Wednesday, December 13, 2006

From The Crucible of Grace
...the molding of Christian character

It's 3:00am and I'm having a hard time sleeping tonight. My mind is racing with many thoughts that won't let me go. You see today, December 13th, marks six years that I have been divorced. It is a day of mixed thoughts and emotions; fond memories and lost dreams. On the one hand a very painful day filled with much introspection, sorrow, regret, unanswered questions, and tears. On the other, it is filled with grace, love, forgiveness, praise to the Lord for His sustaining hand, thanksgiving for my children, prayer, confession, and a deep, quiet joy in Christ. Though I cannot comprehend it all, I firmly believe that He is working all things for my good, for His glory, through His sovereign hand.

This is about the painful process of being conformed to the image of Jesus every day. I see so clearly that in my own righteous rags I am nothing but a "stranger to His holiness." But by His grace, clothed with the perfect righteousness of Christ, I am accepted in the Beloved.

As I came across this powerful article of Thomas Hooker and read it once again, it pierced my heart and serves as a spiritual mirror in my walk in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is able to do so for most of the words are Scripture itself. It is humbling and encouraging to meditate on them, fix my mind on them, crave them, hide them in my heart, run to them, embrace them, treasure them, and consider them more necessary than my daily food.

My friend, Jerry Bridges, in his writings speaks much of what he calls a "grace-based sanctification." In particular, I so treasure his words in "Trusting God" on days like this. It is a gentle and constant reminder that we are not only saved by grace, but we are sanctified by grace as well (Titus 2:12); being daily conformed to the character and person of Jesus. It is a crucible of grace.

The Apostle Paul asks an important question of the believers in Galatia when saying, "Having begun in the Spirit, can [we] perfect ourselves in the flesh?" The answer clearly is no. We are not capable of growing in our walk with the Lord apart from grace. Therefore, as Romans 5:2 says, "we stand in grace..."

I don't know what this day marks any profound happening in your life or not; it might just be another ordinary day. But nonetheless for all of us, may it be a new day to say to the Lord this simple prayer, "make me more like Jesus."

In His Unfailing Love,
Eph. 4:31-32

The Character of a Sound Christian in 17 Marks
by Thomas Hooker

1. If you can mourn daily for your own corruptions and failings committed, yet so as to be thankful for the grace received.
Romans 7:24–25: “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord . . . So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”

2. If you are grieved for the sins of the times and places wherein you live.
Ezekiel 9:4: “And the Lord said unto him, ‘Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh, and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.’”

Psalm 119:136: “Rivers of water run down mine eyes because men keep not Thy law.”

2 Peter 2:8: “For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day, with their unlawful deeds.

3. If when you mourn for the sins of the times, you take heed that you are not infected with them.
Philippians 2:15: “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.”

Acts 20:40: “And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this untoward generation.’ ”

James 1:27: “Pure religion, and undefiled before God and the Father, is this: to visit the fatherless and widow in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

1 Peter 4:4: “Wherein they think it strange that you run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you.”

4. If you endeavor to get victory over your corruptions, and are daily more circumspect over your ways, and more fearful to fall in time to come.
1 Corinthians 9:27: “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means when I have preached to others I myself should be a castaway.”

Psalm 39:1: “I said I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue. I will keep my mouth with a bridle while the wicked are before me.”

Job 40:5: “Once I have spoken, but I will not answer thee; yea twice, but I will proceed no further.”

Philippians 2:12: “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in mine absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

Proverbs 28:14: “Happy is the man that feareth always.”

5. If you can chide your own heart for the coldness and dullness of it to good duties, and use all holy means for quickening it up afterwards.
Psalm 42:5: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquietted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance and my God.”

Psalm 57:8: “Awake, my glory, awake psaltery and harp. I myself will awake early.”

Isaiah 64:7: “And there is none that calleth on thy name that stirreth up themselves to take hold of thee.”
Judges 5:12: “Awake, awake, Deborah, awake, awake, utter a song. Arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam.”

6. If you can be patient under afflictions and better for afflictions.
Hebrews 12:5: “And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaks unto you as unto children, my son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him.”

Hebrews 12:11: “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them that are exercised thereby.”

Psalm 119:67: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I have kept Thy words.”

Jeremiah 5:3: “O Lord, are not Thine eyes upon the truth! Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved. Thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction. They have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return.

7. If your conversation is in heaven, that is, if your thoughts and the course of your life are heavenwards.
Philippians 3:20: “For our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Colossians 3:2: “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”

Hebrews 11:15: “And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.”

8. If you delight to speak to God in your praises, and that God should speak to you in His Word.
Romans 8:26: “Likewise also the Spirit helpeth with our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”

John 8:47: “He that is of God heareth God’s words; ye therefore hear them not because ye are not of God.”

9. If you are as content to submit your heart and life to God’s Word in all things, even when it crosses you in your profits and pleasures, as you are content to come and hear it.
Isaiah 2:3: “And many people shall go and say, ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.”

Ezekiel 33:32: “And lo, Thou art to them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument, for they hear Thy words, but they do them not.”

10. If you can rely constantly by faith on the promises of God in Christ when you are in any strait or temptation, as well for your present provision and preservation in this life, as for your salvation in the life to come, abstaining from the use of any unlawful or unwarrantable practices.
Genesis 22:8: “And Abraham said, ‘My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering’; so they went both of them together.”

