The Beauty of Still Standing

IMG_0613

You’ve see this before. The years of gravity, storm, and decay have taken their toll. But, there it is . . . still. Still standing – and with amazement we wonder how? This is a small farm on the outskirts of town where I live in Northern Illinois. I took this photo yesterday afternoon (May 29, 2016). For all those who are striving hard in this life to not lose hope in all that Christ is for us, this is how our hearts often feel. The apostle Paul said it this way:

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” – 2 Corinthians 3:7-10.

I think of my parents, for example, when I see this barn still standing against the backdrop of a standing tall silo. True, one day the old corn crib will give way to time – but not without displaying to all who see her that there is a humbling beauty in the way that she persevered to the end; that’s not only true of my parents, but all lovers of Jesus Christ who also persevere through various bodily afflictions, against addictions and idolatries of possession and wealth, and other losses of sorts. Mostly everyone endures great hardship in this life, for sure. But enduring hardship while saying “Jesus is worth it” is different. The treasure in this old earthly jar of dust is an affection to know Christ more deeply through suffering than through ease. Then, when others see how you still love Jesus, though you suffer, the “power” that explains your endurance is not from you but from God.

What does it mean then to carry in our bodies “the death of Jesus” so that his life can be seen by others?

It is our willingness to not live for ourselves but for others, sacrificially giving our lives away because Jesus gave his life away for you. And that is his life. The life of Jesus is a sacrificial one, for he did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Jesus died so that we would be free from the destructive enslavement of living for self (2 Cor. 5:15). And when the world insults, mocks, and threatens for putting Christ first, our response is with courtesy and good deeds (Titus 3:1-3; 1 Peter 2:9-17).

If you are tempted to give in because you feel that you don’t have the power to go on, then that is why you are tempted. It wasn’t in your power at all that brought you this far. Don’t believe for a second that it has been your will-power of self-determination that has been sustaining you. Look again to Christ – and see again that his grace has been sufficient and will be so for as long as he chooses to keep you standing, even if it is nearly touching the ground!

 

Art that Encourages Growth

IMG_0309

We recently had some artwork finished and is now displayed to encourage us to persevere in our growth in Christ. Psalm 1:1, then verse 2, then the large painting depicting verse 3. To the left, a center cut from a tree that recently died and fell to the ground on a farm that a member in our church owns.

Some close-ups below with brief commentary.

IMG_0310

A nearly 150 yr. old Ash tree that rings both lean and plentiful years – much like growing in Christ! At the center, rotating clockwise and moving outward, it reads: growth – in – Christ – is – a – long – and – hard – process – but it’s worth it!

IMG_0308

Amen!

IMG_0312

A lady in our church did this oil on canvas, 4 by 5 ft rendition of Psalm 1:3.

When you suffer, it is for your growth in Christ. May you be encouraged as the Lord continues to supply you with all the grace you need today, tomorrow, and for the rest of your life.

Suffering and Sadness During Christmas – part 7

January 26, 2011

It’s here. The morning that the Lord has made like he has since the beginning when the heavenly host shouted with joy and the morning stars sang over what the Triune God had done (Job 38:6). Ecstatic joy, not erratic excitement, was and is to come and presently is the most appropriate response to God’s handiwork. Creation is the stage upon which the godliness of God is displayed in the cross of Christ. And this much-anticipated morning will be no less. I’ll get to this gospel message and my fear in a moment.

Cheryl’s laparoscopic surgery is today – around noon. It’s supposed to last about an hour. By this evening we’ll know whether she can return home tomorrow or if a second attempt is needed on Friday. We give thanks to God for your prayers, for God has chosen to use them and has safely brought us by grace to this moment. Keep us in prayer this day as you have – by the end of this day may our Risen Savior receive glory for what he has done for us.

When affliction is upon you it is as natural to contemplate your personal sins as is breathing air:

“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.                                             The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses.                                   Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins” – Psalm 25:18.

I distinctly remember the first time that I wondered if God was punishing me.  I was around age 9. I had a stomach ache from eating too many apples and thought that God was angry with me for some unknown reason. Even at that young age one can begin to muse on the mystery of personal pain and the vengeance of God. Thankfully, a little later the stomach ache went away and so did my wondering. And as a 9 yr. old, back to playing.

