She Just Happened To Go There And Just Happened To Meet Him…

So she (Ruth) set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. Ruth 2:3

Ruth had recently come with Naomi, her Jewish mother-in-law, from the land of Moab. She was an impoverished stranger in a strange land, just hoping to eke out an existence. God had told Israel that they shouldn’t pick their fields clean in the harvest but leave the droppings and the edges for the poor to glean. That’s what Ruth was hoping to do – to find a field, any field, where she could get permission to glean enough for her and Naomi to survive a few days.

She found a field and she “happened” to come to a part of the field owned by a man named Boaz. She just “happened” to come there. At least that would have been how Ruth saw it. Little did she know, but someday, this “random” happening would lead to her becoming the wife of Boaz, and an ancestor of king David, and Jesus himself.

We can see that this is God’s providence. God was directing her every step. Years earlier, Naomi and her husband “happened” to decide to move to Moab, where they “happened” to meet Ruth, who “happened” to marry their son. Years later, forced by poverty, Naomi and Ruth “happened” to return to Israel, and now Ruth “happened” to come to a particular field.

How many times in our lives do we just “happen” to go somewhere or meet someone and later find out it was God’s wonderful providence? Yesterday as I preached, I saw a family sitting there who years ago, just “happened” to move next door to another family in our church, who invited them to a dinner where they heard the gospel and eventually got saved.

You didn’t just “happen” to meet your husband or wife. You didn’t just “happen” to wind up living where you live. You didn’t just “happen” to join your church. God has been directing your every step.

And life isn’t just “happening” to you. You may work under a miserable boss. You may be going through tough times. You may have just been told you need a hip replacement or have a serious sickness. That unexpected tax bill, that transfer to another job, that tree that fell on your garage…you get the idea. Nothing just “happens” to us. God may have transferred you so you’d meet someone you will share the good news of Jesus with. That tree that crushed your garage? The tree service foreman may someday lead the Children’s Ministry in your church.

The next time you ask, “Why is this happening to me?” remember God’s loving providence. He has you right where he wants you, for your good and his glory. Nothing just happens to us. Not a sparrow falls apart from God’s will. He hand crafts every snowflake and lightning bolt. Our blessings and our afflictions are tailor-made by the loving hand of God.

Keep an eye out for God’s providences in your life. Someday you will say, “Oh, so THAT’S why that happened.” It didn’t seem so good at the time, but if THAT hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be enjoying THIS blessing right now.

And heaven will be the grand review of all God’s providences in our lives. Seeing how God orchestrated events and lives to bring you into the world, and bring you to Jesus and transform and use you for his glory. What an incredible day that will be.

Don’t Rent That Clown Suit Just Yet…

We’re funny creatures, us humans.  We ask our heavenly Father to provide for us then we try to figure out how he’s going to do it.

We pray, then our wheels begin to turn.  Let’s see, I could get a second job.  I could sell my signed Justin Bieber poster on eBay.  I could rent a clown suit and do kids’ parties…

And when we can’t see how he will be able to answer our prayers, we worry.  Our fertile imaginations construct all kinds of “what if’s” in our mind.  What if I don’t have the money to pay my tuition?  Then what if I can’t get a loan?  And I have to get a job flipping burgers?  And what if I don’t make enough doing that and I have to start living under a bridge and turn to a life of crime?  And then get caught and put in prison next to an axe murderer?

Worry is essentially us trying to figure out the future.  Or how God will work in the future.  And when we don’t see how God can do it, we get fearful.  If we can’t see exactly how he’ll provide, or deliver or heal us, we worry.

But God’s not dependent on means.  He’s not dependent on our company or the economy to provide for us. He doesn’t need doctors, medicine or technology.  He often uses means, but doesn’t need them.  He can heal with a word.  Or put a gold coin in the mouth of a fish.  Or multiply a few loaves and fishes.

“We never consider that God can open the eyes of the blind with clay and spittle, he can work above, beyond, and even contrary to means… “Ye shall not see wind, neither shall ye see rain, yet the valley shall be filled with water” (2 Kings 3:17).  God would have us to depend on him though we do not see how the thing may be brought about.” Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

Did you catch that last sentence?

“God would have us to depend on him though we do not see how the thing may be brought about.”

Someday in heaven we’ll get to trace all God’s providences.  Won’t that be fun?  We’ll say see, here’s the day I offered that prayer.  On that same day, God gave a man in South Africa a new idea and he did this….that changed the way people did this…which created a market for this.  Which caused my boss to transfer me across the country….which led to me meeting my wife…

Part of the joy of heaven will be following all God’s providences and worshiping him for his infinite wisdom and goodness.

Our job is to depend.  To trust.  To pray and thank God for his faithfulness.  To rest.  God’s job is to run the universe and care for his children.  He’s pretty good at it.  And he’s got ways of answering our prayers we don’t even know about.  So don’t rent that clown suit just yet…

Why Is This Happening To Me?

Have you ever asked, “Why is this happening to me?”

Paul could have asked that question after being beaten by an angry mob in Jerusalem, arrested by a Roman tribune and thrown in jail.

But the tribune hears about a plot to kill Paul, and gives him a full military escort and sends him on his way to Rome to stand before Caesar.  If Paul had come to Rome as a missionary, he never would have made it past Caesar’s front gate.  But God’s plan was to use the Romans themselves to deliver Paul to Caesar’s court.

“It is one of the mysteries of God and his plan that many times we cannot see why things are happening as they are.  Yet God is surely at work in ways we could not have planned for ourselves.” – Darrell Bock

Remember, God has plans higher and better than anything we could ever imagine.  If we keep trusting him someday we’ll see the wisdom of his providence.

photo by xerezh

Please Fence Me In

I’ve been rereading The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel, and this morning he reminded me that we should be grateful for God’s providence in delivering us from sin and temptation.

Sometimes God gives us an affliction to prevent us from sinning.  He gave Paul an excruciating “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from pride.

Sometimes he sends a brother or sister to rescue us from doing something foolish, like when he sent Abigail to stop David from rashly killing her idiot husband Nabal.

Sometimes the Spirit himself speaks to us to avert us from derailing.  When I was single, an attractive unbeliever invited me to go horseback riding and hang out with her at her home.  But the Spirit spoke the verse “Do not go near the door of her house” (PR 5.8) to my heart, and mercifully, I declined.  God spared me from potential disaster.

Sometimes God withholds wealth or success because of the many temptations they can bring.  Nothing like a rebellious child to keep us from congratulating ourselves on our parenting.  Nothing like being needy to keep us from self-sufficiency.

We have no idea of the thousands of times God has spared us from falling into the devil’s snares.  Let’s spend a few minutes today thanking Jesus for his providence that hems and hedges us in and keeps us from the pit of destruction.

photo by code poet

Walking The Streets Of Philly Again

This past week I found myself walking the streets of South Philly.  Looking around at basement window bars of the row houses reminded me of the bars on my windows when I lived in West Philly 35 years ago.

I was 23, without God and without hope in the world, working in an art gallery and living in a cockroach-infested apartment in the dingy basement of a large, old building.  Next door, in the other apartment in that end of the basement, lived a guy who said he worked for the Mafia.  He bolted his doors with massive bars, like a medieval prison, and was planning to embed his walls with chicken wire to prevent the police from busting through.

He once asked me if I needed anything, like a new TV or radio.  I asked if it was stolen and he said, “What?  Are you religious or something?”  Another time, he asked me if I’d keep his gun for a few days in case the police popped in on him (but I was too scared to).

I’d walk the streets to the bar, or the store for my staples of macaroni and cheese and chicken noodle soup, which I’d eat straight from the can.  I’d walk the streets, trying to avoid people asking for money or groups of tough looking teens.  I was often depressed and miserable.

But then the One who chose me in eternity and sent his Son to take on flesh and be slain for my sins, saved me and gave me new life.

35 years ago, I never could have imagined God would redeem me and put a new song in my mouth.  Or that he’d give me a wonderful wife, kids and granddaughter.  That he’d give me Christian brothers and sisters to care for my soul.  That he’d call me to pastor and preach and know my Creator and experience his steadfast love morning after morning.

We can’t conceive the plans God has for us for good, joy and blessing.  We have no idea what God will do for us or with us tomorrow or 10 years from now.

As I walked the streets this week, head down and collar pulled up against the cold, everywhere I looked I could see God’s glory.  Sewer caps glistened, reflecting the sun.  A tangle of confetti and colored ribbon next to the curb was beautiful.  The Bambi Cleaners sign made me grin.  I was walking the streets of Philly again.

An Adventure in Disguise

Airport signAn adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. – G.K. Chesterton

Stephen and I had traveled for 7-1/2 hours to get to Louisville. After a 2-hour drive to the Pittsburgh Airport, then flying to Cincinnati, then to Louisville, we arrive in our hotel at 3 pm, looking forward to the Together for the Gospel conference. I’m excited to be here – I’ll be hanging out with my both of my sons (my son David will be here too), seeing old friends and meeting new ones, and hearing great messages from the likes of John Piper, R.C. Sproul, C.J. Mahaney, John MacArthur and others.

The first evening, an “in house” meeting for Sovereign Grace Ministries pastors and guests is going to be exciting, for we’ll get to hear about wonderful things God is doing in the ministry, as well as how God is directing the guys who lead us for the future.

Before the session I get a call from home – something has unexpectedly come up with my family that may require me to return the next day. The next morning after the second Sovereign Grace session I call home. I need to return. My outstanding secretary gets me on a flight and at 2:20 that afternoon I’m gazing out the window of the plane as we taxi down the runway to take off for Cincinnati. I’ll get home around 9 p.m.

I’m a little disappointed to have to leave the conference, but my family needs me, and that’s more important. I’m not looking forward to a second day of flying and driving, but God gives me grace to praise him and thank him. At least I got to have a great meal last night with Stephen and my friend Bo. And I got to go to the Sovereign Grace meetings – praise God for that. It’s not so bad. I could have had to turn around as soon as I landed in Louisville the day before. And I did get to have a great pulled pork sandwich in the Louisville airport before taking off. This is just a minor inconvenience, designed by God somehow for my good.

I board the small packed plane to Pittsburgh in Cincinnati, and inch up the crowded aisle toward seat 8b and see a young man in the seat next to mine. We begin to chat, and at 30,000 feet the Lord gives me the opportunity to explain Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to him. I’m able to share some of my testimony and tell him a little about how wonderful, delightful and powerful Jesus is.

An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.

Who knows, maybe someday I’ll see this young man in heaven. Maybe the main reason God had me fly to Louisville and then back the next day was to share the gospel with one person. It would certainly be worth it if the Lord used my minor inconvenience to save this man. If only I could always remember that every inconvenience is God’s providence.

Maybe today you’ll encounter an inconvenience. Praise God for it. It may be an adventure in disguise.

An Opal Ring and a Piping Bullfinch

Charles Spurgeon’s wife was an invalid for many years and usually unable to accompany her husband on his travels. She writes: “One ever-recurring question when he had to leave me was, ‘What can I bring you, wifey?’ I seldom answered him by a request, for I had all things richly to enjoy, except health. But, one day, when he put the usual query, I said, playfully, ‘I should like an opal ring, and a piping bullfinch!’ He looked surprised, and rather amused; but simply replied, ‘Ah, you know I cannot get those for you!’

Mrs. Spurgeon recalls how they “made merry” over her request for two or three days. Then one Thursday evening Charles returned from the church “with such a beaming face, and such love-lighted eyes, that I knew something had delighted him very much.” He held in his hand a tiny box, from which he took a ring and placed it on her finger. “There is your opal ring, my darling,” he said, and told her how he’d received it. An old lady whom Spurgeon had visited once when she was ill had sent a note to the church requesting that someone come and pick up a small gift for Mrs. Spurgeon. His secretary picked up the parcel and brought it to Charles, who unwrapped it to find the ring.

Mrs. Spurgeon writes, “How we talked of the Lord’s tender love for His stricken child, and of His condescension in thus stooping to supply an unnecessary gratification to His dear servant’s sick one…I can remember feeling that the Lord was very near to us.”

Not long after that God surprised Mrs. Spurgeon again. She writes, “One evening, when my dear husband came from London, he brought a large package with him, and, uncovering it, disclosed a cage containing a lovely piping bullfinch!…He had been to see a dear friend of ours, whose husband was sick unto death; and, after commending the sufferer to God in prayer, Mrs. T– said to him, ‘I want you to take my pet bird to Mrs. Spurgeon, I would give him to none but her; his songs are too much for my poor husband in his weak state, and I know that ‘Bully’ will interest and amuse Mrs. Spurgeon in her loneliness while you are so much away from her.’

She writes, “When ‘Bully’ piped his pretty song, and took a hemp seed as a reward from the lips of his new mistress, there were eyes with joyful tears in them, and hearts overflowing with praise to God, in the little room by the sea that night; and the dear Pastor’s comment was, ‘I think you are one of your Heavenly Father’s spoiled children, and He just gives you whatever you ask for.”

Mrs. Spurgeon reminds us, “He who cares for all the works of His hand, cares with infinite tenderness for the children of His love, and thinks nothing which concerns them too small or too trivial to notice.” She concluded this story saying, “‘Bully’s’ sweet little life and ministry ended at Brighton; but the memory of the Lord’s tenderness in giving him to me is a life-long treasure; and the opal ring glistens on my finger as I write this paragraph.” (from The Full Harvest, The Autobiography of Charles Spurgeon)

Let us thank our Heavenly Father for his intimate care. Jesus reminds us, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Mt. 7:11) What a loving Father we have! Bring all your needs and requests to him. Nothing’s too small or too great to ask – he even gives his children opal rings and piping bullfinches.

Waiting in Pain

It was 1 a.m. when the neck spasm began.

Intense pain, slowly pulling my neck forward. I hauled myself out of bed, took some ibuprofen, and lay on the couch in the living room. The pain kept intensifying, my head drawing further toward my chest. By 2 a.m. I couldn’t endure the pain any longer, so I grabbed the car keys and eased out my driveway toward the hospital.

If you’ve been to the emergency room lately you know it usually involves lots of waiting. It’s my least favorite place to wait. You wait while they take your symptoms and insurance information. Then you wait in the examination room. Wait while they ask more questions about pain levels and insurance and medical history, your grades in elementary school, political affiliation, favorite bowler and patron saint.

By 4 a.m. I still hadn’t received so much as an aspirin. My chin is practically touching my chest. I know that no human being has ever tasted such excruciating pain. What is taking so long? They must be flying the medicine here from New Zealand. Have they no mercy on the suffering? Am I in some kind of Edgar Allen Poe story? I’ll tell you anything you want. Just let me have some medicine.

And then, outside my room, I hear someone say, “Hey guys, I’m gonna make a run for some burgers. Anybody want anything?” I’m incensed. You’re going out for burgers while I’m writhing in agony in here? And then I hear laughter. They’re laughing out there. Laughing. While I’m in here with an ice pick in my neck.

Finally, my painkiller came, about 30 minutes after the burgers.

Waiting in pain is no fun. Bob waited in pain for 16 years.

16 years ago, I got a call that Bob, a friend from church, had been life-flighted to Pittsburgh. He’d flipped a tractor, and fallen beneath it, sustaining many injuries, particularly to his back and head. God spared his life and eventually he came home to his family. But Bob never quite got back to normal. For 16 years Bob suffered constant excruciating headaches, neck and back pain.

Last May he’d sunk to the lowest point in his life. He was on the verge of despair when his wife Denise heard about a new treatment – injections into the back muscles that cause them to tighten, aligning the spine and relieving headaches. Bob was skeptical but began the treatment to please Denise. But now, after a few months of injections, Bob has been experiencing lasting relief from headaches for the first time since his accident. How thankful Bob and Denise are to God. What joy they are experiencing.

Lamentations 3:24-26 says, “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,“therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him,to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

Why was it good for Bob and Denise to wait? As they’ve waited, they’ve developed a deep trust and reliance on God. They’ve experienced the Lord’s help and strength. For all these years, in addition to other ways he serves, whenever church families have moved, Bob’s been on the point, leading the crews loading the moving vans. You never would have known his head was throbbing. I’ve never heard the slightest complaint escape his lips. Bob’s one of the funniest guys in our church, with a great sense of humor and cheerful demeanor.

Bob and Denise have experienced Christ’s grace in weakness, and found God to be a refuge and strength. God has built patience and perseverance into them. And now, because they have patiently waited, they’ve seen God’s providence in providing healing through an unexpected avenue. Also, their patient waiting has made the answer to their prayers all the more sweet.

Is it good to wait quietly for the Lord? Ask Bob and Denise.

The Man Who Wouldn’t Salute

underground in Hamburg

A few months ago I had the privilege of accompanying my friend Dave Harvey to Hamburg, Germany to participate in a conference sponsored by Wolfgang Wegert, a pastor who has great influence in Europe. Wolfgang has held huge crusades over 30 years of ministry, and now has many churches and leaders who look to him as a spiritual father. He produces one of only 3 government sanctioned Christian television programs that is broadcast throughout Germany.In his office hangs a copy of a newspaper photo, entitled “The Man Who Wouldn’t Salute.”

Wolfgang’s father was a believer and worked in the shipyards in Hamburg during World War II. Every month Hitler would come to the shipyards to inspect the fleet. All the workers were required to assemble for Hitler’s visit. When the Feurher would pass by the thousands of workers would all extend their arms and give him the “sig heil” salute together.

The photo captured hundreds of ship workers in the act of saluting. But near the middle, and slightly off to the right, one man could be seen not saluting. This “Man Who Would Not Salute” was Wolfgang’s father, standing there with his arms crossed in defiance of Hitler.

As the War progressed, Hitler started making his inspections on Sundays, so that workers could assemble without having to take time away from shipbuilding. Wolfgang’s father refused to join assemblies, so that he could attend his church, despite people’s warnings that he would suffer the consequences of not showing up to salute Hitler. Nothing ever happened to him.

What a heritage Wolfgang has. In the providence of God, out of thousands who saluted Hitler, his father was an uncompromising Christian. If your parents are believers, praise God for his providence in causing you to be born to them. What a blessing to have been taught the gospel from a young age. What a blessing to have the gospel lived out before you from your childhood.

If you are a believer with children still at home, praise God for his providence in saving you so that you can influence your children for Jesus Christ. Wolfgang’s father could never have imagined that in God’s providence his son would have such widespread ministry for Christ. We can’t possibly imagine what effect our words and example will have on our children and future generations of believers.

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If You Can Read This…

“And yet, though our present views and reflections upon Providence are so short and imperfect in comparison to that in heaven, yet…it has so much excellence and sweetness in it that I may call it a little heaven…It is certainly a highway of walking with God in this world, and a soul may enjoy as sweet communion with Him in His providences as in any of His ordinances.” –John Flavel, The Mystery of Providence, 22

God’s providence is his sustaining and directing all things for his glory and our good. There are no accidents. Meditating on God’s providence in our lives is a sweet exercise that produces joy and thanksgiving.

If you can read this, in God’s Providence, you were either born in an English-speaking nation or have been able to learn English. Because we speak English, we have access to the Bible and the gospel. Many have never heard the gospel or God’s word because no translation exists in their tongue. How blessed we are to have God’s word in the English language.

English was the language of many of the Puritans and great Christian teachers. I have been blessed so much from reading works like The Precious Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs, The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel, Sin and Temptation by John Owen, The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes. Not to mention works and messages by Charles Spurgeon, Thomas Watson, John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards and others who wrote in English.

And think of all the contemporary preachers and teachers who write and speak in English who have benefitted our lives. I’ve been so blessed by men like C.J. Mahaney, John Piper, Jerry Bridges, R.C. Sproul, and many others. If God had seen fit in his providence to have me speak another language, I might not have had access to the works of these men.

And how many wonderful worship songs and hymns have been written or translated into English? I’m sure there are multitudes of incredible spiritual books and songs written in other languages, but I’ve been blessed simply by virtue of being born in the good ol’ English speaking USA. If you can read this, praise God for his providence that you were born in an English-speaking nation.

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