstein was his name. If your find him, tell him that I think of him often and never did marry anyone. No one ever matched up to him," she declared, discreetly brushing tears from her eyes. Fine thanked her for her time and left.

As Mr. Fine was leaving the home, the security guard at the door asked him about his visit. He told the story and said, "At least I was able to get the last name from her. His name is Michael Goldstein."

"Goldstein?" repeated the guard. "There's a Mike Goldstein who lives here on the eighth floor." Fine turned around and went back inside, this time to the eighth floor, where he asked for Michael Goldstein. When directed to an elderly gentleman, he asked the man, "Have you lost your wallet?"

"Oh, yes, I lost it when I was out for a walk the other day," Michael answered.

Fine handed him the wallet and asked if it was his. Michael was delighted to see it again and, full of gratitude to the finder, proceeded to thank him for returning it when Fine interrupted him.

"I have something to tell you," Fine admitted. "I read the letter in your wallet."

Caught off guard, Michael paused for a moment and then asked, "You read the letter?"

"Yes, sir, and I have further news for you, "Fine continued. "I think I know where Hannah is."

Michael grew pale. "You know where she is? How is she?"

"She's fine, and just as pretty as when you knew her."

"Could you tell me where she is? I would love to call her. You know, when that letter came to me, my life ended. I have never gotten married. I never stopped loving her."

"Come with me," said Fine. He took Michael by the elbow and led him to the elevator and down to the third floor. By this time, the director of the building had rejoined them. They came to Hannah's room.

"Hannah," the director whispered, gesturing toward Michael, "Do you know this man?"

She adjusted her glasses and looked at the man as she searched her memory bank. Then with a choked voice, Michael spoke up. "Hannah, its Michael." She stood, as he walked over to her. They embraced and held on to each other for as long as they could stay steady on their feet. They sat down, holding hands, and between their tears they filled in the story of long years that had passed. Feeling as though they had intruded on a sacred moment, Mr. Fine and the director slowly slipped away to leave the two alone to enjoy their reunion.

Three weeks later, Arnold Fine received an invitation to attend the wedding of Hannah, seventy-six years of age, and Michael, seventy-eight. Fine closes his story by saying, "How good the work of the Lord is." (pg. 111-113)

What are the odds of that happening outside of the plan and Providence of God?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Mystery of Providence - Chapter Thirteen

The Advantages of Recording our Experiences of Providence

This final chapter is simply an admonition from the author that Christians record their experiences of Providence, not only for their personal reflection, but for the benefit of all who might come upon them in written form. All throughout this month I have been led to lay before you the providential work of God during my life, especially as it related to my preparation for ministry.

God has truly been good to me and my family, much better than we deserve. We deserve death and hell, but He has given us life and eternity in His presence. He directs our steps, corrects our faults, and provides for our every need. To Him alone be glory, now and forever.

In wrapping up this month's reflections on John Flavel's The Mystery of Providence, let me recount one final example of God's providential care. It is not a large thing, and there may be some reading who will not see any importance in this event. Yet, I am constantly reminded by experiences such as this that my life is not in my hands, but is constantly in His care.

Yesterday morning, the vehicle that I normally drive to work would not start. After several attempts I went to "Plan B", which was to drive my pickup truck. Since I normally don't drive it, due to the current price of gasoline, it was parked further up our driveway. As a result, I needed to carefully back it up, taking care not to hit the fence, the vehicle which didn't start, and, most importantly, my wife's car. As a result of the first car not starting, coupled with the slow and careful extraction of the pickup from our driveway, I was in my office about 10 minutes later than usual. When I returned home I attempted to start the first vehicle, and it started right up. It also worked perfectly today as well. There is no apparent reason why this vehicle didn't start yesterday.

Why did this happen? I don't believe that I will ever know why, either this side of Glory or the next. However, I can know that nothing happens outside of His direction. Could it be that I needed to be 10 minutes later getting on the road so as to keep from being hit by the speeding car running a red light? Did this delay keep me from being in the path of a semi-truck when the driver weaved into the wrong lane on the freeway? Could there have been some other calamity that I avoided by being late? When you begin thinking this way you see countless possibilities.

How do we normally react to situations like this? Isn't our first inclination that of complaint? Don't we feel "put out" that everything didn't operate in accordance with our plans? Instead, we should be thankful that our God does all things well, even when that means experiencing delay and a disruption to our schedules.

After reading this book, and reflecting upon both its words and my experience, I have come to see that Romans 8:28 is true, completely true.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (ESV)

May each of us recount the blessings of His Providence, taking care to tell others of His goodness towards us.

Mystery of Providence - Chapter 12 Conclusion

I cannot leave this chapter without quoting Flavel's concluding sentence:

How Providence will dispose of my life, liberty and labours for time to come, I know not; but I cheerfully commit all to Him who has hitherto performed all things for me (Ps. 57. 2). (pg. 218)

Well said, humble servant of Christ the King, We are blessed to have your work to teach and instruct us. Your "labours" continue to new generations, and for that we are truly thankful.

Mystery of Providence - Chapter 12c

We often wonder why some of the most gentle of the saints experience a weight of woe, anguish, and affliction. I know of families that experience grief after grief, hurt after hurt, and calamity after calamity. As a pastor I am often asked to explain why this is so. Even pointing to the travail of Job, the sufferings of Christ, and the persecutions of the early church sometimes seems so inadequate to heal the hurt and bind up the wounds.

