Go to The House of Mourning

The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth (or house of pleasure NIV & NASB) (Ecc 7:4).

These words come at the end of a short passage that puts before us two quite distinct attitudes of the heart.

Ecc 7:1  A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth.
Ecc 7:2  It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.
Ecc 7:3  Frustration is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.
Ecc 7:4  The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.

Most people perhaps view these verses as utter folly: which is quite ironic considering Ecclesiastes is contrasting folly and wisdom throughout. In verse 4 it speaks about the heart. The heart is in the house of mourning or the house of mirth or pleasure. Verse two does speak of an activity – going somewhere. To put it in the language of today we’re either going to a funeral or going down the pub. As you well know, in our culture, one tends to foolishly follow the other.

As you get older you go to more funerals. In fact, I’m going to one on Tuesday. These often aren’t places we would normally choose to attend. But the writer doesn’t say that; he says out of the two it’s better to go to the house of mourning. Faced with this stark choice how many of us would choose to attend a funeral. But here Solomon (the author), tells us what we all know, namely, that ‘death is the destiny of everyone.’ And just this morning, the news came that a member of the church here experienced that very destiny. Yes, death will come upon us all. Solomon doesn’t say don’t go to the house of pleasure. He says it’s better, or wiser, to be in the house of mourning. I’m quite sure the funeral I will attend on Tuesday will be followed by refreshments: where there is an opportunity to apply Solomon’s counsel and ‘lay it (death) to heart.’ It’s not wrong to celebrate, a wedding or birth for example. But if the two (celebration or mourning) were set side by side, Solomon tells us it would be better, more profitable that is, to be in the house if mourning.

Why is it better to go to the house of mourning? We most clearly see ‘the end of all mankind.’ We see our own end. We see the ruin that sin has caused. When our first parents disobeyed God by eating of the forbidden fruit, their disobedience plunged our whole world, and everyone that was to be born, into death. They brought the judgment of God upon the whole world. We see this. We know this. We see the frailty of the human condition. We see the very best and very worst of people die. There it is, placed before us in stark reality – our end. Solomon says, the living, us, will lay it to heart. That is, take it seriously. To consider it. To think deeply about it. To consider our end. But so often we are far too quick to be down the Pub. There is sorrow. Of course, there is sorrow and sadness. But we shouldn’t be so quick to drown out the opportunity to ‘lay it to heart.’ It’s understandable to drown out our sorrows, but it’s folly to drown out the reality of our end. It is especially the height of folly to drown out the voice of God. It is folly to ignore The Gospel.

From the house of mourning, we learn something. From the house of feasting, we learn very little. But if we aren’t actually in the house of mourning, according to Solomon that’s where our heart needs to be. Because that’s wise. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning. What does it mean though for our hearts to be in the ‘house of mourning.’ It must surely mean we are conscious of our mortality and that we must depart this life. It means we are conscious that we must meet God and stand before His judgment seat. As Paul says: …. we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10).’ The Scripture tells us ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (Pro 9:10).’ The mind of the one whose heart is in the house of mourning contemplates Eternal Realities. We come into the world as sinners under the Judgement of God. As Paul says in Ephesians 2:3 we are ‘by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.’

We are born in the house of feasting without a thought of God, or of Christ or of Eternal Realities. One reality is this: found in 1 Cor 2:14;

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

The need is to not be natural but spiritual. But we are born ‘dead in trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1).’ What we need is life. Ironically, we find out about true life by going to the house of mourning. But here in the house of mourning, we also find the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. He died that we might have life. So Jesus says:

Joh 10:10  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
Joh 10:11  I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

The Good Shepherd (Jesus) says:

Mat 11:28  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Mat 11:29  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Mat 11:30  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Will you come to Him?

In Memoriam – Sue Iliff 1955 – 2015

Picture: Aberystwyth 2008.

Three years ago today Sue, my wife of 32 years went to be with her Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I have absolutely no doubts about where she is, so she isn’t lost. She has joined that happy holy Blood Bought throng to praise God without the burden of a sinful nature. I hesitate to say she has died and I still balk at saying j have lost her.

I’m thankful to my friend Pastor Robert Briggs. He told me three years ago that ‘my own personal walk with God would get me through.’ He was absolutely right. Not that I take credit, but rather give glory to the keeping power of Christ.

I have a small group of friends that have stuck by me over the years. I’m thankful for them.

And I give thanks to God for my children, grandchildren, and family and for Sandra.

My testimony is that God has been utterly faithful and has continued to bless me, unworthy as I am, over these past three years. He has kept me and has preserved me. His Mercy’s are new every morning. Great is Thy faithfulness Lord to me!

The fact is we will ALL leave this life and enter eternity. That eternity will be a world of unutterable joy with Christ or a world of unutterable misery without Christ, again in the presence of Christ, but Christ the Judge. As Joshua said ‘…. choose this day whom you will serve…. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15.

