On Losing My Wife

This post will help you understand why this project got dropped for so long.  I had mentioned in early posts that I began partly because of my wife’s cancer but had never shared the full story.  Amy was diagnosed with colon cancer while pregnant with our third child in April 2011.  The baby was born two months early but he is totally fine – we just celebrated his first birthday at the start of May.  Amy’s cancer was both advanced and aggressive so we knew without a miracle her time was limited.  She did 2 surgeries and 16 rounds of chemo, fighting the whole time to stay with us. 

Amy passed away June 5.  We thank God that she is now free from cancer and all of the suffering that it caused her.  Most of all we thank God that she is free now even from hope itself as all her deepest desires are fulfilled in the presence of Christ.  I want to thank those of you who followed this blog and prayed for us.  Please continue to pray as me and my 3 kids have a lot of loss and many changes to deal with. 

I do not know if I will pick this project up again (I would like to) but wanted at least to provide some closure.  While Amy was still sick I read through “A String Of Pearls” which is an expansion of a sermon that Brooks preached at the funeral of a young mother.  It helped me to prepare to lose my wife which is not something I thought I would need to do this soon.  I am thankful to God for the ministry of Thomas Brooks and how it was used to help me in this.  What follows is an excerpt from “A String Of Pearls” that I have spent a lot of time feeding on.  I also printed it on the back of the bulletin at Amy’s funeral. 

“I could heartily wish that you and all others concerned in this sad loss, were more taken up in minding the happy exchange that she hath made, than with your present loss.  She hath exchanged earth for heaven, a wilderness for a paradise, a prison for a palace, a house made with hands for one eternal in the heavens (II Corinthians 5:1-2).  She hath exchanged imperfection for perfection, sighing for singing, mourning for rejoicing, prayers for praises, the society of sinful mortals for the company of God, Christ, angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect (Hebrews 12:22-24); an imperfect transient enjoyment of God for a more clear, full, perfect, and permanent enjoyment of God.  She hath exchanged pain for ease, sickness for health, a bed of weakness for a bed of spices, and complete blessedness.  She hath exchanged her brass for silver, her counters for gold, and her earthly contentments for heavenly enjoyments.

 

And as I desire that one of your eyes may be fixed upon her happiness, so I desire that the other of your eyes may be fixed upon Christ’s fullness.  Though your brook be dried up, yet Christ the fountain of light, life, love, grace, glory, comfort, joy, goodness, sweetness, and satisfaction is still at hand, and always full and flowing, yea, overflowing (John 1:16; Colossians 1:19, 2:3).  As the worth and value of many pieces of silver is contracted in one piece of gold, so all the sweetness, all the goodness, all the excellencies that are husbands, wives, children, friends, etc., are contracted in Christ; yea all the whole volume of perfections which is spread through heaven and earth, is epitomised in Christ.  ‘One Christ will be to thee instead of all things else, because in him are all good things to be found’ – says Augustine.”  (I- 401-402)

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Returning Soon…

So I guess the hump I was trying to get over was bigger than I thought.  All appearances to the contrary, Me and Brooks is not dead, just on a longer than expected break.  I am going to work on getting the twitter quotes flowing again first and then get back to reading and posting.  Things will not be exactly as before though.  I do not think I will keep up the Monday/Thursday schedule and “4 Questions With…” will also likely just come as available.  Thanks for sticking around (for any of you who are still around) and I look forward to getting back to it.

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A “4 Questions With…” Copout

Sorry folks.  I have yet to send out another batch of interview requests and so there is no new 4QW today.  However, I would encourage you to take the time you would have spent here to read this article by Joel Beeke.  It is on why we should read the Puritans and gives out some great suggestions to get a start (or maybe a new direction if you are already reading).

Here is the link.

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Getting Over The Hump

The honeymoon is definitely over.  I still believe that this project, both the reading and the blogging, are worthwhile but the original sizzle is unquestionably fizzled.  That I am writing this post is the undeniable proof of the fact.  There are a couple of indicators.  First, while I used to look ahead and start planning out the next number of posts I have found myself scrambling the night before to dig something out.  Second, I bought a little notebook (my first Moleskin) for this and I used to fill up a page with ideas for a post while I now just start typing.  And last, I am just finding the commitment to focus my reading in to one author, post twice a week and also try to do the ‘4 Questions With…’ thing to feel more like a commitment. 