Part of our problem is that we don't take "the long view". We concentrate on the here and now, forgetting that "a thousand years are like a day" in the sight of the Lord (cf. Psalm 90:4). We need to remind ourselves that a season of suffering, or ten seasons of suffering, or even a hundred seasons of suffering are nothing in comparision with what is to come. Even if we live to exceed 100 years of age, and even if every single one of those days are accompanied with pain, suffering, and distress, we will find that it pales in comparison to an eternity with Christ.

All your calamities will have an end shortly. The longest day of the saints' troubles has an end; and then no more troubles for ever. The troubles of the wicked will be to eternity, but you shall suffer but a while (I Pet. 5. 10). If a thousand troubles are appointed for you, they will come to one at last, and after that no more. Yea, and though 'our light afflictions are but for a moment,' yet they work 'for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory' (2 Cor. 4. 17). Let that support your hearts under all your sufferings. (pg. 209)

This is not a message that resonates with our "I want it now" culture, but it is one that we need to hear.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mystery of Providence - Chapter 12b

It didn't take too many more pages to uncover something else that needs to capture our attention. We often ask "Why do bad things happen to good people?', forgetting 1) that none are good save God alone; and 2) God often uses that which we call "bad" for our good.

When was the last time that you heard anyone preach on the fact that God "chastens those whom He loves", or that God brings affliction into our lives to draw us closer to Himself?

From Flavel:

We may conclude our afflictions to be sanctified, and to come from the love of God to us, when they do not alienate our hearts from God, but inflame our love to Him. This is a sure rule: whatever ends in the increase of our love to God proceeds from the love of God to us. A wicked man finds his heart rising against God when He smites him, but a gracious heart cleaves the closer to Him; he can love as well as justify an afflicting God. (pg. 202-203)

May He grant us "gracious hearts", inflamed in love for Him, even when he afflicts us.

Mystery of Providence - Chapter 12a

Practical Problems in Connection with Providence

Another long chapter, probably requiring several posts, but this gem is found on page 194:

God never came under an absolute unlimited tie for outward comforts to any of us, and if we are disappointed, we can blame none but ourselves. Who bid us expect rest, ease, delight, and things of that kind in this world? He has never told us we shall be rich, healthy, and at ease in our habitations, but on the contrary, He has often told us we must expect troubles in the world (John 16. 33), and that we must 'through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God' (Acts 14. 22). All that He stands bound to us by promise for is to be with us in trouble (Ps. 91. 15), to supply our real and absolute needs. 'When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them' (Isa. 41. 17); and to sanctify all these providences to our good at last. 'And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose; (Rom. 8. 28). And to all these things, not one tittle ever did or shall fail.

Wow! Maybe the Joel Osteens of this world "bid us expect rest, ease, delight, and things of that kind in this world", but people would do their souls a great favor if they would read the Puritans and not the prosperity hucksters.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Mystery of Providence - Chapter Eleven

Practical Implications for the Saints

Following Chapter 10, one of the longer chapters in the book, we come across one of the shorter, totaling not quite four pages. Yet, we find considerable meat in these few words. I guess that we could call if the "fruit rollup" chapter.

Here is a juicy morsel for you to chew on:

Does God perform all things for His people? Do not distrust Him then when new or great difficulties arise. Why should you think He that has done so many things for you will now do no more? Surely, 'the Lord's hand is not shortened that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy that it cannot hear' (Isa. 59. 1); if anything put a stop to His mercy, it is your iniquities, your distrust and infidelity. 'How long will it be ere you believe him?' If a thousand and ten thousand trials and experiences of His tender care, faithfulness and love will cure this unbelief in you, you have them at hand to do it. If the frequent confutations* of this your distrust by the unexpected breakings-out of mercy for you under like discouragements will cure it, look back and you may see them. Certainly you have been often forced by Providence with shame and repentance to retract your rash censures of His care; and yet will you fall into the same unbelieving state again? O that you would once learn this great truth, that no man ever lacked that mercy which he did not lack a heart to trust and wait quietly upon God for. You never yet sought God in vain, except when you sought Him vainly. (pg. 182-183)

* Confutation - Those things which are overwhelming in argument.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Mystery of Providence - Chapter 10 conclusion

From beginning to end, from birth through death, we see God's Providence at work. I know that I have been blessed while reading this chapter, and often found myself humming the tune to "My Tribute", sometimes without consciously realizing it:

My Tribute
© 1971 Bud John Songs, Inc.
Words and Music by
Andrae Crouch

How can I say thanks
For the things You have done for me,
Things so undeserved,
Yet You gave to prove Your love for me.
The voices of a million angels
Could not express my gratitude.
All that I am and ever hope to be,
I owe it all to Thee.