This hymn came to my mind this morning about the death of Sue and for every Christian.

It is not death to die,
To leave this weary road,
And midst the brotherhood on high
To be at home with God.

It is not death to close
The eye long dimmed by tears,
And wake, in glorious repose,
To spend eternal years.

It is not death to bear
The wrench that sets us free
From dungeon chain, to breathe the air
Of boundless liberty.

It is not death to fling
Aside this sinful dust
And rise, on strong exulting wing
To live among the just.

Jesus, Thou Prince of Life,
Thy chosen cannot die:
Like Thee, they conquer in the strife
To reign with Thee on high.

H. A. Cesar Malan, 1787 – 1864 (?).
Translated by: George W. Bethune, 1805 – 62 (?).

‘Grieving, Hope and Solace’ by Al Martin – A Review

I recommended ‘Grieving, Hope and Solace: When a loved one dies In Christ‘ by Al Martin two years ago (almost to the day) but that was only on reading the first chapter. At long last, I have finished it. When I first started the book the grieving was still quite raw. It’s taken me these two years to read it maybe because I completely entered into the author’s own experience.

I don’t think on a practical level, for me, it’s quite as helpful as the book by James White. Al Martin’s book though is answering a different question. The book is focused on dealing with the bereavement of a spouse and is asking ‘What happens to a Christian loved one when they die?’ He not only answers that question but shows the relevance of that knowledge to the here and now for the grieving spouse.

The book (my copy) was first published by Cruciform Press in 2011 and written several years after his wife died, based on a series of sermons he preached soon after she died. It’s a short book at just 116 pages as this usually needs to be. it’s easy to read with short chapters with several headings for each chapter. There are only a few endnotes but with lots of scripture references throughout. It’s divided into Four Parts with a total of 13 Chapters plus a preface. Although there’s a lot of theology I definitely entered into his grief. It touched a lot of nerves for me. I’m grateful for that.

My copy is full of notes, underlining and asterisks. I can only mention a few things. The reality of his grief is evident. He doesn’t hide it. This paragraph from page 21 I thought was very helpful.

‘The idea here is not that if we truly obey these verses, we will no longer suffer the pain of loss. In my best efforts to fix my thoughts on the things above, I still felt the pain of my wife’s absence. Rather, in the midst of our grief (Italics are his) – which can be painful, sorrowful, lengthy, and at times even debilitating – the kind of grieving that brings glory to God nevertheless includes a grace-motivated determination, in obedience to these verses, to direct our thoughts to the things above. This both glorifies God and helps to ease – not eliminate – the pain and sorrow of our grief.’ (The verses he is referring to are Philippians 4:8 and Colossians 3: 1-2.)

Then this from page 95 & 96:

Few things more quickly and effectively snap some of the shackles that bind us to this world than does the death of a dearly loved one. Tenderly holding their lifeless form in our arms, or wistfully looking as they lie in a coffin, such experiences become powerful voices. These voices call out, urging us to obtain the wisdom that alone can enable us to live as those who “number our days.”

There are three sections in Chapter 10 (God’s Purposes In Us Through This Death) that I noted by writing Vital!!! Couldn’t be overstated!

The headings are: We Have Opportunity to Grow in Fellowship (page 93). For this, I had in mind some very special people who helped immensely during Sue’s illness and after she had died. Also: The Word of God comes more Vividly Alive (page 94). This is so true. The Scripture becomes alive in a completely new and fresh way. And: We Become More Heavenly Minded (page 94). Heaven is close.

There’s an extremely poignant paragraph at the beginning of that chapter where I wrote the following in the margin: I have no doubt about this. This was upon my mind very early on. However, it made me feel responsible for her death. I realise I’m not. But even so…. This is the paragraph I was responding to:

‘When a servant of God prays from the heart, “Lord, do whatever you need to do to me and in me to make me a better shepherd of your people,” we have no idea how God will answer. For me, such a prayer was answered in part by God’s severe mercy in taking Marilyn from me. (page 85)’

A severe mercy. Indeed so. I’m not a shepherd but God will sanctify His people. In all honesty, as I’m writing this and looking through the book at my notes and underlinings I realise how helpful the book has been. It helps enormously to have your own experience confirmed. Not everyone can enter into it with you but this author, for me, has done that. And for that, I’m truly thankful. I’m sure he will do that for others. Not for everyone, but it will help some. Maybe it will help you.

The only parts of the book I found unhelpful and that jarred with my own experience is how perfect his wife was through her illness right up until her death. Sue wasn’t like that, and yet I think for all her struggles with dying she displayed the grace of God in a way that wouldn’t have been possible had she been so perfect. Obviously, I can’t criticise Al Martin’s wife Marilyn for dying so well (by the grace of God in that way). My note in the book reads: ‘We must not make these things the norm, wonderful though it is.‘ I’m glad that was her testimony. I just don’t think that is the experience of most people. As Christians, we don’t want to admit how hard dying is. Death is the final enemy. And it is horrible. Really horrible. So in Sue’s dying, I saw a paradox. I saw how hard it was for us both, especially for her, and yet I saw the grace of God displayed through her in a truly remarkable manner. That glorified God I believe.

