John Bunyan (1628-1688) is best known as the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress. Yes, he lived that long ago and the popularity of his book has lasted these many years. John was the son of a poor tinker, one who repairs pots and pans. He was born near Bedford, England, and his parents were quite used to “fire and brimstone” preaching on Sundays.
John had little formal education but enjoyed studying the Bible. His sins rested heavily on his mind and he sensed that God would not save such a mean boy. Even when he started preaching, he struggled with the assurance of his salvation. He remembered the sermons he heard as a youth and felt himself caught in a slough of muck and mire, on his way to hell.
Bunyan read such greats as Luther, Knox, and Cromwell and took various theologies from all for his personal stand. He wrote many pamphlets to state his beliefs and often these pointed out objections he had with such groups as the Quakers. His wife, Mary, would occasionally differ with some of his writings, yet remain faithful to his practice of truth-telling and active faith.
As Bunyan’s preaching drew many to hear him, the state-approved churches did not approve. He landed in jail and that’s where he wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress to be later published in 1678. That such a book in King James’ English has remained a classic begs questions as to why. I’ll address this in my next blog and introduce you to its writing style and popularity.
Photo credit: Pixabay/WolfWolfWolf
I was walking back to my classroom after school last week and stopped to talk to the evening custodian. I asked him how things were going and he said, “I’m just still struggling.” I worried that maybe I was missing something that I should have known about, but he quickly came back with, “So how did Kobe affect you?”
I told him that while I was never a huge fan, Kobe was my age, and was such a great player in an era I spent my young adulthood watching that it was very strange to think about him being gone. I definitely sensed he wanted to talk about it – it almost seemed like he needed to talk about it. So we did.
As I drove home it really struck me that this guy was grieving someone he never met, someone he had only seen on television. When I told my wife about it, she said that she had overheard two ladies talking about the Bryant helicopter tragedy and they were agitated that more attention wasn’t being paid to the other people who died that day.
Two very different reactions, but having been given a week to process things, I think there are some meaningful lessons for all of us in both of them.
First, I would humbly suggest to the two ladies and everyone else who feels similarly, that mourning Kobe Bryant is not a slight, insult, or an affront to the memory of the other victims of the crash. Simply put, Bryant’s face was everywhere, his persona transcended his profession, and even those who were not fans of the NBA had Kobe at least peripherally a part of their lives.
From a logical standpoint, it makes complete sense and is totally appropriate that the unexpected, shocking death of such an individual would leave people shaken, sad, and suffering some form of grief. The same kind of grief should not be expected for other individuals who were not part of our lives – they will be mourned by those who know them. That isn’t shameful or a reason to feel bad.
But the second and more important thing that this tragedy should bring home to each of us is the fact that our lives have far-reaching implications. Granted, not many reading these words will have the global appeal or name-recognition that the Lakers’ soon-to-be Hall of Famer did. Still, the impact of our lives goes far beyond our immediate family.
Living then is more than a gift. It’s a responsibility. A privilege given by the Creator for a purpose. Moments like this high-profile helicopter crash offer every one of us the opportunity to recognize our own mortality, how none of us is guaranteed another breath, and then to take inventory of our lives. How well are we fulfilling our responsibility? Have we even found our purpose?
Those can be troubling and unsettling questions so long as we keep up a futile attempt to answer them by looking within ourselves. God has gifted each of us with unique characteristics, talents, and personalities, and He intends them for an eternal purpose. Your life, in other words, is not your own. It belongs to Him; you belong to Him. The sooner we submit to that truth, the sooner we can fully commit ourselves to a meaningful existence…and as this horrible tragedy has reminded us all, the sooner the better.
Process can be either a noun or a verb. My shortened version of Webster’s definitions: as a noun, it’s the activity itself, and as a verb, it’s doing that activity. Used in a sentence: I will process that when I understand the process.
Why is this on my mind? Actually (pronounced as Lou Ann Poovey, Gomer Pyle’s girlfriend, does), I’m trying to accept how Bill does and doesn’t process things.
I want him to wear his hearing aids in the house, but he doesn’t want to. (If I had to wear hearing aids, I’d probably not like them either.) My desire is for Bill to interact in our conversations. Yet to do so would take more effort to process what’s being said.
Recently we had a friend visit for Sunday dinner. He told us about when Pastor Bill and the church helped him make a trip home after being in the States for five years. I repeated the story so Bill could hear it, and he smiled, but I’m not sure he processed the information. That part of his brain is not functioning well enough to make the process quickly.
As another friend reminded me: “Not wearing his hearing aids means he doesn’t have to try to process what he doesn’t understand.” The lack of connection is as hard for Bill as it is for us all.
I love Bill as he is. Bill is still Bill behind the dementia. I can’t wish for what he was. He is valued now and loved. And he knows how blessed he is, for every one of his prayers is filled with gratitude. He is blessed at his very core.
Fear of life’s unpredictable circumstances is a prevalent disease in this century. The Bible says much about fear; it also gives the antidote. But do we take the prescribed cure?
Moses was afraid and doubted himself as he asked God, ‟‛Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh?ʼˮ (Exodus 3:11). God responded by giving Moses His name, ‟‛I AM WHO I AMʼ… Thus you will say, ‛I AM has sent me to youʼˮ (v.14). It is God’s resounding ‟I AMˮ that drowns out our weak ‟I canʼt.ˮ As we react with fear, God responds with assurance. Note the contrast, not only in the meaning of words but in relationship. Fear and a sense of ‟I canʼtˮ center on ourselves; faith and assurance are built upon the character of God and who He is. Note the familiar 23rd Psalm, ‟Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil [harm]; for Thou art with meˮ (v.4). Walking without fear is possible because of Godʼs presence. ‟When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Thy consolations delight my soulˮ (Psalm 94:19). Again, itʼs a matter of changing the focus from ourselves to God, who is completely trustworthy.
The by-product of slaying the fear dragon is receiving Godʼs peace. During the long intercontinental flight to Asia, God reminded me of the promise in Philippians 4:6-7, ‟Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.ˮ Although Bill and I experienced firsthand the Aquino revolution in Manila, Philippines, we had perfect peace, something only God could supply.
When we returned back to the States, our daughter’s wedding plans began to unfold. The Lord provided one need after another, increasing her faith, a gift we could not have given her from a savings account. Because no risk was involved, I postponed surgery for awhile. But we still had to deal with our future plans for ministry. It became evident we would return to Wilmore, and that ought to have pleased me. Instead, I became anxious.
I dealt with feelings of inadequacy and asked myself, ‟Do I want to be that vulnerable for possible hurt again?ˮ For days I repeated that question to myself. Then God spoke with definite assurance. Yes, I am inadequate, and I can’t project the future. What matters, though, is that God is adequate. The sovereign, almighty God is there in my future, the same yesterday, today and forever. He is not I Was or I Will Be, but He is the great I AM.
Bill and I returned to Wilmore – to the same house (which sold six months later) and to the same ministries. But I was different because of lessons learned over those two years. A new freedom released me to be myself in Christ. A new trust level enabled me to turn circumstances over to the Lord more easily. Troubles did come; changes did happen in our jobs and family. What were ‟not supposed to happen to usˮ did happen. We experienced hurt and pain, but this time we found the God of all comfort to be true to His word.
‟Out of controlˮ could have been the signpost, except that our sovereign God is always in charge and on a personal level. The situation was out of my control, but I could control how I reacted internally and externally. God supplied the inner peace, and He also made me more sensitive to the hurts of others. Realizing my own struggles, I know that others travel similar paths and need to move from fear to faith.
Increased faith comes from greater knowledge of God and His character and that only comes through the study of His Word. One study of particular help to me was in answering the question ‟Who is like the Lord our God?ˮ (Psalm 113:5a). I found answers in such Scriptures as Exodus 15:11-13; Isaiah 44:6-8; 46:5,9; 57:15; Jeremiah 10:6-16; II Samuel 7:22; 22:32-33; Philippians 2:5-11. Search these passages for yourself; find others; prepare a catalog on the character of God. These will become a stronghold when fear threatens your faith in God.
At the first onset of fear, beware. Change your focus from yourself and your circumstances to God and His great love. I make this change of focus in my prayers when I notice they are being said out of fear rather than related to faith. For example, when I pray for our son, that he will not have a car accident on the way to work, I know this is prayer voiced out of fear. I still ask the Lord to protect him, but my focus is on the Lord and His goodness and not on the possible harm. In this refocusing I may have to go through the process of working fear out, to visualize what could be the worst possible outcome—such as, our son having a crash, being paralyzed or killed, leaving his family without a husband and father. But I know that God is there—at the worst possible outcome. And if God is there, His great love is there also.
That night in the hotel I was consumed with fear, and my restlessness kept me awake until I let go of my worries and let God give me His peace. God is faithful, and He is good.
We sing the chorus: ‟God is so good; God is so good; God is so good. He’s so good to me.ˮ Wait! God is not good because He does good things for me. Rather, God does good things for me because He is good. The difference affects my attitude.
We do not ascribe goodness to God due to His good acts. Goodness is essential to God’s character; His nature is goodness. He does not have to prove His goodness by His performance. God is good. He demonstrates His natural goodness in our lives. Because we are performance oriented, we think good deeds reveal someone’s character and we tend to think the same way about God. Such backward thoughts about God create problems. When we do not see or experience what we think is good, we doubt God’s goodness and we fear our circumstances. In essence, the focus shifts to us and our conception of what’s going on. We become fearful, substituting fear for faith, faith in the essential character of God. We must believe that God is good, that He can do no wrong, no evil, only good.
Hannah Whitall Smith said it well: ‟A great many things in God’s divine providences do not look good to the eye of sense . . . . But faith sits down before mysteries such as these, and says, ‛The Lord is good, therefore all He does must be good, no matter how it looks, and I can wait for His explanationsʼˮ (The God of All Comfort, p. 103, Moody Press, 1987).
While I tried to learn this lesson, the bottom fell out. Our little corner of the world shook up; changes happened rapidly and I began to focus on the circumstances around me. We sensed a move was in order but our future plans were uncertain. Our daughter announced her engagement, yet we had depleted our savings because of our unsold house in Kentucky. My doctor advised surgery to alleviate a long-standing physical condition. My faith did not prove adequate for the circumstances.
At this same time, the shuttle Challenger had its fatal accident. The explosion brought a fresh realization of life’s uncertainty, that we are not promised life without problems or even tragedy. With this came fear for personal and family safety. A proposed mission trip to the Orient became a dreaded undertaking instead of an anticipated ministry opportunity. Fears about travel, health, finances and ministry made me numb. This paralysis of fear showed up in the ways I acted and reacted. The slightest decisions, even about what to eat, seemed more difficult to make.
Again the Lord spoke to my need through Scripture. While reading a list in Revelation 21 of those who would taste of the second death, one group stood out—the cowardly—and headed the list of murderers, idolaters and liars (v.8). The cowardly, the fearful, would not be among those who inherited eternal life. I did not want to be a coward and miss out on life. Psalm 38 described me: burdened, folly, ill health, feelings hard to express. Was there a cure? I read on: ‟I confess my iniquity; I am full of anxiety because of my sinˮ (v.18). At once I confessed my anxiety, my fear, as sin. Then God did His work:
‟I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fearsˮ (Psalm 34:4).
This first key step in moving from fear to faith, admitting fear as sin, helped me confess to God and receive His forgiveness. Faith cannot rule unless fear is dealt this fatal blow. But there was more for God and me to do.
To be continued . . .
Tomorrow would be a busy day and I should have been sound asleep. Instead, I lay awake in our hotel room, thinking. No, the right word is worrying. The special occasion was the wedding of our daughter’s best friend. The wedding party, including our daughter and son, were out having some fun before the big day. That sounds innocent enough, but I envisioned recklessness, with some of the party getting hurt on the way back to the hotel. I thought of all that could happen to these young people, not remembering the Lord’s faithfulness in their daily walk. Fear kept me awake.
Fear paralyzes—emotionally, mentally, and physically.
Is there a remedy? Only one. Trust. And that rests on how worthy is the person in whom we put our trust. For Christians, trust rests ultimately in God’s character. But how does one get from fear to faith? A simple formula begins with increased knowledge about the character of God.
A bit simplistic? You were expecting something complicated? But this is how the Lord has moved me from fear to faith—through some difficult times.
The formula may be simple; however, the process has not been easy. Why we tend to learn our faith lessons the hard way, I don’t know, but most of us do. My struggles are different only in kind from those you have experienced, yet the process and lessons are similar. Psychological or medical discussions of fear have not satisfied me. Through my experiences with fear, I have learned much about God and myself.
A frequent source of fear is change. Few things in life are certain. Our best-laid plans often become a shuffleboard. Just looking through a photo album reminds us of changes in age, places, and relationships. For several years fear accompanied the changes in my life.
Having lived in Wilmore, Kentucky, for 16 years, Bill and I moved to Greenwood, Indiana. Our two oldest sons were married, our youngest son was in college and our daughter lived with us and would soon find work cooking in a specialty restaurant. The first couple of months in Greenwood proved to be quite an adjustment. I liked my job and my associates were friendly and supportive. However, I was having trouble dealing with my emotions; they were too near the surface. I sought medical help, but the medication simply canceled my emotions. I couldn’t get a handle on the problem. Time and again I walked myself through the 139th Psalm: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts” (v.23). In other words, Lord, tell me what the matter is.
One day as I drove the car into the garage, returning from the grocery, I locked the garage door and fumbled for my keys to unlock the house. I thought, “My, how I hate to lock and unlock everything.” It hit me: my problem was lack of security. Now I could deal with it. My biggest need was trust. A short time later I knew I’d begun to learn my lesson.
Our daughter would often come home late from the restaurant after we’d gone to bed. One morning I opened the front door to get the newspaper. There was her set of keys with the house key still in the lock. Instead of being upset, I laughed out loud, and said, “Thank you, Lord.” It was a beginning.
To be continued . . .
Working with other people’s words is a sacred trust. That thought motivates me as I work with Bill’s sermons, getting them ready for publication. I (and Bill) would rather not call it editing, but basically it is copyediting.
I must trust Bill’s knowledge of the Word, both formal and personal study, for this is the basis of his integrity. He is true to God’s Word. Integrity is his middle name.
Watching TV in the evenings (our routine), I’m sitting next to him (for he doesn’t want me at my computer). He looks over at the papers I have on my lapboard and asks what I’m doing (multi-tasking). I tell him it’s one of his sermons and he’s going to have a book published. That surprises him. Then he sees my blue ink marks and asks again what I’m doing. Avoiding the word “editing,” I say that I’m moving his speaking voice to a reading voice, and I read an example. He seems satisfied – until the next time.
When I worked at Good News with my journalism professor, Charles Keysor, as my boss, I also wrote a few articles that appeared in the magazine. It always amazed me that Dr. Keysor could take my work, make it better, but it would also sound like my voice. He had that knack – while improving anyone’s writing, it still reflected the author, not the editor. I want that skill.
Now I’m the editor, and I don’t want to take liberties with Bill’s words. I want to keep his voice, pay honor to his knowledge and show his integrity. God, help me. I know He will.
Christmas season at Wilmore United Methodist Church (some year before 1989)
+ The United Methodist Women’s Christmas program (Dec. 11) revealed a montage of Christmas experiences around the world. As missionaries shared their most memorable Christmas on a field, the congregation reacted sometimes with laughter, often with smiles, and now and then a tear. They emphasized giving of oneself – truly a portrayal of Christ. To sum it all up, Tata Seamands remarked as he left, “That was wonderful! I resolve to be a better missionary.”
+ Sunday Caroling Party (Dec. 15) – “Joy to the World” – Porch lights turned on . . . smiles lit up faces . . . one clapped in time with the music as his wife listened, leaning on her cane . . . another came onto the porch and sang along with the carolers . . . a retired minister sang from his wheelchair . . . a lovely lady opened the door to say, “We can’t thank you enough.” On and on . . . gratitude abounded from shut-ins. But I think the carolers received the most blessings.
+ Choir’s Cantata (Dec. 16) – “The King of kings,” a musical celebration. I caught my daughter tapping her foot at one point; I caught myself weeping at another point. More than professional, the experience celebrated the birthday of King Jesus. No visible standing ovation for the choir, but our hearts lifted up in joyful praise to our Lord.