But when I was in THE SERENITY ROOM an annoying conundrum began to whirl around in my head that I have long entertained but not at this level: Are my sins, at least in part, the reason why I’m in this room? My tormented prayers began to sound out: “God – are you punishing me for some unconfessed sin? Have I angered you for the last time? Will you now get even with me?” Not all seasons of affliction cause me to question this way but this time was different. I was afraid – really afraid. This is why your heart has to be literally filled to the brim with the gospel as your SERENITY ROOM comes upon you like a thief in the night.

To honestly answer, “Are my sins, at least in part, the reason why I’m in this room?” – yes and no, is the gospel truth. Yes – because if there were no sins, at all, anywhere, nowhere in my life and in yours, and in the entire human race, then there would be no affliction. No Sin . . . No Sorrows! You and I suffer because of our contribution to God’s Wonderful Creation: We have sinned. It’s a grievous and outrageous act when a creature created in the image of God for the eternal enjoyment of God turns against his maker and then happily feels jealousy, envy, covetousness, murderous rage, lust, revenge, self-pity, selfish ambition, self-righteousness – and pride.  I do admit, it is a no-brainer to discern the connection between sinful laziness and getting a failing grade on a test, or the persistent pleasure of porn and a crumbling marriage, or a judgmental eye and lack of sustained friendships – all examples of the consequence of sin in the heart. But it is not so easy to discern the connection of personal sin to this kind of affliction.

Here is where the gospel is exquisite and requisite for THE SERENITY ROOM: If Jesus’ death on the cross was insufficient to satisfy the just wrath of God for my sins, this affliction would be directly related to my personal sins. In fact, if Jesus’ blood is not enough then nothing is! You and I would be thrown into a dungeon “yesterday” and we would never get out. There would be no grace – at all – in your affliction. But the prayer of the afflicted can sound like this as it did for me:

“Dear Lord, because you sent your son to die in my place,                                                     ‘remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;                                                     according to your steadfast love remember me,                                                                  for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!’ – Psalm 25: 7

And,

“The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” – Psalm 103:8-14

Are my sins, at least in part, the reason why I’m in this room? Though in one sense, yes, but in another, with joyful praise, No. Jesus has died and is risen. My sins, not in part, but in whole – are nailed to the cross and I bear them no more. Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, O my soul.

I’m not saying that it is easy to discern the connection between personal sin and suffering. But I’m just happy as can be in THE SERENITY ROOM for my Savior’s sweet sacrifice has removed my sins from me.

As these gospel drenched, cross anticipated psalms filled my heart and my crying began to cease, I fell asleep whispering to myself:

“God is satisfied with his Son.                                                                                                  I am in the Son and the Son is in me.                                                                                      I am afflicted.                                                                                                                            God loves me like he loves his Son.                                                                                        Jesus is enough.                                                                                                                     I love Jesus. Praise his name!”

Ivan

Suffering and Sadness During Christmas – part 2

163853_1747814375780_3370251_n

Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010

“I had said in my alarm, ‘I am cut off from your sight.’ But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help.” Psalm 31:22

For the protection and cure of my soul I have been feasting on the protection/abandonment emotional paradoxes of the psalms. All my life I have read this emotional tug-of-war from the songwriter with more estrangement than knowledge. But no longer. Each night after Cheryl falls asleep and I tidy things up in her room, prepare for my own sleep, I enter alone into this emotional nightmare of feeling like God has abandoned me and yet I seek his protection from danger. What gives? I’m not exactly sure at this stage of my worship but it is new to me. I am presently reading the entire psalms, paying close attention to this roller-coaster cry: “you crush me down” and “you are my rock” – all in the same breath. What kind of strange worship is this? I’m hooked. Not to over-dramatize my experience but I am hungry to know what God is doing; it feels exactly like what I am reading in the Lord’s songbook.

What God did for Cheryl Today

The good news for today is that Cheryl’s white cell count was 23,000 down from 27,000. This is another positive ingredient for moving ahead. Also, she was transferred out of Intensive Care here at Loyola to an intermediate room (#6331) because she is now stable. God is very, very good. Later this evening she was given a medicine induced stress test. The reason for this test is that Cheryl’s heart experienced what seems to be a mild heart-attack during the episode that almost took her life. Her cardiac enzymes were way up and they now want to rule out or rule in that she suffered slight damage to her heart. We’ll see how this turns out and if anything will be done at this time.

