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Personal Reflections

September 11, 2005

This was a particularly busy week for me. I had several hard deadlines I had to meet and only just managed to get the work done. I find that the busier the week, the more I appreciate my day of rest. As I reflected on this, I remembered a hymn written by John Newton. So as I rest, I leave you to ponder “Safely Through Another Week.” It is a song of thanks for another week of safety and a song of petition, that we may feel God’s presence near to us during the upcoming week.

Safely through another week God has brought us on our way;
Let us now a blessing seek, on th’approaching Sabbath day;
Day of all the week the best, emblem of eternal rest,
Day of all the week the best, emblem of eternal rest.

Mercies multiplied each hour through the week our praise demand;
Guarded by almighty power, fed and guided by His hand;
Though ungrateful we have been, only made returns of sin,
Though ungrateful we have been, only made returns of sin.

While we pray for pardoning grace, through the dear Redeemer’s Name,
Show Thy reconciled face, shine away our sin and shame;
From our worldly cares set free, may we rest this night with Thee,
From our worldly cares set free, may we rest this night with Thee.

Here we come Thy Name to praise, let us feel Thy presence near,
May Thy glory meet our eyes, while we in Thy house appear:
Here afford us, Lord, a taste of our everlasting feast,
Here afford us, Lord, a taste of our everlasting feast.

When the morn shall bid us rise, may we feel Thy presence near:
May Thy glory meet our eyes, when we in Thy house appear:
There afford us, Lord, a taste of our everlasting feast,
There afford us, Lord, a taste of our everlasting feast.

May Thy Gospel’s joyful sound conquer sinners, comfort saints;
May the fruits of grace abound, bring relief for all complaints;
Thus may all our Sabbaths prove till we join the church above,
Thus may all our Sabbaths prove till we join the church above!

September 08, 2005

How does a man say goodbye to his little girls, knowing that he will never see them again? And how does he do so without letting them know that this is the last time they will see their daddy? Does he look them straight in the eyes and affirm his undying love for them, or do words fail him so that he can do little more than hug and kiss them for the last time and then send them on their way? Does he still hold out hope that he will see them again? Or does he know in his heart of hearts that this is the end? Maybe he is so worn down from his long fight with cancer that he can barely feel or express emotion anymore. Maybe he just wants to be gone.

Yesterday I heard from the wife of my friend Mike that he has been accepted into the Palliative ward of a local hospital. It was almost exactly one year ago that he was diagnosed with leukemia and since that time all treatments have failed. At this point all they can do is attempt to relieve his suffering as he succumbs to the disease. His body will probably not hold out for another week. Soon he will leave his wife and his little girls on their own.

Those little girls are five and three - the same as my children. Mike has been married as long as I’ve been married and is around the same age. A couple of years older, I guess. But he isn’t all that much different than me. I guess that’s why his approaching death is so real; so vivid.

I wonder if the girls knew. Sometimes we do not give children enough credit. Maybe their intuition told them that something was happening. Probably not. Hopefully not. I hope all they know is that daddy is going back to the hospital and that they are going to spend a week with grandma. How are they supposed to guess, after the hundreds of times daddy has gone to the hospital, that this is his last time? How can they know that they have given daddy their final kiss? Will they even remember him when they are all grown up? Or will daddy be only a face in photographs who brings a lump to the throat, even after so many years?

As far as I know, Mike does not know the Lord. We had plenty of opportunities to talk about spiritual matters when we worked for the same company and I don’t think Mike ever understood the value of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If anything I’d say Mike was more a follower of Dr. Phil than of Jesus. There is not much I wouldn’t give at this point to be able to go and and ask him exactly what he believes. The imminence of death would surely give me the boldness I lacked even a couple of months ago when I last sat with him.

