Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Sculptor's Training

Ever since I came across this poem, it had become one of my favorites. It's been one of those I've gone back to over and over again, especially during those times when I wonder if the painful fire of God's testing and refining is ever going to cease. It is an encouragement to me, containing a beautiful glimpse of the "other side of the tapestry;" the magnificent work that only God as the master Designer can see. 

She asked to be made like her Saviour,
And He took her at her word,
And sent her a heart-crushing burden
Till the depths of her soul were stirred.
She asked for a faith strong, yet simple.
He permitted the dark clouds to come; 
She staggered by faith through the darkness,
As the storms did her soul overwhelm.

She prayed to be filled with a passion 
Of love for lost souls and for God,
And again, in response to her longing,
 She sank 'neath the chastening rod.
She wanted a place in HIs vineyard;
He took her away form her home,
And placed her among hardened sinners
Where she humanly stood all alone. 

She gave up all wordly ambitions,
Those "castles in air" of years,
And she knelt in deep consecration,
And whispered, "Amen," through her tears.
She wanted a meek, lowly spirit - 
The work He gave answered that cry;
And those who had been her companions
With pitying smile passed her by.

She asked to lean hard on her Saviour;
He took human props quite away,
Till no earthly friend could help her,
And she could do nothing but pray.
I saw her go out to the vineyard
To harvest the golden grain;
Her eyes were still moistened with weeping,
Her heart was still throbbing with pain.

 But many a heart that was broken,
And many a wrecked, blighted life
Was made to thank God for her coming,
And rejoiced in the midst of the strife.
She had prayed to be made like her Saviour,
And the burden He gave her to bear
Had been but the great Sculptor's training:
Thus answering her earnest prayer.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The true test of a saint

"...we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." Acts 14:22
"No man can be wholly the Lord's unless he is wholly consecrated to the Lord; and no man can know whether he is thus wholly consecrated except by tribulation. That is the test. To rejoice in God's will, when that will imparts nothing but happiness, is easy even for the natural man. But no one but the renovated man can rejoice in the Divine will when it crosses his path, disappoints his expectations, and overwhelms him with sorrow. Trial therefore, instead of being shunned, should be welcomed as the test - and the only true test - of a true saint. Beloved souls, there are consolations which pass away, but true and abiding consolations ye will not find except in entire abandonment, and in that love which loves the Cross. He who does not welcome the Cross does not welcome God."
-Madame Guyon

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

God's Pathway

For many years, I have had this subconscious hope that there's maybe just one or two more big mountains to cross, and then life will even out a bit and things will get easier. When finally climbing out of yet another spiritual valley and battleground, there's this clinging thought that perhaps now I've learned the "all important" spiritual lesson that will never necessitate God bringing me through something so difficult again. This notion sounds rather absurd when put down in words, but in many respects, it has been the attitude of my heart. Dreams of "when" and fanciful notions of "if-only's" easily replace and fog the truth of God's words, and have, at times, stamped unrealistic expectations of Christianity upon my heart. 

Today's American Christian culture has blasted us so much with the "health, wealth, and prosperity Gospel," that the reality of God's path for His children can become in our minds no more than bad luck, or at best, temporary circumstances that we must endure through until brighter skies shine again.  

A few weeks ago God prompted me to buy a book that I had read in my younger years, but had had extremely little impact on me at the time. I had hardly given this book a thought for years, when out of the blue, God impressed it upon my heart as one I needed to buy and read again. After ordering 'A Tale of Three Kings' I anxiously awaited it's arrival, eager to discover if there were gems to be discovered that I had not been ready for as a young teenager. I was honestly not prepared for the impact it has had on my heart. 

An allegorical tale, woven around the life of Saul, David, and Absalom, it is a study on authority, submission, and brokenness. Though he highlights many key issues, the one that stuck out to me the most was Gene Edward's emphasis on the path of brokenness and dependance that God attempts to bring each one of His children on. The reason I says attempts, is because history has proven that most are not willing to walk that way.

"God has a university. It's a small school. Few enroll; even fewer graduate. Very, very few indeed. God has this school because He does not have broken men and women. He wants very much to have broken men and women, but there are not many who are willing to live in pain..." - Gene Edwards

Without going into more detail on the book, (you'll have to read it yourself!) it has prompted me to seriously reconsider what I am expecting out of life. When looking unbiasedly at the lives of the great men and women of Scripture, mostly notable our Lord, it's easy to see that the path they walked was not often one of roses and dappled sunlight. Suffering, hardship, and tremendous battles with the world, flesh, and the devil were a way of life for them. They did not expect to be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease, but engaged in the very real, and oftentimes heartbreaking battles that ultimately worked the character of Christ into their inner being. When looking honestly at these things, can I truly, with a good conscience, expect or demand anything less?

