Sunday, September 25, 2022

Thorny Blessings

 “…especially because of the extraordinary revelations. Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so that I would not exalt myself. Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times that it would leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭12:7-10‬ ‭CSB‬‬

“Anything is a blessing that makes us pray.”

~Charles Spurgeon

Friday, September 16, 2022

"Do the Next Thing"

Brown butterfly with prominent eye spots on wings feeds on orange lantana blooms
Buckeye butterfly, dorsal view

Elisabeth Elliot often quoted the poem “Do the Next Thing” and its four-word refrain in her talks. The reminder has been valuable and timely lately as my family follows the Lord’s leadership on a rather circuitous path of caregiving choices for my precious mom.

Elisabeth and her husband Lars used to publish this anonymous poem as a small pamphlet, which I would sometimes enclose in a note to a friend. Here is the poem in full, along with links to 2 new printable versions you may download as my gift to you. Thank you for reading, and many thanks to you who pray for me and mine.

Beige butterfly with large eye spot on wing perches on orange lantana flowers
Buckeye butterfly, ventral view


From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the doors the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration: "DO THE NEXT THING."

Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, and guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, do the next thing.

Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe 'neath His wing,
Leave all results, do the next thing.

Looking for Jesus, ever serener,
Working or suffering, be thy demeanor;
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing.
Then, as He beckons thee, do the next thing

~author unknown

In addition to that poem, English Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon used the same phrase almost a century before Elisabeth Elliot started speaking. I only discovered this a week or so ago and offer it to you as a second witness to the same truth.

…many desire to serve Christ by standing on the top rung of the ladder. No one can get there in one step. The better way is to serve Christ by following Him, by ‘doing the next thing,’ the thing we can do—that simple little act that lies within our capacity, which will bring us no special honor but is what our Lord desires of us. In effect we can hear him say to us, ‘If anyone serves me, let him follow me, not by aiming at great things but by doing just that piece of work I put before him at the time.

In my family’s present season, we have sought guidance, believed we found the path forward, done the next thing, discovered it was only a detour or access road to a different path, and done the next next thing. We are in a holding pattern now (again), waiting and trusting for the next step to open before us.

The Lord does not always lead us by straight lines or the shortest distance between points in life. Then again, His purpose has always been His glory and our transformation into the image of Christ, not efficiency or maximum productivity as ends in themselves. Knowing and loving Him come along the journey, whether short or long. May you know, love, and trust Him more and more till you see Him face to face.

Grace and peace to you in Jesus. Courage, dear hearts.

Do the Next Thing Printable, Version 1

Do the Next Thing Printable, Version 2

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Grief and Paperclips

Griefs, like paperclips,
Entangle and snarl
Beneath the canister lid
Where, stashed, they wait till
Solitude and opportunity converge
For examen in the light of God.

What do they do in that dark tin?
Do they come to life like toys
When I turn aside?

For when I remove the lid
And pinch the one on top,
Just the one,
A scrum of griefs, old and new,
Links arms, emerges together,
Collapses in a knot
On my open journal.

Calling on my Father's help,
I place the bewildering snarl
In His able hands.
Griefs, like paperclips,
Entangle and snarl, but
The maker of galaxies and quarks
Can and will untangle
In His time.

~crm, 8/8/22

Saturday, September 3, 2022

More Trials, More Love, Just One Step to Glory

 Of the books I've read so far in 2022, my two favorites are classic Christian books perfect for short attention spans. If you, like me, value the wisdom of saints who have already preceded us into glory, but due to the speed of life or the weight of affliction don't have time and focus for, say, Jonathan Edwards's Religious Affections or even Henry Scougal's small book The Life of God in the Soul of Man, you might find a good book-friend in Amy Carmichael's Candles in the Dark or The Loveliness of Christ by Samuel Rutherford.

The letters of Samuel Rutherford, though written four and a half centuries ago, still strengthen and encourage me. He suffered the usual bereavements and difficulties of life but also persecution and imprisonment for holding steadfastly to the gospel of grace. Unfortunately, the Puritan language takes concentration and mental energy that, frankly, I lack in the current season. A kind editor named Ellen S. Lister mined the letters for us and collected the brightest gems of highlights in a pretty, wee volume called The Loveliness of Christ. A reader can turn to any page and scan through one sentence or four, one short paragraph or a pair of them. They are not organized by theme or logic, so this is truly a book that can be read one sentence at a time over many weeks with no loss of comprehension.

For example, on page 19 one finds these two treasures:

God hath made many fair flowers, but the fairest of them all is heaven, and the flower of all flowers is Christ.

and again,

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 timesuffering is not worthy of our first night's welcome home to heaven.

On every page, the reader can be certain of finding the love of Christ and hope in trials.

An orange paperback of Candles in the Dark by Amy Carmichael, with two lit candles on the cover, a dark pink leatherlike book called The Loveliness of Christ, and in the background a blue and white teacup and saucer and a brown book of Rutherford's letters

The entries in Candles in the Dark are a bit longer, a few paragraphs each, but still shorter than a classic devotional book like Streams in the Desert or My Utmost for His Highest. This book also is a compilation of letters, specifically personal notes Amy Carmichael wrote from her bed of pain, alone in her sickroom the last twenty years of her life. In that season, her pen became her platform, both her means of ministry and her doorway to communion with the able-bodied world.

As you can see from the photos, the number of sticky flags verges on the ridiculous. When that many pages are highlighted, the highlights don't signify much, do they? I didn't tidy them before the photo so you would see how much I love in this book. It's a reread, actually, from a small family-owned Christian bookstore in Dallas which hasn't existed for decades, but which I haunted in my early twenties. Much of my Amy Carmichael shelf comes from Lamplight. 

But I digress.

These letters are categorized by theme and need not be read in any particular order. Each entry stands on its own merit without depending on its neighbors for context. Here is one of my favorites, to which my thoughts have often returned of late.

As I think of you I think of words written y one who warred and suffered about six hundred years ago, Raymond Lull. 'Say, O Lover,' asked the Beloved [Christ Jesus], 'if I double thy trials, wilt thou still be patient?' 'Yea,' answered the Lover, 'so that Thou double also my love.' I am quite sure that the Beloved will double the love of his Lover, if at any time He doubles the trials.

I think also of those words in Hebrews that go to the depths of all suffering and 'speak to our condition' when no others seem to touch us: Hebrews 2.10, 'For it became bringing many sons unto glory to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through suffering.' I am writing on the day after you knew that this joy of joys had been given to youthe joy, I mean, of bringing a dear child into the way of glory.

I give you Hebrews 10.35, 36 for the worst days that will ever come. 'Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise.' I commit you to Him who bequeathed His peace to us just before He faced His cross. I commit you to Him who is your best beloved. He will never leave thee or forsake thee; the work of righteousness (which is obedience) shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever (102).

This small paperback overflows with concentrated encouragement, comfort, hope, love, and joy. As typical of Amy Carmichael, there are challenges to take up the cross and follow our Savior too, but for the most part this is a book to uphold the hurting soul.

If you have read these, I'd love to hear your thoughts or favorite selection. If you have not, Candles and Loveliness are very accessible entries to a pair of wise saints refined by suffering. May the Lord bless these excerpts and the books to your walk with Christ.

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