To be Abased

Recently a brother made a comment that sent my thinking down a road I have often pondered but not pushed to a conclusion. I’m reasonably confident I haven’t got to that conclusion yet, but thought it good to put some words together to help me think.

In Philippians 4:10–13 we read:

But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

I’m sure that you (the reader of this post) remember occasions when the last sentence of this passage has been taken out of context and made to say things that Paul (and the Holy Spirit) did not intend. I know I have. Context is such an important consideration in our reading and study of the Scriptures. I’m confident Paul’s statement is applicable in a general way; but this passage is all about finances.

“God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply” (Hudson Taylor). This is a quotation that has been used to justify all sorts of ideas. There is certainly truth in the statement; but there are quite a few caveats that need to be added. For instance, we need to be careful how we define “God’s supply”. In the case of Hudson Taylor, (if I remember correctly) it was the supply of workers to reach the unreached areas of China.

In another passage (2 Corinthians 12:7–10) Paul tells us that it is in weakness that the Lord’s strength is able to work, and be seen. Sometimes (in fact, many times) God’s supply is “weakness”; whether physical, emotional, or financial.

Coming back to Philippians 4:10–13, Paul’s comments are in the area of finances. It is interesting to note that Paul uses 3 comparisons to speak of his experiences in the area of finances:

To be abased — to abound
To be full — to be hungry
To abound — to suffer need

In the case of “mission workers” we sometimes think that a lack of financial support is an indication that: either Hudson Taylor’s dictum has been broken in some way, or that the Lord is telling the worker it is time to leave the field. Both of these may be true; but my recent thinking has led me to urge caution in judgment; particularly as it relates to others, and not myself.

We have no Biblical indication that the Apostle Paul was ever out of the Lord’s will as concerning his sphere of service or methods used. In fact, he clearly says that he had “…fought the good fight, …finished the race, …kept the faith”, and yet he says clearly that there were times when he was abased, hungry, and suffered need.

One of the conclusions I have come to, at this time, is that perhaps we need to step away a little from the financial conditions a worker might find himself in, and listen more carefully to what the Lord might be saying as we listen to Him in our devotions and prayers. There might even be times in the life of the Lord’s servant when that worker needs to be reminded not to depend on financial support; wherever it might come from.

I am not saying that we should not support commended workers financially. We ought to. Particularly if we have (as in the case of the Corinthian church with respect to the poor in Jerusalem) made a commitment to do so. This might be a commitment to the Lord, or directly to the worker. It is also necessary that we support them financially in an inteligent way, taking note of any particular situations the worker might be in.

The Geography of Galilee

One of the results of having been in the Holy Land is a greater appreciation of the distances and relationships of the geography of the land. Gael and I had that privilege about 2½ years ago.

I have always enjoyed maps, and having been brought up in Central Africa, and often traveling significant distances; by train, pickup, car, bicycle, and foot; have come to appreciate the nuances of maps and what they tell us about journeys. However, a map comes short of the real thing. A map may help to understand things not seen “on the ground” but there are often things that are highlighted by actually having one’s foot on the ground.

My university education was in the earth sciences, and I often find myself noticing the upheavals and torments seen in the rock-cuts and hills of Ontario as we travel.

Recently I was reading in Mark’s Gospel, and one aspect of our Lord’s ministry caught my attention: the number of times He crossed the Sea of Galilee. We can’t know exactly how many times He crossed the Sea in a boat, but we have record in the Gospels of at least five occasions. Understanding that He grew up in the area, and that not all of the events of the 3½ years of His ministry are recorded for us; we can be quite certain that He crossed the Sea many more times than are recorded in Scripture.

As I meditated on these things, another aspect came into focus. How many times it would seem that His journey from one side to the other, and then back was for the benefit of only one person. Of course, this is seen in other areas as well: His need to pass through Samaria; and then to have the conversation with the woman at the well.

I received a phone call this morning from a brother who (in passing) mentioned that he travels by car roughly 100,000 km a year for business. My own travels total about 40,000 km; mostly for ministry purposes. Both of us have the benefit of the comfort of a fairly recent vehicle.

Our Lord (we would gather) traveled almost exclusively on foot, or in a boat. There are occasions where the Gospel narrative makes it clear that He walked, and sometimes His disciples followed behind Him as He walked.

In both Matthew and Mark we are told that He left the neighbourhood of the Sea of Galilee and went north-west to the region of Tyre. We are not told the name of the city/town that He visited, but estimates have been given that it was likely a journey of about 80 km (50 miles). Waiting for Him, although she may not have thought of it that way, was a woman who had a daughter severely demon possessed. We all know the conversation that took place, and this is not the place for that. My thoughts were focussed on the fact that He almost immediately, after healing the girl, left the area and returned to the region of the Sea of Galilee. 160 km roundtrip on foot for one person!