In my own experience thus far, I have to concur that this path is one of  much suffering and hardship. Granted, there are many flowers along this way, but the majority of them receive their water from the blood, sweat, and tears of the saints that walk it. Some of these flowers are the pure wonder of the gifts of life God grants us. The grandeur of creation; the harmony, beauty, and order of music; the pleasure of a wonderful meal; all these are gifts God has given for our enjoyment. Many other things, on the other hand, are only appreciated to the degree that hardship has made them precious. The indescribable peace of finding our joy and fulfillment in Christ when no earthly man seems to understand; the ecstasy of agonized prayer answered; the satisfaction of finding Jesus enough when every human prop has been torn out from under us; and spiritual fruit borne after months or years of anguished desire. Somehow, the flowers that bloom from such struggles, make the natural ones that much more special.

This is a path that require a steadfast faith in the promises of One who cannot always be seen or felt. This path's circumstances are ordered in such a way to keep it's travelers clinging tightly to the One who has planned every step. Does this knowledge make this way any less painful and tear-filled? Not necessarily, but it does produce a deeply abiding love and peace which the hardest of circumstances can not snatch away. 

As this year is quickly drawing to a close and I ponder the ways the Lord has led me, I have to admit it has probably been the most tear-filled and difficult year of my life, yet it has also been the sweetest in learning to know the heart of my Lord better. God's face and character has become a little more clear each day, and as I've taken the time to gaze into the heart of my Lord and King who has planned each one of my steps perfectly, I am filled with wonder and pure awe at His immense love and care for me. That He love me enough to inflict pain for my good is beyond the grandest thoughts my frail human comprehension can muster up. 

But what about the painful circumstances that come about through the sin-filled nature of humanity? What about heartache that is birthed in a heart from the callous, insensitive remarks or behavior from another believer?  What about those heart-wrenching church or family divisions?  What about the mental turmoil that comes from a relationship gone awry, or a friendship splintered through misunderstanding? What about the loneliness of walking a lesser traveled path, when all those around you judge your motives for even stepping foot in that direction? Can it really be God's will that these paths are also trod?

Gaze for a minute at the life of Christ, and consider the astounding fact that He walked through every one of these circumstances faithfully and blamelessly. "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." Hebrews 4:15 Christ has already walked this way, without spot, thus assuring us of victory! Spurgeon puts it so beautifully...

"Inasmuch as Jesus has gone before us, things remain not as they would have been had He never passed that way. He has conquered every foe that obstructed the way. Cheer up now thou fainthearted warrior!! Not only has Christ traveled the road, but He has slain thine enemies...

Whatever foes may be before the Christian, they are all overcome. There are lions, but their teeth are broken; there are serpents, but their fangs are extracted; there are rivers, but they are bridged or fordable; there are flames, but we wear that matchless garment which renders us invulnerable to fire. The sword that has been forged against us is already blunted; the instruments of war which the enemy is preparing have already lost their point. God has taken away in the person of Jesus Christ all the power that anything can have to hurt us.

Well then, the army may safely march on, and you may go joyously along your journey, for all your enemies are conquered beforehand. What shall you do but march on to take the prey? They are beaten, they are vanquished; all you have to do is divide the spoil. You shall, it is true, often engage in combat; but your fight shall be with a vanquished foe. His head is broken; he may attempt to injure you, but his strength shall not be sufficient for his malicious designs.
-C.H. Spurgeon

What rest this gives. Though the way be hard, tear-stained, and sweat-bathed, we serve a conquering Saviour who has promised victory. Take heart, fellow soldier! This world is not our home, and every difficulty here is given us for the purpose of preparing us for the day when we will stand face to face with the One who breathed life into us. Our struggles are for an eternal cause, and by His grace, will work in us a more perfect reflection of Jesus Christ. One day, when standing at the portal of heaven and looking back on our earthly pilgrimage, we will heartedly admit it was not an easy road. But gazing ahead at the wonder of an eternity with the One who bled and died for us, our hearts will rise in heartfelt confession, "It was worth it all!"

Fellow Christian...

