Christianity 201

January 20, 2012

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

It is a common idea that the pathway of faith is strewn with flowers…

Today’s post is from the website of Bruce Olson, author of Bruchko, considered by many to be the top of the list of missions and/or biographical books currently available.  Olson spent his life living among the Motilone Indians in Columbia and Venezuela.  Today he lives in Florida. This article appears on his website under the title Perfect Through Suffering.

It is a common idea that the pathway of faith is strewn with flowers and that when God interposes in the life of His people, He does it on a scale so grand that He lifts us out from the plane of difficulties.  The actual fact, however, is that the real experience is quite contrary.  It is only when we come to trust God that we meet with trials and difficulties.  The story of the Bible is one of alternate trial and triumph in the case of everyone of the cloud of witness from Abel down to the latest martyr.

            Look at the patriarchal story.  Abraham went out, believing God to meet the promise of a glorious inheritance, but the first thing he found was famine and desolation in the land of promise, compelling him to go down to Egypt for his very subsistence.  His whole life was a story of narrow places and painful testing, and every blessing was wrung, as it were, from the very jaws of difficulty and natural impossibility.

            Still more was Isaac’s, a suffering life.  Petty trials marked the whole pathway of the patriarch.  His very wife was selected for him by another.  His favorite son became disappointment.  The very wells he dug in the desert became a source of jealous contention, and he was pushed from place to place, until his steppings were marked by the very names which recall only associations of pain and sorrow.

            Jacob’s life was one long scene of testing, and looking back even from the sunlight of his closing and happier days, he could only say in retrospect, “Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been.”

            Above all the patriarchal family, Joseph seemed born for trial.  The opening vision of his faith was bright as heaven, but soon it was darkly clouded by treachery and crime on the part of his very brethren, long years of exile, ignominy, unjust suspicion and protracted suspense until, at last, “the iron entered into his soul,” and his deliverance, when it came was like Paul’s escape from shipwreck, through the most trifling providential incidents.

            So Moses passed through the narrow place of difficulty and bitter trial, and his very choice is described as a lot of “affliction with the people of God.”

            David, Israel’s great king, and Christ’s glorious type, even after he was promised the throne and anointed king, was hunted as a partridge in the mountains of Judah, and compelled to flee from refuge to refuge in the caves and deserts, and narrowly saved again and again, as Job expresses it, “by the skin of his teeth.”

            But need we go further than the great Example Himself, whose name is the “Man of Sorrows,” whose life was made “perfect through sufferings“; who in very infancy was compelled to flee from Herod’s bloody hand to Egypt for protection, and who could not be spared by bitter agony of the garden and the cross in the accomplishing of our redemption?

            Like Him, the great Apostle Paul was more than anything else an example of how much a child of God can suffer without being crushed and broken in spirit. The apostle seems to have been set forth as a “gazing stock to angels and to men,” of the possibility of human endurance sustained by the grace of God, and many of his trials were just like this last scene in the book of Acts, so petty, so slow, so tedious, so commonplace, that there is nothing of the color of romance about them, but they are more like a scramble for life.

            The very first experience after his conversion was of this character.  On account of his testifying for the Lord Jesus in Damascus, he was hunted down and obliged to flee for his life.  But we behold no heavenly chariot transporting the holy apostle amid thunderbolts of flame from the reach of his foes, but “through a window in a basket” was he let down over the walls of Damascus, and so escaped their hands.  In an old clothes basket, like a bundle of laundry, the servant of Jesus Christ was dropped from the window and ignominiously fled from the hate of his foes.

            So again, we find him left for months in lonely dungeons; we see him walking on foot along the shores of the Aegean Sea; again we find him telling of his watchings, his fastings, and his desertion by friends, of his brutal and shameful beatings before an insulting rabble; and here, even after God has promised, by a heavenly vision, to deliver him, we see him for days left to toss upon a stormy sea, obliged to stand guard over the treacherous seamen, and tell them that their presence is indispensable for the escape of the passengers.  And, at last, when the deliverance comes, their is no heavenly galley sailing from the skies to take off the noble prisoner; there is no angel from walking upon the waters and stilling the raging breakers; there is no supernatural sign of the transcendent miracle that is being wrought; but one is compelled to seize a spar, and another a floating plank, and another climb on a fragment of the wreck, and another to strike out and swim for his life, and so the strange commonplace story reads, “some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship.  And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.”