Exodus 14:13: “And Moses said unto the people, ‘Fear ye not; stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, what He will show to you today; for the Egyptians whom ye have seen today, ye shall see them again no more forever.’ ”

11. If you can find in your heart that you love God sincerely, although you could never love Him except that He loved you first.
1 John 4:19: “We love Him because He first loved us.”

Romans 5:5: “And hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”

12. If you can heartily love good Christians, and others who have helped you on to heaven; and, on the contrary, if you hate and avoid wicked and dissolute men, but most of all such as withdraw others from the faith or, by scandalous lives, have caused the faith to be blasphemed and evil spoken of.
1 John 3:14: “We know we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren.”

13. If there is a fight between the flesh and the Spirit.
Romans 7:23: “But I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin, which is in my members.”

Galatians 5:17: “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other, so that you cannot do the things you would.”

14. If we long for the appearing of Christ.
Revelation 22:20: “He which testifies these things saith, ‘Surely I come quickly.’ Amen, even so come, Lord Jesus.”

2 Timothy 4:8: “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto them also that love His appearing.”

15. If you make conscience of secret sins which no eye sees, such as a hard heart, a secure and proud spirit; if you do not look to much to the matter of good duties as to the manner; if they are done in truth and sincerity; also if you apply both the promises and the threatenings to yourself in the Word of God, and love and admire grace more in others than in yourself, and hate sin in all, but mostly in yourself. You may take comfort from these if you can do them in a holy manner, namely:
1. With uprightness of heart
2. With continuance
3. With daily growth in the practice of them
And to this end two things must be practice:
1. Often examine, try, and search your heart and all your actions.
2. Often take account of your life concerning your progress in the course of godliness. For lack of this examination, many life and die as hypocrites, and do not know it, but suppose their case is good.
1 John 3:18: “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and truth.”

1 Chronicles 29:17: “I know also my God that Thou triest the heart and hast pleasure in uprightness; as for me, in the uprightness of my heart, I have offered all these things.”

16. If you desire to keep no corruptions, or if your endeavors are constant in the use of all means against every corruption.
Colossians 3:5-10 "Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him."

17. If you desire Christ for His holiness’ sake, which, if you do, then you will take all that comes with holiness, whether it is shame, disgrace, or persecution.
2 Corinthians 6:3-10 "giving no cause for offense in anything, in order that the ministry be not discredited, but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things."


littlegal_66 said...

Bro. Steve.....what can I say?

"On the one hand a very painful day filled with much introspection, sorrow, regret, unanswered questions, and tears. On the other, it is filled with grace, love, forgiveness, praise to the Lord for His sustaining hand, thanksgiving for my children, prayer, confession, and a deep, quiet joy in Christ." Well stated. It becomes quite a delicate tightrope to walk and balance, doesn't it?

(From Thomas Hooker): "If you desire Christ for His holiness’ sake, which, if you do, then you will take all that comes with holiness, whether it is shame, disgrace, or persecution." This is heavy, and may I take it to heart today.

You wrote: "Though I cannot comprehend it all, I firmly believe that He is working all things for my good, for His glory, through His sovereign hand."
........A thousand "amens," brother. I begin each day with that thought in mind as it relates to my own tightrope walk. That firm belief must maintain a prominent position within.

Thank you for taking the time to share your heart on this, Campi. I'll be in prayer that He grants you a peaceful night of rest this evening.

Grateful for His sovereignty,


(BTW, although this won't be of much consolation, this morning's 3rd hour was a sleepless one for me as well, as I struggled to stop the wheels from turning in my own thoughts).

Timotheos said...

Thank you, Steve.

Thomas' article is a real challenging opportunity for spiritual inventory, isn't it?

We experienced a sleepless night as well as one of leaders (elder) resigned from the church to go somewhere else. They were great supporters and personal friends. So, a sleepless night came about as we asked that question that we are all too familiar with, WHY.

I have been praying for you in the years since your divorce and have been encouraged that despite your pain HE has held you close.

Praise be HIS Name.

donsands said...

The truth is what sets us free, and apart, for His glory.

Great is His faithfulness!

I think Luther said, the lowest love is the kind that wants something in return.
The greatest love is sacrificial.

cyd said...

Dear Steve:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,
who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too."


All things for our good and His glory. Romans 8:28-31...I hear a song.


jule said...

There but for the grace of God go I... please remember divorce is NOT a sin but remains a remedy for sin, albeit a last resort remedy, for broken and fragile human beings who fall prey to hardness of heart.

Jesus shed his blood 7 specific ways to bring us salvation - SOZO (deliverance, wholeness, restoration etc.) on that cross over 2000 years ago.

He bled for those of us who have endcountered the sin(s) that led to divorce. When we confess our sin(s) He is faithful and just to FORGIVE us our sin(s) and cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness. He paid the price and that covers it ALL.

My daughter's father walked out on us Christmas Day 1991 for my 'best friend'. It took me a long time to come to the realization that his leaving was the BEST Christmas gift he ever gave me. AS the Word states, 'if an unbelieving spouse choses to leave, let them go...'

Many Christmas seasons were spent in painful rememberance because that is what you do, until you complete your healing process. You will come to the place where the precious Blood covers, cleanses, heals and restores and you can rejoice for all the good that was and forget the pain.

May the Lord Jesus who loves you beyond comprehension, thinks of you more than all the grains of sand on all seashores and has a running count of every hair on your head wrap you in His arms of love and fill you with His love and greater grace.

Closing time...every new begining comes from some other beginings end...

Song of Songs 2:11,12 'See! The winter is past, the rains are over and gone, Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing ofdoves is heard in our land'

in grace