The book closes with a Gospel message that tells it straight but points to the only hope. That hope is found in The Lord Jesus Christ, the only one who has conquered death.

I still recommend the book. I do wonder about the recommendations that come on the cover with this type of book. Do they know anything of what the author is talking about? I think the answer is often, no they don’t. That’s just my opinion, as all this is. There is so much in the book, not a word is wasted. Ministers of the Gospel ought to read it as they are going to encounter grief in their people. The book will help prepare you. Grief is such a personal thing. I’m not sure it would be the first book I’d reach for to give to a grieving spouse, but then it depends who it’s for. It’s not a touchy-feely book, but it is real. Above all, we need the reality of Christ and His Word and His presence. This book by God’s grace will help. Order it from your local Bookshop.

I’d love the opportunity to speak with the author.

God takes Ezekiel’s Wife ‘at a stroke’

The following singular personal account in the life of Ezekiel stands out like the proverbial ‘sore thumb’. Poor Ezekiel, I feel for him. Derek Thomas calls this incident ‘one of the saddest and most difficult in Scripture.’ (God Strengthens, Derek Thomas p, 177, EP, 1993.)

Eze 24:15  The word of the LORD came to me:
Eze 24:16  “Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down.
Eze 24:17  Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.”
Eze 24:18  So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.

I was trying to think what it feels like to have ‘the delight of your eyes taken away.’ I described it the other day like having your insides sucked out through your eyes. The inner pain is indescribable. Unless you’ve been through it you have no idea. So like I say, I feel for Ezekiel.

A very hard providence

Whether his wife had been ill for some time we aren’t told. But it seems to be sudden and unexpected: hence literally ‘at a stroke’ would be the best interpretation I feel. A mercy really, for him and his wife. No protracted illness for her or long-term care for him. Nevertheless, a very hard providence. If a man like Ezekiel delighted in his wife, I’d expect her to be a Godly woman. There was more than looks going on here. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it but it seems to me this verse from Peter would describe Ezekiel’s wife and the inner beauty of her godliness. 1 Peter 3:4  ‘but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.’ (1 Peter 3:1-6) Ezekiel will see her again. He knows this. His faith is in The Redeemer, the One to come. That is, his faith is in Christ. As was his wife, I believe. This softens the blow, but a blow Ezekiel would have keenly felt.

We don’t make excuses for God

Here we are in no doubt as to why Ezekiel’s wife is taken from him. It’s for a sign to Israel. And is for their good. Though it falls on unrepentant hearts. And, we are specifically told that God was going to ‘take away the delight of his eyes’. The cause is known. We don’t have to try and work it out or make apologies for God. I certainly feel no need to make apologies for God and feel no need to defend the fact that He is the potter, and we are the clay. (Isaiah 64:8) He is The Lord, He does what He wills.

Ezekiel wasn’t to weep or grieve – he was allowed to quietly sigh – for his wife even though everything within him would want to. And God knows this, otherwise, why give that command to not weep. God isn’t oblivious to what this will cost Ezekiel and the pain His prophet will experience. Even in this, He is still ‘the Father of all mercies.’ Ezekiel is allowed to sigh, ‘but not aloud.’ What a sigh that must have been!

We aren’t told anything about Ezekiel’s wife other than that she was ‘the delight of his eyes.’ That doesn’t necessarily mean she was unbelievably beautiful to look at, but it does mean he loved her very much. She was a delight to him. When he saw her his heart skipped a beat we might say. She was to be taken from him. She wasn’t lost but taken.

The Lord gives and The Lord takes away

To the unbeliever, and maybe for some Christians, this will seem incredibly cruel. However, the caricature of a vindictive and hateful God just isn’t true. I know. I’ve walked in Ezekiel’s shoes. Admittedly, I wasn’t commanded to ‘weep not’ like Ezekiel but I do know but what it’s like to have ‘the desire of your eyes’ taken away. And taken away by God. Like Ezekiel, I was under no illusion as to who was in control. It was The Lord who took away ‘the delight of my eyes.’ I could say with Job “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21) This is a salutary lesson for us all. I’m sure Ezekiel wasn’t expecting this. He could say perhaps with Job ‘For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.’ (Job 3:25) We are NOT the masters of our own destiny. We aren’t in control. That thing you live for could be gone ‘at a stroke.’ And God doesn’t have to ask your permission or give notice. God can take away from our lives whatever He pleases – and that ‘at a stroke.’ Don’t deceive yourself into thinking all will be well when without Christ and without God, it won’t be.

