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(4 posts)

Blunders into Fruit

If you’re a human being, you’ve made bad decisions. Some of them may have been seriously wrong, even sinful. You may have made choices that have left you wondering whether you’ve “missed your calling,” whether you’ve blown it so bad that God’s will is now out of reach. Fear not. On July 2 [1505], on the way home from law school, [Luther] was caught in a thunderstorm and was hurled to the ground by lightning. He cried out, “Help me, St. Anne; I will become a monk.” He feared for his soul and did not know how to find safety in the Gospel. So he took the next best thing, the monastery. Fifteen days later, to his father’s dismay, he kept his vow. On July 17, 1505, he knocked at the gate of the Augustinian Hermits in Erfurt and asked the prior to accept him into the order. Later he said this choice was a flagrant sin—“not worth a farthing” because made against his father and out of fear. Then he added, “But how much good the merciful Lord has allowed to come of it!” We see this kind of merciful providence over and over again in the history of the church. We saw it powerfully in the life of Augustine, and we will see it in Calvin’s life too. It should protect us from the paralyzing effects of bad decisions in our past. God is not hindered in his sovereign designs from leading us, as he did Luther, out of blunders into fruitful lives of joy. —John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy (Crossway, 2000), 83–84.

If You Think Your Job Stinks

Fellow North Dakotan Julie Neidlinger has something to tell you about cleaning toilets. It’s something you need to know, especially if you are one of [ahem] my teenage children. And it reminded me of a story . . . January, nineteen hundred and ninety-something. There I was, piling wood in the stove at six a.m. in my underwear. By underwear, I mean two pairs of socks, long johns and heavy-weight sweat pants, t-shirt and two sweatshirts (one hooded). While the family snoozed peacefully in their warm beds, I stepped into jeans and a quilted flannel shirt. Over that, I put on a Carhartt quilted vest and insulated coveralls with a snap-on hood. As I laced up my Sorels, my partner pulled up and blew the horn. I pulled on my Carhartt Thinsulated cap (earflaps down), slipped into Thinsulated gloves, grabbed my lunchbox, headed out the door looking like a portly duck hunter. It was cold. I don’t remember how cold, but it was one of those days when the snow squeaks under your feet, and walking to the mailbox feels like a Jack London adventure. I remember reminding myself that “at least I’m not in Grand Forks.” So we headed down the road in our work van, drinking gas station coffee from insulated mugs, simultaneously glad we had work and wishing we were laid off, and generally dreading the day. The owners of the largest house we would ever build were anxious to get the siding on the dormers finished, and for the last week it had been too windy, even for hardy North Dakotans, to stand up on that roof. Finally, the wind had abated enough that, with an adequate load of nails in our toolbelts, we could hope to remain planted, and the boss said no more putting it off. So we went. We climbed up on that roof, and did the slow work of trimming and siding small structures that are all angles, taking our gloves off to handle the short nails, pulling them back on to avoid frostbite, and generally feeling miserable. Oh, yes, and complaining. Lots of complaining. Could there be a more odious job? No; never. Then it happened: a truck with a tank and a pump in the back pulled onto the lot and backed up to the porta-john behind the house. The driver, in garb similar to ours but not so clean, climbed out. He trudged to the rear of the truck, uncoiled a hose, and opened the fiberglass door (here I had a vision of a hillbilly fireman saving the outhouse). We watched. We listened. We heard the lid slap the back wall as Hillbilly Fireman flung it open. Then we heard an exclamation that was both vulgar and ironically appropriate. The hose was recoiled, and Hillbilly Fireman went back to the cab and, from behind the seat, retrieved—No way, he’s not going to . . . oh, yes, he is—a hatchet. Grabbing a handy concrete block, he propped the door open, squared his shoulders, and went to work. Whack . . . whack . . . whack [more ironically appropriate commentary] whack-whack-whack-whack . . . We heard some shuffling around, and what we saw next is indelibly imprinted on my memory. Flying through that porta-john door and landing with a loud BANG! in the box of that unfortunate truck was the darkest chunk of ice I had ever seen. My workmate and I stood speechless for a moment, and then in unison, murmured . . . well, you can guess. The scene was repeated several times until Hillbilly Fireman emerged, tossed the hatchet—and his gloves—in the bed of the truck, climbed into the cab, and drove away. I vowed that day never to complain about my job again.