To God be the glory,
To God be the glory,
To God be the glory,
For the things He has done.
With His blood He has saved me,
With His power He has raised me,
To God be the glory,
For the things He has done.
One day we will sing a similar song, "...I doubt not but the providences in which we were concerned in this world will be a part of that song which we will sing in heaven..." (pg. 177)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Mystery of Providence - Chapter 10b

Another handful of jewels from Chapter Ten:

There are five things belonging to the praise of God, and all of them have relation to His providences exercised about us:
(i) A careful observation of the mercies we receive from Him (Isa. 41. 17-20). This is fundamental to all praise. God cannot be glorified for the mercies we never noted.
(ii) A faithful remembrance of the favours received. 'Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits' (Ps. 103. 2). Hence the Lord brands the ingratitude of His people, 'They soon forgat his works' (Ps. 106. 13).
(iii) A due appreciation and valuation of every providence that does us good (I Sam. 12. 24). That providence that fed them in the wilderness with manna was a most remarkable providence to them; but since they did not value it at its worth, God had not that praise for it which he expected (Num. 11. 6).
(iv) The stirring up of all the faculties and powers of the soul in the acknowledgement of these mercies to us. Thus David: 'Bless the Lord, o my soul; and all that is within me bless his holy name' (Ps. 103. 1). Soul-praise is the very soul of praise: that is the very fat and marrow of that thank-offering.
(v) A suitable recompence for the mercies received. This David was careful about (Ps. 116. 1). And the Lord taxes good Hezekiah for the neglect of it (2 Chron. 32. 24, 25). This consists in a full and hearty resignation to Him, and in our willingness actually to part with all for Him when He shall require it.
(pg. 158-159)

Do we observe His mercies, remember His favors, appreciate His provision, stir up our souls in praise, and offer recompence for what we receive from His bountiful hand?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mystery of Providence - Chapter 10a

The Advantages of Meditating on Providence

This is a long chapter, and it might be a couple of days before I complete it, thus this "10a" post, assuming that there will be others before I am done.

Last night I was slapped with a flash of understanding as I read the following:

What unspeakable comfort it is for a poor soul, that sees nothing but sin and vileness in itself, at the same time to see what a high esteem and value the great God has for him! This may be discerned by a due attendence to Providence, for there a man sees goodness and mercy following him through all his days (Ps. 23.6.). Other men pursue good, and it flies from them, they can never overtake it; but goodness and mercy follow the people of God, and they cannot avoid or escape it. It gives them chase day by day, and finds them out even when they sometimes put themselves by sin out of the way of it. In all the providences that befall them goodness and mercy pursue them. O with what a melting heart do they sometimes reflect upon these things! 'And will not the goodness of God be discouraged from following me, notwithstanding all my vile affronts and abuses of it in former mercies? Lord, what am I, that mercy should thus pursue me, when vengeance and wrath pursue others as good by nature as I am?' (pg. 150)

Prior to reading this I had always considered "goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life" as being passive; Goodness and mercy would eventually show up, it would finally catch up with me, etc.

However, as Flavel states, goodness and mercy chase after the children of God. It pursues us, even while we are trying to run away from it. They are active, they are relentless, they will will not be frustrated in accomplishing God's purposes.

A pilgrim was I, and a wandering,
In the cold night of sin I did roam,
When Jesus the kind Shepherd found me,
And now I am on my way home.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days, all the days of my life;
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days, all the days of my life.

I believe that I will never again see the words of this song, or the words of the Psalm, as passive. "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me", and I won't be able to lose their tail.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Best Laid Plans...

...of mice.

(See the movie version of Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy if you don't understand why I didn't end with "and men".)

I wrote earlier about my Leap Year Bible Reading Plan, stating that since this was my normal day off from my secular work that I would be able to devote the day to an ambitious plan of extra reading.

Well, I won't be off that day. In fact, I need to drive 4.5 hours round trip to attend some business meetings out-of-town. I felt bad about this for about 5 minutes, prior to remembering that I now live in the 21st century. No matter which car I sign out to take this trip, it will have an FM radio. Since I have an iPod and one of those little FM transmitter units, I can load up my Bible reading into electronic format, and let Max McLean's voice read my text to me. Since the Scripture readings will only take a fraction of the drive I have also created a play list containing the audio version of John Piper's Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce as well as Volume One of The Valley of Vision.

So, while my employer might have had other reasons, God intends this change in my schedule for His glory and my good.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Mystery of Providence - Chapter Nine

How to Meditate on the Providence of God

Consult the providences of your life in this point, and I doubt not but you will find the truth of these promises as often confirmed as you have been in trouble. Ask your own hearts, where or when was it that your God forsook you, and left you to sink and perish under your burdens? (pg. 126)

In February of 1985 I was living in Ft. Worth, making preparations to begin studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. In order to help make ends meet I was serving in the Texas Army National Guard, in Company A, 2/112th Armor, 49th Armor Division. On February 9th my unit was at Ft. Hood, training in M60 tanks. During this training I was involved in an accident that fractured my first lumbar vertebrae, required me to be medically evacuated from the field via helicopter, caused me to be paralyzed from the waist down for seven days, and required six weeks of hospitalization.

During the first hours of this experience I began to wonder why God had deserted me. I began to question Him, and wondered why this was allowed to happen when I felt that I was in the center of His will. After all, hadn't I made great sacrifices in order to attend seminary? As the hours turned into days, especially those first few when nobody could be certain that I would ever be able to walk again, I began to see that He had business with me that could only be conducted while I lay in that hospital bed. It was during this time that He humbled me, speaking to me about my pride and self-sufficiency. No longer did I think that I was doing Him a favor. Instead I began to see my need for His leadership in all areas of my life.