 

I am not quitting and this is not my ‘rationale for giving up’ post.  This is a post about what it is like to do this project and I thought I would have done more posts like this by now.  One of my goals was to see some other people set out on a similar venture and I want you to know that it is not all ‘woohoo I am joll-ily skipping through my life with a dead author’ or anything like that.

The Me and Brooks project has been a joy to me in a number of different ways.  I have met a handful of new people and enjoyed interacting with them.  I have seen a few new people get exposed to Brooks and the Puritans in general.  I have personally benefited both from reading and writing about Thomas Brooks.  The ‘4 Questions With…’ feature is a blast as well.  I am constantly amazed at the people who have said yes and the unexpected answers that have stopped me in my tracks.  Actually, I think it is probably the best part of the blog (which is a little tough to swallow seeing it is the part that I have the least to do with). 

I can come up with one of the main reasons why I now have the hump to get over.  My wife’s ongoing cancer treatment along with being a dad for three kids five and under mean that life is both busy and heavy.  I have piles (PILES!) of help and my church has really cut me loose to do what is needed for my family but I just find myself weary these days.  As these things go it is much more ebb than flow the past few weeks.  It is tough to summon any mental energy once the kids have all decided to stay in bed (many parents are now nodding their heads knowingly).

But I think the main reason is that I have lost focus.  One of my main goals in starting was to improve my reading habits.  The idea is to get more out of my reading by focusing it in.  What I have found though is that I am often reading Brooks for the sake of the ‘next post’ instead of reading Brooks for the benefit of my own soul.  So today I am going back to two of my first posts (Reading Well 1 and 2) to remind myself of some good advice I sent out that needs to boomerang back.  Here are a few quotes from those:

“They usually thrive best who meditate most.  Meditation is a soul-fattening duty; it is a grace-strengthening duty, it is a duty-crowning duty.  Gerson calls meditation the nurse of prayer; Jerome calls it his paradise; Basil calls it the treasury where all the graces are locked up; Theophylact calls it the very gate and portal by which we enter into glory; and Aristotle, though a heathen, placeth felicity in the contemplation of the mind.  You may read much and hear much, yet without meditation you will never be excellent, you will never be eminent Christians” (I-291). 

“The true reason why many read so much and profit so little is, because they do not apply and bring home what they read to their own souls” (I-292). 

“Read and pray.  He that makes not conscience of praying over what he reads, will find little sweetness or profit in his reading.  No man makes such earning of his reading, as he that prays over what he reads.  Luther professeth that he profited more in the knowledge of the Scripture by prayer, in a short space, than by study in a longer” (I-292). 

Why are you reading what you are reading?  What profit can you actually point to from it?

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4 Questions With…John Reeve

I will start with the disclaimer that this interview is a fraud.  John Reeve is a fantastic resource on Thomas Brooks and doing a ‘4QW’ with him is about the best we could possibly do to find an expert on Brooks.  However, John Reeve has been dead for about 300 years.  The only thing I know about him is that he preached the sermon at Thomas Brooks’ funeral and that it is excerpted in the memoir at the beginning of the complete works of Thomas Brooks.  If you are thinking that I am finally running out of interviewees and need to get back at it, you are right.  All I have done is insert ‘questions’ that Reeve appears to ‘answer’.  All these quotes are taken from the final pages of Grossart’s memoir (I-xxxv)

1)  What was Thomas Brooks like to be around?  Was he the colder or more cheerful type of personality?

He was certainly a person of a very sweet nature and temper: so affable, and courteous, and cheerful, that he gained upon all that conversed with him; and if any taxed him with any pride or moroseness…in his carriage, it must be only such as did not know him.  He had so winning a way with him, he might bid himself welcome into whatsoever house he entered.  Pride and moroseness are bad qualities for a man of his employ, and make men afraid of the ways of God, for fear they should never enjoy a good day after.”

2)  So did that make him something of a push-over? 

He was…a person of very great gravity: and could carry a majesty in his face when there was occasion, and make the least guilt tremble in his presence with his very countenance.  I never knew a man better loved, nor more dreaded. God had given him such a spirit with power, that his very frowns were darts, and his reproofs sharper than swords.  He would not contemn familiarity, but hated that familiarity that bred contempt.