So now I sit here at the time when it is too late, wondering why I did not do more. Sure I told the family that I was praying for them and asked if I could pray with them. And sure I tried to get Mike to think about preparing for eternity. But I did so in such a pathetic way. Such a half-hearted way. I burn with shame as I write these words thinking of all I didn’t do and didn’t say. I feel burdened with guilt that Mike is days or maybe even hours away from standing before God, and that I did not make one clear, strong presentation of the gospel. I failed him. And I failed God.

Do you know what may be even worse? The likelihood that I’ll get over it. Two days from now I probably won’t even think of Mike. I’ll get busy with my life and the guilt will ease away. In a week or two I guess I’ll attend his funeral and feel this guilt again, but a few days after that I’ll conveniently put Mike out of my mind and go back to life. But you know what? I don’t want to get over it!

Truly I don’t.

This burden I feel right now - why can’t I feel this same burden for the lost all the time? Why is it a burden birthed from guilt rather than from a desire to see the lost be saved? I’ve asked God to tell me why. The only answer I find is the hardness of my own heart.

Still, with hope in my heart I pray for Mike, that maybe, just maybe, there will be someone in that hospital who can reach out to him with the message I failed to bring. Maybe God will bring to Mike’s mind some fragment of Scripture he heard as a child, or some words I shared with him years ago. Maybe. Hopefully.

With hopeful sadness I pray for Mike’s family, that somehow God would use this awful situation to draw them to Himself. That somehow God would make His presence felt and provide meaning through the pain.

And then with tears I pray for myself, that God would not allow this burden to disappear, but that he would use my shortcomings to teach me how I can do better next time, not simply to avoid this crushing, burning guilt, but to use the opportunities He provides.

Because I just don’t want to get over it. Oh God, please don’t let me get over it!

Note: - This is probably the most personal bit of writing I’ve ever shared on this site. Truth be told, I’m more than a little embarrassed to post this. I apologize if it is just far too personal for public consumption. I really wrote it as a personal reflection, but decided to share it not so I can receive absolution from others, but since I am sure there are others who have struggled with similar feelings of guilt. Perhaps we can learn from each other.

August 31, 2005

Steve Muse, whom you may know from his web site at Eastern Regional Watch, woke up this morning to find his wife unconscious. She is currently in critical condition in hospital. Please pray for Steve and his wife Katherine during this time. Steve is a friend and one of the few “Internet” friends with whom I’ve spent significant amounts of time talking on the phone. He has often shared his wisdom with me. So please pray! If you like you can send him an email to tell him that you are holding him up before the throne. His email is smuse@erwm.com.

August 25, 2005

Over the past few days I have been giving some thought to my faith: the things of God in which I have great faith, and those in which I have little faith or even no faith at all. This time of reflection has been both a delight and a sorrow; a joy and an embarrassment.

I have seen that my faith can be understood as something like a graph. Certain points along the Y-axis are very high and quite unshakeable. I believe that God exists. This is a faith that God has placed in my heart and I do not believe that it can be shaken, or at least surely not destroyed. Beside that are other high points in my faith: the Bible is God’s Word to us and is inerrant; God has saved me and adopted me into His family; God loves me; there is a heaven; Jesus Christ died to take the penalty of my sin. These are all areas in which I have great faith.

As we travel down the X-axis, we come to areas where my faith is not so strong. Here we will find my belief that God truly does desire to bring me the best through adversity. Here we will find my belief that God does hear and answer prayer. These are things I believe, but without the strength of conviction of those I listed earlier.

August 24, 2005

A couple of days ago I posted an article over at World’s Blog to introduce myself to that group of readers. For those who didn’t catch the news earlier and have no idea what I am going on about, I was asked to head up the Ex Libris section of World’s blog. I included in my article a list of what I consider some of the best books of 2005. If you’re interested you can read it here.

August 20, 2005

I never had a chance to be a bachelor. I started dating Aileen when I was still a teenager, got engaged at twenty and married at twenty-one. We both lived with our parents until the day we married. We had both lived at home through our college years. Over the past years of our marriage I have only rarely spent a night apart from her. I believe we were apart for almost a week about six years ago, but since then we haven’t been apart for more than two nights, and even when she has been away, I’ve always had to keep the kids. So this week of solitude has been, well, different.