Had Ezekiel sinned (I mean here in a specific instance as we are all fallen – including Ezekiel)? He had not. Had his wife sinned? We aren’t told, but I think we can infer not. The death of his wife then illustrates in a most tragic and powerful way the sudden destruction that is to come upon Jerusalem. Did the people get it? Did they respond to the sign? No, they did not.

How will you respond?

Will you respond to this sign? It’s as relevant now as it ever was. In our materialistic age, especially here in the West, we push our ‘inalienable rights’ to the limit. All the time God could take everything away at a stroke. Yes, and even our most precious things. And even our very own lives. Jesus put it this way ‘You fool, this night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ (Luke 12:20) Without being overly dramatic, this could well be your last day on earth. By evening you could be having to give an account of yourself before God! Without an advocate, without a Saviour that is, that is not something to look forward to.

Extreme Love from God

It probably seems quite extreme the lengths The Lord will go for the good of His lost people. He took Ezekiel’s wife, but that’s as nothing compared to the plan of God to rescue sinners. He has done this by sending into the world His Son. And the Son comes Himself to rescue and redeem.

Heb 10:5  Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me;
Heb 10:6  in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
Heb 10:7  Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

The cost of Redemption is plainly stated by Christ ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’ (John 10:10&11) Nothing but the blood of Christ can redeem sinners like us. This is extreme love! You have heard this and you know this.

Be Reconciled

Much more could be said but in the words of the Apostle Paul (2 Cor 5:20):

‘Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.’

The Worthlessness of Wealth

Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death (Proverbs 11:4).

Day of Wrath – John Martin

In the day of wrath by which is meant either death, which brings us ultimately to that day, or the day itself which will bring to an end this present evil age. When this age passes we enter an eternal and permanent state. For the day of wrath wealth will have no currency, indeed it’s value will be far less than the most accelerated hyper-inflation ever seen. We could also see wealth as not simply currency but also social worth. Wealth and social standing may gain a person entry into the most prestigious celebrations – even Royalty – but in the day of wrath, any currency will fail to have any influence.

A person may be poor but aspire to wealth and yet have none. They think by aspiring to aristocracy or the wealthy, the industrialist or the successful entrepreneur there will be a way of escape. If only I were wealthy? Not so, for we are told wealth is worthless in the day of wrath. See Revelation 6: 15-17.

Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. (V 15)

They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! (V 16)

For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (v 16)

The Bible nowhere condemns wealth as intrinsically wicked. There’s nothing wrong with earning money or being wealthy. But there’s no virtue with it. It will not earn favour with The Almighty. By the same token, there’s no virtue to being poor either. The politics of envy is popular in our day and is a form of rebellion towards the providence of a generous God. Back in the 1st Century if as a slave you could be free, so be it. So there’s nothing wrong with changing your position or a promotion. But riches and poverty have to be held in relation to God. Yes, that’s easy to say in the West. I know this. Go and read the parable Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) and see where you would rather end up. Riches for that man were worthless. But Lazarus wasn’t saved by being poor but by trusting God, whereas the Rich Man rejected the Word of God.

But righteousness delivers from death. Death is synonymous with wrath ‘for it is given to man once to die and then judgment’ (Heb 9:27). But the text says we are delivered through righteousness. That is, by being righteous. Many understand Christians to be saying ‘we are righteous’ and mean by this ‘look how wonderfully righteous we are’. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth! We aren’t delivered by our own righteousness or by any righteous deeds. We are delivered by what has been called an alien righteousness – that is a righteousness from outside ourselves. We have no internal inherent spark of righteousness. To think otherwise is foolishness. The Bible says quite clearly ‘there is none righteous, no, not one (Rom 3:10)’  The righteousness the text speaks of must come from another. But who, since ‘there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins’ (Ecc 7:20). The Apostle John wept at the thought of no deliverer: ‘and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it (Rev 5:4).

So it isn’t just righteousness but a particular righteousness. The righteousness of a person. This person is The Lord Jesus Christ. It is He that delivers from death, destruction, and despair’.

Immortal honors rest on Jesus’ head;
My God, my portion, and my living bread;
In Him I live, upon Him cast my care;
He saves from death, destruction, and despair.
(Joseph Hart 1773-1844)

And it is only Jesus that is able to deliver from death. Having the righteousness that comes from God isn’t one option that we pick from many – which is often how it’s portrayed even by so-called ministers of religion. The truth is, it’s either the righteousness that God offers or you choose to go it alone. So if you do find yourself in an eternal hell, remember, you’ll be there because that was the choice you made.

Jesus is calling people to Himself. He says ‘come to me and I will give you rest’ (Matt 11:28-30). At the start of His earthly ministry, Jesus said ‘Repent and believe the Gospel’ (Mark 1:15). He also said ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink’ (John 7:37). The Son of God, the one who died and rose, who lives for evermore, the one who has defeated death is the one who calls you to Himself. Do not delay (2 Cor 6:1-2).

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20).

1. Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore!
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.
He is able, He is able, He is able,
He is willing, doubt no more!

2. Let not conscience let you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness he requireth
Is to feel your need of him.
This he gives you, This he gives you, This he gives you:
‘Tis the Spirit’s glimmering beam.

4. Come ye weary, heavy laden,
Bruised and mangled by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.
Not the righteous, Not the righteous, Not the righteous;
Sinners Jesus came to call.

5. Agonizing in the garden,
Lo! your Maker prostrate lies!
On the bloody tree behold Him:
Hear Him cry, before He dies:
“It is finished!” “It is finished!” “It is finished!”
Sinner, will this not suffice?

6. Lo! The incarnate God ascending,
Pleads the merit of His blood;
Venture on Him, venture freely;
Let no other trust intrude.
None but Jesus, None but Jesus, None but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good.

(Joseph Hart 1773-1844)

Chance Events: Luck, Molecules or God

My bunch of keys sometimes get quite tangled. Maybe you have a set that does the same. The other day they got into such a tangle that it seemed like the only way to sort them out was to take the whole bunch apart. I didn’t have time just then so I put them in my coat pocket to sort another time.

The next day I reached into my pocket, pulled out the bunch of keys and you guessed it, they were completely untangled. I was so stunned by it – they were really tangled – that it got me thinking how this could be. Did the molecules of that bunch of keys just happen to perfectly align as they were before – untangled? I have absolutely no idea.

Was it luck then? Some would call it that. It certainly saved me some time, frustration and maybe a broken nail or two. To some, that explanation makes perfect sense. Not luck you say, that’s just how it is. We simply live in an uncaring impersonal world and my bunch of keys just untangled themselves. Who cares about your keys! But think for a moment and apply the same principle to a cancer diagnosis. It’s still an impersonal uncaring world and the molecules just happened to align into a death sentence or months of treatment. Suddenly it matters. Or what if the molecules uncaringly aligned in the shape of a car and ran you over. Suddenly it’s personal and your impersonal uncaring world is important. The way you see the world changed. It’s personal and it matters.

It’s funny and ‘hip’ (perhaps as a student) to have a poster that says ‘Shit Happens’ Except no one lives like that. Not really. Posters like that are a distraction at best and at worst a terrible lie.  But your attitude to something simple like an untangled set of keys or similar ‘unimportant’ event will speak volumes. One of my sociology lecturers would say, and did say when I briefly discussed ‘meaning’ with him – ‘but what if it doesn’t matter and there is no meaning’. Which is what he seemed to think. Well, what if it doesn’t matter. It’s ok (it isn’t really) to think like that in an academic high tower: but if I had randomly decided to smash his kneecap with a hammer I’m guessing that would matter an awful lot! If nothing else, the pain would communicate meaning.

But instead of it being luck, or a random favourable – or unfavourable – alignment of molecules; what if it were an intervention of God. What we call a Providence of God – good and bad. If we put it down to God that introduces meaning and purpose into even the most unimportant things like my set of keys. It changes everything. No ‘random’ lining up of molecules here.

Just to be clear I am uninterested in suggesting some random deity to hang every occurrence on, good or bad, but rather the Christian God, the God of The Bible, The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Years ago a man I used to work with said ‘The trouble with you Christians is that if anything good happens you put it down to God but if anything bad happens you conveniently blame the devil’. As if God needs excusing. That may be a popular misconception and if it is it could be our fault as Christians for miscommunicating. But I had to explain that both good and bad come from God. In fact, if you’re familiar with the book of Job you might recall the following exchange;

Job 2:9  Then his (Job’s) wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.”
Job 2:10  But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Job’s wife foolishly urges him to curse God because of the disaster that had happened. And let’s not call it something it isn’t. When things like this happen it is disastrous. Plastic Christian smiles will do no good in the face of tragedy. We need something substantial. I have observed, as you must have, that wishing someone ‘Good luck’ or ‘All the best’ or even ‘We’re thinking of you’ just doesn’t cut it. It’s good that people wish us well and it may lift our spirits momentarily. And, it might be you will breeze through life without a care in the world and tragedy and heartache will pass you by. It happens. But eventually, there is a God to face. You know this. Which is why I’m linking to a message that lays out the Gospel of Christ briefly but simply and truthfully. Follow this link to a message ‘Why I am a Christian’ by James White.


Since starting this article I bought a copy of Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centred Approach to Probability and Random Events by Vern Poythress. I’m not a mathematician, and there’s a lot of maths in the book! But there’s enough theology and plain sense for me to understand what I’ve read so far. The book is available free as an e-book here.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the book introduction:

THE ISSUE OF CHANCE
[He described an incident where his family escaped from a serious ‘accident’]

What do we say about this incident? Some people would say we were “lucky.” We escaped “by chance.” It just happened to be the case that the oncoming cars found room to our left and to our right. Or was it the hand of God’s providence? We felt afterwards as if an angel had pushed the cars to this side and to that. God had sent an angel to protect us. But we did not actually see an angel. Nor did we see a hand reaching down from heaven to move the cars. Was it just our imagination? Was our escape a “miracle,” or was it just an “accidental” result of driver reactions and physical processes?