In the longer term, He used this event in other ways in order to facilitate His purposes for my family and I. Even though I spent almost a year on crutches, and 18 months wearing a back brace, He provided for many of our needs through veteran's disability benefits. Also, the seminary had a requirement that students carry health insurance, something that would have been cost prohibitive on my salary. Since my medical care was provided by my military medical retirement this requirement was waived. In short, He provided for everything that we needed.

As a result of this accident I still experience some pain daily, 23 years later, and have some limited range of motion. Yet this is a small price to pay. In many ways, these are daily reminders of that time, and of the way that God both humbled me and provided for me during seminary. These are things worthy of remembering and meditating upon.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Mystery of Providence - Chapter Eight

The Duty of Meditation on Providence

In a word, men can never order their addresses to God in prayer, suitable to their conditions, without due observation of His providences. Your prayers are to be suitable to your conditions: sometimes we are called to praise, sometimes to humiliation. In the way of His judgments you are to wait for Him (Isa. 26. 8), to prepare to meet him (Zeph. 2. 1, 2; Amos 4. 12). Sometimes your business is to turn away His anger which you see approaching, and sometimes you are called to praise Him for mercies received (Isa. 12. 1, 2), but then you must first observe them. (pg. 116)

How can we praise God if we are unaware of His marvelous works?

How can we pray to God if we are ignorant of His abilities?

Flavel, in a very few words, points out to us our responsibility to meditate upon the works of Providence. This is a holy mandate, required of us by His Word. As I have been reading this book I have been constantly reminded of His hand of Providence in my life, as demonstrated in some of my earlier posts. Yet, for every incident that I have recorded in this blog, there are scores of others that have come to mind.

He is a great and mighty God. He demonstrates His love and care in all that He does in shaping my destiny. To Him alone belong worship, and glory, and honor, and praise, and thanksgiving.

To God be the glory, great things He has done.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Mystery of Providence - Chapter Seven

The Work of Sanctification

Having lived in England for five years, I may be one of the few American readers to understand the footnote appearing at the end of this chapter, on page 108. The section looks like this:

Does not the providence of which this day* calls us to celebrate the memory, show the great regard God has for His people? O if not so, why were we not given up ‘as a prey to their teeth?’ ‘If it had not been the Lord who was on our side,’ then wicked men, compared to fire, water, wild beasts, ‘had swallowed us up quick’ (Ps. 124). O blessed be God for that teeming providence that has already brought forth more than seventy years liberty and peace to the Church of God. I suggest concerning this providence that you do by it as the Jews by their Purim (Esth. 9. 27, 28), and the rather, because we seem now to be as near danger by the same enemy as ever since that time. If such a mercy as this is forgotten, God may say: ‘I will deliver you no more’ (Judges 10. 13).

*Preached November 5.

Non-British readers may be saying "So, what's so important about November 5th?" November 5th, commonly known as "Guy Fawkes Day" commemorates the foiled Gunpowder Plot that attempted to destroy both English government and the English Protestant Reformation in one blow in 1605. I remember the bonfires, revelry, and the burning of the "Guys" during my youth in England, but paid little attention at the time to the historic significance of this event. Flavel points to God's providence in the uncovering of this plot and the more than seventy years liberty and peace to the Church of God that had been the result.

On a personal note, this was a difficult chapter. While I recognize the reality of sanctification in my life I realize just how deficient I continue to be. Each day I recognize my sin and rebellion, coupled with my total inability to please God in my flesh. The corruption of the heart shows itself in raising up great expectations to ourselves from the creature, and planning abundance of felicity and contentment from some promising and hopeful enjoyments we have in the world. (pg. 104)

Yet, my sense of filth and sin is in many ways the result of God's work within me. The things that I once ignored, rationalized, or even cultivated are now seen for what they truly are. The work of sanctification allows me to see myself for what I really am. I am not yet what I ought to be, but thanks be to God that I am no longer what I used to be.

And now let us consider and marvel that ever this great and blessed God should be so much concerned, as you have heard He is in all His providences, about such vile, despicable worms as we are! He does not need us, but is perfectly blessed and happy in Himself without us. We can add nothing to Him: ‘Can a man be profitable unto God?’ (Job 22. 2). No, the holiest of men add nothing to Him; yet, see how great account He makes of us. For does not His eternal electing love show the dear account He made of us (Eph. 1. 4, 5)? How ancient, how free, and how astonishing is this act of grace! This is that design which all providences are in pursuit of, and will not rest till they have executed. (pg. 107)

Let us consider, and let us marvel.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Mystery of Providence - Chapter Six

Preservation of the Saints from Evil

A further great advantage and mercy the saints receive from the hand of Providence is in their preservation from the snares and temptations of sin, by its preventing care over them. That Providence wards off many a deadly stroke of temptation and many a mortal thrust which Satan makes at our souls is a truth as manifest as the light that shines. This is included in that promise: God 'will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it' (1 Cor. 10. 13). (pg. 90)

In 1983 I left hearth and home after being reassigned by the US Army to the Republic of Korea. I was not happy to leave wife, children, and the comforts of the familiar. I was aware of the challenges of once again living in the barracks with fellow soldiers, but my imagination was not fertile enough at that time to know all of the evils into which young men, far away from home, can fall.

Honestly, prior to this time I had gone through a spiritual dry spell. In order to provide for my family I had been working a second job which required me to work on Sunday mornings. At first I would send the family off to church in the morning and join them later for evening worship, After a few months I would be too tired to do even this. My Bible Study and prayer life had faltered, and I was in a sorry state.

