Kit Bag

Britain’s war years sponsored a frontline favourite song that was eventually adopted by the world system – “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag, and smile, smile, smile.” Hide your problems and pretend to be happy. Look at the positives, ignore the negatives and so make it buoyantly through life. Don’t be sad, try never to be too serious, and only mourn if you have to. Unfortunately the same philosophy is often applied to sin. Gloss over it and it’ll be okay!

The structure of most societies — whether primitive or sophisticated, wealthy or the poor, educated or uneducated — is based on the seemingly incontrovertible principle that the way to happiness is having things go your own way. Throughout history a basic proverb of the world has been that favourable things bring happiness, whereas adverse things bring unhappiness. This belief seems so self-evident that most people would not bother to debate it. Yet, Christ’s teaching reinforces the fact that godly mourning brings godly happiness, which no amount of human effort or optimistic pretence can produce.

In the routine of day-by-day living, the idea of mourning to get happiness seems absurd, but Jesus confirms this dictum. The epitome of His teaching is paradoxical, what he promises for what he says, seems inappropriate and certainly upside down in the eyes of the natural man. The assumed inconsistency of the second Biblical beatitude[1] seems obvious. What could be more self-contradictory than the idea that the path to happiness is through sadness and that the way to rejoicing is in mourning? “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” How can I be happy when the chances are against me?

When we face great sorrow, disappointment, disillusionment, tragedy, or failure, we wish that we could escape them as we do a thunderstorm by running inside. But comfort from the troubles of life is much harder to find than that. The deeper the sorrow the worse the despair and the more elusive comfort seems to be. Avoiding pain, trouble, frustration, hardships, and other problems, in the estimation of many, will bring happiness.

The modern Christian, who understands and lives the spiritual significance of Christ’s specific words, fights against a false sense of assumed piety, which gives the impression that to be religious is to be miserable – how sad and weird! There is also the co-joined error that to attract people we must be deliberately upbeat and jolly. But, it is this apparent superficiality and slickness

that works against us because it is illusory. Perhaps that is the reason the church makes little impression because in the current climate of spirituality everything must be kept at a level that fails to produce serious concern over real issues.

The love of God is offered as the answer. He is depicted as one who would never harm us in any way, and that is true. It is thought therefore that everything should work for our benefit, and so is does, but not in the way we think. As an Arab proverb says: “All sunshine makes a desert,” for there are certain things that only rain will produce; otherwise the land becomes arid and dry.

The real meaning of what Jesus is saying is this: “Blessed [happy] is that person who is poor in spirit who is desperately sorry for their own sin and their own unworthiness.” That is the meaning of Biblical mourning, and the comfort that comes from that tearful confession is that the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding . . . [will] guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:7). As another interpretation says: You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.2(Matthew 5:4). God helps us lose things that are counterproductive to our spiritual ascent, so that His love-grip is not affected by extraneous things.

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[1] For ‘beatitude’ read blessedness or happiness.
2 The Message by Eugene Peterson

I will give Him glory (part 2)

God can correct us whilst we are in transit, because He knows all things past, current and future. A threefold God in charge of history, time and eternity who knows our defects and maladies, which He can rectify in any place and at any time and does not err in His continuance, for He is good towards us. It is from this goodness that comes the mollifying comfort for every sorrow wrung from the breaking heart. It is a good father who imposes restraints to teach the child, a good husbandman who mulches and prunes to save the tree; God does no less to ensure our perfection. “Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?  For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness” [Heb 12:9-10].  Profit and holiness are conjoined, and complement and support each other.

All these “things” that came and come upon us are for our wisdom, humility, and tender-heartedness and to make us spiritually minded, against such there is no law. They are to wean us from earth and make us fit for heaven. We lose things but we don’t lose all, it could be far worse, it isn’t. We have the promises of scripture and the sympathy of friends, therefore the words “fear not” ring in the darkness and shout from Genesis to Revelation, for the Bible is replete with positive promises.  “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” [Gen 18:14]. He raises the dead and makes a way where there is no way. Joseph and David both witnesses of His almighty power, so were Daniel in the lion’s den and Elijah in the famine.