Called to Suffer

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. —1 Peter 2:18–25 It is just a fact of life that hard times will come. Every adult knows this, and has probably learned it at an early age. Often, our suffering will be consequential to our own choices and actions. At other times, we will suffer for doing right. When that happens, we need to remember that it is not just something that is happening to us, just a circumstance through which we must persevere, but is actually—if we are Christians—a reason for our existence. We were born for this. Why does God give His smile of approval on those who suffer patiently when they are victims of unjust treatment? Peter gives us the answer: For to this you were called (v. 21). It is our vocation. When God calls us to a task, it is our duty to obey it. It is commendable when we suffer unjustly and bear the pain in patience because God has called us to that. Many television preachers today say that God always wills healing and prosperity for His people and, therefore, any pain we suffer comes from Satan and never from the hand of God. This is a pernicious distortion of biblical truth. Just the opposite is the case; our vocation is a call to suffer. . . . Suffering becomes bearable when we understand that we are in that state by the providence of God, and therefore, at that time, it is our vocation. The word vocation means “calling,” from the Latin root voco. If we fall ill with a terminal disease, we can curse the fates that have brought us to that stage, or we can see it as the providence of God. There is nothing worse than to suffer pain or grief for no reason, which is why those without Christ are without hope. For them, ultimately, life is an experience of futility, but if their souls become captured by the truth of the gospel, they will know that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28), so there is purpose even in our suffering. That is perhaps the hardest biblical truth to embrace. When Job’s great suffering came upon him, he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). In time his pain grew so intense that his wife told him, “Curse God and die!” (2:9), but Job responded, “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (2:10). As his suffering endured Job said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (13:15); and “I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth” (19:25). That is the message Peter is giving. It is commendable to accept suffering with patience because, in the first place, we have been called to that very thing. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 83–84.

The Parable of the Porta Potty

Tim Challies tweeted this older post on the grace of labor today, and it reminded me of a story I like to tell when I hear job complaints. I don’t know if it does any good, but I tell it anyway, because I’m old enough to tell the same story over and over like it’s the first time. So here you go: In a former life, I was a carpenter. The contractor I worked for built houses from bottom to top, footings to shingles, so I’ve done almost everything (except plumbing and electric) that you see—and can’t see—in your house. Going on twenty years ago now, we built the biggest house I’ve ever worked on, a sprawling two-story that came in at about three-quarters of a million back then. It was all closed in by winter, but, as often happens, a few odds and ends were still left when the cold weather blew in. And blow in, it did. That winter was one of our coldest, but work must be done and, more importantly, stomachs must be filled, and so it was that I and a partner found ourselves standing on a roof on a sub-zero-degree day finishing the siding on a couple of dormers. I don’t remember if there was wind, but this is North Dakota, so I’m guessing there was. Either way, it was cold. To make things worse, much of what we were doing required more finger dexterity than gloves would allow. So we stood on that roof, taking our gloves off, putting our gloves back on, and complaining. Then he came: the poor, miserable fellow who would change my attitude—at least a little—forever. He drove up in an old pick-up with a tank in the box and backed up to the construction porta-john. This was the porta potty pumper. We stood watching (it was probably break time, anyway) as he climbed out, zipped his coat a little tighter around his neck, uncoiled a hose and dragged it into the privy, blocking the door open. We heard the fiberglass lid of the reservoir slap the back wall. Then we heard an appropriately descriptive word I will not repeat at this time (which, I’ll admit, made us laugh), and saw the hose fly out, slapping the back if the truck with a loud whack. This is where it gets ugly. Women, children, and sensitive college students might want to go back to that Challies post. Our waste management specialist came stomping out of the outhouse, rummaged around in the bed of his mobile office, and extracted a hatchet. He returned, muttering a few more choice words, and went to work. Whack! Whack! Whack! Whack! Now we really felt sorry for the guy, imagining frozen fecal fragments flying at his face. Then the chunks, large chunks of frozen waste, came flying, thump! thump! thump! into the back of the truck. Now, having worked with dairy and swine, I’ve done some dirty jobs. I’ve shoveled, stepped in, and even fallen in more manure than I care to remember. I’ve pumped and spread thousands of gallons from manure pits. Still, this scene horrified me. Finally, this hero of the hideous emerged, undefeated but not unscathed. I almost felt I should shake his hand and thank him for his service, minus the hand-shaking part. But I could only stand there in grateful silence as he returned to his chariot and rode off into the sunset (it was only noonish, but that’s how I saw it). And I vowed right then and there never to complain about my job again.


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