Yet, I knew that I would not be able to face a year (which eventually turned into 14 months) of separation from my family without Divine assistance. As I pondered my orders I began to pray. Over a period of weeks I began to see my spiritual house return to order. Then I began to pray that God would give me Christian companions and a witness to my fellow soldiers.

Arriving in country I soon discovered that my unit was comprised of 2/3 Korean soldiers (KATUSA) and that as a result I would be rooming with two Koreans. My first thought was that God had granted the second half of my prayer, and that I would be able to share Christ with them. As I tossed my duffle bag on a bed my two roommates entered the room. They asked me: "Are you a Christian?" to which I answered in the affirmative. Then one of them followed up with: "Do you read your Bible regularly and pray?" Once again I told them that I did. They then embraced me with these words: "Praise God! We were afraid that we would have a godless heathen American as our new roommate!"

I was soon to discover that the vast majority of KATUSA in that unit were Christians, mainly Presbyterians. The post chapel remained unlocked 24 hours a day to allow round the clock prayer meetings. Korean Christians could teach all of us something about prayer.

The only "fly in the ointment" was the presence of the American GI. Many of them felt that since they were no longer "in the world" that this meant that they could live in the most depraved fashion. For example, one Saturday morning around 1:00 AM, I had a knock on my door. It was a fellow soldier who wondered if I had time to talk with him. We made our way to a pot of coffee where he poured out his heart to me, wondering what advice I might give him. During his time away from home he had quit writing his wife, had cut off most of her allotment, and had begun to keep a girlfriend in "the ville". He was ready to go home, and wondered how he should approach his wife. My only advice was for him to confess his sins and beg for her mercy. What is doubly sad is the fact that he was one of the guys who appeared normal, and who had not "let it all hang out" like many others.

It was God's Providence that placed me into an accountability situation with my roommates. It was God's Providence that provided me with other Christian companions including several Missionaries. It was during this time that I felt God's call to leave the Army and enroll at SWBTS. It was God's Providence that my NCOIC took interest in me and showed me how to complete my undergraduate work while in Korea, so as to be eligible for enrollment in seminary. From beginning to end I was, and continue to be, in His care.

Walk therefore suitably to this obligation of Providence also. And see that you thankfully own it. Do not impute your escapes from sin to accidents, or to your own watchfulness or wisdom. (pg. 93-94)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Mystery of Providence - Chapter Five

Family Affairs

In 1986 I was a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. My wife Barbara's father was in poor health in El Paso, Texas. Because we knew that we might need to travel quickly across the state due to his condition we purchased the first new car of our marriage.

On a Saturday morning while driving to participate in the intercessory prayer ministry of our church I was rear ended by a semi-truck, causing significant damage to the car, and putting me in a neck brace in considerable pain. Early the next morning, on Sunday, we received word that Barbara's father had died.

We went to church that morning with heavy hearts, and requested prayer for guidance and that God would direct our paths. A member of the Sunday School class that I taught offered us the use of a vehicle, and several members of the church put money in our hands, somewhere around $200, knowing that we would incur some expenses. We were truly grateful for these expressions of love, but were totally unprepared for what happened next.

One of the ministers on staff approached me, and placed a note in my hand. Contained on that note was the phone number of a travel agent. He told me that an unnamed church member wanted to pay for us to fly to El Paso for the funeral, and that all I had to do was call the travel agent for tickets for Barbara, our two children, and myself. I asked him whether he would like the cash that I had been given to help reimburse the cost of these tickets, but was told that this was not necessary, and that we would probably have need for those funds.

As I look back at that week I am continually in awe at the way that God worked out that situation for his glory and for our benefit. It was painful enough to endure a short plane flight due to the pain in my neck, and I don't think that I would have well endured a 12 hour road trip. The funds that we were given helped to make up the shortfall to our budget that we would have experienced until I was able to return to work and receive some insurance funds. We were able to attend the funeral and grieve with family members. To this day I do not know who paid for our tickets, but I am thankful, both to them and to God, for their generosity.

You know the promises God has made to His people: ‘The young lions do lack and suffer hunger, but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing’ (Ps. 34. 10). And have you not also seen the constant performance of it? Cannot you give the same answer, if the same question were propounded to you, which the disciples did: ‘When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye anything? and they said, Nothing’ (Luke 22. 35)? Can you not with Jacob call him ‘the God which fed me all my life long’? (Gen. 48. 15). Surely ‘he hath given meat unto them that fear him; he will ever be mindful of his covenant’ (Ps. 111. 5). (pg. 85)

Yes, time after time, we can give the same answer.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Mystery of Providence - Chapter Four

Our Employment

What a blessing it is to perform work fitting to your inclinations and your abilities. How satisfying to work in a vocation that not only provides for your needs but also suits your sensibilities.

In this chapter Flavel reminds us of the work of God's Providence in fitting us for, and placing us in, our vocations. As he ends the chapter he writes:

Be well satisfied in that station and employment in which Providence has placed you, and do not so much as wish yourself in another. ‘Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called’ (1 Cor. 7. 20). Providence is wiser than you, and you may be confident it has suited all things better to your eternal good than you could do had you been left to your own option. (pg. 80)

As I read these words I recounted my career and all of the steps leading up to it. Even though I had attempted to "abide in the same calling" I, like many of my peers, discover that I have not had a single career path, but a succession of careers. I can honestly state that I have not been seeking a career change when one occurred, but have often had them forced upon me.