What purpose and compassion are seen in the life and words of our Saviour!

The Intertwining of Scripture

Dr David Gooding wrote a valuable book titled “The Riches of Divine Wisdom”. In this book he develops the thought that the Spirit of God; being the author of both “Testaments”, is free to use the Old Testament in the New Testament in a variety of ways as He sees fit. I have found this book fascinating. I am often impressed with brother Gooding’s books, and this one is no exception. I find some of the chapters challenging; but that is a reflection on me; not on him.

Recently I was thinking about Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:13, 14 where Paul writes that Christ became a curse for us.

There is a lot of theology packed into these two verses: Redemption is spoken of; the idea that the gentiles, being under the curse of the law, could not receive the promise of the Spirit through faith; and so on.

As I was thinking about these things I thought I should go back to Deuteronomy 21 where this thought it taken from. I was immediately struck with something I had not previously thought about. In my mind the curse the Saviour bore on the cross was involved in all the shame and abuse He was subject to in that awful death of crucifixion. Sadly my thinking did not go much beyond that. What I read in Deuteronomy 21 pushed my thoughts in a different direction: “…for he who is hanged is accursed of God.” Not just that our Saviour bore a curse by being crucified; but that he was subject to the curse of God! One thing to be cursed by the sinners passing by the cross, or lingering to mock and curse; but to be cursed of God is something of an altogether different category. All this so that the blessing of Abraham might come upon me and that I, a gentile, could receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Amazing!

Coming back to Deuteronomy I thought again of the instruction that the body not be left on the tree. Again, we see that fulfilled in the request that the body of our Saviour be taken down, and the insistence of the rulers that the victims of crucifixion not remain on the cross after sundown.

The one thing I have been wrestling with (maybe someone could help me with it) is that leaving the body of a God-cursed man on the tree overnight would defile the land. However, I have full confidence, because of the perfection of Scripture, that there is a good answer to my puzzlement.

You have Heard of the endurance of Job

Over the last few months one of my focuses has been on the Gospel of John. I have often turned there in my studies and meditations because of the insights John gives us into the person and character of our Lord Jesus. Each of the gospel authors emphasizes a slightly different aspect of the life of our Lord; although there is perfect harmony between them as they write. Of course, this is what we would expect of four men “carried along by the Spirit”.

One of the “threads” I have been looking at recently is the thread of the sign miracles performed by our Lord. There are seven; although some would add the miraculous catch of fish related in chapter 21. My own thought is that since this miracle is related to us after John’s purpose statement at the end of chapter 20, that John does not intend us to see it as part of the series of seven. However, I could be wrong!

The particular thought that has been on my mind is that the Lord specifically identifies some underlying reasons in performing these miracles. Also, John tells us of purposes.

For instance, John tells us that the Lord “manifested his glory” when He turned the water into wine. In John 5 He said: “…the very works that I do bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.” In John 9 He says: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.” The Lord is answering the disciples’ question as to the cause of the man’s blindness from birth. In John 11; when He was told that Lazarus was sick, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” There is this thought that what our Lord did in performing these sign miracles was in no instance capricious; or solely for the benefit of the recipient (in the case of healing) but for a particular bigger purpose.

Another thought that has been on my mind in connection with these miracles in John is the intimate knowledge by our Lord of each person involved. He knew what had preceded in each case, and knew each participant intimately.

The dermatologist I visit from time to time traces his family to Sicily. So his complexion is “Mediterranean”. My ancestry is more from North-West Europe, so my complexion shows all the effects of sun damage over quite a few years. That’s why I have to visit him from time to time, so he can get out his little canister of nitrogen and apply little shots to various part of my skin. It would be nice if someone could re-craft my genetic code so as to give me nice healthy skin like his; however, that would almost certainly have implications in other areas of my genetic makeup. Only the One who knows the whole tapestry of my frame from before my conception (Psalm 139) could make those changes correctly, and without unintended consequences in other areas of my body. That will have to wait for the Resurrection!

This led me to think of another aspect of our Lord’s dealings with those He came in contact with. For instance, in John 5, when the man by the Pool of Bethesda is healed, the Lord told him: “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” There is a lot of information packed into that statement. There is an implication that it was sin that led to his condition in the first place. That is not stated in the narrative, but seems to be implied. We see this again in chapter 4 where we read that the Samaritan woman said; “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” This is also true of the woman taken in adultery of chapter 8. The Lord told her to “go and sin no more.” He knows all the details of our history, and all the factors that enter into it. That has two consequences in my thinking. One, His immense compassion to be able to deal in such a loving way with all the sinners He came in contact as He dwelt among us. Two, His immense compassion in dealing with me; knowing all He knows about me.