3)  His health was bad toward the end of his life, how did he handle that?

Notwithstanding the many weaknesses and infirmities, which for a long time have been continually, without ceasing as it were, trying their skill to pull down his frail body to the dust, and at least effected it, yet I never heard an impatient word drop[ from him.  When I came to visit him, and asked him, ‘How do you Sir?’ he answered, ‘Pretty well: I bless God I am well, I am contented with the will of my Father: my Father’s will and mine is but one will.’  It made me often thing of that Isaiah 33:24, ‘the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick: the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity.’  Sense of pardon took away sense of sickness.

4)  So what was he like as a pastor?  Can you give us 3-4 qualities of his ministry?

1.  An experienced minister.  From the heart to the heart; from the conscience to the conscience.  He had a body of Divinity in his head, and the power of it upon his heart.

2.  A laborious minister: as his works in press and pulpit are undeniable witness of.  To preach so often, and print so much, and yet not satisfied till he could imprint also his works upon the hearts of his people; which is the best way of printing that I know, and the greatest task of a minister of Christ.

3.  He was a minister who delighted in his work.  It was his meat and rink to labour in that great work, insomuch that under his weakness he would be often preaching of little sermons – as he called them – to those that came to visit him, even when by reason of his distemper they were very hardly able to understand them.

4.  He was a very successful minister: the instrument in the hand of God for the conversion of many souls about this City and elsewhere.

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I hope this gives you a fuller picture of Thomas Brooks and I hope that whoever preaches my funeral can say some of this about me.  Remember to read Joel Beeke’s chapter on Brooks from “Meet The Puritans” that he allowed me to post here for a fuller picture.

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But God Is Not Answering

The tenth and final objector that Thomas Brooks faces is the person who says “I have sought to the Lord for this and that mercy, and still God delays me, and puts me off; I have been at the door, but now I see it is afar off; how can I then hold my peace?  How can I be silent under such delays and disappointments?” (I-385).  The most common question God gets is likely “why is this happening?” but I bet a close second is “how long is this going to be happening for?”.  It is one level of submission to God to accept the fact of His will to afflict us, but it is another to accept His timing.

1)  “The Lord doth not always time his answers to the swiftness of his people’s expectations” (I-385; all further quotations taken from I-385-390).  That seems a massive understatement to me.  How often does God (in His infinite wisdom) do things the way we think He should (in our sorry attempts at wisdom)?  But Brooks redeems himself with the very next line which is the kind of sentence he is so great at writing: “He that is the God of our mercies, is the Lord of our times.”

2)  “Though the Lord doth defer and delay you for a time, yet he will come, and mercy and deliverance shall certainly come….God will come, and mercy will come; though for the present thy sun be set, and thy God seems to neglect thee, yet thy sun will rise again, and thy God will answer all thy prayers, and supply all thy necessities.”

3)  “Though God do delay thee, yet he doth not forget thee….He can as soon forget himself as forget his people.”

4)  “God’s time is always the best time….Though we are not wise enough to improve the times and seasons which God hath set us, to serve and honour him in, yet we are apt to think that we are wise enough to set God his time, when to hear, and when to save, and when to deliver….(O)ur impatience will never help us to a mercy, one hour, one moment, before the time that God hath set.  The best God will always take the best time to hand out mercies to his people….Therefore hold thy peace; though God delays thee, yet be silent, for there is no possibility of wringing a mercy out of God’s hand, till the mercy be ripe for us, and we ripe for the mercy.”

5)  “The Lord in this life will certainly recompense, and make his children amends for all the delays and put-offs that he exercises them with in this world…”

6)  “The Lord never delays the giving in of this mercy, or that deliverance, or the other favour, but upon great and weighty reason.”  Brooks then holds to form by suggesting a number of reasons why God delays.