When I graduated from Seminary in 1989, and was led to the church that I now pastor, I was informed that it would be a bi-vocational position. Recognize that at that point I didn't even know how to spell "bi-vocational" let alone know what it entailed. I spent the first year serving as a substitute teacher. At the end of that year a position opened up, but the needs of the business soon directed me into another set of responsibilities, and then another. I remember feeling very content with my job, and felt that I had finally "arrived". Yet, one day my boss called me to his office in Santa Fe, and informed me that he was giving me a new assignment, one that would have me commuting 130 miles each day to that city. When I objected I was told that either I accept this new assignment or terminate my employment. How disappointed I was as I saw 3 hours of my work day evaporate in driving. In the course of this assignment my duties changed to those of more responsibility, and then I found that my skills were no longer needed in my department. Yet, another department desired my services and the experience that I had obtained in this assignment, and I soon found myself performing similar duties in a new setting. After nine years of commuting I was reassigned to a place of work within seven miles of home. I now found that I had regained a large portion of my week, in addition to performing duties that are well suited to my skill set and which provide both a decent living and job satisfaction.

Will this situation continue? Probably not. In fact, I will be eligible for retirement from my job in less than four years, and will then see in which direction God wants me to proceed.

What lies ahead? Only God in His wisdom knows, but I am assured that His Providence will lead me in the proper direction.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Mystery of Providence - Chapter Three

The Work of Conversion

How surprising was the mercy which Providence performed for you in that day! Providence had a design upon you for your eternal good, which you did not understand. The time of mercy was now fully come; the decree was now ready to bring forth that mercy, with which it had gone big from eternity, and its gracious design must be executed by the hand of Providence, so far as concerned the external means and instruments. How aptly did it cause all things to fall in with that design, though you did not know the meaning of it? (pg. 72)

In this chapter we find John Flavel, that consummate pastor, relating instances of God's Providence in bringing men and women to faith in Christ. How my heart rejoiced as he tells us of the many and varied ways that God directs the paths of His children into His presence.

At the beginning of the chapter he offers a bit of a disclaimer and warning. There are some, like myself, who can pinpoint the time of our awakening. There are others, like my wife, Barbara, who have no such memory of a specific time of conversion, even though it is real and enduring. Both are the products of God's Providence, both are valid experiences, and both are to be cherished.

In my wife's case, she grew up in the bosom of a Godly and worshiping family. Spiritual duties were attended with care, and the nurture and admonition of the Lord was a part of daily life. During her early childhood, and with the encouragement of Mom, Dad, and older brothers, she felt a sense of her sin and her need for salvation. She trusted in Christ in her early years, and has remained faithful to this day. She cannot pinpoint an exact time of her conversion, but it is a real and enduring fact in her life. God's Providence placed her in an environment in which the new birth could take place.

There was a considerable contrast in my case. While my parents were loving and nurturing (Thanks Dad for caring enough to devote time to scouts, school projects, and family vacations even while battling alcoholism.) there was very little spiritual direction. We would occasionally attend military chapels, but there was no attention to the worship of God as a part of our lives.

I was not a "bad kid" but I had no time for God. I remember reading from The Communist Manifesto at age 15, and thinking that there was ample evidence for religion being "the opiate of the masses". During the summer following my 16th birthday I had a part-time summer job with the city Recreation Department. A co-worker who was considerably smaller than me (I was already imposing in physical size) kept trying to tell me about Jesus. I was usually able to squelch the discussion quickly. On July 24, 1972 he came to me and tried to reopen the conversation. My rebuke was something to the effect of "You say the name 'Jesus' again, and I am going to ..." He asked me if I would "examine the claims of Christ", and handed me a little yellow booklet entitled The Four Spiritual Laws. Cracking it open I noticed that it contained various Bible references. Since "everyone knows that the Bible is full of errors", I decided to take up his challenge, relishing the thought of decimating his faith the following day.

Since I had to have a Bible in order to carry out my plan, and since the only Bible in our house was a monster family Bible covered with a layer of dust, and because I didn't want anyone to think that I had gone crazy by using that Bible, I came up with "Plan B". I went to the local Rexall drug store, and purchased a $2 paperback Bible from the book rack. I put the yellow tract in the same brown paper bag, and hid both under my mattress at home. After dinner I excused myself from my family, retired to my room, locked and checked the door, and proceeded in my plan to destroy Christianity and religion.

I opened the tract, and the first verse that I encountered was John 3:16. I needed to use the index at the front of the Bible to find John, and then, in order to discover the "errors" decided to read chapters 2-4 of John's Gospel. Hmmm, I didn't discover any "errors" there. Next was John 10:10, so I read John 9-11. This wasn't working out like I intended. After reading Romans 2-4 (Romans 3:23) I abandoned my plan, and as I continued to read the tract I realized that I was faced with a dilemma.

I now knew that I could either toss the Bible and tract in the trash and try to avoid my co-worker's questions for the rest of the summer, or I could place my trust in Jesus Christ as my only Savior from sin. I hadn't found any "errors" in the Bible, but the Bible had certainly uncovered "errors" in me. I was deeply convicted of my sins, and feared the judgment of God's wrath that I deserved. I remember falling on my knees and asking God to forgive me and save me. While I didn't know the word "repentance" at the time, I truly believe that this is what God wrought in my life at approximately 10:00 PM Mountain Daylight Time on July 24th, 1972. His Providence directed that evening and all of the events leading up to it, and allowed His grace to convert a wicked sinner into His kingdom.