This evening we had our “Christmas Morning” with Cheryl’s parents, Joshua, Joe and Ashley, and Anna in the hospital with us. It was a blessed evening as some presents were opened, raspberry and pumpkin pound cake enjoyed, and Christmas songs sung with the guitar. Someone got a little bored with my guitar playing and logged on to youtube and listened to Alvin and the Chipmonks sing Christmas songs. Oh well,  “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

After Cheryl’s parents and the kids left, and a round of nurse care was provided, Cheryl and I read from psalm 30 and worshiped:

“To you, O LORD, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy. What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me! O LORD, be my helper!” (vss. 8-10).

David is distraught with the futility and senselessness of his untimely death and attempts to reason with God to spare his life. Still, David cries to his God to help him. How does a worshiper ask for help from his God who seems to have abandoned him? When it seems to you, that God does not hear or care or know or feel or provide or keep safe or comfort, what do you do – what do you pray? Whatever it is that causes you to feel this way about God, he knows that you feel this way about him and he invites you to worship him by crying out this two-sided prayer. I have felt both, the heavy hand of the Lord and the gentleness of his compassion. He terrifies me and comforts me at the same time.

After we read, cried, talked, and prayed, Cheryl went to sleep and I began to write out my thoughts.

Until Tomorrow

Cheryl and I, and our children want you to know that we love you and feel your love for us.  We are so blessed to be part of a Christ-Seeking family like you – you’re one in a million.

Lord willing, I will be back to church this Sunday ready to lead you to Christ in worship. I will finish the series with, “The Greatest Never Ending Story.” We miss you very much  – keep praying for us – more mercies coming in the morning. It’s almost Christmas and we look forward to worshiping Jesus who came to save us from our sins.

Ivan

Suffering and Sadness During Christmas – part 1

For many, Christmas is just as painful and sad as it is a happy time. This post and a few others to come is about our sad Christmas days back in 2010. The following comes directly from my diary, unedited for this blog so that you can get the full picture. But the reason for making my diary public is so that if you are sad this Christmas, for whatever reason(s), or you know someone who is, then may my thoughts and meditations on scripture, the nature of suffering, and God’s providence help guide you through this Christmas season.

165177_1747802575485_1571857_n

Here is a pic of us singing Christmas songs together at Loyola Hospital. And here is my first diary post.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It’s 11:30 p.m. and I’m just now getting around to sharing what is happening with Cheryl and what God is doing in our lives. First, to my church family and friends who are praying and serving us in various ways, we thank God for your love and compassion for us – your prayers are wafting up to our Lord like sweet perfume.

Beginning today I will be writing a daily entry to update you on how Cheryl, myself and our family are doing. If this is your first time hearing about our circumstances please forgive me – I have thought about many of you who may not know what has happened to Cheryl and have wanted to call and tell you but I have been consumed with the urgency and seriousness of this trial. Let me begin.

“At your right hand are pleasures forever more,” “why do you not hear me?,” “you have been our portion for many years Lord – why do you crush her?,” “when I am afraid I will trust in you – please, I beg you Lord, save her life.” These and many more psalm-driven prayers have been my cry in recent days and I will never read the psalms again the same way; the next time we worship together singing, “The Lord Is”, I’m going to dance in the streets as David did.

What is going on in our lives causes me to shame my past worship of God in the psalms. But God is good to this sinner and child-like as I am to approach him, “for he knows our frame – he knows that I am only dust.” I’ll share more about the Lord’s heavy hand upon me and what he is doing to me with the psalms, later. Now to Cheryl.

Since coming home from Thanksgiving Cheryl has been feeling sickly like she normally does when she returns home from being away. She has always suffered with a variety of ailments that she attempts to manage on a daily basis. In the foreground are these daily symptoms but sneaking up on her in the background was a vicious infection in her right kidney, harboring a mushy 5 centimeter stone that had swelled the kidney to three times its normal size.  It came to the foreground like an unsuspecting beast over a hill. By Friday night, Dec. 17, we went to Rush Copley Emergency. They discovered the problem and began to drain the infected kidney. This was the right thing to do even in hindsight by all attending physicians. By Sat. afternoon Cheryl’s body was septic. All of a sudden, her vitals plummeted and an emergency response team was on her within seconds. I could not believe what I was watching – I thought I was going to die as I saw Cheryl’s life barely hanging on.