Going back to the title of this “thought”. The Scripture is clear that the various testings we experience are to produce in us perseverance, or endurance. They are for our growth and perfecting. However, it was recently emphasized by a brother as he spoke about Daniel and his friends; that testings are often brought upon us that we would be a witness to God’s perfect character. As far as we know, Job was not told what went on “behind the scenes” unless he read the book, or perhaps was the author himself. But we have the story, and James tells us (James 5:11) of the purpose behind the whole narrative: “You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.”

I Know That My Redeemer Lives

In the last few weeks I have been speaking on First Corinthians.

One of the threads has been “The results of Christ’s work on the Cross” and all that flows from that great work on our behalf. It is said that Chafer identified 33 different things that take place when we accept the Lord as our Saviour.

The Resurrection is one of those things that flows from His great work.

As I was preparing a message on the Resurrection, my thoughts were taken to the book of Job where this dear man wrestles with what was going on in his life. He was not aware of the “behind the scenes” story.

I was struck by two of his statements:

In 14:14 he asks: “If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait, till my change comes.” Of course, this is not the whole of his query; it is much longer than that; but it sums it up quite concisely. This is a question we all ask from time to time. Is our physical death the end of the story?

The other statement comes in chapter 19, and is the one we often refer to. I want to quote the pertinent part of his answer to Bildad:

Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends,
For the hand of God has struck me!
Why do you persecute me as God does,
And are not satisfied with my flesh?
Oh, that my words were written!
Oh, that they were inscribed in a book!
That they were engraved on a rock
With an iron pen and lead, forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;
And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God,
Whom I shall see for myself,
And my eyes shall behold, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!

This is a remarkable statement. There is debate as to the time Job was written; whether in the days of Moses; perhaps in the days of the Patriarchs; perhaps in the days of Solomon; or at some other time. The debate focuses on the style of writing, the geographical regions mentioned, and so on. We can’t be sure. We each have our own idea, I know I have mine!

What is remarkable are the things he says about “his Redeemer” and what he says about the resurrection:

He tells us that the Redeemer was alive when he said these things. He tells us that the Redeemer would stand on the earth at last. We might also gather that he attributes deity to the Redeemer by his statement that he would see God.

Concerning the resurrection, he tells us it is a bodily event: “in my flesh I shall see God.” He also gives us an indication that it is a new body, since his skin would be destroyed. This reminds us of what Paul wrote in First Corinthians: what you plant is not what comes up. God gives it a body as He pleases.

It’s no wonder our Saviour told the Sadducees they neither knew the Scriptures nor the power of God in their denial of a resurrection. Of course, they did not give the same authority to most of the Scriptures as they did to the “Five of Moses.”

Does our heart yearn within us as we think on these things?

Jeremiah 45

The prophecy of Jeremiah is the longest book in the Bible. Psalms may be larger, but is composed of 5 collections of individual psalms, so cannot compete with the book of Jeremiah. 52 chapters in our English versions and in the Tanakh.

Gael and I have been reading a chapter (or part of a chapter) a day for quite a while, and are approaching the end of this prophecy. 52 chapters is a long way from start to finish.

Not only does it record the many direct “words” from the Lord, but it also records quite a few historical matters that took place during the time of Jeremiah’s life.

Chapter 45 is only 5 verses in total, and is worth quoting:

The word that Jeremiah the prophet spoke to Baruch the son of Neriah, when he had written these words in a book at the instruction of Jeremiah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, to you, O Baruch: ‘You said, “Woe is me now! For the Lord has added grief to my sorrow. I fainted in my sighing, and I find no rest.” ’ “Thus you shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Behold, what I have built I will break down, and what I have planted I will pluck up, that is, this whole land. And do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them; for behold, I will bring adversity on all flesh,” says the Lord. “But I will give your life to you as a prize in all places, wherever you go.” ’ ”

It’s an interesting passage for a number of reasons:
First, because the Lord does not speak directly to Baruch, in spite of the fact that Baruch had been faithful in writing down all the words that Jeremiah spoke; not once, but twice. You will remember that the king cut the scroll off, column by column, and put it in the fire the first time. It’s not easy to figure out how large the scroll would have grown to when the king did that, but it would not have been a trivial task to write it all down the second time.
Second, because it would appear that the prophecies of doom had affected Baruch to the point of his saying what the Lord accused him of saying.
Third, because the Lord saw behind the “groan” to the essence of Baruch’s complaint. Baruch was falling into the same trap that Habakkuk did, in protesting to the Lord that what the Lord was doing was too much.
Fourth, because the Lord answers Baruch in essentially the same way He answered Habakkuk: “It is my nation, I raised it up, and I will bring it down; I have that right.”
Fifth, because the Lord recognizes that Baruch was worthy of a special promise; in all of the desolations that would follow, he would not perish.

