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When Your Pain Is Real And Pressing

Some weeks we feel it more. Some days strung in a row, it’s heavy and it clings. Our pain feels real and pressing.

Some springs we just feel the fall more. Paul wrote: The whole creation groans

Last week, when April showers were snowstorms that dampened weddings and canceled ballgames and delayed burials and postponed buttercup plantings, I think I heard it groan.

Grandpa On Monday

It was Grandpa’s burial that was delayed last Monday.

Not that it that day so much when I heard the moan.  Because we’d watched him fade and Grandpa was blessed to make 98.

Two days before his last, we stopped to say our thank-you’s and good-bye. Grandpa’s head was a little bloodied and bruised from a nasty night-time tumble.

All creation groans.

Grandpa was thirsty. I swabbed three times with water- no hyssop, no wine. Then I leaned in to the “good” ear that could maybe hear a.  We love you Grandpa. He winced and softly moaned.

All creation groans. 

Still- or so?- we sang- Youtube and I- into that one good ear. 

There’ll be no sorrow there, no more burdens to bear, No more sickness, not pain, no more parting over there. And forever I will be with the One who died for me.

What a day, glorious day that will be! What a day that will be when my Jesus I shall see,

And on and on we sang for 4 or 5 more songs.  Until the troops got hungry and restless. For all creation groans. 

His funeral was Monday. I heard it then.

Groaning the Rest of the Week

But, got louder- it felt heavier- as the week wore on.

On Tuesday when a tearful friend detailed a long-standing heart-wrenching marriage ache. And Wednesday, I heard it when another friend described her pain as she wrote the hardest word on her son’s tax return- “deceased.” He would have been 18.

All creation groans. 

Thursday, I felt it when a newly widowed friend explained how a court and a judge are needed to unravel wrongs from before her husband died. And I heard it Friday when another friend requested more prayer for a heated custody battle her son is in.

All creation groans. 

Then, Saturday, I felt it in myself. In a struggle in my mind that comes and goes but may not end, I think, till I die, (And that’s okay- suffering is fitting.) And Sunday, Jim and I heard it when our friend’s sick lungs kept him in bed, even on the sunny day when spring came.

The whole creation groans. But He knows.

God knows what He’s about. 

When God Wants to Drill a Man

I’d heard this (anonymous) poem before. But when I woke up Friday last week – that string-of-days week – to hear Joni read it, it meant more.

When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;

When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!

How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him

Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!

How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And which every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out-
God knows what He’s about.

Hammers and hurts, converts. Bends, but never breaks, when his good He undertakes. For sure: amazed, by God’s methods and ways.

Which may include pain.

When Your Pain is Real and Pressing

But this blog is called Joyfully Pressing On and Philippians 3:8-14 is my theme.

I know this suffering, this all creation groaning, is not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us. I believe this. The pain and pressing now is not worth comparing to the glory then.

But more.

Our suffering now isn’t merely to be endured. In a sense, it’s to be a source of joy. Yes, joy! Because our groans, our faithful groans, our I-believed-and-so-I-spoke groans, are actually achieving glory.

Our real and pressing pains are some of the God’s means to prepare and produce and achieve this splendid glory. To try his splendor out.

When you see this, says Joni Eareckson Tada, you’re a Rumpelstiltskin weaving straw into gold; like a divine spinning wheel, your affliction works a far exceeding and eternal weight of glory (When God Weeps, p. 210)

Glory will be so glorious not in spite of our suffering, but because of it.

Eternal Weight Of Glory

Let’s don’t doubt it, friends: Our suffering is productive. If we’re in Christ, it’s working for us, even as we groan. 

While we waste away, God is preparing an eternal weight of glory– from our real and pressing pain.

Earlier this snowy, groany month of April, a friend gave me a new Wendell Kimbrough CD. I listened to track nine over and over last week. And if you’ve had your own string of days- if you’ve felt the fall this spring- you might enjoy a listen too.

So I’ll leave you with the lyrics to track number nine- Eternal Weight of Glory- since it’s high time I say good-bye.

Because the snow finally melted and I’ve got some buttercup bulbs to plant.

Eternal Weight of Glory 
Now the days and hours and moments
Of our suff’ring seem so long;
And the toilsome wait and wond’ring
Threaten silence to our song.
Now our pain is real and pressing
Where our faith is thin and weak,
But our hope is set on Jesus;
And we cling to him, our strength.