Over the next 12 hours, having been transferred to the ICU, every minute was life threatening. Even today, one of the chief urologists here at Loyola said, “you were a ticking time bomb.” But by God’s good grace, by Monday morning she had made progress. The Infectious Disease Control doctor did a fantastic job at stunning the infection into sterility – for now. With even more improvement by Tuesday morning and after three days of round-the-clock testing, sticking, scanning, sucking, draining, injecting – she was transferred to Loyola by ambulance this afternoon.

Where do we go from here and what is the challenge

The team of physicians here are facing a challenge because: a) Cheryl’s right bottom-lobe lung collapse that comes each month; b) the infection spreading by trying to remove the stone; c) wait too long to remove the stone thus giving the infection time to regroup and attack her; d) her body is not capable of enduring a surgery – not yet. By tomorrow her team of doctors are going to decide what to do to save her life, either by removing the stone safely, or removing her kidney safely. The safety issue is keeping the infection from getting loose during and after surgery. We thank God that it is contained at this moment but the when and how to get Cheryl ready and strong is the tricky part. This is why Rush moved her here to Loyola.

How to Pray

First, that Jesus Christ would reign supreme over everything, from rogue bacteria to the rise of the sun – his name is great and will be great in all the earth! Second, as the minds and hands of these folk at Loyola touch Cheryl’s body, God’s mind and hand would be on theirs. Third, that God would spare her life for his glory, for as the psalmist cried, “how can I praise you if I go down to the grave.”  Fourth, that our hearts would trust him for whatever comes.

Our Present Condition

Cheryl is improving by the hour in all her vitals, including the most important one: her white cell count on Sunday was over 70,000, on Monday – 51,000 and for today – 27,000. Normal is around 12,000 so she’s heading in the right direction! One of the attending physicians came in her room here at Loyola (#3136), and after reviewing her case and talking to the gang at Rush Copley, could not believe how well she looked and how vigorous her body was responding. In happy disbelief, “you don’t look anything like I expected.”  Her hope is steady as I read and pray the psalms to her each day. As for myself, it just doesn’t seem appropriate to say that I am exhausted in every way – but I am. And yet, there is no other reason on earth that would be more appropriate and godly than to be exhausted for Cheryl’s sake. This is not a contradiction with doing all things for the sake of Christ, for when I love Cheryl to this degree it is the most Christ-like thing that I could ever do.  I wish I could say that I have always loved Cheryl as Christ loves her – to my shame, I cannot. In fact, I have never loved Cheryl as Christ loved and continues to love her. He alone has died for her sins and raised himself for her justification and will never sin against her with selfishness and pride – but I have, and as my sinful inclinations have a track record, I will sin against her again – pathetic . . . isn’t it? But, this is the grace that is happening in my heart as a result of this trial. I’ll say more about this and other grace-filled dimensions of this episode later. For now, my heart rejoices to know the love of Christ and you cannot say that you know the love of Christ until you lose your life for the sake of another.

Until Tomorrow

Cheryl and I are truly blessed to have a church family and friends like you. We would not have made it this far without you. Your prayers and acts of kindness are the means by which God is sustaining, literally by the hour. Please keep it up – we need you.  I am in contact with Thomas Payne, the deacon board and a few others to express specific needs. They will contact you if I am in need. If you want to speak with me by email, please do so at gccyorkville@sbcglobal.net.

And now, I must go and cry out to God psalm 27, bringing the psalm to our context: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” vs. 1

Ivan

 

I would rather die than . . .

1. Be unfaithful to my wife.

2. Bring reproach upon the gospel with my life and teaching.

3. Become so irritable and ungodly with my children that they can’t see the true Father in heaven for their lousy father on earth.