For some reason I have been thinking quite a bit recently about the “collateral” of the Lord’s dealing with nations. Were there no righteous in Edom when the Lord brought total destruction on that nation? If Jonah’s story had turned out a little differently, what about the lives of the sailors?
I was comforted by the fact that the Lord knew all about these things, and that in the midst of it; promised that Baruch would not be “collateral damage”.

The Road to Jerusalem

This past week Gael and I were reading at the breakfast table. It has been our custom to read from a small devotional book, and then a chapter from the Scriptures.

I have referred to this little devotional book before. It was given to me by Dr Harlow many years ago when Everyday Publications was located on Glebemount Avenue in Toronto. Each day of the year is a ‘reading’ of various passages from the Scriptures, and one of them is also given as the title of the day’s reading.

The thought this particular day was that of being “led”. However, one of the passages given was taken from Mark 10:32. My first thought was: “That’s not a passage about leading!” However, it was something that lingered in my mind for several days. It is one of those passages that always bring me to a halt, and make me ponder again the devotion of our Saviour to the Father’s will.

Now they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them; and they were amazed. And as they followed they were afraid. Then He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them the things that would happen to Him: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.” Mark 10:32–38

It’s not clear from the passage how many were on the road to Jerusalem. It seems to me that there may have been a significant number, because Mark records that “He took the twelve aside…” I have this picture in my mind of a group of men (and possibly women) walking along the road. We usually think of the group being around, or close to, the Lord as He walked, but in this case, it is clear that He was walking on ahead, alone.

What did they see (or hear) that would have caused them to be amazed, and to be afraid? Was there something in His posture, or gait, that struck them? Or was He quoting from the Scriptures some of the prophetic passages touching on His suffering? We are not told.

Two thoughts come to me as I think on this passage:

First: The Saviour, fully knowing all that lay ahead, was committed to fully doing the Father’s will.
Second: As we read, and think on these things, what is our response? Is it only a sense of amazement and fear? Or are we overcome with worship as we ponder the enormity of what He endured for us?

Sometimes things converge

Recently there were a number of things that converged in my thinking.
The first was an open group discussion earlier this month about some of the things James writes about in his epistle. As we were discussing the third chapter it struck me very forcibly that the various things James writes about the tongue and its influence could be profitably seen in the context of the opening verse of that chapter. Those that teach need to be aware that the things said; from a platform, or in a less formal setting; can have long-lasting and significant impact. James uses the pictures of: directing a horse, steering an ocean vessel, kindling a forest fire.

The second converging item came in an online post touching on Job’s three friends, and the thought that perhaps (contrary to how we often picture things) there was a large audience for the long and detailed debate that occupies most of the book. The author of this post suggested that the three friends came from three geographically separate places; were likely wealthy; and would in all probability have come with a large retinue. The writer’s emphasis in this post was for the most part on the need for the “teacher” to be prepared and to “teach” with skill and preparation. (I’m confident the author of the post will pardon my overly simplistic description of his post!)

The third converging item was my picking up my iPad, opening the Kindle app, and reading one of the books that I have there. It is titled “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that can’t stop talking”. The author is Susan Cain.

I have enjoyed reading this book. It is late summer here in Oshawa, and it was nice to be able to recline in a lawn-chair in our back yard, watch the birds enjoying the birdbath, and spend some time reading.

I have finished the book, and I regret some aspects of it; but have, nevertheless, found it a worthwhile read. It is a quite large and somewhat scholarly book dealing with extroverts, introverts, sensitivity, and so on. I believe it has been a profitable read, and in many ways challenging.

What can I take away from it? First of all, that there can be a wide variety of teaching styles. Some are low-key, thoughtful, backed by extensive research and study; some are more focussed on “buzz” as the author would comment. Second, that there can be a wide variety of learning styles; of roughly the same spectrum as teaching. Third, where do I fit in? And, do I need to modify anything in my life on account of these things?

The Song of the Lord

About eight years ago I spent some time studying the life of Hezekiah, and preparing a series of messages based on his life.

It is an interesting and profitable subject with many lessons for us. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, points out that we can learn from history; and in particular the history of the nation of Israel in their journeying through the wilderness. In that passage he points out that we can learn from the unbelief they fell into in their response to testing.