+ Christmas Family Night (Dec. 19) – Sweets, singing, and sharing . . . food, fun, and fellowship. For a change, children introduced their parents. Identity crisis: One cute little girl pointed first to her dad and then to her mom, but said, “Here’s my mom and here’s my dad.” We made a quick check to see who had family living in the furthest points. Overseas: a daughter in Spain, a son in Korea. State-side: a bell-ringing daughter in New York, relatives in Iowa, a husband in Michigan, several family members in California. We had missionaries present from Japan, Africa, and South America.
As a young teen, I was introduced to the habit of reading a daily devotional book. I still recall how vividly God spoke to me through those “two listeners” in God Calling. Through the years I’ve found that when placed alongside Bible reading and prayer, devotional literature is valuable to my Christian growth.
My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers is a devotional classic. On day one the author invites the reader to make an unreserved commitment: “I am determined to be absolutely and entirely for Him and for Him alone.” Page after page, Chambers answers the staggering question, “Can a sinner be turned into a saint?”
Thumbing through the pages of Morning by Morning by C. H. Spurgeon, I remember personal events. The year I read this book we cared for my husband’s mother who was dying with cancer; our first grandchild was born; and my father died. Beyond these personal ties, I value this book because Spurgeon exalts Christ, intertwines Scripture and hymnody, and highlights creation.
Twice I have read Streams in the Desert by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman. Because she compiled this volume during the six years she nursed her sick husband, the lessons speak to the hurting, the persecuted, the doubting. Her theme is assurance, confidence in God who works in all things for the believer’s good.
Although I’ve read other books by E. Stanley Jones, I prize The Way to Power and Poise. His central theme is the ministry of the Holy Spirit, a relationship that produces a Spirit-controlled life.
Hannah Whitall Smith is best known for her book The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life. In God is Enough, editors Melvin and Hallie Dieter have compiled daily readings from nine of Smith’s books. Through the heartache and sorrow in her life, she affirms God’s sufficiency.
In my view, you cannot find a better resource on prayer than The Meaning of Prayer by Harry Emerson Fosdick. The chapter on “Prayer as Dominant Desire” made me examine my motives: Did I truly want what I prayed for? Or more exacting: Did I pray for what I wanted?
A few years ago I discovered Disciplines for the Inner Life by Bob and Michael Benson, father and son. The format includes prayers, Scripture, hymns, and excerpts from a broad base of Christian writers. In each week’s topic, I’ve found new truth to pierce my self-righteousness. Keeping a spiritual journal helped root the lessons.
Each New Day by Corrie ten Boom has tied together truths of experience and Scripture. One year I selected Diamonds in the Dust by Joni Eareckson Tada. Through her struggles to accept her disability she has found in Scripture many “diamonds” which have made her “rich in faith and wealthy in hope.”
I’ve introduced you to my favorites. This year I’ll complete The Bard and the Bible by Bob Hostetler. I’ve enjoyed his writing style, seasoned with humor, as he connected Shakespeare’s works with the KJV Bible. I’ve already purchased what I’ll use for 2020: another book compiled by Hostetler, Take Time to Be Holy, a collection of writings from Samuel Logan Brengle, renowned commissioner of The Salvation Army. Now choose for yourself a devotional guide to read on a daily basis by matching the book to your personal, present-day need. God will speak to you through His saints.
In the garage, it looks like we’re back to when we moved into our home over two years ago, for we’re again in the process of distributing goods. A few weeks ago Paul’s mother moved out of her house of 45 years in Blooming, Illinois, and into an apartment. Of course, that meant she did not have room for all her possessions. Much of it came our way.
We have lots of good stuff in the garage and more in a rental storage unit. Of these Becky sent photos to family members. Then some of the grandkids chose some of the furniture, and one granddaughter picked out items for her vintage clothing business.
Distribution of goods is also a term used by publishers. After a book is printed, publishers often use a distribution center to send out the books to various bookstores, including the internet warehouses. Both author and publisher depend on this process to get the product to buyers.
I like that stuff is distributed by the term “goods.” My aunt owned a dry goods shop, and I put to good use all the fabric and notions I bought. We have good stuff – most of the time. Whether as books, furniture, clothing, dishes, or family heirlooms, it’s good. And there’s no fault in getting and keeping good stuff. Life includes our goods.