We escaped. But not everyone does. For every story of a narrow escape, someone else can tell a distressing story of not escaping. Someone tells of being in a horrible auto accident, nearly dying from the injuries, losing an arm or a leg, and spending months recovering. And the accident could have been avoided, if only the oncoming car had swerved a little earlier or a little later. Was the accident “by chance”? Was God in control? If I am ready to acknowledge God’s control when my family escapes an accident, should I also acknowledge that God is in control when someone else suffers from an unpredictable tragedy? Or do tragic cases involve pure chance, beyond God’s control? And if God is in control, did he actually plan the events beforehand, or did he just react to the unfolding events at the last moment?

Big accidents and near accidents have drama to them. But what about the small things? Yesterday I could not find my checkbook. Today I found it in a pocket of my briefcase where it did not belong. Accidentally, it must have fallen into the wrong pocket when I dropped it into my partially opened briefcase. It got misplaced “by chance,” someone might say.

What about totally unpredictable events, like the flip of a coin or the roll of dice? Every time we flip a coin, the result is unpredictable. It comes up heads or tails “by chance.” What do we mean by the word chance? What is it?

 

Don’t be a ‘lost’ celebrity

A recent news feed came through with a heading that said something like ‘Year in Review 2017: Remembering those we lost this year’. Roger Moore and Hugh Hefner were mentioned specifically. It’s always surprising how many celebrities have died each year and how many I’ve not heard of and also how many I didn’t realise had died. It struck me that they used the word lost. It made me think.

I’ve written previously that I’m unhappy about using the phrase ‘lost’ for those that have died in Christ. I’m not happy about those that have died outside of Christ either. But the terrible reality for those that have died without Christ is they are truly lost in every sense of that word. How many of those celebrities are truly lost I have no idea. I’m glad I don’t know but with some (as with non-celebrities) we fear the worst.

There’s a lovely verse in the Bible that says ‘For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost’ (Luke 19:10 ESV). We don’t need Christmas to remind us, that Jesus came, and that He came to seek and to save the lost. There is no specific season to remember the grace of God – we can remember that every day.

Death and sin are the great levelers. The great and the good as well as the poor and the not so good will know these realities. It doesn’t matter how large or small a person’s ‘send-off’ is. Or whether in poor simplicity or with great pomp; they are equally dead just the same. The real question isn’t whether they are lost or not as we simply do not know. The real question is whether you are lost or not. If everyone were to be saved there would be no need for the Son of God to do any seeking. But He came, not only to seek, but to save. The wonder is by the Holy Spirit He is still seeking and saving. That doesn’t sit very well with our modern ‘can do’ independent sensibilities. But it’s something we are familiar with. Recruitment agencies ‘Headhunt’ the best candidates, usually for high-end positions. The Son of God is seeking sinners. That’s the only qualification He’s looking for – a realisation of sinfulness and of lostness.

Thankfully our lostness can be turned into foundness by the saving power of The Lord Christ. Many will know the first verse of John Newton’s hymn ‘Amazing Grace’. But if not, here it is:

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch; like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

One of the most well known stories Jesus told is the Prodigal (wasteful) son and how this son went into the far country. But his father looked for his son and eventually embraced him exclaiming, ‘For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate’ (Luke 15:24).

The theme of being lost and being found is a wonderful redemptive theme. Its wonder is found in the reality of what The Lord Jesus Christ has done for sinners. The Prodigal son was aware of his great unworthiness as he fell at the feet of his Father. It’s a great picture of poor lost unworthy sinners coming to Christ for salvation. And it’s to Him, and only to Him, we must come. As the Bible says ‘… there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). No one else has done what Christ has done to redeem sinners, and no one else is mighty to save.

It’s unlikely a celebrity will be reading this, but if you are one, then you too along with the poorest most unlikely sinners may and must flee to Christ. Then trusting only in His great Redeeming work upon the Cross like John Newton, and every other Christian through the ages, you may also be found instead of being lost.

Grieving – Two-Year Milestone

Thirty-Two years we were married and two years ago today my dear Sue passed peacefully into Eternal Glory and into the presence of her Saviour, The Lord Jesus Christ.

I’m thankful over these two years for the support of family and friends, and for the Church where I’m now a member.

The Lord has been very wonderful to me and by His marvellous Grace I raise my Ebenezer and say ‘Hitherto has The Lord helped me’. Doctrine, and by that I mean theology, can often seem dry and aloof. As A. W. Tozer said ‘Doctrine is the highway that leads to God’. My experience, especially over these last two years, is that doctrine is not only alive and vibrant but does indeed lead to God. When I read a Confession of Faith it’s full of God and overflowing with His majesty and grace to sinners. I’ve also found that God brings us through trials in order for us to see that. I thought I knew stuff about God and The Lord Jesus but I realise now I was only scratching the surface.