            Beloved, here is God’s pattern for our own lives.  Here is a gospel of help for people that have to live in this everyday world with real and ordinary surroundings, and a thousand practical conditions which have to be met in a thoroughly practical way.  God’s promises and God’s providences do not lift us out of the plane of common sense and commonplace trial, but it is through these very things that faith is perfected, and that God loves to interweave the golden threads of His love along with the warp and woof of our everyday experience.  It is most helpful to us to realize that we have a God who thus comes into the most common place things, and that it is not evidence that He has failed us if He allows ten thousand difficulties on every side to throng us, and deliver us in answer to prayer at last, by the very narrowest margin, and through straits so narrow that we seem to be barely delivered at the very point of disaster and from the very jaws of destruction.

~Bruce Olson

July 13, 2011

Keeping a 20/20 Spiritual Vision

My link to DailyEncouragement.net, the devotional ministry of Stephen & Brooksyne Weber is rather prominent on my personal blog because I think they represent the best of theological balance combined with appeal to a broad demographic.  Though their lives intertwine with Amish farmers, there’s an urban sophistication in their writing as well.  They know their readers, who click in from around the world.  Every day’s post is good reading.  This one is actually fresh from today!  I’ll add a permalink once it moves off the home page.

“Spiritual Myopia”

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16).  “For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).

I began to wear glasses when I was about twelve years old. I was near-sighted, meaning that I could see OK up close but distant views were blurry. I resisted wearing them at first but soon realized I really did see better with them. Near-sightedness is also called myopia. In my forties I started needing bifocals, since I now need correction both for close-up and distance.

Let me illustrate today’s message with a wonderful Creator-designed capability we all have and probably have never even considered. I am sitting at my desk in my home office with a clear view of my computer screen and close-up items on the desk. My eyes are automatically focused to this view.

I can raise my head and look out to a distant farm field view. Automatically, without any conscience effort on my part, my eyes refocus when I move from the close-up to the distant view. What if we were created with an adjustable knob on the side of our head that had to be turned each time we wanted to refocus, much like looking through a set of binoculars! I concur with David’s thoughts he penned three thousand years ago, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:14).

I can purposefully not refocus when I move from a close-up view to a distant one but it’s really hard.  Look out to a distant view and stare at your hand and see how blurry and out of focus the distance is at the periphery. Try to move your hand and keep your eyes focused the same as the close-up, although you are looking at a distance. For me it’s next to impossible. My eyes just automatically refocus!

Today I want to consider a condition that many of us have which I’ll call “spiritual myopia”.  We may have a focus on the close up view but have trouble seeing and focusing on the bigger picture spiritually; that which is at a distance. It seems that spiritually speaking having a distant “faith” focus does not come automatically. I have to very purposefully focus on that by faith.

Hebrews 11 is known as the Faith Chapter and is a great commendation of men and women who lived by faith.  “This is what the ancients were commended for” (v.2).  Hebrews 11: 13-16 is an incredible interjection by the divinely inspired author of Hebrews. Prior to this Scripture passage and afterward Abraham is the focus, but this section broadens the scope using the phrase, “all these people”, which may mean those who were with Abraham, or it may be referring to all the people of faith mentioned in this chapter.  Either way you consider it, this powerful portion is certainly true of all people of faith.

But the part that grips my heart is the phrase concerning the “things promised” they had not received at the time they died.  “They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.”  They did not have spiritual myopia.

In overcoming our tendency to being diagnosed with spiritual myopia:

1) We must have divine correction.
2) We must train our eyes for distant focus.
3) We must train our will to focus on the distant future.
4) We must place our affections on that which is yet to come.

I struggle with spiritual myopia when I am not focusing on God’s promises that are yet to be fulfilled.  I am not seeing them and welcoming them from a distance. In fact the spiritual distance may become invisible since my focus is fixed upon that which I see without effort.

Like the people who long ago lived by faith I need to regularly confess, “I am an alien and stranger on earth.”  Like them I want to be “longing for a better country—a heavenly one.”  May the Lord give each of us a distant heavenward focus! “For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.”

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber