Category: General


The Contemplation of God

Part 2

One of the most valuable books in all of Scripture, in terms of the spiritual food it contains, is the book of Job. At the same time, one of the most neglected books in all of Scripture is the book of Job. This is one of those books that Christians simply do not read. They know the story, because they’ve heard it told, but they don’t sit down and open their Bible and study this book. It is long and repetitive and some think that once you know the ending, there’s little use in reading the details.

But this is a book in which a man’s soul is laid open for the reader; this is a book in which a faithful worshiper of God is made to endure the most painful trials we could imagine. This book is a rich analysis of what it means to know God and what it means to be known by Him.

Throughout this book, Job is asking questions and offering defenses and doing his best to understand what has come upon him. Job asks questions which can only be answered by God Himself. He faces that which has no explanation in his realm of experience, so an explanation must come from God.

The book begins with a description of Job, a man of considerable wealth and spiritual maturity. Job was a man greatly blessed by God in every significant aspect of his life. After this introduction, the writer describes an encounter between God and Satan as the devil complains about God’s protection of Job. Satan argues that Job is faithful only because he has been given so much. God allows Satan to test his theory by granting him access to Job.

Thereafter, Job suffered greatly. He was afflicted physically and witnessed the loss of his possessions and family. Much of the book records the thinking of Job’s friends as they attempt to explain what has happened to this man. They are convinced that Job is a great sinner and that God has punished him as a result. All Job needed to do, according to these men, was repent and confess his sins to God. But Job responds in the only way a righteous man can respond—he declares that he has no sin that is unconfessed. The explanation offered by his friends is misguided, but they maintain that Job is simply proud and not teachable.

Eventually, of course, God speaks to Job and Job quickly realizes how foolish some of his thinking has been. Nevertheless, throughout Job’s interaction with his friends, we find much insight and much that is beneficial when it comes to understanding ourselves in relation to God. One such passage comes after a speech by one of Job’s friends in which the friend once again chastises Job for his supposed pride and urges him to repent:

Job 23:1 Then Job replied, 2 “Even today my complaint is rebellion; His hand is heavy despite my groaning. 3 Oh that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come to His seat! 4 I would present my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments. 5 I would learn the words which He would answer, and perceive what He would say to me. 6 Would He contend with me by the greatness of His power? No, surely He would pay attention to me. 7 There the upright would reason with Him; and I would be delivered forever from my Judge. 8 Behold, I go forward but He is not there, and backward, but I cannot perceive Him; 9 When He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him; He turns on the right, I cannot see Him.”

One of the themes to which Job returns often is that of desiring an audience with God. Job knows that the perspective of his friends is wrong—he has no sin that he has attempted to hide from God. His suffering is not a result of stubbornly refusing to repent. But he is left without an explanation for all that has come upon him. Therefore, he expresses his longing to sit down with God, as it were, and “make his case,” so to speak.

Job is, however, always reverent in the way he conveys his feelings. He never charges God with injustice, but cannot understand why he has been made to endure such trials. And the constant agitation of his friends with their certain opinions about Job’s spiritual condition makes this an unbearable situation. So, Job cries out and affirms his desire to talk to God.

The agony of Job can be heard in his plea: “Oh that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come to His seat!” (v. 3) From Job’s perspective, this is not an insulting thing to say. He is sure of his innocence in regard to what his friends are declaring, but later Job learns that this kind of statement is full of presumption and is very foolish indeed. God will chastise Job for thinking that he might appear before the Almighty and plead his case as if God were not aware of the suffering of His servant or as if God has somehow made a mistake in bringing upon Job this painful ordeal.

But right now, Job is simply a man trying to understand his circumstances, a man trying to make sense of that which makes no sense to him. And the explanation offered by his counselors is only making matters worse. “There must be another explanation,” Job thinks; “I am an innocent man and these things that have come upon me cannot be God’s punishment for my sin.”

Job is thinking purely in terms of his perspective on the matter, not in terms of God’s perspective—this perspective is revealed to him later. For now, as noted, Job is sure that he could demonstrate his innocence to God were he given the opportunity. Of course, when that opportunity comes later Job is dumbfounded, but now he is expressing his desire to know why all this has happened to him.

“I would present my case before Him,” Job states, “and fill my mouth with arguments.” (v. 4) Job is sure that this would lead to an understanding of his trials; he is sure that God would hear him and reason with him (v. 5). Job is sure that God would not just destroy him, but would listen to what he had to say (v. 6). Again, I’ll point out that Job is reasoning as a desperate man, a man who wants to maintain his innocence in the face of repeated charges of sin, but a man who is not yet ready simply to accept what God has ordained without having his questions answered—and this is the key to understanding the perspective of Job. In time, he will be satisfied with the knowledge that God has ordained his trials for purposes that Job need not understand. But now he is still wrestling with what has come upon him and in an honest and open fashion he expresses his dismay.

As he has said so many times before, Job knows that he is not guilty of living unfaithfully before the LORD (v. 7). And he implies here and elsewhere that God does not afflict the righteous for sin when they have no sin. The upright man can have confidence in that truth, Job indicates. But this still leaves him agonizing over his plight. This still leaves him suffering and having to listen to the misguided analyses of his friends. Job longs to speak to God because only God knows why all this has happened; but he cannot find Him and this only makes him feel more dejected (cf. vv. 8, 9).

This man is in anguish and when we know what he was enduring, we can easily understand why. He has entered the most painful period of this life, literally, emotionally and spiritually speaking. The only explanation he’s been offered has come from his friends and they are convinced that Job is in sin and is experiencing the judgment of God. But Job knows that such an explanation is wrong; but when he makes that point, he’s accused of being prideful and unwilling to submit to the LORD’s chastisement. It is no wonder that Job was in such a state of apprehension and sorrow.

What will comfort this man? What will enable him to continue? How can Job endure this circumstance of physical suffering, emotional distress and ridicule from his friends? There is only one answer—Job will be sustained, as this book demonstrates—by his knowledge of God.

This book opens with the statement that Job was “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil” (1:1). This man knows something about God. He knows something about the nature of God. He doesn’t understand why all this has happened, but he is going to find a measure of relief and peace as he contemplates God:

23:10 But He knows the way I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold. 11 My foot has held fast to His path; I have kept His way and not turned aside. 12 I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food. 13 But He is unique and who can turn Him? And what His soul desires, that He does. 14 For He performs what is appointed for me, and many such decrees are with Him. 15 Therefore, I would be dismayed at His presence; when I consider, I am terrified of Him. 16 It is God who has made my heart faint, and the Almighty who has dismayed me, 17 But I am not silenced by the darkness, nor deep gloom which covers me.”

Let your heart dwell on that first statement: “But He knows the way I take…” God was aware of Job’s circumstance; these things had not come upon him without God’s knowledge. Job was not caught up in some trick of fate. Job knew that the LORD God rules this creation and that He knows everything that transpires and, in particular, Job knew that God was informed concerning what this man was experiencing. This is where Job’s knowledge of God rescues him from utter despair; this is where Job stops and contemplates God and in his contemplation he realizes that the Almighty knows him and his ways. This causes Job to see his suffering in the proper light—“when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”

What assurance! What comfort! Yes, Job was suffering—beyond anything he ever imagined; and yes, Job has lost every earthly possession—including his children. But there is relief even in such horrible situations and the relief is the knowledge that God knows where I am and God knows what is happening to me and God will bring me through this and when he does, “I shall come forth as gold.” God will take that which is impure and purify it; God will take that which is mixed and remove all but that which is precious.

How was Job able to have this perspective on his dreadful trials? Job had such a perspective because He knew God and here he meditates on what he knew about God. God is righteous and just; God ordains holy purposes; God does not take delight in afflicting His own; God loves His people; God watches them day and night; God is never far away; God is never taken by surprise. All these things are true and they all flood Job’s mind when he pauses and contemplates God. He had no way of knowing about the scene described when this book opened, no way of knowing that God had given Satan permission to vex Job in order to show that Job was, indeed, a man of faith and not a worshiper of the LORD only because he had an easy and prosperous life as Satan charged.

While not even realizing it, Job is glorifying God as he endures. While not even being aware of all the facts, Job is honoring God by refusing to accept the erroneous explanations of his friends but also, at the same time, expressing confidence in the LORD’s righteousness and goodness.

Job doesn’t have all the answers—in fact, at this point, he has no answers at all. But as he meditates on God, he is able to confess that whatever is happening to him will result in his refinement. Job was a man who followed the LORD and lived a life of obedience (v. 11). Job was a man who loved the commandments of God and treasured the words of God more than the food which kept him alive (v. 12). This is the confession of a man who knows God and understands that nothing in life is of greater value than knowing God and nothing in life is more necessary than knowing God.

This man accepts what has been appointed for him even though he is greatly perplexed (v. 13). He has no definitive explanation for what has happened to him, but he knows that God does what He pleases and His ways are not thwarted. It is, I’ll say again, meditation on these truths about God that brings Job some comfort and the ability to endure. Job confesses also that what is happening to him is what has been appointed (v. 14).

What, then, is the ultimate response, or what is the ultimate answer for Job? He must accept what God has ordained because it is right; he must rest in what God has ordered because it is good. He knows that God is so great and so magnificent that he would be “dismayed” in God’s presence (v. 15). Here he uses a word (bahal) that means “alarmed, greatly disturbed.” In spite of his expressed desires to speak to God, Job knows that God is not a man like him. He knows this is not a matter of a misunderstanding as if God has made a mistake.

“When I consider, I am terrified of Him,” Job adds. Job hasn’t lost his reverence for God. He is meditating on the nature of God at this moment and speaking truthfully. That word “consider” (biyn) means “to understand.” “When I understand, when I’m thinking rightly of God,” Job means, “I am terrified of Him.” Job means that when he stops and reflects on God’s nature and contemplates all he knows to be true about God, he is overwhelmed by God’s greatness and majesty and holiness and magnificence.

Who would he be to sit down and speak to God as a man might with another man? Who would he be to question the Almighty? This brief contemplation of God keeps Job’s thinking in check. He would not dare question God’s ways as if something unjust had been unleashed on him; he would not dare charge God with unrighteousness no matter what befell him. Job’s thinking and Job’s reaction to his ordeal were controlled by what he knew about God. Had Job not known God as he obviously did, he would have been destroyed—and that is the point of this story. Satan said that Job served God only because God had blessed Job with so much, but God knew that Job served Him because Job loved God and knew the character of God and was moved to a life of faithfulness by that knowledge.

Finally, Job says what we all know to be true because we know the whole story contained in this book: “It is God who has made my heart faint, and the Almighty who has dismayed me.” (v. 16) It is God who has appointed these days for Job; it is God who has ordained his suffering and pain. But he is sure of God’s purposes; he is sure of God’s goodness. A brief contemplation of the nature of God has brought Job a measure of confidence and peace that will aid him well in the face of this friends’ continuing accusations.

Job’s last words in this chapter indicate that he is revived to a degree (v. 17). He is ready to speak in praise of God. And this he does as the next chapter indicates. He has measured his woes in light of what he knew about the nature of God. He has put his suffering in perspective by turning his attention to the LORD. This did not immediately change his circumstances. His children didn’t rise from the dead; his flocks weren’t returned instantly; his physically suffering was not relieved. But Job’s heart was aligned rightly by this contemplation of God. What he knew about God allowed him to think rightly in this situation. And Job demonstrates that which is of such value to us—he demonstrates the act of interpreting our lives in light of our knowledge of God. Job had no explanation for what he was experiencing apart from what he knew about God. He looked to God and there found confidence as he passed through a time of darkness.

To be continued . . .

 

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The Contemplation of God

Part 1

Protestants trace our theological and historical roots to the sixteenth century when the pure teaching of the Word of God was rediscovered, as it were, and expressed in a movement known as the Reformation. We stand today in the line of those who returned to the doctrines of the apostles; we stand today as descendants of those who rejected a system of theology that robbed God of His glory. We are Reformed Protestants, and we are thankful for the mercy God has manifested toward us by including us in this great theological legacy.

We cherish our system of theology, a system distinguished by many emphases, and a system in which one specific emphasis stands above the rest. In our Reformed system of theology, knowledge of God serves as the foundation upon which we rest; knowledge of God serves as the touchstone by which all other doctrines are kept true and pure. In no system ever devised has knowledge of God played such an essential role as is true in Reformed theology. When I speak of knowledge of God, I am referring to what God has revealed about Himself to us. In our tradition, that knowledge has been centrally significant in the formulations of our beliefs and practices.

John Calvin wrote: “ … it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself.” (Institutes, vol. I, 37) This quote encapsulates one of the most important principles in our system of theology. That principle is that we know ourselves truly only in relation to our knowledge of God. Unless we know Him, we cannot really know ourselves; unless we know Him, we cannot really understand ourselves.

Knowledge of God is absolutely indispensable; knowledge of God—who He is and what He is like—must come before every other consideration. Knowledge of God moves us and directs us and corrects us and astonishes us and humbles us. Knowledge of God is a prerequisite for understanding anything about this world in which we live. Knowledge of God touches all aspects of our lives—in the church and at home and on the job. You must know God before you can understand why you exist. You must know God before you can understand your purpose. You must know God before you can understand anything about salvation.

If you really know God, you will not worship Him in a light-hearted or half-hearted manner. If you know God, you will not close your heart to those in need. If you know God, you will not be a lazy, unproductive person. If you know God, you will read His Word. If you know God, you will not entertain prideful thoughts about yourself. If you know God, you will not mistreat or gossip about those made in His image. If you know God, you will not harbor grudges or refuse to forgive. If you really know God, you will be quick to confess your sins in repentance. If you know God you will not tell lies or steal. If you know God, you will not spend His tithe money on other things. If you know God, you will not laugh at dirty jokes or watch risqué programs on television. If you know God, you will be struck by His majesty and overwhelmed by His mercy and tremble at the thought of His holiness. If you really know God, then your whole life will be affected and your whole life will demonstrate that you have looked upon God’s face and now, as Calvin said, scrutinize yourself in the light of His glory.

Do you get my point? Everything we think and say and do reflects our knowledge of God. As Reformed Christians, our legacy is one in which knowledge of God is predominant in the way we view everything else. But I regret to say that we live in a day when the knowledge of God, that knowledge that goes beyond a mere academic recitation of God’s attributes, is counted as unimportant. We live in a time when Christians assume it is enough to confess that there is a God and that He has done some good things for His people. We do not live in a time when Christians are distinguished by their knowledge of God; we do not live in a day when Christians manifest evidence that they have encountered the Triune God of the Bible; we do not live in a day when believers yearn to walk with God in intimate and peaceful fellowship.

How do I know this? I know this because our lives are loosely lived and our minds are polluted and we manifest, at best, a mild enthusiasm for the things of God. And I haven’t discovered these facts by meticulous and time-consuming investigation. All you have to do is look at the modern Church and all these characteristics are obvious. Those who know God manifest His holiness and goodness when they speak. Most Christians don’t really know God; we know about Him, but we don’t know Him. We don’t live and breathe God. We go to worship, but we don’t live lives of worship.

We concentrate on many matters in the Church today, but we don’t concentrate on knowing God. We teach our children many things these days and we want them to excel in many areas, but we don’t teach them to know God. What was once the defining characteristic of our system of theology and, consequently, of the lives of past generations, is not being preserved. We are in danger of reducing our faith to formulas of obedience or appearance or denominational affiliation and, consequently, losing the notion that a relationship with God is a relationship. In Christ Jesus, we are brought near to God and we walk with Him and we speak with Him and we wait for His guidance and we give thanks for His provisions and we trust our very souls to His care. We cry out to God when we are grieved and we raise hands of praise when we are blessed. We love Him because He first loved us; we serve Him because He rescued us from damnation. This is what it means to know God.

To be continued . . .

What happens?

What happens when they run out of statues?

The issue of self-control is much more extensive than we might think initially. We normally think of self-control in conjunction with anger. Typically, we consider a person who is easily angered to be a person with a lack of self-control. But the topic of self-control takes us to the heart of one of the main themes in Scripture, which is our sanctification.

The process of sanctification is largely about self-control or about learning to think, speak, and act according to God’s principles rather than according to what comes “naturally,” which is some manifestation of our fallen natures. Self-control, then, has to do with subjecting our fallen natures—our sinful impulses—to the Word of God.

 

He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city. (Pro. 16:32)

The importance of this issue is clearly established in this single verse in which we find Solomon’s opinion regarding self-control or self-rule. Note the extreme comparisons he draws. One who is “slow to anger” is compared to “the mighty” and one who “rules his spirit” is compared to “he who captures a city.”

Initially, we would assume there would be no beneficial comparison to be made between a man who is slow to anger and those labeled “mighty.” The word Solomon uses is gibbor, which refers to a man of great strength or a man of great courage. This word conveys the sense of the heroic, the kind of person legends are made of, the kind of person who accomplishes seemingly impossible feats and faces dangers and threats that would make most others tremble. But Solomon says that the man who is slow to anger is better than such a man. He does not simply say that a man who is slow to anger is like a mighty man or similar in constitution to the mighty man; he says that a man who is slow to anger is superior to the man of great strength or the man of great courage.

Who do we admire most—the person who controls his anger or the person who demonstrates unusual strength and bravery? Who should we admire most? The first question is answered by what we observe in this world and the second question is answered by the Word of God. A man who rules his spirit is considered of better character and is considered a better man than he who captures a city.

Implied here is insight regarding the nature of man. If control of our initial impulses is defined as a good thing, then that must mean that those initial impulses are bad things; and that tells us something, therefore, about ourselves. It tells us that we are, by nature, given to reactions and responses that are negative in character. So this verse reflects the Bible’s teaching concerning the nature of fallen man.

Additional Verses

A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, and a man of evil devices is hated. (14:17 )

Solomon says that a man who is “quick-tempered acts foolishly.” Notice that this description is the opposite of the man in 16:32 who is described as “slow to anger.” There you’ll recall, Solomon uses a word that refers to having patience. Here, two words are used that are translated “quick-tempered” and one of them (qatser) refers to a lack of patience.

This is interesting. In just two verses, we’ve discovered that patience (or the lack thereof) is one of the core elements of self-control. This implies that one of the keys to self-discipline is learning to be patient with circumstances and people. And patience is one of the hallmarks of spiritual maturity in the Scriptures. This is true, I think, because patience implies trust in God and contentment with what He has ordained.

A man of great anger will bear the penalty, for if you rescue him, you will only have to do it again. (19:19)

Briefly, this verse speaks of habitual lack of self-control. There is a danger in failing to exercise self-discipline. The danger is that your impulsiveness, which is nothing more than an immediate expression of your fallen nature, becomes your pattern of conduct. You will rarely find a man who loses his temper in a significant way only once in a while. Normally, if a man is easily provoked by circumstances or words, you’ll find that he is frequently provoked by circumstances or words.

Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, but any fool will quarrel. (20:3)

Solomon sets before us two kinds of behavior, two kinds of people, two descriptions of character. Self-control may manifest itself in avoiding a circumstance, not simply in reacting patiently to a circumstance. That’s the idea in this verse. If he can avoid it, a wise man will not put himself in a position where there is likely to be strife. This phrase takes us in yet another direction in our understanding of self-control. Here the notion of discernment comes into play.

When a man avoids strife, Solomon teaches, he has done an honorable thing. How different this is from the way we operate so often! We sometimes think that we must enter into strife in order to make our point and so that we make sure our opinion is heard. Our natural tendency is to create strife, not avoid it.

Practical Responses

I would offer three short suggestions:

One, make sure you understand how fundamentally important this issue is. As I tried to make clear, self-control deals with the very heart of who we are, how we think and behave; self-control is self-discipline and that is what we are concerned with when we think of our sanctification. This is not just a matter of controlling our tempers, it is a matter of determining that by which our lives will be characterized.

Two, understand that self-control, as fundamentally important as it is, begins with our temper or our handling of those natural impulses that rise up in us in response to circumstances. Yes, there is much to the topic of self-discipline because it is such an essential aspect of our existence, but it begins with simple, everyday situations in which we have opportunities to give way to expressions of our fallen natures or subdue them for God’s glory.

Three, every person, from children to adults, has room to improve in this matter of self-control. Don’t think that because you don’t lose your temper often that you have no problem with self-control. Self-discipline touches many aspects of our lives. There are obvious examples where self-control is needed, and then there are some not-so-obvious examples where self-control is needed. Some examples are seen by many people, and some examples are known only to you and God. Therefore, meditate on these proverbs, memorize them, pray that God will cause the characteristics commended in the proverbs to be true of you.

Thoughts for All Saints

Commentary by Jim Bordwine, ThD

Volume 3 Number 2

February 14, 2014

In Praise of a Good Thing

He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD.

(Proverbs 18:22)

Well over 30 years ago, I found a wife. Or, to be more precise, God brought a woman of extraordinary grace and beauty into my life and she has been a very good thing, to borrow Solomon’s wording. I cannot begin to describe adequately what this woman has been to me or how God has used her to enrich my life, further my sanctification, provide me with tender care during suffering, supply wisdom and correction when most needed, and display for me on a daily basis the character of Christ in her voice, her demeanor, her touch, her decisions, and her desires.

On this Valentine’s Day, therefore, I want to acknowledge in this public way the most wonderful gift I’ve ever received apart from God’s own Son and that is His daughter—prepared for me long before I knew Him. I was looking in the wrong place and with the wrong criteria in mind, but by His mercy I still found her. I was ignorant, arrogant, and rebellious, but by His mercy I still found her. I thought I knew it all when I really knew nothing, but by His mercy I still found Rebecca. Indeed, “he who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD.”

I know I’m not the only one. Speak up, husbands. Honor your wives by giving thanks to God for His favor.

NOTE: All Saints Parish Church is sending a Missions Team to the Colville Reservation next week. This team has traveled to the Reservation annually for many years. This team has shown the mercy of Christ in various ways. All that they do expresses aspects of the gospel. Our new congregation is glad to keep this tradition alive.

Charge to the Colville Mission Team

July 15, 2012

Almost exactly one year ago today, I was in the pulpit for the first time in four weeks having just returned from vacation. As it turned out, that was my last Sunday at Westminster Presbyterian Church; it was not, I’m very happy to say, the last time I would deliver a charge to our faithful Colville Missions Team.

Here we are, 12 months later, and we have a team prepared to return to a ministry that has a history of faithfulness and hard work. In my opinion, this ministry has endured a critical test of character and commitment. In His wisdom, God often ordains such experiences for those ministries that are destined to endure and produce fruit. The Colville project falls into this category.

I want to commend the members of this year’s team for your willingness to return to this labor of love and mercy. I also want to commend this congregation for your steadfast support of this ministry. Many things have vied for our attention this past year, but we have remained committed to an effort that means a lot to people most of us will never meet. Things that might appear almost inconsequential to some, things like a wood shed or a painted house, are of tremendous value to those who receive the attention of our Missions Team.

And I believe this pleases God. It pleases God to see His people go forth to a challenging circumstance that will require a lot of hard work, but offer nothing in terms of tangible reward. This is Christ-like behavior. This is Christian love.

This is what Paul had in mind when he wrote: “Love endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13:7) As a team, you will face challenges during your time on the reservation, but you will endure. You may have uncomfortable moments due to the events of this past year, but you will endure. You will be tired and your body may ache, but you will endure. You will endure because you are serving in the name of Christ and you are serving for His glory and to bring His compassion to the people of the reservation.

It’s an interesting truth that we find extra strength, increased vitality, and an enhanced ability to carry on when we are in the act of being Christ to some in need. Selfless labor invigorates us and we find that we can go further and do more than we ever thought.

My charge to this team is simple: Go forth in the love of God and do what you have done so many times before. Take Christ to Colville and exhibit Him to the people as you build and paint and cleanup. And trust Him to bring fruit from your humble efforts according to what pleases Him. Let’s pray.

All Saints Weekly Devotional

Volume 1 Number 22

July 6, 2012

Confessing the Goodness of God

From Pastor Bordwine

“Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.”

(Job 13:15)

As many of you know, on this past Monday evening I was admitted to the hospital after experiencing severe pain in my abdomen. From the beginning, the doctors were primarily concerned about a potential heart issue. The next day, an angiogram was performed which showed that my arteries were completely clear. Whatever the cause of my symptoms, it was not my heart.

I related this bit of information to a friend who dropped by the house for a visit the day after I returned home. I told him how grateful I was for God’s display of goodness in the results of that procedure. My friend immediately said: “But God would still have been just as good even if the report had been the opposite.” That comment startled me for a moment, but I quickly realized the beautiful truth just expressed by my brother. My perception of the goodness of God could not rest upon the report from my cardiologist.

The goodness of God is of His essence. It is God’s nature to be good and do good in everything. And it is impossible for God not to be and do good in everything. Therefore, had the results of my angiogram have indicated that my death was imminent, I could still have confessed that God was good. In such a situation, I would have to accept the truth that what sounded like devastating news to my ears was, in fact, an outcome ordained by a God of goodness. And I would then need to call upon Him for the grace to receive and rejoice in the kind of report no person ever wants to hear.

God most certainly showed love to me and my family by equipping me with a strong and healthy heart. But we must understand that God’s “reputation” for being good does not rest upon our estimation of the character or consequences of what He ordains. If God gives me life, He is good; if God ends my earthly life at this moment, He is good. God’s works do not determine the character of His nature, His nature determines the character of His works. God is good by nature; therefore, all of His works must be good as well.

The verse above expresses this truth in a magnificent way. Most of us know the story of Job. His suffering was beyond comprehension. His misery was compounded by friends who were sure that Job was being punished for sin. In his agony, Job pleaded his case of innocence, but his acquaintances were unmoved and continued to heap blame and guilt upon him. Nevertheless, as he wrestled with that incredibly harsh and intensely discouraging situation, Job maintained his conviction regarding the nature of God.

“Even if God takes my life in the midst of this horrible circumstance and even if my friends walk away satisfied that they have rightly diagnosed the cause of my suffering,” Job declared, “my trust in God’s essential goodness and righteousness will remain.” That is the confession of a man who truly knew God. Job was able to persevere through the most severe trial of his life without accusing God of wrongdoing because he knew and that such an complaint would be absurd.

How is it with you right now? Has God appointed a frightening and seemingly overwhelming trial for you? If so, fortify yourself with the sure knowledge of the essential and unchanging character of God. Confess His goodness even in the midst of your pain. Declare God’s trustworthiness even if you cannot see the end of your ordeal. While there are many things we cannot know during our trials, we can always find a measure of peace in the truth of the abiding goodness of God.

All Saints Weekly Devotional

Volume 1 Number 21

June 28, 2012

Clothed with Gladness

From Pastor Bordwine

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;

You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness . . .

(Psalm 30:11)

As you read through the book of Psalms, you will notice several recurring themes. One of the most prevalent is “gladness.” This term (or similar words), for example, is often found in the context of meditation on the character of God. Various passages describe the reaction of a man when he dwells upon the attributes and works of God. That reaction is joy. In addition, an expression of humble thankfulness frequently accompanies the delight experienced by the worshiper.

A second context in which the element of gladness regularly appears is that of personal trials. These passages are tremendously encouraging because they illustrate how fear is turned to confidence and despair is turned to hope. This happens as the individual contemplates his place before God and the implications of that status for his present distress.

The verse above, Psalm 30:11, is a good example. The psalmist confesses that he was in mourning due to his circumstances, but God had so ministered to him that the atmosphere of despair was replaced with an atmosphere of festive celebration. The explanation for this change in perception is provided in the second half of the verse. The writer figuratively describes himself as wearing the garments of lamentation. But God, he testifies, “loosed my sackcloth . . .” The LORD provided the strength to escape the despair that had overwhelmed this man. The grip of fear and sorrow that held him was broken by God. In the place of despair, he adds, God “girded me with gladness.”

The word translated “girded” (azar) means “to bind, to clothe, to equip.” The writer tells us that God replaced his garments of sorrow with garments of gladness. Another way to express this thought is to say that the writer was armed with gladness, so to speak, and now could successfully confront his difficulties. The text makes it clear that the turnaround in perspectives was accomplished by God alone. He was able to touch the heart of the man in anguish and alter its disposition.

This is a uniquely Christian experience. Our heavenly Father, who has saved us and given us eternal life in Jesus Christ, is able and willing to provide the most essential kind of help when we find ourselves overwhelmed by troubling circumstances. We may remain in such a situation, but our perspective is dramatically transformed. Instead of trying to endure under the heavy weight of grief or fear, we are equipped to persevere with true gladness knowing that God has regard for us and will not forsake us during our time of challenge.