How proud I was at the beginning of that evening. How humbled I was at the end of it. And yet, I knew, I truly knew, that I was changed forever.

The next day my co-worker very sheepishly asked me if I had looked at the tract. I replied "yes". He then, very carefully, asked me what I thought of it. When I told him that I had been converted his astonished response was: "You are kidding!!!". (Sometimes Christians have a hard time believing that God saves sinners.)

Note that it had to be Providence that worked this miracle. First, how many of us would consider it to be an effective witness to place a copy of The Four Spiritual Laws in a belligerent person's hands and ask them to "examine the claims of Christ"? How many of us would know that the recipient's pride would lead them to take up the challenge, even if for all the wrong reasons? How many of us truly believe that God can work His miracle of salvation using the weakest of means?

So, in conclusion, we see God at work saving people within the context of a Christian family, and we see God saving people all alone in their bedroom while trying to disprove the claims of Christ. We see God at work in orchestrating our lives for His glory, and we see him using us as the means, often very tiny means, to bring others into His kingdom.

O, therefore, set a special mark upon that Providence that set you in the way of this mercy. It has performed that for you which all the ministers on earth and angels in heaven could never have performed. This is a mercy that puts weight and value into the smallest circumstance that relates to it. (pg. 74)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Mystery of Providence - Chapter Two

Our Birth and Upbringing

In this chapter Flavel reminds us of God's work of Providence in planting us when and where he did. Most of his examples show that birth in 17th century England is to be preferred to any other time or place. After all, who would want to be born in heathen America?

He details the benefits of a Godly upbringing, and ends the chapter with admonitions to parents to care for the spiritual welfare of their children and to children to obey the commands of Godly parents.

As I read this chapter I was once again reminded of the Providential nature of my own birth and upbringing. I can only marvel at the way that God has woven together all the strands of my life for my benefit and His glory.

I was born to an American serviceman and his English wife in Newfoundland, Canada. As a result, I have dual US/Canadian citizenship. Had both my parents been US citizens at the time of my birth I would only have US citizenship. I sometimes feel like the Apostle Paul, and continue to wonder how God will use my possession of US and Canadian passports for His use.

As an Army brat I lived all over, to include a total of five years in England during two separate periods. Spending your formative years in a foreign country, especially if it is very pleasant due to the proximity of your foreign grandparents, makes one into a completely different person than one planted and rooted in one place. Upon our return from England in 1968 my Dad had orders to Ft. Huachuca, Arizona. Even though he didn't think that it was a good thing that these were changed en route to the Vietnamese Language School at Biggs Field in El Paso, Texas (next stop, Vietnam), it was good for me in many, many ways.

First, it was in El Paso that I was introduced to Christ Jesus. During a summer job as a teenager a fellow co-worker took interest in my soul and shared the Gospel with me. Second, I was enfolded into a Bible believing church where I learned to practice my faith while sitting under Godly preaching and teaching. Third, I met my wife of almost 30 years, Barbara, an El Paso native. I am sure that my children are glad of this, even though our son is now living and working at Ft. Huachuca in Arizona.

Providence weaves all of these strands together in a wonderful way. While I grew up in a nominally Christian home (Dad was raised a Congregationalist and Mom in the Church of England), I am now blessed that both Mom and Dad worship in the church that I pastor, both of our children are in the faith, my son-in-law recently came to faith, and my grandchildren are being raised in a Godly home. How different all of this would be had the US Army not changed Dad's orders in 1968. Yet, the God that we serve is not only more powerful than the US Army, He actually directs its course.

The wonderful thing about this is the fact that Providence has not yet run its course. All of my history is being used to determine the next steps in this wonderful pilgrimage. At the same time I have the assurance that everything that happens is under His control.

Eye Brow Raising - Mystery of Providence, Chapter 2

Sometimes we read things that we disagree with, even from good authors. Here is an example from Chapter 2 of The Mystery of Providence:

Look then, but not proudly, upon your outside and inside. See and admire what Providence has done for you, and how well it has performed the first service that ever it did for you in this world. And yet, this was not all it did for you. Before you saw this world, it preserved you, as well as formed you in the womb, else you had been as those embryos Job speaks of ‘which never saw light’ (3. 16). Abortives go for nothing in the world, and there are multitudes of them. Some never had a reasonable soul breathed into them, but only the rudiments and rough draft of a body; these come not into the account of men, but perish as the beast does. Others die in, or shortly after they come out of the womb, and though their life was but a moment, yet that moment entails an eternity upon them. Had this been your case, as it is the case of millions, then, supposing your salvation, yet you had been utterly unserviceable to God in the world; none had been the better for you, nor you the better for any in the world. You had been utterly incapable of all that good which throughout your life you have either done to others or received from others.

I wonder how Flavel would reconcile the words in bold with Luke 1:39-45?

