I Love Books!

Recently I’ve been doing some studying in the Biola University Library, and I really enjoy it Imagethere. But then, I guess I’d be hard-pressed to find a library I didn’t like. My wife and I love books and libraries; we spent much time together in the Multnomah Bible College Library when we were first dating; and we usually end up visiting the local library in any place where we vacation (yes, we are unashamedly nerds in that way!). The public library in Encinitas, CA is one of my favorites, as there is a beautiful view of the ocean from almost any part of the library.

This is what the wise King Solomon said about words and books:

The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.  (Eccles. 12:11-14)

If the reading (or writing) of books pushes me to fear God more and obey His commands, then it is time well spent, because that is what matters most. I wonder if there will be books or libraries in heaven?

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Perspectives from Psalm 119

Psalm 119 is generally known for being (very!) long and for (almost) every verse referring to God’s Word in some way. What may not be as readily apparent, though, is that this psalm speaks a lot about affliction and suffering. Here are the verses from Psalm 119 which mention affliction, followed by some thoughts about how these truths re-shape my perspective (and hopefully yours too!) on suffering.

67 Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I keep your word.

Affliction is sometimes God’s tool to correct me, to corral me back onto the path of truth, to get me “in line with the truths of the Gospel” (Gal. 2:14). Though I may experience consequences for my sin, which also serve as corrective measures, affliction is not merely punishment but is actually an indication of my status as a child of God–God disciplines those who are His own children (Hebrews 12:6-8).

71 It is good for me that I was afflicted,
that I might learn your statutes.

Affliction can be a good thing for me, when it results in learning and growth. My natural human response is to avoid difficulty and to want to immediately get out of affliction when it happens; but when I allow affliction to push me toward God, it can be a very good thing.

75 I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous,
and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.

Though some affliction is the result of my own sin or the reality of living in a broken and fallen world, some of it comes directly from the hand of God. He is more concerned with my holiness than my happiness, therefore it is an act of faithful love and grace that moves Him to bring affliction into my life in order to shape me further into His likeness.

92 If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.

God’s Word is what gives me perspective in the midst of affliction. When I delight in God’s Word, I constantly take it in and let it rule my thoughts and emotions—even in times of affliction. If God’s Word is not ruling my thoughts and emotions in the midst of affliction, that affliction will get the best of me.

107 I am severely afflicted;
give me life, O LORD, according to your word!

My hope and life is rooted in God and in His Word. Affliction can drive me to seek hope and life in God, or it can drive me to seek hope and life elsewhere. I must be convinced that Life is ONLY found in God; otherwise affliction will push me away from Him toward idols.

Measured by His Mercy

Ian Nagata, a good friend and brother who is serving the Lord in Japan, wrote a song that has ministered to my heart many times since I first heard him share that song in our church. The words of the chorus are:

Even in the waiting

Beauty’s ever breaking

Though all hope be fading

Suffering is shaping

Through the devastation

Hides a true salvation

Measured by Your mercy 

Working all for good

I appreciate the raw honesty and struggle expressed in Ian’s song, but even more I appreciate the strong sense of hope that underlies these words. As a child of God, I am certainly not exempt from hardship or suffering or loss, but suffering will not have the final word in my life. God is at work, sovereignly shaping my heart (and Ian’s heart) through the suffering that He brings our way.

The difficulties we face are not just randomly dumped on us; instead, they have been measured by God’s mercy. I love that line–“measured by Your mercy”! All that I face is “measured,” it is precisely what is needed–not too much or too little–in order to bring about the good that God has designed. And it is God’s mercy that measures my suffering–not His judgment. It comes from His heart of kindness toward me, even when it is a “severe mercy” that corrects and shapes and purifies.

Thank you, Ian, for ministering to me–and many others–through your music. And thank You, Father, for measuring out exactly what I need in this season where everything seems hard and I’m tempted to despair.

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

I don’t like being needy.

In the fall of 2012, shortly after arriving home from China with our adopted daughter, I shared a testimony at the Men’s Retreat of my church. I shared that I don’t mind having moments of weakness or need, where I’m exhausted or struggling but then God comes through and I see Him provide all I need, and then I can move on, back to my place of competency or comfortableness. But I don’t like actually being needy–having something in my life which I am powerless to overcome, which has no easy answer despite all my resourcefulness. But it feels like that is where God has put me through this adoption. And now, almost 3 years after that retreat testimony, not much has changed in my situation, so the sense of weakness and neediness has increased.

And so I was challenged by something that David Powlison wrote (in an article titled “God’s Grace and Your Sufferings”):

To be ‘dependent’ on God often implies something warm and comfortable. That is a partial truth. A child on his mother’s lap simply rests in trust (Psalm 131). But often dependency doesn’t feel very good. You need help. You’re helpless in yourself. Psalm 28:1 cries out, “Help. If you won’t listen to me, I will die.” That’s not a comfortable feeling. You feel threatened, battered, vulnerable. You are powerless, with nowhere else to turn. Jesus’ first beatitude says that the ‘poor in spirit’ are the blessed. He turns another bad word upside down. ‘Poor’ means poverty-stricken, destitute, people with nothing, street people. ‘Poor in spirit’ means conscious awareness of dire and pressing need for help that God most freely and generously gives. Insoluble suffering (like insoluble sin) brings you to this foundation of all blessing. God does not turn away from the afflictions of the afflicted. Do not be afraid, little flock, he is giving you the kingdom.

Our discipleship materials often don’t teach us much about this. We learn how to have a quiet time. We discover our spiritual gifts. We study good doctrine. We learn how to study the Bible and memorize Scripture. We don’t necessarily learn how to need help…. God uses significant suffering to teach us to need him.

No amount of seminary training or inductive Bible study or small group accountability or one-one-one discipleship can teach me to BE poor in spirit. Those are all valuable resources that can teach me the necessity or value of dependence on God, but they cannot produce an actual dependence in me. But suffering does. Suffering causes me to actually BE in a place of utter need, to ACT in dependence on God in ways I never would otherwise.

I don’t like being needy. But if neediness and dependence and suffering are the doorway to blessedness, then there’s good reason to endure in this season (and in all that will come after).