Dark Valleys and Fiery Furnaces

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My ESV Study Bible noted that “valley of the shadow of death” in Psalm 23:4 could also be translated “valley of deep darkness.” The notes explained that when people traveled through valleys, the hills or mountains on either side blocked the light, and bandits, wild animals, or who knows what could be lurking in the shadows.

I had always associated this verse just with death before. Within the larger context of Psalm 23 describing how our Shepherd cares for and accompanies us, this promised that even when death looms on the path ahead, our Shepherd remains with us and comforts us. While this verse certainly does assure of us that wonderful truth, it goes even further: He will accompany us and protect us through any scary possibility.

That doesn’t mean He will always prevent the scary possibility from happening. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced being thrown into a fiery furnace because they refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol, they told the king:

Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up (Daniel 3:16-18, ESV).

The same day I read the above notes concerning Psalm 23, the selection for the day in  Spectacle of Glory by Joni Eareckson Tada discussed this incident in Daniel. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were tied up and tossed into the fiery furnace. But shortly thereafter, Nebuchadnezzar saw “four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:25, ESV). Nebuchadnezzar called the men out, and they were unharmed. They weren’t even singed or smelling of smoke. Joni comments:

Who was the fourth man? An Old Testament appearance of Christ. But notice this. These men were walking in the midst of the fire. We tend to think heartbreaks and tragedies will stop us dead in our tracks–and keep us from moving forward in life. But the truth is, a trial is one of the streets through which we move to reach our destiny. a road leading us deeper into the heart of Christ.

Lord, I have so often seen suffering as something to escape–a puzzle needing to be swiftly solved so I can “get back to normal.” But maybe You are inviting me to walk in the fire rather than cower in self-protection. It’s so good to know You’ll be walking with me (p. 171).

Isaiah 43:1-3a says:

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

I’ve always thought it interesting that the verse says when, not if. There are going to be scary moments in life that God takes us through, not around. But He promises to be with us. And that makes all the difference.

Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.
 Isaiah 50:10, ESV

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

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See the Destined Day Arise

I shared this hymn a couple of years ago, but it is on my mind this season as we particularly remember in gratefulness Christ’s death on the cross for us. This hymn was originally written by Venantius Fortunatus in 569 and was paraphrased or translated by Richard Mant in 1837. The original lyrics are here. In the past few years it has been reworded a bit and a chorus added by Matt Merker.

See the destined day arise! See a willing sacrifice!
Jesus, to redeem our loss, hangs upon the shameful cross;
Jesus, who but You could bear wrath so great and justice fair?
Every pang and bitter throe, finishing your life of woe?

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Lamb of God for sinners slain!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Jesus Christ, we praise your name!

Who but Christ had dared to drain, steeped in gall, the cup of pain,
And with tender body bear thorns, and nails, and piercing spear?
Slain for us, the water flowed, mingled from your side with blood;
Sign to all attesting eyes of the finished sacrifice.

Holy Jesus, grant us grace in that sacrifice to place
All our trust for life renewed, pardoned sin, and promised good.
Grant us grace to sing your praise, ‘round your throne through endless days,
Ever with the sons of light: “Blessing, honor, glory, might!”

What do you know?

I recently read about a young woman’s experience running into a beloved Sunday School teacher she’d had as a child. As her heart swelled with fondness and gratitude for this woman’s ministry in her life, she opined that it’s the relationships, not the instruction that matters.

While I rejoiced in the relationship this woman had with her teacher and the way it inspired her to teach her own students, I was saddened that she downplayed the lessons. Religious instruction matters very much. The epistles are replete with warnings about wrong doctrine and correction thereof. Yet relationships are important, too. They help flesh out the truth and get it from the head to the heart.

I’ve heard the acquiring of Biblical knowledge downplayed because “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth,” according to I Corinthians 8:1.  That’s an example of ripping a verse out of its context and not couching it in the overall setting of the whole Bible. Yes, the Bible warns us against becoming proud of our knowledge, but it doesn’t discourage us from gaining knowledge.

Creation reveals knowledge of God’s existence, wisdom and ways. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” Psalm 19:1-2.

God was angry with Job’s friends because they had not spoken what was right about Him.

God asked Job, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

Job was comforted by the truth of knowing that his “Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.”

The psalmist asks, ‘Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” Psalm 25:4-5

The psalmist urges people to “Give ear, O my people, to my teaching,” including “the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” – information about Him as a means to knowing Him – and to pass that knowledge down to the next generations.