Agnostics and atheists may well think we are delusional and might even feel a bit sorry for us Christians. The reality is they are the ones that are deluded. Often deluded into worshipping themselves and what could be more delusional than that! While all the time The Lord says ‘look unto me all the ends of the earth and be saved’. What an offer!! Only a fool would turn that down.

Holding someone’s hand while they slip away into eternity isn’t something to be taken lightly. But I knew exactly to where Sue gently slipped away. I don’t know the when or where or means by which I shall enter eternity. But enter it I will. And so will you. Sue entered eternity with a Saviour who is Mighty to Save, as will I, no matter the details. You will enter eternity, but will you die with a Saviour. Will Jesus, the only Saviour for sinners, be your Saviour. O I pray He will be.

Review – ‘What Grieving People Wish You Knew’ by Nancy Guthrie

What Grieving People Wish You Knew
by
Nancy Guthrie.

Brief Review & Recommendation (Review from December 2016).

Introduction: to the grieving.

I feel the need to say, if you are recently bereaved this might not be the best book for you to read. Having said that, what you will discover is the number of times you will say ‘yup, that happened to me’ or ‘yes, someone said that or did or didn’t do that’. It’s kind of helpful in the sense that what is happening to you is normal. Unpleasant, but normal. And, if you haven’t discovered it already, you will find out that everyone is different, while at the same time experiencing many commonalities. I felt the need to guard my heart against becoming bitter towards well-meaning people that quite frankly for the most part just do not and cannot understand what you are going through. You may need to do the same. Towards the end of the book Nancy does speak to the grieving. She says some hard truths but by the time you get to that section by God’s grace you may already have come to the same conclusions.

Who is it for then?

This book is for everyone to read. As I’ve already said above, those who are grieving or have ever grieved will find a resonance here. But if you would be a friend indeed to the grieving then get hold of a copy of this book. Ministers, elders, deacons or anyone that wants to be a true comforter should read this. It’s an emotionally draining read to see so much distress and heartache laid bare. But it’s a necessary read. I’ve said in a previous blog post that though people mean well this book will help us all do better. This book probably isn’t the definitive book on grieving but even so it should be on all our reading lists. Death is going to be visited on us all and our families sooner or later, timely and untimely.

Most of the books I have read emphasise that we are all different. Nancy does the same, mostly by way of many personal anecdotes. One size does not fit all. A persons grief is peculiar to them and depends on so many factors. I could say I understand something of what grief is but I don’t know what the grief of others feels like. Sure, there are similarities but then our experiences can be very diverse. I made an assumption a while ago using my feelings as the arbiter, but was told their relationship with their departed had not been an especially close one. That brings its own difficulties. So don’t assume and don’t impose your feelings on another. A dear friend phoned me up and said ‘I understand how you must be feeling’ but then said ‘that’s bullshit, I have no idea what you are feeling’. That sort of honesty was unbelievably helpful. But that was from someone that knows me well. Another might have found it extremely unhelpful.

I’m saying all this to emphasise how complicated we humans are. But I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It won’t turn us into experts and even armed with all this knowledge isn’t going to make the task of comforting any easier, but it could turn us into better comforters. Some of the things that have been said to me over the last several months have ranged from just wanting to be ‘beamed up’ out of the situation to just being completely dumbfounded and everything in between. People can unintentionally say the most hurtful things that under other circumstances probably wouldn’t register.

The stories in this book are tragic but a common thread is that many have been ‘comforted’ by well-meaning people. Passages of scripture in the wrong hands are simply weaponised texts that unbeknown to the comforter simply beat the grieving person. You will detect in this piece some anger & frustration. I’ve said it before but I can only pray by the grace of God and having His love spread abroad in my heart I will be a true comforter. It’s not easy for me either.

For me, the most significant and hardest thing to accept and deal with is how this hard providence is sent by God Himself for my good. Nancy puts it this way on page 116; ‘They need to discover the treasure that has come to them wrapped in a package they never wanted’. Just understanding this will help us be true comforters.

I admit that a re-read is needed.

Chapter Titles.

1. What to Say (and What Not to Say)

2. Typical Things People Say (and What You Can Say Instead)

3. Assumptions We Make That Keep Us Away (and Why We Should Simply Show Up)

4. What to Do (and What Not to Do)

5. Social Media and Grief (When the “Like” Button Just Seems Wrong)

6. Let’s Talk about Talking about Heaven (and Hell)

7. A Few Quick Questions (and Answers)

GET A COPY OF THIS BOOK AND READ IT!

  • I found this in my ‘Drafts’ folder. I thought I’d published it over two years ago. The grief was still quite raw when I wrote this, but I make no apologies for not changing it. You might be in the same place right now. If you are, I pray this will be of some help.