Years ago I read Don Carson’s book, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil. He taught me to see suffering from many angles, one of which is this: death is not the worst thing to experience – there are worse things than dying. He helped me to put suffering and evil in a perspective that I had not understood. Dying is a grevious part of the evil, broken world that we live in, to be sure. But death is the response of God to what is most evil – sin. We come to understand the gravity and offensiveness of sin when we see the just consequence of our sin. Sin is worse than Death! Death helps me to see most clearly what God sees in me – my sin.

That so many people on earth will live to sin another day is because of the mercies of God; he is longsuffering. But since death comes to all men because all have sinned, there is only one hope for all men: Christ Crucified for the sins of man. Do you believe that your sin deserves your death? Then escape the consequence of your sin by turning to the only one who can suffer in your place that you set free to live for God. His name is Jesus Christ. Though you die, yet you will live again.

We need God’s grace to say, “I would rather die than to sin again.” With that kind of view of our sin and the great mercies of our Lord, we can live as God would have us to.

Jesus Did Not Say, “Take up your Mercedes Benz and follow Me”

The position of the Bible is that Suffering for Christ is compatible with Joy, but not the joy of Disney Land, or American Idol, or a really nice car, but the joy of the Lord, that is, the joy that comes through knowing Christ and his Father through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we wrongly equate suffering for Christ with a joyless life. It is the sin in our hearts that blind us to see the truth that all losses in this life for Christ’s sake reap a greater joyful benefit than refusing to lose anything for Christ. The question that is put before us is this: Do you believe there is more joy in suffering for Christ than there is joy in what the world is able to give without suffering for Christ?  Jesus does not ask his followers to forsake joy, only the lesser joy of the world! His joy is better than the worlds’ but it comes by a cross. Do you believe that the cross is worth it?

Jesus said in Luke 14:26-27, 33, that “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Not hate in the sense of malice, but in the sense of priority and value, we forsake the lesser for the greater.

Also in John 15:11, 18, 20, 22:

These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. . . If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you. . . if they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. . . But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent me. . . Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. . . therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.”

So when Jesus said, take up your cross and follow me, he did not criticize those who had wealth, per se, as I am not criticizing owning a Benz – I’d be delighted if you bought me one! But he did mean to give a clear picture of discipleship: to follow Christ is to suffer with him – it will not be easy but it will be worth it – much more than any luxury in this life.

These texts and many others in God’s Word (contact me and I’ll send you a very long printed out list) teach us that we must be willing to suffer less material possessions and less worldly status in order that we may “store up treasure in heaven” where nothing can take it away. We must be willing to suffer in radical ways in fighting against lust in our hearts so that we do not go to hell; Jesus wants us to suffer and gouge out our eye and cut off our right hand in order to not lust after a woman in our hearts. Jesus wants us to be willing to suffer and obey God rather than man, when man commands or entices us to go against God. If need be, Jesus wants us to suffer distance and broken fellowship with our family members by putting him and his gospel first, like when confronting the sinful behavior in children; verbally questioning the salvation of an older child who obviously is no longer living for Jesus; accept the disappointment and even hostility from parents and grandparents when you tell them that you and your wife along with your children are going to be missionaries in Sudan and you’re not coming home anytime soon; and witnessing to a lost family member. Jesus wants us to be conformed to his image and to have his mind so that we will be able to suffer the loss of worldly praise and honor; we do this when we love the truth and righteousness of Jesus more than the half-truths and the multiple false paths to heaven.

Jesus wants us to suffer the loss of promotions in our vocations and our very jobs if need be because we refuse to be an aid to dishonest gain, or a cover-up for illegal activity, or a sexual trophy for the boss. Jesus wants teenagers to suffer the loss of friendships with their peers by refusing to share in their foul-mouthed language, their “safe-but-free-sex” relationships, their plagiarism of on-line term papers, their obsession with fashion and prestige, their unquestioned desire for stimulation through viewing sexually arousing movies.

Jesus wants the Church to get the gospel to the ends of the earth by suffering the consequences of gospel-preaching. In Jesus’ plan, a missions-minded church is a pro-suffering church: Missions is impossible without suffering! The best Christians and the best books and songs ever written have come from those who have suffered joyfully for Christ, and then have entered into the Joy of the Lord. Suffering for Christ is not earning salvation – but it is proving that we value our salvation in Christ over this world.