The first few verses of Proverbs say that Solomon gave them, “to know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; to give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion. A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels.” By contrast, later in the chapter it says fools hate knowledge.

Paul prayed for people who had “a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:1).

See how many times in 1 Corinthians 6 Paul says, “Do you not know…?”

Paul told Timothy to “Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge'” (1 Timothy 6:20).

Peter tells us to supplement our faith with virtue, knowledge, self-control, and other qualities.

That’s just a small sampling of passages that talk about knowledge. If we also look at passages that talk about leaching and learning, we see that God places great value on them.

I have also heard the argument that it is more important to know by experience than to just know facts: for instance, it is better to spend time interacting with a person than just learning about them. It’s true that many of those passages about knowledge are referring to this experiential type of knowledge. But isn’t it also true that in getting to know someone you learn facts about them, their likes, dislikes, preferences, etc.? Years ago I saw a comical card for a wife from a husband depicting various domestic scenes. I don’t remember the exact wording, but the gist of it was, “I may not do A, B, and C that you want me to, and I may do D, E, and F that you don’t want me to, but I sure do love you, honey!” But living with an utter disregard for a wife’s preferences is not a manifestation of love. If husbands are to dwell with their wives according to knowledge, how much more should God’s people seek to know what pleases and displeases Him?

God has given us His Word, among other reasons, that we may know Him. We learn about Him that we might think of Him correctly and know how to please Him. Yes, just learning facts about Him is not sufficient and doesn’t take the place of knowing Him. But knowing Him without learning His Word makes for a shallow relationship.

God wants us to love Him with not just our hearts and souls, but our minds, to be transformed by the renewal of our minds, to gird up the loins of our minds.

It’s true that knowledge can “puff up” with pride, but rather than avoiding gaining knowledge, we need to remind ourselves that If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:2), and we need to remind ourselves that the purpose of gaining knowledge is to better know the Lord and serve Him and others.

It’s true there are some things that surpass our ability to comprehend, like the love of Christ and the peace of God.

It’s true that if we have all knowledge, but have not love, we are nothing. But that doesn’t mean we abandon knowledge. That verse also says “if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” We obviously don’t abandon faith. But we use knowledge and exercise faith in love.

We do have to be careful to keep things in balance and not become like the Pharisees, who were all academic knowledge and no heart and soul. We shouldn’t stop with just learning facts about God or think of knowledge as an end in itself, but we should acquire knowledge of God through His Word in order to learn to know Him better, to get to know Him experientially, and to show love to His people, our spiritual family, in a way that builds them up in truth, and to answer those who would pervert or distort the faith. Like Paul, we pray that our “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9) and that we might “[increase] in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10b).

That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:2-3

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Inspire Me Monday, Glimpses, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Coffee for Your Heart, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

 

 

Book Review: The Loveliness of Christ

loveliness-of-christPuritan Samuel Rutherford’s writings were the inspiration for one of my favorite hymns (“The Sands of Time Are Sinking“) and he’s the author of one of my favorite quotes, but I had never read anything else from him. So when The Loveliness of Christ came through on a 99 cent Kindle sale last week, I decided to give it a try.

I was disappointed that the selections weren’t essays or letters (except for a few letters at the very end): rather, the book is mainly a selection of quotes gleaned from Rutherford’s letters. The writing is a little hard to understand in places, but there are some gold nuggets here.

After a brief biography of Rutherford, the quotes are listed. I am not sure if they are in random of chronological order: except for the full-length letters at the end, we don’t know to whom or when they were written.

Here are some that most spoke to me:

You will not get leave to steal quietly to heaven, in Christ’s company, without a conflict and a cross.

Christ’s cross is such a burden as sails are to a ship or wings are to a bird.

Let our Lord’s sweet hand square us and hammer us, and strike off the knots of pride, self-love and world-worship and infidelity, that He may make us stones and pillars in his Father’s house.

The devil is but God’s master fencer, to teach us to handle our weapons.

They are not lost to you that are laid up in Christ’s treasury in heaven. At the resurrection ye shall meet with them: there they are, sent before but not sent away. Your Lord loveth you, who is homely to take and give, borrow and lend.

O, what I owe to the file, to the hammer, to the furnace of my Lord Jesus!

Why should I start at the plow of my Lord, that maketh deep furrows on my soul? I know He is no idle husbandman, He purposeth a crop.