  1. “For the trial of his people….As the furnace tries gold, so delays will try what metal a Christian is made of.  Delays will try to the truth and the strength of a Christian’s graces.”
  2. “That they may have the greater experience of the power, grace, love, and mercy in the close.  The Father delays the child, that he may make him the more eager, and so doth God his, that he may make them the more divinely violent.”
  3. “…that he may make a fuller discovery of themselves to themselves….When the fire is put under the pot, then the scum appears; so when God delays a poor soul.  Oh! how doth the scum of pride, the scum of murmuring, the scum of quarrelling, the scum of distrust, the scum of impatience, the scum of despair, discover itself in the heart of a poor creature?”
  4. “God delays and puts off his people to enhance, to raise the price of mercy, the price of deliverance….When a delayed mercy comes, it tastes more like a mercy, it sticks more like a mercy, it warms more like a mercy, works more like a mercy, and it endears the heart to God more like a mercy than any other mercy that a man enjoys.”
  5. “The Lord delays his people, that he may pay them home in own coin….If God serves thee as thou hast often served him, thou hast no reason to complain.”
  6. “The Lord delays his people, that heaven may be the more sweet to them at last.”

Some of my favourite lines from Thomas Brooks so far are in these quotes.  Pick out one that stuck out to you and send it off (tweet it, write it in a card, hire a blimp…).

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What Did You Expect?

You should not be surprised if you get wet in a pool.  You are not allowed to complain about crowds if you decide to do New Years in Times Square.  My indignation would be terribly misinformed if I complained about spicy food at my new favourite restaurant (which includes the two words “Curry House” in the name).  In each case you would simply ask the complainer: “Well what did you expect?” and this is a line of reasoning I keep hearing Thomas Brooks use as he answers these ten objections. 

For example, his third answer to the person who says that they cannot be silent because their good name is being tarnished is to essentially say, “What did you expect?  This is what has happened to the saints throughout history.”  Read #3 back here and remember that even if it is bad with you, “it is no worse with you than it was with them, ‘of whom this world was not worthy’” (I-381).  Then if you keep reading #4 you will see he takes it to the next logical step to remind us that we are not greater than our Master who was “sadly reproached and falsely accused” (I-381).

If you have been following along on these more recent posts as Brooks deals with objections this should sound familiar.  One of his best tactics is again and again to remind us that we should not be surprised that we get wet when we jump in the pool.  If it goes bad with us, it goes as it has gone for scores of God’s people before us.  When you want to complain because God has withdrawn Himself from us he says that this has been the “common lot, portion, and condition of the choicest saints” and that if “God deals no worse with thee than he hath dealt with his most bosom friends…thou hast no reason to complain” (I-372).  When we murmur that we are tempted as well as tried Brooks’ first response is that “those that God loves best are usually tempted most” and he calls to mind David, Job, Joshua, Peter, Paul and even Christ (I-365).  When we say our afflictions have gone on too long he says they “are not so long as the afflictions of other saints” (I-354) and when we protest that our suffering is to a greater degree than others he asks us if we have “reckoned up the afflictions that befell Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Asaph, Haman, the prophets and apostles?” (I-360).  Then if we would still and say that it is so much worse with us than it has been for others he gently suggests that we may be “under some present distemper, that disenables thee to make a right judgment of the different dealings of God with thyself and others” (I-364). 

To any of us who would complain about our trials Brooks would say, “What did you expect?”  It is a good question because it gets to the heart of why we react poorly or just plain wrong under suffering.  The problem is that our expectations of life as creatures on a groaning planet and especially as citizens of heaven marching toward home as aliens and pilgrims are way off.  There are enough explicit statements to tell us to expect suffering (start at I Thessalonians 3:3 and follow your Bible’s cross references) that we should get this, but I know it is a constant battle.  We can ponder a longing for Eden in our hearts but it is likely most helpful to acknowledge a cultural influence in this. 

I just finished reading Book 2 John Piper’s The Swans Are Not Silent series and I would like to close with one of his summary paragraphs on John Bunyan.

“Bunyan’s life and labour call us to live like Pilgrim on the way to the Celestial City.  His suffering and his story summon us, in the prosperous and pleasure-addicted West, to see the Christian life in a radically different way than we ordinarily do.  There is a great gulf between the Christianity that wrestles with whether to worship at the cost of imprisonment and death, and the Christianity that wrestles with whether the kids should play soccer on Sunday morning.  The full title of ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ shows the essence of the pilgrim path: ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress from this World, to that Which is to Come: Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream wherein Is Discovered, the Manner of His Setting out, his Dangerous Journey, and Safe Arrival at the Desired Country.”  For Bunyan, in fact and fiction, the Christian life is a ‘Dangerous Journey’.”  (John Piper, The Hidden Smile of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001) 164. 

So what do you expect in life?

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