"It will be worth it all when we see Jesus;
Life's trials will seem so small when we see Christ!
One glimpse of His dear face, ALL sorrows will erase.
So bravely run the race, 'till we see Christ!"
-Esther Kerr Rusthoi

"Sure I must fight if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord.
I'll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy word.

Thy saints in all this glorious war
Shall conquer, though they die;
They see the triumph from afar,
By faith's discerning eye.

When that illustrious day shall rise,
And all Thy armies shine
In robes of victory through the skies,
The glory shall be Thine."
-Issac Watts

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Authority and Prayer

"I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." I Timothy 2:1-2

I was deeply challenged and convicted by these verses this morning in light of many different recent circumstances, the ways my mind has been traveling lately, and the times we are living in. I had to wonder at how easy we find it to criticize those in authority over us, yet how difficult it is to truly and earnestly pray for them. Church leaders, parental authorities, those in position in government - they are most often the brunt of our sharpest scrutiny and fault finding, and at least in my life, seldom the subject of my earnest petitions. 

I had to question why this was. In examining my own heart, the answers weren't pretty. Often hidden at the core of a facade of spiritual discernment is a heart that does not want to submit. It finds fault with those in authority as an excuse not to submit, and therefore provides a comfy cushion around a heart tainted in rebellion. It does not love to pray, because God's Word promises that prayer changes, and deep down inside, my heart wants it's own way. It wants to insist on what it thinks is best, and it does not want to trust that the King's heart is in the hands of the Lord.

Ouch. Sometimes answers aren't very fun. What comfort to know, though, that by God's grace, painful answers change hearts - my heart. 

Sunday, September 07, 2008

New Blog

This has kind of been in the works for a few months, but due to lack of time, has sat, and sat, and sat, and.... Well, you get the "picture." :-)

I've had a growing love of photography for years, and while I don't have nearly the time to dedicate to it like I want, nor the money to invest in better equipment at the time, I enjoy experimenting with what I have. Handiwork Photography will be a place to share this growing love, and hopefully, a few fun photographed family memories. With no promises as to the frequency of it's updates, I will now release it to the public! :-)


Edit: It's rather obvious that my blog has received a face lift recently... :-) Bear with me as I get a few things ironed out. Also, for those of you who subscribe by e-mail, it's doubtful whether that feature carried over. I will try and get it in place again in the next week or so. Thanks!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Barrenness and dry times.

Having a few "spare" minutes this afternoon, I tackled my e-mail inbox. That job is oftentimes no small feat, mind you! Buried amidst the newest notes from friends, facebook gifts, mission updates, and pictures, there was a gem from Spurgeon forwarded by a dear friend. Take the time to wade through the older writing style, and stand in awe, as I did, at the overwhelming greatness of our God! Draw your mind to the awesomeness of redemption, and though you may be walking through a dark valley, there is reason to rejoice!!

"Sing, O Barren"

Isaiah 54:1

Though we have brought forth some fruit unto Christ, and have a joyful hope that we are "plants of his own right hand planting," yet there are times when we feel very barren. 

Prayer is lifeless, love is cold, faith is weak, each grace in the garden of our heart languishes and droops. We are like flowers in the hot sun, requiring the refreshing shower. In such a condition what are we to do? The text is addressed to us in just such a state. "Sing, O barren, break forth and cry aloud." 

But what can I sing about? I cannot talk about the present, and even the past looks full of barrenness. Ah! I can sing of Jesus Christ. I can talk of visits which the Redeemer has aforetimes paid to me; or if not of these, I can magnify the great love wherewith he loved his people when he came from the heights of heaven for their redemption. I will go to the cross again. 

Come, my soul, heavy laden thou wast once, and thou didst lose thy burden there. Go to Calvary again. Perhaps that very cross which gave thee life may give thee fruitfulness. 

What is my barrenness? It is the platform for his fruit-creating power. What is my desolation? It is the black setting for the sapphire of his everlasting love.  I will go in poverty, I will go in helplessness, I will go in all my shame and backsliding, I will tell him that I am still his child, and in confidence in His faithful heart, even I, the barren one, will sing and cry aloud.

Sing, believer, for it will cheer thine own heart, and the hearts of other desolate ones. Sing on, for now that thou art really ashamed of being barren, thou wilt be fruitful soon; now that God makes thee loath to be without fruit he will soon cover thee with clusters. The experience of our barrenness is painful, but the Lord's visitations are delightful. A sense of our own poverty drives us to Christ, and that is where we need to be, for in him is our fruit found.

-C.H. Spurgeon