At that time I was struck by a short passage in one of the accounts of Hezekiah’s life; the one found in 2nd Chronicles. There is a very strong emphasis in the two books of Chronicles on the Temple in Jerusalem, and the worship conducted (or not) in that beautiful building.

On a Sunday morning recently, for several reasons that have nothing to do with this post, I awoke very early and decided to re-read the three accounts of Hezekiah’s life. When I came to verses 25 through 30 of 2nd Chronicles 29, I was struck, again, by what is recorded there.

Hezekiah came to the throne of Judah as a young man; and his first priority was to cleanse the Temple and re-establish the various aspects of the worship in the Temple. When we come to verse 25 we find the musicians put in order, and the sacrifices in order.

As I was reading, I was almost overcome with the thoughts expressed in these verses:

Then Hezekiah commanded them to offer the burnt offering on the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song of the Lord also began, with the trumpets and with the instruments of David king of Israel. So all the assembly worshiped, the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded; all this continued until the burnt offering was finished.

Everything was tied to the burnt offering. In passing, it is worth noting that this is the offering mentioned first in Leviticus. The Song of the Lord began with the Burnt Offering, and continued until it was finished. I have no idea how long that might have taken, but it would not have been a matter of a minute or two; more likely half an hour or more. The Burnt Offering was to be totally consumed on the altar, and in this case was likely a young bull.

I have wondered what exactly is meant by “the song of the Lord” but have not been able to find a clear answer in any of the commentaries I have access to, but it certainly was special.

At this point, I would like to take a flight of fancy. I fully realize the dangers of seeing ‘typology’ in every little item of the Old Testament. There have been some really fanciful things said in that context. However, as I read this passage a thought came to me which moved me deeply that Sunday morning: Our Blessed Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, is the fulfilment of the Burnt Offering and, in a sense, His offering up of Himself as a perfect, and pleasing to God, offering is non-ending. He is in the presence of God for us, to quote Hebrews; and so, the Song of the Lord does not end.

In Hezekiah’s day the singing stopped; today it has no reason to stop.

The Spirit of Man Which is in Him

We have a bird feeder hanging outside our kitchen window. It is specifically designed to feed goldfinches, although from time to time a chickadee may take some of the black niger seed.

Sometimes, as I watch these pretty little birds hang upside-down on the feeder, I wonder what they are thinking, if anything. Do they function entirely on instinct, or is there some sort of thought process going on in their tiny heads? They can see me through the kitchen window; and if I remain still, they will continue to feed and to challenge each other for the top spot. If I move too suddenly, they fly. If I move slowly, they don’t. Are they thinking, or simply acting on instinct and their past experience of these people behind the glass of the window?

Of course, we cannot know. Scientists may do all kinds of research, and come up with complicated answers, but in reality we cannot know.

Recently a brother read (publicly) from 1st Corinthians 2 where Paul is writing about the wisdom of God and man. In writing about these things, and God’s revelation to man, Paul writes: “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?” It is an interesting and profound statement; particularly in its context of the role of the Holy Spirit in revelation; but it also is helpful in emphasizing that we can, in fact, understand other people’s thinking because we are of the same spirit as they. Now, I know, sin has done some terrible things to us, and we need to remember that we all have ‘warped minds’ because of that, but meaningful dialogue is possible because we all have “the spirit of man.” Goldfinches do not have “the spirit of man” in them.

I would gather that one of the favourite passages of the Bible for many of God’s people is Romans 8. I know it is one of mine. Paul deals with many of the implications of the indwelling Holy Spirit: we walk according to the Spirit; we are able to cry “Abba, Father…”; we understand something of the “inheritance” that we share with our Saviour; we are able to enter into the wonder of the enormity of God’s love for us in Christ; we begin to appreciate the security that is ours because of the work of the Saviour; we know a little more of what lies ahead when all will be made right. These are some of the wonders of Romans 8. (as it is partitioned off in our Bibles)

As I was thinking about our goldfinch friends, my thoughts wandered to verses 25–28 in Romans 8.

But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

I have heard various thoughts expressed on these verses; the majority pointing to the “unutterable groanings” being ours, and that the Holy Spirit takes these and “re-phrases” them in an acceptable manner for the “one who searches the hearts”. That is not what Paul is saying here. If you could allow me to paraphrase: Paul is saying that we don’t really know what lies ahead, but we are anxious for it. We likely would pray incongruently with God’s plans. But the Holy Spirit does know what to pray for (for us) and so He does; with “unutterable groanings”. And of course, the Father knows what the mind of the Spirit is, and can answer accordingly. Amazing comfort for us in our anticipation of the “revealing of the sons of God.”