Monday, February 4, 2008

Mystery of Providence - Chapter One

The Work of Providence for the Saints

John Flavel opens The Mystery of Providence by presenting the following questions and objections, and then answers the questions and refutes the objections using copious references to Scripture and extra-Scriptural examples:

1. How comes it to pass that so many signal mercies and deliverances have befallen the people of God, above the power and against the course of natural causes, to make way for which there has been an obvious suspension and stop put to the course of nature? (pg. 29)

2. How is it if the saints’ affairs are not ordered by a special divine Providence that natural causes unite and associate themselves for their relief and benefit in so strange a manner as they are found to do? (pg. 31)

3. If the concerns of God’s people are not governed by a special Providence, how is it that the most apt and powerful means employed to destroy them are rendered ineffectual, while weak, contemptible means employed for their defence and comfort are crowned with success? (pg. 32)

4. If all things are governed by the course of nature and force of natural causes, how then comes it to pass that, like a bowl when it strikes another, men are turned out of the way of evil, along which they were driving at full speed? (pg. 34-35)

5. If there is not an over-ruling Providence ordering all things for the good of God’s people, how comes it to pass that the good and evil which is done to them in this world is accordingly repaid into the bosoms of them that are instrumental therein? (pg. 36)

6. If these things are merely accidental, how is it that they square and agree so exactly with the Scriptures in all particulars? (pg. 38)

7. If these things are contingent, how is it that they fall out so remarkably in the nick of time, which makes them so greatly observable to all that consider them? (pg. 40)

8. Lastly, were these things accidental and contingent, how can it be that they should fall out so immediately upon and consonantly to the prayers of the saints? So that in many providences they are able to discern a very clear answer to their prayers, and are sure they have the petitions they asked (1 John 5. 15). (pg. 41)

Truly, "His providences proclaim Him to be a God who hears prayer." (pg. 42)

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Mystery of Providence - Introduction

It is the duty of the saints, especially in times of straits, to reflect upon the performances of Providence for them in all the states and through all the stages in their lives.

Thus on page 20 Flavel introduces us to the doctrine that will drive this book, deriving it from Psalm 57:2 - I will cry unto God most high; unto God that performeth all things for me. Here we see our utter dependence upon God coupled with the promise that He is totally in control.

Can we know now all of the designs that God has for us? Can we comprehend His Providence in all of its twists and turns? Not now, but one day:

O how ravishing and delectable a sight will it be to behold at one view the whole design of Providence, and the proper place and use of every single act, which we could not understand in this world! What Christ said to Peter is as applicable to some providences in which we are now concerned as it was to that particular action: ‘What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter’ (John 13. 7). All the dark, intricate, puzzling providences at which we were sometimes so offended, and sometimes amazed, which we could neither reconcile with the promise nor with each other, nay, which we so unjustly censured and bitterly bewailed, as if they had fallen out quite against our happiness, we shall then see to be to us, as the difficult passage through the wilderness was to Israel, ‘the right way to a city of habitation’ (Ps. 107. 7). (pg. 22)

Hang on, I think that it is going to be quite a ride!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Mystery of Providence - Publisher's Introduction

Why should we read John Flavel's The Mystery of Providence in February 2008?

Simple answer? Because we have a NEED to read this book and make a serious study of its subject matter.

More complex answer? We can do no better than to read the following from the Publisher's Introduction to this work:

Our modern piety, when it deals with spiritual problems, tends to be self-centred and subjective; 'How can I find peace? How can I be victorious and effective? How can I be guided?' If we know the answers to these questions, it is often felt, nothing more can be asked of us. Within the terms of such an outlook, little time and attention can be spared for the consideration of such an apparently theoretical subject as the Providence of God. it may even provoke some impatience. In view of the demands of modern life, is it really necessary for us to spend time reading a lengthly treatment of what is not priority?

Flavel's approach to the subject of Providence cuts clean across our modern criticisms. he insists from the outset that it is the duty of believers to observe all the performances of God's providence for them, especially when they are in difficulties. Clearly this conviction is not shared by the majority of evangelical Christians in the present day. it is not our custom nor is it regarded as a mark of spiritual keenness to seek to discover and meditate upon the work of Providence in all that happens to us. Two reasons for this may be suggested. First and foremost, the Puritans had a lively sense of the sovereignty of God and it is just this that, speaking generally, we lack today. Many Christians reject it intellectually as repugnant to free will and their understanding of the love of God. When they suffer a setback in their personal affairs or in the work of the gospel, it is ascribed wholly to the Devil or to failure in themselves to 'fulfill the conditions'. They feel a sense of personal frustration and may even believe that God Himself has been frustrated. their only hope of success is to intensify their spiritual exercises. Prayer on this basis is not so much a plea to Omnipotence as the throwing of one's weight into the scale on the side of God. Even those who profess to accept without question the truth of divine sovereignty are not infrequently guilty of practical unbelief. Glibly to assert that 'all things work together for good to them that love God' is relatively easy but to believe this when our circumstances are distasteful and appear likely to deteriorate is evidence of a spiritual apprehension of the sovereignty of God. Yet we cannot truly recognize and improve the workings of Providence until we learn from the Scriptures that God performs all things for us. (pg. 12-13)

The previous words were penned in 1963. As we sit here 45 years later, little has changed. If anything, the "evangelical church" of 2008 is more driven by pragmatism, programs, and personalities (a sad alliteration but true) than it was in the mid-60's . We need to reject this unholy triumvirate and trust completely in God's Providence. In so doing it is my prayer that we will abandon our "self-centred" focus and set our eyes on the One who does all things well.