Grateful through COVID

I was actually thinking seriously about getting the coronavirus vaccine at the Rite-Aid pharmacy just down the road from my house on Tuesday morning. I had checked online and there were times available. My wife and three girls were in South Carolina for the week and if I had any kind of an adverse reaction I could recover before they returned. But on Monday afternoon I began to exhibit symptoms that I eventually learned was a COVID-19 infection. My two older daughters had “something” the week before while we were on vacation, but it was so slight (I thought) that none of us suspected that it might be the coronavirus. That was the beginning for me of a long struggle for me with fever, chills, aches, coughing, difficulty breathing—the most miserable I’ve ever been with any illness. I finally obtained some help after about 5 days. My family returned the same day. I got a COVID test late that afternoon. The results came by email the following Monday. I had tested positive. 

I am in recovery mode now as I write this. I’m not sure I’m out of the woods. My wife is still struggling as well. I still cannot take deep breaths easily. But God is helping me and healing me. And He is helping me pray. He is strengthening my faith in Him.

“As for me, I shall call upon God, And the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and murmur, And He will hear my voice.”

Psalm 55:16-17, NASB

I have a few thoughts of thanksgiving that I want to record for myself and share with others.

  • I am thankful to the Lord for His healing touch and tender care to me as His child. Any sickness in this world is due ultimately to the sin of its inhabitants. I don’t deserve to be healed. I deserve to be sick, to be weakened, to be destroyed. Even if God allowed that, it would be unreasonable to complain. Jeremiah rightly asked, “Why should any living mortal, or any man, offer complaint in view of his sins?” (Lam. 3:39) In spite of my sin, I know my Heavenly Father has loved me in Christ. He has had compassion on me and has cared for me throughout this illness. I am thankful for a Savior who bore all my sins in His body on the tree, by Whose stripes I am healed.
  • I am thankful for the love of godly Christian friends, mostly but not all in my church family. Because everything is such a blur, I can’t remember exactly when each of these happened, but on several occasions friends dropped off some food or took care of something for me. In the days of DoorDash and other delivery services you can pay someone to bring you groceries, but you can’t pay for someone to thoughtfully consider what you need when you are ill and drop it off in Christian love. Someone dropped off a bag of Powerade, ibuprofen, bananas, wheat thins. I literally believe the Powerade kept me hydrated early on and kept me from developing a more severe case of COVID. The second time I was the recipient of such a kindness I burst into tears unexpectedly. My heart was suddenly full—both of the kindness of my church family and at the same time the goodness of my God to me. A dear Christian brother came and took a couple of hours to mow and trim my lawn. Another family friend heard we were ill and dropped off some zinc and mandarin oranges. I have had mandarin oranges plenty of times before in my life, but nothing has tasted so good during my illness. God was good to make such a delectable and refreshing fruit and to give a kind friend the heart and thoughtfulness to deliver two big bags of them in a time of need.
  • I am thankful for the love of my family. My wife and daughters have been incredibly helpful as they have cared for me during this illness. Refilling Powerade or water, bringing me another applesauce or mandarin orange (the extent of my diet on some days), moving my pillows or blankets, tucking the blanket around my feet so my toes stay warm, trying to keep things quiet so that I could rest, bringing me my medicine, giving air hugs or blowing air kisses because I would cough if I had real ones—all these things and many more than I can mention are the ways in which my family helps me. Love can be shown in many ways. During Covid it could be as simple as hearing one of my daughters say after hearing me go through a coughing fit, “I’m sorry, Dad.” I couldn’t respond, but in my heart it was an encouragement to know that someone cared about me in my suffering.
  • I am thankful for my family out of town too. I have the best Mom. When she found out I might have COVID she began regularly texting me notes and asking for updates. She also shared with the rest of my family so that they could know I was ill and pray for me. I know she loves me. The care comes across the miles and through her kind words. Other family members have reached out to me as well-some multiple times—asking questions about how I was doing, sharing encouraging words, and understanding if I didn’t feel up to responding. My father-in-law wrote me a very thoughtful and kind note assuring me of his prayers and love. Over time those kinds of notes are a testimony to a godly life of love that I know he and my mother-in-law live together by God’s grace.
  • I am thankful for the sovereignty of God. I have thought many times about why I didn’t get the vaccine earlier, why I didn’t detect the indications of COVID infection in my family members earlier, why the Lord allowed this during and after a family vacation, why, why, why. I may never know why, but I do know one reason why, my God willed for me in His sovereign goodness and grace to endure this time of suffering. For that I am thankful and submit myself to His disposal. He is good. He is God. That is enough.
  • I am thankful for joy in suffering. I read a prayer with my wife today titled “Joy” from The Valley of Vision. Near the end there are a couple of lines that express my Christian hope: “There is no joy like the joy of heaven, for in that state are no sad divisions, unchristian quarrels, contentions, evil designs, weariness, hunger, cold, sadness, sin, suffering, persecutions, toils of duty. O healthful place where none are sick! O happy land where all are kings! O holy assembly where all are priests! How free a state where none are servants except to Thee! Bring me speedily to the land of joy.”

The Glory of the Coming King

The blessing and glory of a righteous and God-fearing king:

“The God of Israel said, The Rock of Israel spoke to me, ‘He who rules over men righteously, Who rules in the fear of God, Is as the light of the morning when the sun rises, A morning without clouds, When the tender grass springs out of the earth, Through sunshine after rain.’” (2 Samuel 23:3-4)

The promise of the Messiah, the only true Spirit anointed, God-fearing, justice dispensing, always faithful and perfectly righteous King:

“Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And He will delight in the fear of the Lord, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make a decision by what His ears hear; But with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, And faithfulness the belt about His waist.” (Isaiah 11:1-5)

A lament under the unrighteous rule, oppression and arrogance of the wicked:

“How long shall the wicked, O Lord, How long shall the wicked exult? They pour forth words, they speak arrogantly; All who do wickedness vaunt themselves.” (Psalm 94:3-4)The vision of the Son of Man coming in the clouds that plunges the tribes of the earth into mourning: “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.” (Revelation 1:7)

The coming of the One whose name is Faithful and True, the Word of God, the King of kings and Lord of lords, riding from heaven on his white horse with His armies to conquer and rule:

“And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Rev. 19:11–16)

An earnest petition for the King to come and rule:

“Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20b)

All quotations are from NASB Update, 1995.

God Knows the Troubles of Your Soul

I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness, 

Because You have seen my affliction; You have known the troubles of my soul. 

And You have not given me over into the hand of the enemy;

You have set my feet in a large place. (Psalm 31:7-8, NASB95)

You have seen my affliction; You have known the troubles of my soul . . . Just that knowledge is would be enough to give a child of God reason for rejoicing (God knows!), but God also protected David. God delivered him from his adversary repeatedly, even when Saul sought him every single day (1 Samuel 23:14).

God sees and knows you too. jack-millard-1129629-unsplashHe knows your thoughts and your ways (Psalm 139:2-3), your words before you speak them (Psalm 139:4), the number of steps you take (Job 29:4), the number of hairs on your head (Matthew 10:30), and all your tears (Psalm 56:8; 2 Kings 20:5). He knows the fiery trials you are enduring for His Name’s sake. He sent them in His faithful love to strengthen and increase your faith in Him and His precious promises.

What else does God know?  He knows how many miles are on your old car and how many things need to be fixed. He knows the amount of money in your bank account. He knows the amount of that unexpected bill you just received in the mail. He knows the debts you owe to your creditors. He knows the conflict you are facing in your workplace. He knows the struggles in your marriage. He knows the pains you feel that you never tell anyone about. He knows the disappointment you feel over a lost friendship. He knows the loneliness of your heart. He knows the uneasiness in your soul as you ponder the uncertainties of your life. 

God knows and He cares (1 Peter 5:7), and His lovingkindness towards you is everlasting. Your heavenly Father will deliver you from your enemies. He will set your feet in a large place. That may be a temporary place on earth, for more trials are sure to come in this life, but it will be permanent in His heavenly home where He will receive you and welcome you to all eternity through His Son Jesus Christ. 

“Devoted to God”

“A visitor to the contemporary church materializing from an earlier century would probably be struck by how enormously privileged we are. Many of us receive education until we are in our early twenties, while most of the left school by the time they were young teenagers. We each own a Bible (some with helpful study notes built in); if they owned a Bible it was in small print Elizabethan English. We carry entire theological libraries on our eReaders, have access to vast resources via the worldwide web; they perhaps owned one or two Christian books. And yet, if the truth be told, what might surprise them is that their familiarity with God’s word, their knowledge of key passages in the New Testament, the degree to which they had thought long and hard about what Scripture means and how it applies, would leave us feeling ashamed. They would be surprised how hard we find meditation on the word of God, how little we actually know of it and how poorly we have nourished ourselves from it. They might marvel at the extent to which Evangelical Christianity has been infected by our age of narcissism and how subjective so many Christians have become. They might notice that many modern Christians are often too interested in the development of self but little interested in the development of their understanding of the triune God . . . .” Sinclair Ferguson, Devoted to God

God Will Judge the Righteous

“Such is the plight of many in modern times who have received unjust and oppressive treatment from churches and church officers, even though the latter may remain on the side of truth. To remain under deformed government would only bring more wounds upon the distressed person. If complaints are sounded, the foundations of the cause of truth may be shaken. When one flees in relative silence, his every act is misinterpreted.” Walter Chantry, David, Man of Prayer, Man of War

Only the day of judgment will reveal the truth about what has been suffered at the hands of the church and its leaders. Until that day Christians will have to be content with being misunderstood, misinterpreted, and even mistreated. I am thankful that God gives grace in such circumstances, that He perfectly knows and understands, and that He is sovereign over all that happens to us, even when it is evil. Though others mean it for evil, God means it for good (Genesis 50:20).

Promises for the Lord’s “Godly Ones”

A frequent word to describe God’s people in the Old Testament and particularly the Psalms is the word chasid (25/34x). It is often translated “godly one(s)”  in the NASB (ESV translates it “saints”). While the word is applied to the Messiah (Psalm 16:10), it frequently denotes the people of God. The word does describe something about their character and conduct, which the Lord rewards (Psalm 18:26). For those who are “kind” (same word), God shows Himself “kind” to them. It carries the idea of devotion and piety.  A godly one is one who gives himself/herself to the service of God and is concerned with holiness and righteousness. When someone lives this way, God promises to reward them (Psalm 18:26). Not only does He see such a life and approve of it, but He recompenses such a person in life and eternity. Consider the following promises about the Lord’s care for His godly ones:

The Lord keeps the feet of His godly ones (1 Samuel 2:9). Hannah’s prayer is marked by a statement about the Lord’s sovereignty, which results in sovereign protection and care for his people and judgment for the wicked. Hannah was confident that the Lord guarded her in her ways and that the Lord did so for all of His people.

The Lord sets apart the godly man for himself (Psalm 4:4). David’s confidence in trouble was that the Lord was watching out for him, protecting him from His enemies. His confidence was that the Lord had His special focus on him and would take care of him.

The Lord does not forsake His godly ones (Psalm 37:28). While sometimes the circumstances of God’s people seem bleak and it seems that wickedness prevails, those who belong to God will never be forsaken. Illustrations of God keeping this promise are abundant in Scripture–Abraham and Sarah, Joseph, Ruth and Naomi, David, Job, Daniel, Paul, to name a few.

The Lord will speak peace to His people, to His godly ones (Psalm 85:9). God’s promise following His forgiveness to a repentant people is a message of shalom–peace, for those who have trusted in Him. Gideon saw the Lord and thought he was going to die, but the Lord said to him, “Shalom to you, do not fear; you shall not die.” That peace for believers is through Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1), and it is because of the cross of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:20).

He preserves the souls of His godly ones (Psalm 97:10). The three Hebrew children were preserved through the fiery furnace heated 7 times hotter than normal (Daniel 3). Daniel was preserved from the lions in Babylon, his vicious enemies who had attacked him and sought to destroy him, as well as the creatures in the den (Daniel 6). Peter was preserved also when the Lord had delivered him from the prison (Acts 12).

He considers the death of His godly ones to be precious (Psalm 116:15). Psalm 116:15 could sound strange:  “Precious in the sight of the LORD Is the death of His godly ones.” (Ps. 116:15, NASB).  How could someone’s death be “precious”? The word “precious” (yaqar) is also translated “costly” or “esteemed” in the Old Testament (1 Samuel 18:30; 2 Samuel 12:30). The same word is used to describe the stone in a crown of one of the kings David conquered. It was a “costly” stone, a “precious” stone. It was worth something and highly valued. The death of a “godly one” is not meaningless or worthless, but truly valued in the Lord’s sight. An illustration can be found in the response of the southern kingdom of Judah to the deaths of two of their kings–Jehoram and Josiah. The first king was Jehoram, whose wickedness resulted in God’s judgment. The people of Judah so lightly esteemed him that they did not make a fire for him like the kings before him (2 Chronicles 16:14), and the chronicler says that he departed with “no one’s regret” (2 Chronicles 21:20, NASB). Later in Judah’s history, King Josiah died after being wounded in battle. The chronicler said of Josiah that when he died, “all Jerusalem and Judah mourned for him” (2 Chronicles 35:24, NASB). He also writes that Jeremiah chanted a special lament for him (v.25). Even after the people of Israel were taken into exile, male and female singers continued songs of lament for Josiah and the lamentations became an ordinance for Israel (v.25). One king died without esteem and was quickly forgotten, while the other’s name and memory was memorialized in the songs of the nation. What about the Lord’s people?  What is interesting is that Psalm 116:15 does not speak about the view of people towards the death of the “godly ones,” but the view of the Lord Himself. When it comes to the death of the godly ones of the Lord, He highly esteems and values their death. Their passing into eternity is not meaningless but very meaningful to the Lord. He lovingly observes (indeed, decrees) their death with divine interest and emotion (I speak as a fool). I cannot think of a better statement to illustrate this truth about the Lord than the one written about Jesus at the grave of Lazarus:  “Jesus wept” (John 11:35, NASB). The Jews were right to say, “See how He loved him!”

The Bible—“Aqua Vitae”

“I have heard men in prayer instead of saying, “Make your calling and election sure,” say “Make your calling and salvation sure.” Pity they were not born when God lived far—far back that they might have taught God how to write. Oh, impudence beyond all bounds! Oh full-blown self-conceit! To attempt to dictate to the All-wise—to teach the Omniscient and instruct the Eternal. Strange that there should be men so vile as to use the penknife of Jehoiakim to cut passages out of the word, because they are unpalatable. O ye who dislike certain portions of Holy Writ, rest assured that your taste is corrupt, and that God will not stay for your little opinion. Your dislike is the very reason why God wrote it, because you ought not to be suited; you have no right to be pleased. God wrote what you do not like; He wrote the truth.

Oh! Let us bend in reverence before it, for God inspired it. It is pure truth. Here from this fountain gushes aqua vitae—the water of life—without a single particle of earth; here from this sun cometh forth rays of radiance, without the mixture of darkness.

Blessed Bible! Thou art all truth.”

Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, Vol I, 112.

“Insanity is in Their Hearts”

Who would have thought that just a month after the mass shooting in Las Vegas and the truck attack in Manhattan that we would be witness to yet another massacre with at least 26 dead in Sutherland Springs, Texas? Solomon wrote about 3000 years ago that “the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives.” Jeremiah said a few centuries later, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” All three of these acts of mass murder came from a human heart.