How sweet a thing were it for us to learn to make our burdens light by framing our hearts to the burden, and making our Lord’s will a law.

Our fair morning is at hand, the day-star is near the rising, and we are not many miles from home. What does it matter if we are mistreated in the smoky inns of this miserable life? We are not to stay here, and we will be dearly welcomed by Him to whom we go.

When we shall come home and enter to the possession of our Brother’s fair kingdom, and when our heads shall find the weight of the eternal crown of glory, and when we shall look back to pains and sufferings; then shall we see life and sorrow to be less than one step or stride from a prison to glory; and that our little inch of time – suffering is not worthy of our first night’s welcome home to heaven.

Let not the Lord’s dealings seems harsh, rough, or unfatherly, because it is unpleasant. When the Lord’s blessed will bloweth cross your desires, it is best in humility to strike sail to him and to be willing to be laid any way our Lord pleaseth: it is a point of denial of yourself, to be as if ye had not a will, but had made a free disposition of it to God, and had sold it over to him; and to make of his will for your own is both true holiness, and your ease and peace.

Welcome, welcome, Jesus, what way soever Thou come, if we can get a sight of Thee! And sure I am, it is better to be sick, providing Christ come to the bedside and draw by the curtains, and say, “Courage, I am Thy salvation,” than to enjoy health, being lusty and strong, and never to be visited of God.

Faith liveth and spendeth upon our Captain’s charges, who is able to pay for all.

Glorify the Lord in your sufferings, and take his banner of love, and spread it over you. Others will follow you, if they see you strong in the Lord; their courage shall take life from your Christian carriage.

Ye may yourself ebb and flow, rise and fall, wax and wane; but your Lord is this day as he was yesterday; and it is your comfort that your salvation is not rolled upon wheels of your own making, neither have ye to do with a Christ of your own shaping.

If Christ Jesus be the period, the end and lodging-home, at the end of your journey, there is no fear, ye go to a friend…ye may look death in the face with joy.

My Lord Jesus hath fully recompensed my sadness with His joys, my losses with His own presence. I find it a sweet an a rich thing to exchange my sorrows with Christ’s joys, my afflictions with that sweet peace I have with Himself.

The favorite quote I mentioned at the beginning was here only in part: I had seen it in one of Amy Carmichael’s writings as having been a comfort to her when one of the children at her compound died. It was written by Rutherford to someone who had lost a child. The larger quote is “Ye have lost a child: nay she is not lost to you who is found to Christ. She is not sent away, but only sent before, like unto a star, which going out of our sight doth not die and vanish, but shineth in another hemisphere. We see her not, yet she doth shine in another country. If her glass was but a short hour, what she wanteth of time that she hath gotten of eternity; and ye have to rejoice that ye have now some plenishing up in heaven.”

As a collection of quotes, some quite thought-provoking and others requiring thought to process, it seemed to work best to read a few a day rather than trying to take in a lot at one sitting. Even doing that, though, it only took about a week to read.

As you can see from the sampling of quotes here, some of the themes of Rutherford’s writing include the goodness of God in the face of any circumstances, His ability to use those circumstances to shape us, the joy of Christ in this life but especially in the life to come.

I’m glad I spent time with this little book and I’m sure I will again in the future. I’m even inspired to go on to the fuller Letters of Samuel Rutherford some day.

Genre: Christian non-fiction
Potenti
al objectionable elements: None
My rating: 10 out of 10

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carol‘s Books You Loved )

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See the Destined Day Arise

See the destined day arise! See a willing sacrifice!
Jesus, to redeem our loss, hangs upon the shameful cross;
Jesus, who but You could bear wrath so great and justice fair?
Every pang and bitter throe, finishing your life of woe?

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Lamb of God for sinners slain!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Jesus Christ, we praise your name!

Who but Christ had dared to drain, steeped in gall, the cup of pain,
And with tender body bear thorns, and nails, and piercing spear?
Slain for us, the water flowed, mingled from your side with blood;
Sign to all attesting eyes of the finished sacrifice.

Holy Jesus, grant us grace in that sacrifice to place
All our trust for life renewed, pardoned sin, and promised good.
Grant us grace to sing your praise, ‘round your throne through endless days,
Ever with the sons of light: “Blessing, honor, glory, might!”

~ Lyrics: Venantius Fortunatus (c.530-600), tr. Richard Mant (1837), Public Domain (original lyrics here); Alt. words, chorus lyrics, and music: Matt Merker, © 2014