The age of miracles has not passed, and “Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday, and today, and for ever” [Heb 13:8]. He is as near to us as he was to the patriarchs of old, and Abraham “staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;” [Rom 4:20]. We, unfortunately, may not be so fervent or believing.  And are more like the Old Testament people of God who limited the Holy One of Israel.” [Ps 78:41].  However, in spite of wayward Israel, there were times that he called to mind the greatness of his sovereignty, “And I said, this is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High” [Ps 77:10]; faithful, forgiving and fulfilling years with God in the sanctuary, and triumphant on the battle field.

So we each with the passing years have opportunity to witness; we have that privilege.  It will convince the sceptic, encourage the languid, and convict the sinner. The weak are strengthened, the doubting transformed and the mournful enlivened. We can illustrate the principles of faith, recommend the advantages of religion and exemplify the master we serve. It says For in him we live, and move, and have our being;” [Acts 17:28] so we ought to demonstrate that and make the scriptures as real as God himself. In our uprising and down sitting he is there, never to leave us or to forsake us.

It is said to prospective clerics that the title of a sermon should contain 80% of their preparation time, and in our lives we should often look back at the title of our lives, and remember its conviction and strategy. What are our lives actually saying to those who look on? Could we even give a title for the life so far lived or is there nothing on the book cover. What do I want people to see and read in the daily motions of my being? A young woman came to Jesus and he said “she has done what she could” [Mark 14:8] and that was worship and that was enough. Perhaps that could be the title of her new life, as she was lifted from an unsavoury lifestyle into that of a princess with God.

Thus, we can declare hope for the future and peace for the present. This is based on the fact that in weakness we are made strong“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses,“ [2 Cor 12:9-10]. In the steps of the master we echo Isaiah’s prophetic cry “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities.” [Isa 53:4-5] Here is the sevenfold suffering of the Saviour in our stead. He looked for a harvest, we likewise; the dying seed yields a fruitful field [John 12:24].

I will give Him glory

“Wherefore glorify ye the LORD in the fires,” [Isa 24:15 KVJ] and so we must for we are to manifest His glory in all aspects of our life, spiritual, natural and civil including suffering; no portion or part is to be excluded — the whole man for the whole Lord. Especially as our text infers in the fires and what fires we have; no one is exempt. Fire is a figurative biblical symbol for trials and tribulations, and so is water on occasion. “We went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place” [Ps 66:12] and “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you” [Isa 43:2]. There is no doubt we will pass through, but there is always the other side. The New Testament echoes similarly: “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;” [1 Pet 4:12]. As the ancient sage speaks: “For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble spring from the ground; yet man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward [Job 5:6-7].

As Christians we are guaranteed suffering: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all” [Ps 34:19]; and why should we find this strange, is it because we expect heaven’s favourite to be the inheritor of untold and manifold blessings? It seems logical that the Father’s love would bestow upon Him all mercies, yet he suffered more than us all. “Though He was    a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation . . .” [Heb 5:8-9]. Thus there must be conformity between the head and the members – “And He is the head of the body, the church,” [Col 1:18] as he is so are we, we cannot be partial and choose the best bits! Life in the spirit in its entirety is our blessing! God does not expect us to be more than, but like our master in all things. We cannot exceed Him but we must follow Him. He was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” [Ia. 53:3] and perhaps there is a lesson there?

“For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” [Heb 12:6] especially Joseph; consider therefore these divine words — “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” [Rev 3:19],

this is not suitable language in the modern church where any cleric would hesitate to rebuke anyone over anything lest they leave the sanctuary.  They are not in submission to delegated legal authority and are also flippant with the judge of all the earth.  They harden themselves by infidel reasoning and stoical apathy.  The only course is to cry to the one who “givsongs in the night,” [Job 35:10]. Thus, “I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God 

of my salvation; my God will hear me.” [Micah 7:7] and exclaim further, “From the end of the earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” [Ps 61:2].

Thus it is our duty to “show forth Your [His] praise[Psa. 79:13] and if we don’t the very stones would cry out [Luke 19:40]. As sheep of His pasture we are identified, branded and also inspired to be like the shepherd.  “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light;” [1 Pet 2:9]. We show forth His praise by our language and life, and we exhibit this when we confirm His will that nothing comes to pass by chance.  Irrespective of what happens, whether pleasant or painful, God is in it. And he said: “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” [Job 1:21], we are full tilt in gratitude when we acknowledge this overriding purpose of God.

We should also realise that The LORD is righteous in all His ways, gracious in all His works.” [Ps 145:17]. Because of this divine rectitude we should be careful not to indulge our criticism of Him and ensure no blame is placed on his shoulders; that he is free from censure. As his children we have been punished far less than our sins deserve, so we can voice with David “I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are right, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me”  [Ps 119:75]. The Lord is just in His sovereignty towards us. He shows His love by pruning us into fruitfulness; the tree he does not want he does not touch, the pruning shears and sharp spade informs us we are loved beyond measure.

Which Doctor

A lady who had a pain in her side went to her doctor, he said that she had appendicitis and needed an operation. She decided to get a second opinion from another doctor who said she had heart problems. She said, “I’m going back to my first doctor. I’d rather have appendicitis than heart problems.” We know as we age that sometimes we don’t always get “good news” from our doctors, but we cannot change the diagnosis, only God can. That is the crux of life, we have to accept what is served us like it or not. It is how we accept the situation not the situation. That cannot be changed often times, but how we react can.

It is clear that many HICCites do not have an answer to my wife’s sickness and therefore words are inadequate, so why speak them, probably because there is compulsion to identity with suffering through Christian compassion and an urge to express sympathy. We are creatures of the heart and long to help if only we could, but we can’t and there it must stay. There is a locked-up frenzy in our inner man that cries out in anguish to know, yet knowing does not bring light, it only brings a greater burden.

Look at Job surrounded by friends, who reminisce with him and yet chide him for misunderstanding God, but they are limited by ignorance of God’s will. God’s will is often like a tennis ball that can be hit anywhere to land where we want it, but it may not be God’s will, just a tennis racket wielded skilfully but in error. Our frustrations, temptations, unhappiness and sin can lead us out of God’s will because of self determination, this cannot be God, not for me, He loves me too much, and so he does: but the night continues!

In Job 2:13 it is recorded thus – “So they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great.” Numb from the shock and dumb from the suffering. He was so afflicted he was hanging on by the skin of his teeth. He further says: “When I go to bed I think, ‘Oh, that it were morning,’ and then I toss [agitated restlessness] till dawn” [Job 7:4]. In all of us is there is the toss and tumble as we work our way to triumph. It is part and parcel of life in the multitude of vexing vicissitudes. Our bed sheets may indeed cover our body but what covers the mind for it throws off any form of wrap that brings comfort.

We can glibly quote texts that are often used like “all things work together for good” and possibly they do, but time may not reveal that, for eternity is God’s domain. Eternity is where we are heading and often confuse the substance of time for the ultimate reality when it isn’t. Mankind has become stranded in time and its procurements, which both dazzle and dim at the same time Zion’s joy and settled peace. We walk through a troubled turbulent landscape trying to find a vantage point for direction, and we spy a cross that points the way. It all hangs on Calvary and always will. The cross answers most things; it certainly explains the love of God.

So we suffer by degrees and compare ourselves to the blessed master, who suffered more than all. Suffered for the joy that was set before him, “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” [Heb 12:2]. The joy that is set before guaranteed the sitting down. Not just anywhere but in eternity’s throne that straddles time and timeless existence. For the cross perfected Him.

In this world is variety, change and succession, it does not alter. We bathe in the light which is soon enveloped by darkness; we rejoice in the spring flush and see it wane into summer which is overtaken by the riot of autumn only to be submersed by the rains and frost of winter, the cycles come and go. Equally chequered is the variety of human life. Our circumstances change and in that diversity we see the glory of God’s providence. “Providence is God rendering natural events subservient to spiritual purposes.” [Rev William Jay]. I doubt it can be better put. God has a plan, He will bring it in.

The world will frown and smile upon us in varying degrees, and it is that juxtaposition that troubles us, like the disciples we say “It is good for us to be here” and God says” arise let us go hence.” And so we do, and find maturity in the valley. That’s the way, that’s the blessed life.