There is an answer to Jeremiah’s question, “Who can understand it?”

“I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.” (Jeremiah 17:10)

Be sure that the God of heaven who searches men’s hearts will bring retribution to those who do evil. He knows their motives. He sees every single thing. And, He meets it with exacting justice. This is His universe, after all, and things work that way because He designed it.

Devin Patrick Kelley and Stephen Paddock have already met their Maker, and the Judge of all the earth will certainly bring justice to them. Sayfullo Saipov awaits human justice, but only divine justice can properly deal with such cases. Multiple life sentences might sound harsh, but in reality it cannot equal the number of lives lost. Only God can bring justice to the mass murderer. That will be seen on the day of Judgment.

For now we mourn solemnly with the families of those who passed into eternity. We grieve deeply because of the children among the slain (I, too, am a pastor with a 14 year old daughter. I gave her a hug after I heard about the Texas incident at our church service last night). We pray earnestly that the Gospel of Jesus Christ would receive a greater hearing even through these events so that men’s wicked hearts would be changed by the grace of God. We long greatly for God to bring the peaceful kingdom of His dear Son to its fulfillment on earth. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Sola Gratia and the Gift of Faith

Historically, it is a simple matter of fact that Martin Luther and John Calvin, and, for that matter, Ulrich Zwingli, Martin Bucer, and all the leading Protestant theologians of the first epoch of the Reformation, stood on precisely the same ground here. On other points, they had their differences; but in asserting the helplessness of man in sin, and the sovereignty of God in grace, they were entirely at one. To all of them, these doctrines were the very life-blood of the Christian faith.  

The doctrine of justification by faith was important to them because it safeguarded the principle of sovereign grace; but it actually expressed for them only one aspect of this principle, and that not its deepest aspect. The sovereignty of grace found expression in their thinking at a profounder level still, in the doctrine of monergistic regeneration – the doctrine, that is, that the faith which receives Christ for justification is itself the free gift of a sovereign God, bestowed by spiritual regeneration in the act of effectual calling.

To the Reformers, the crucial question was not simply, whether God justifies believers without works of law. It was the broader question, whether sinners are wholly helpless in their sin, and whether God is to be thought of as saving them by free, unconditional, invincible grace, not only justifying them for Christ’s sake when they come to faith, but also raising them from the death of sin by His quickening Spirit in order to bring them to faith. Here was the crucial issue: whether God is the author, not merely of justification, but also of faith; whether, in the last analysis, Christianity is a religion of utter reliance on God for salvation and all things necessary to it, or of self-reliance and self-effort.” J.I. Packer, Introduction to Luther’s Bondage of the Will

Simeon’s Moment

Simeon’s Moment

Luke 2:22-33

 

An aged saint, his strength worn out,

A man of faith, just and devout,

His heart is filled, his hope assured,

The Spirit leads toward Christ his Lord.

 

Up temple steps, a weary task,

Why the temple, one may ask,

A prophet’s vision long ago,

The Messiah will visit His house below.

 

A family meek, a mother mild,

And in her arms, her firstborn Child,

Their sacrifice, but two small doves,

A righteous offering to God above.

 

The aged saint and family meet,

Hope and Hope Fulfilled now greet,

The Child, a Boy, a little Lamb,

Is Christ, the King, the Great I AM.

 

The Child he takes into his arms,

The joy he feels-a million charms,

No other child can match this One,

This is God’s beloved Son.

 

“Lord, let me now depart in peace,

Now Your Salvation Your servant sees,

A Light for darkened Gentile clans,

And the Glory of Immanuel’s Land.”

 

The couple marvels—“What wondrous words,

What glorious things this saint declares,

The Child we hold beloved and dear,

Is the Hope of all both far and near.”

 

Joel I. Huffstutler 12/3/05