For example, I didn’t eat very much. Cooking for just myself seemed like a waste of time. I found, though, that if I timed things just right, it was possible to make do on exactly one meal per day. A large meal at about 2 PM could be made to last through the evening. If I got to work early in the morning I would forget all about breakfast. I tended to get hungry late in the morning, but I could suppress my desire to eat for a couple of hours. Saved time, saved money. I’m sure all the ladies out there will scold me, but I am impenitent.

I also found that working from the crack of dawn until 11 PM is not conducive to a good night’s sleep. My body has grown quite dependent on some evening downtime, usually spent with my nose stuck in a book. Forfeiting this time guarantees at least two or three hours of tossing and turning before I finally shut down enough to sleep.

Yesterday I picked up the family and brought them home. Aileen made a remark about being the only family who leaves the cottage on a Friday to spend a weekend in the city. She raises a good point. Anyways, having the family back with me gave me an opportunity to think about the single life versus family life. Here are a few discoveries I made. If I were single I would:

Eat less. I would eat one meal a day with a couple of snacks when I got bored.

Work more. A lot more. I’d probably work myself nearly to death. I found that beyond my family and work I do not have enough activities to keep me busy outside of work hours. This is something I may wish to further examine.

Read less (see above). I would spend more time working which would leave less time for reading. Then I’d probably lose my position over at World blog. That would be disappointing.

Be deaf. I listen to music all day long, but am sensitive to the fact that my family is right upstairs and does not want to hear bass thumping through the floor all day long. When I am home alone the music gets loud. In fact, it gets loud enough that it cannot be good for my hearing. So I’d be deaf as a post in no time.

Have more money. After all, if I work all the time and cut out most of the food bill I’d have more money than I do now.

Have no one to spend it on. That would be disappointing and probably not too fulfilling.

Be depressed. And here’s the crux of the matter. I just wasn’t cut out for this single life. Not even for a week. There are lots of people who do not need and crave family like I do. I have rarely lived a week of my life without close contact with family members. The single life just wouldn’t work for me. So this weekend I am especially thankful for the family God has seen fit to grant me. They make me who I am.

August 10, 2005

The secret is out. World Magazine has decided to add to their online presence by increasing the scope of their blog. Joe Carter, of Evangelical Outpost, has been asked to head-up this new venture. I have been asked to become editor of the Ex Libris section of the blog which will be dedicated to book reviews. My task sounds challenging enough. “This feature will certainly become the best place to find literary criticism from a biblical perspective.” Naturally I consider this an honor and look forward to working with World. I trust this opportunity will allow more good books to get into the hands of more Christians.

You can read Joe Carter’s introduction to the blog here. And of course you can see the blog itself at http://www.worldmagblog.com/blog/.

August 09, 2005

It is a mild, grey morning at the cottage. My daughter is still asleep, so I have been unable to dial-up and do my twice-daily email check (that’s about all I do when I’m on vacation). So I’ve been passing the time by looking through directories of old articles. Among these I found the four articles that kick-started this site back in 2002. “Calvinism vs Arminianism” is dated October 10, 2002. “Mother Teresa” is dated October 28. Those articles were posted back when this site was only a repository for family photographs. Almost a year passes before it becomes a blog. A few months later there are articles about the band Evanescence and another examining my own propensity for evil. Those articles were really my first attempts at putting pen to paper, so to speak, and posting public articles. In October of that year I decided to get serious about blogging and haven’t missed a day since November 1, 2003.

There is one other article I found that I’m quite sure I never posted. But it seems that it was an important one in my spiritual development at the time. This was a time when I was considering walking away from the Reformed faith. Reformed was all I had known, yet I had begun attending a non-Reformed church and had seen a faith that I considered more active and more exciting. My wife and I began, pragmatically, I suppose, to wonder if being Reformed was a spiritual liability.

And so I wrote an article I entitled “Losing My Religion.” I am almost embarrassed posting it because it is somewhat private, but at the same time I found it interesting. I need to reflect on how successful I was in losing my religion. I have only vague memories of writing the article, but know that it came at a time when I began to “backwards engineer” my faith. This is a term I often used at the time and described the process of trying to dismantle my beliefs, bit-by-bit, to try to understand what was mine, what was tradition, and what was biblical.

And so I give you, without any further commentary, “Losing My Religion.”

Pronunciation: ri-‘li-j&n
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English religioun, from Latin religion-, religio supernatural constraint, sanction, religious practice, perhaps from religare to restrain, tie back — more at RELY
Date: 13th century
1 a  the state of a religious a nun in her 20th year of religion b (1)  the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2)  commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
2  a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
3 archaic  scrupulous conformity  CONSCIENTIOUSNESS
4  a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith
- re·li·gion·less adjective

Is it not true that everyone in this world is searching for a system of beliefs to which they can subscribe with scrupulous conformity? And do we not all wish to have a cause, principle or system of belief to which we can hold with ardor and faith? Based on such a drab description it is no wonder that so many people in our society are abandoning religion. There are some who are comforted by holding to an institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs and practices, but certainly the general public is turning its back on just such a portrayal of religion. And who can blame people for running away from beliefs so stagnant and dreary?

The Christian faith, which our society is so quickly abandoning, should be much more than a commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance. A religion based upon scrupulous conformity is destined to lead to legalism. Legalism, in turn, binds us to a reliance on our own abilities to find purpose and meaning in life.

Jesus was a perfectly sane man. Would it be sensible to suffer and die to save the world from sin and to deliver God’s people from the clutches of the Law in order to institutionalize a system of restraints and constraints? No! Faith, true saving faith, provides freedom. It provides joy and it provides pleasure. As Christians it becomes our joy and our delight to find pleasure in God. It is only in Him and through Him and ultimately through a restoration of a relationship with Him that we can find freedom. We are set free from the ties that have bound us and are allowed to experience true communion with our Creator.

I believe that every Christian has, within him, some religion. Within each of us there is desire to conform to an institutionalized system of beliefs. Sometimes we all prefer to be constrained rather than allowing ourselves to really be set free.

And so I am losing my religion. It is difficult to do. In many cases certain tenets of my religion have been with me since I was old enough to understand anything. Others have crept in somewhere along the journey and have wormed their way into the core of my being. Such beliefs are difficult to root out, and as a matter of fact, are difficult even to see within myself. Yet I am confident that with honest and deliberate self-examination I will be able to find them, contain them, and eradicate them.

I refuse to live a life bound by the bonds of religion. I want a faith that is living and breathing, a faith that wrap itself around every part of my life.

Life is far too short to miss the real thing.

July 22, 2005

I am going to pose a question and ask you to think for a minute or two before answering. Stop for a moment before you continue reading this article and answer this simple question. Who is the worst sinner you know? Chances are that you know hundreds of people. Perhaps a thousand. Think of all those people and ponder which one is the worst sinner of all.

I’ll wait.

Who did you think of? Perhaps you thought of a parent who did irreversible damage to you when you were only a child. Maybe you thought of a co-worker who delights in his own depravity, or maybe you thought of a friend or family-member who is imprisoned for what he has done. But if you were honest I hope you were able to admit that you know someone who is a far greater sinner than any of these.

Who do you know better than anyone else? Whose heart is laid before you in its entirety, so that you cannot escape the evil bubbling just beneath the surface and the far greater evil buried deep within? When I stop and think about the greatest sinner I know, I really have no choice but to admit that it is me. I am the greatest sinner I know. It feels good to say it. Good but humbling. I am the greatest sinner I know. I may not sin as much as the guy next door, but I see only a few of his evil deeds, so he cannot be the worst winner I know. I see every single one of mine. All day long, in everything I do and in every word I say, I see my own propensity towards evil.

I know how my heart grumbles when it should be glad, and how it is glad when it should cry out. I see how I can walk away from the poor, lonely and destitute and rarely think of them again. I know how I continually do the very things I least want to do and least should do, all the while avoiding those things I most want to do. Truly there is no end to the depravity of my heart. William Law, who lived in the 18th century, knew this. He said, “Nothing hath separated us from God but our own will, or rather our own will is our separation from God.” He said also that, “Self is the root, the tree, and the branches of all the evils of our fallen state.” The selfishness of my heart and my love for what is evil is both shocking and humbling. And it all begins with me.

The apostle Paul knew this. While there are few people in all of history most of us would be more eager to spend time with, and while there are few who have contributed more to the Christian faith, he looked into his heart and proclaimed himself the chief of sinners. “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15,16).

Like Paul, William Law was the worst sinner he knew. He wrote, “We may justly condemn ourselves as the greatest sinners we know because we know more of the folly of our own heart than we do of other people’s.”

You are the worst winner you know. I am the worst sinner I know. Say it to yourself and let it sink in. Let it penetrate your heart and your conscience.

All is not lost.

Why did Paul proclaim himself the foremost of sinners? He was not dwelling on his own sinful nature, nor bemoaning his state. No, Paul was pointing, as he did in every area of his ministry, to the cross of Christ. The depravity of the apostle was great, but how much greater was the love of Jesus Christ! He received mercy so that Jesus might display His amazing grace.

In The Cross Centered Life, C.J. Mahaney writes of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet. “As Jesus reclines at the low table, leaning on one elbow, His feet stretched out away from the table, the woman stands over Him and begins to weep. All conversation ceases. The sound of her weeping grows in volume, filling the house and spilling out into the street. Her freely flowing tears wet His unwashed feet. She kneels down, takes down her hair, and with it begins to wash Jesus’ tear-stained feet. The she kisses them and anoints them with perfume as an act of worship.”

We have all heard this story many times. But maybe we have missed its full significance. This woman was not weeping out of remorse for her sin. She was not asking the Lord’s forgiveness, hoping that her cries would stir His heart to give her a word of blessing. She knew that she had already been forgiven. Her soul was cleansed, her past forgotten. And so she wept, crying out with joy, gratitude and devotion. Looking to the worst sinner she knew, she was filled with love for the One who had extended grace to her. And so she wept, providing for Christians of all ages a beautiful example of worshipful devotion. And so she wept.

The greatest of sinners requires the greatest Savior. I am the greatest sinner I know. Thankfully, because of God’s grace, I also know the greatest Savior. And so I weep.

July 21, 2005

Desiring GodWell how is this for an opportunity? I have been asked by Desiring God if I would be willing to live-blog the upcoming Desiring God National Conference which will be held in Minneapolis from the 7th to the 9th of October. This year’s theme is “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God.” I thought about it for less time than it takes to type “of course!” and have committed to doing it. I am awfully excited about the opportunity. I’ll have the privilege of enjoying the teaching of people like Joni Eareckson Tada, Mark Talbot, David Powlison, Steve Saint, Carl Ellis, and of course John Piper.

But that’s not all. I’ll be able to meet Justin Taylor, who is fast becoming a friend and probably some other God-bloggers. And I’ll also get to meet one of my oldest and closest blog-friends. Who is it, you ask? You’ll just have to look around and find out. I’m sure he’ll be posting about this as well, as it turns out that he is going to be my partner in crime. We’ll be just like Al Michaels and John Madden, but we won’t ever talk about “cankles.” I promise. Oh, and we won’t have one of those screens that allows us to draw yellow lines and arrows.

Anyways, this is a wonderful opportunity and I’m already counting down the days to October.

By the way, some details are still not settled, such as what site we’ll actually be writing to, and so on. But we’ll have that worked out long before we get to Minneapolis.

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