The next time you find yourself becoming unsettled due to an undesirable change in your circumstances, call upon God and ask Him to clothe you with gladness. Ask Him to arm you, as it were, with a joyful disposition even as you encounter the demanding elements of your ordeal.

A Plea for Vindication

June 21, 2012

Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity,

and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.

(Psalm 26:1)

In Ps. 26, David emphasizes that he has always been faithful to God. It appears that this reaction comes in response to his enemies who were maligning his character. Although the exact details are not revealed, it is clear that David was greatly troubled by the insinuation that he should be numbered among those who have no regard for God’s Word. David speaks of his love for God several times and also voices his disdain for the wicked and their schemes.

Note how this Psalm begins: “Vindicate me, O LORD.” The term translated as “vindicate” means “to judge” or “to decide controversy.” David wants God to give the true and final verdict, as it were. He knows that he cannot succeed by pleading his case to his enemies. They would continue spreading lies about him. Therefore, he turns to God, the only one able to judge impartially and the only one capable of knowing the whole truth.

David doesn’t ask God to correct those who are slandering him. There was nothing he could do to change the damage done and nothing he could do to force his enemies to recant. But he wants to be assured that he has lived righteously in the eyes of the LORD. Clearly, God’s opinion mattered most to David. He is able to make this request of God without fear because he knows that he has lived in obedience to God’s law, regardless of what some men were saying.

Three points need to be emphasized. First, the slanderer is never concerned for the truth. We shouldn’t expect him to be interested in it. Slander, by definition, is a sin and is contrary to the Ninth Commandment (“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”). The man who will lie reveals his genuine goal, which is destruction.

Second, the slanderer will normally “go public” with his accusations. His aim is to destroy his victim, as noted, and that takes public condemnation. The enemies of David wanted to insulate themselves from scrutiny by disappearing into a mob. David could not possibly confront every person who heard the slander, believed it, and repeated it. Once an accusation becomes the mantra of a mob, there is little hope of genuine and thorough exoneration.

And third, there is only one appeal that makes sense and only one that will bring relief. As David illustrates, we must appeal to God because He alone knows the truth and He alone knows the hearts of the attackers. If our aim is justice, this is the only course of action.

Sometimes, as much as we would like to have our enemies forsake their attack and admit their lies, we just have to live with what has been done and entrust ourselves (our reputation and our future) to the LORD. This is not an easy thing to do because, being made in the image of God, we naturally yearn for vindication in the eyes of all who have heard the lies. God’s judgment of such circumstances, however, is often not immediate. Therefore, if we have a clear conscience before God, we have to train ourselves to be at peace before Him regardless of what others say. We must remind ourselves that declaring something does not make it true and truth is what matters in the eyes of God.

Recently, during a phone call to schedule an appointment, I happened to speak to a woman named Monica. From the beginning of our conversation, I was struck by her congeniality. There was something powerfully disarming about her demeanor and the tone of her voice. She sounded like one of the most joyful people I had ever encountered. There was more to my reaction than her quick helpfulness and excellent phone skills. She had an extraordinarily pleasant personality. Although I had not met Monica, I was immediately comfortable in her presence, even though we were only speaking by phone.

A few days later, when my wife and I had the opportunity to speak with Monica in person, we both discovered that she was even more engaging and likable in person. At the beginning of our visit, Monica created a most comfortable and relaxed atmosphere. Her authenticity was undeniable. I cannot remember ever having such an experience upon meeting someone for the first time. I actually felt uplifted by our brief period of contact.

What does it say about our world when someone with a simple, unassuming, and polite personality makes such a lasting impression? I don’t think my reaction to Monica was due to a lack of contact with people. As a matter of fact, I think her charm stood out because of the contrasting episodes I routinely have with other people. It’s not that I encounter sour people most of the time; it’s that I rarely encounter genuinely pleasant people.

I relate this short story simply because this casual encounter was encouraging and caused me to reflect on my own disposition. I realized how easy it is to provide a moment or two of enjoyment for another person. I also concluded that what should be found in all of us—namely, a friendly and helpful demeanor—really stands out when you run into it.