Diary of a grieving Christian – 1 Year Milestone

Copy of 2012-03-31 11.59.261 year ago today (1.30 PM) Sue passed into eternity to be with Christ which is far better. Frankly, I try to avoid the word died because if the Christian faith means anything at all, in a very real sense she hasn’t died. Yes, her body, her earthly remains are dead and in the ground. I know that only too well. I will be visiting the cemetery today. I still balk at the word loss or lost as she is neither. I do admit it is difficult to avoid using them. When I sing hymns that speak of heaven or being with The Lord Jesus I still well-up because in my minds’ eye I see her there in that happy and holy throng. It’s with a sense of great thankfulness to God mixed with the gut-wrenching desire for her to be here with me. I miss her so.

It’s a remarkable thing marriage. If we try to do it right and truly become ‘one flesh’ as Jesus tells us to, we invest everything into it. (That includes the Bank account. We only had one account and our salaries were paid into that one account.) It’s a physical thing. It was that. Of course it was, otherwise, we wouldn’t have our three wonderful children. But it’s so much more that as well. Our wife or husband sees us in our vulnerability, at our worst, sees our body get old and flabby, sees us in our sin, in our failures, in our weakness and yet learns to love and care all the same. And, what a blessing it is to enjoy one another’s company, to like being with each other. And so often, to say so much, without saying anything. She used to wear my sweatshirts especially when decorating.

Given the oneness of marriage, please don’t think I’m over it because a year has gone by. I was recently speaking with a widow. She still has those times when the grief is raw after many years. I have to tell myself and realise the sadness isn’t going to be over anytime soon. I am learning to have part of me missing.

A lot of our marriage investment is done unconsciously at a deep deep level. It has to be so if the marriage vows are taken seriously. When we enter into that covenant; I don’t think we fully realise quite what that means. I wonder that in some supernatural way God fuses us together even deeper than the atomic level. God does this at the spiritual level. Something unseen that cannot be probed. Something that can’t be touched. We mess with marriage as our society is doing, and we mess at a level where the consequences are huge. And we are seeing the consequences. Marriage is for one man and one woman – that’s it. ‘Gay’ marriage is deeply sinful and rebellious. (I’ll have to do a separate post on this)

More than one person has told me I was punching above my weight with Sue. She was stunningly beautiful to the end, she was wise, nearly always right, ok, always right and incredibly capable. She loved me and the kids more than life itself. Above all, she was a Godly woman of prayer. Yet so disparaging of herself. She wasn’t perfect. I hope where she lacked I took up the slack as it were and the other way round too. We often said to each that we were a team. So despite her being way above my pay-grade, God had other ideas. I have heard it said that as long as your betrothed ticks the relevant boxes the person you marry could be anyone. We didn’t believe that for one moment. We believed and I still believe God brought us together. (Though I guess the means could be different) She could have done a lot lot better than marrying me. And when I told her that she would tell me off. We used to say to each other, we would do it again. We wouldn’t swap each other. She was the best thing that ever happened to me. God kept us together too. And however long I have on this earth I will have to deal with the parting every day. I’m told over time you do learn to live with it. But it never goes away.

Today, Wednesday is when she left for heaven. Friday would have been her birthday, then it will be my birthday, then the first funeral anniversary (7th Dec), then Christmas. It’s been quite a year. I left work, moved to another part of the country, left several friends, left Church, sold the house, put most of our stuff in storage, started attending another Church, moved into rented accommodation, brought some stuff out of storage, searched for and looked at loads of houses and I’m now in the process of buying a house. So there will be the move, then getting all our stuff out of storage, sorting (again) through the things we shared together, settling into the new house, and breathe (that’s for you Jilly. Thank you).

I have a lot I would like to write about. Please pray I would get on and do it and that it would be helpful and profitable to others. I am reading a few books that I will comment on. Some very helpful stuff out there. But in the end, all praise is to God and our Lord Jesus for keeping us from falling. Where would we be if it were not for the Grace of God! We daily raise our Ebenezer and say Hitherto has the Lord helped us. I do anyway. And I know many of you do as well.

Speaking of investing all, isn’t this exactly what Jesus did for us! We don’t really invest everything do we, but Jesus did and does. His providential dealings are remarkable. There are many many references to marriage in the Bible. It’s no accident the Church is called the Bride of Christ. Jesus invested His blood into us poor faltering failing sinners. He doesn’t cast us off. No. He has vowed to keep us, to forgive us and cleanse us. Sue liked me holding her, she felt safe. O how much much more are we His people safe in His mighty arms. My dear non-Christian friend, how I long that you might be safe and know the love of Christ, that He is mighty to save and mighty to keep. O call upon Him for Salvation and safety, and love, and forgiveness, and then eternal joy with Christ which is far better.

Thank you for bearing with me.