Oh eternal weight of glory!
Oh inheritance divine!
We will see our Lord redeeming
Every past and future time.
All our pains will be transfigured,
Like the scars of Christ our Lord.
We will see the weight of glory,
And our broken years restored.

For behold! I tell a myst’ry:
At the trumpet sound we’ll wake

“Death is swallowed up in vict’ry!”
When we meet our King of Grace
Every year we thought was wasted
Every night we cried “How long?”
All will be a passing moment
In our Savior’s vict’ry song

We will see our wounded Savior.
We’ll behold him face to face;
And we’ll hear our anguished stories
Sung as vict’ry songs of grace.

Words and Music: © 2015 Wendell Kimbrough.

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A Tale Of Two Showers

So I say to you, “If you knew the blessed God, and who it is that is offered to you-the sweetest love, the richest mercy, the surest friend, the chiefest good, the greatest beauty, the highest honor, and the fullest happiness… You would be more willing to leave these frothy joys and drossy delights for the enjoyment of God than any prisoner was ever willing to leave the misery of jail for the liberty, pleasures, and preferment of a court.”

-George Swinnock, The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of the Soul

I attended two bridal showers last Saturday. Funny thing was, I didn’t even know I was at the one until I got to the other. Then these dull eyes started to make sense of what I’d seen. 

Because you’ve got to have no sight at all to miss a bride making ready for her big day. 

Bridal Showers

One shower was bigger, with dozens of cousins and aunts and friends. The other was just three sisters, until along came me. 
One shower had a table spread big with buffet of sandwiches and salads and mixed nuts and cake. The other was not so broad- some sips of soup and applesauce. Both showered refreshment on the guests. Both tables amply laid. 
At one shower, the bride-to-be was getting vases and sheets and picture-less picture frames. The other was giving vases and quilts and pictures in their frames away. Both had a devoted sister beside her, noting each gift opened or given away. 
At one shower, the bride is counting down-38 days and 18 hours-before she’s given away. The other bride knows not the day nor the hour. She suspects she knows the season and content to leave the precise timing to her bridegroom. 

She says, His timing is always best.

Preparing For Their Big Days

Both brides are picking playlists for their celebration days. Both select from among the special songs that marked their relationships along the way. One bride might play I’ve Got You. The other, for sure, Trust and Obey

Both brides are clearing clutter. One bride has far less than the other. Both sort through unneeded things from their single days. Both go deep into closets and drawers to throw old clippings and awards and cards and notes away.
Both brides can talk a blue streak about her beloved. Both smile and look just a little bit smitten when each says, in so many words how she knows his love. Both brides describe- in a word- their husband, their betrothed, as faithful every day 
Both brides will relocate upon their wedding days. One will move across the country to her groom’s new medical school. The other will go a little further than Philly. Both might miss some folks, but they say they’re not afraid to go away. 
I’m dense sometimes. I don’t always see through God’s signs to the truth that is behind. But even I couldn’t miss the message of the brides after the shower last Saturday. 

And Grandma Did A Fist Pump

It is possible for your dying day to be your wedding day…for then the fairest of ten thousand and your soul will be solemnly knit together. 

-George Swinnock, The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of the Soul
Two weeks ago we found out Grandma’s cancer had came back. This time it was more painful-incurable pancreatic. We don’t know just how long. And how I wanted to visit while Grandma still felt, her word, perky. 
So I headed up Friday night, clueless about her shower. The second one Saturday, for lovely cousin Hannah, that one I knew about. You can see how the surprise was all on me when I walked in to find the three. Grandma with her sisters were gathered around the table writing lists and making plans and setting up the service. 

What’s the oldest blessing in the Bible? they asked me. Aaron’s, I think, at the end of Numbers chapter six. Grandma’s sister read it. 

That’s it, Grandma declared. Now, write that down so you don’t forget.
Then she let me to recite some verses I’d been working through. And when I got to- Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemptionshe broke right in with glee.

Here where Grandma fist-pumped and said so joyfully, 

That’s me! I’m sealed for the Day of Redemption, for Jesus. Oh, I’m so glad He loves me!   

Revel A Minute

A Puritan named George Swinnock lived 350 years ago and he would have fist pumped, too. Because what Grandma knows, Swinnock knew- that when outside is fading, the inward can be renewed. And that the abundant life Jesus gives only starts with our short as dew, fading like wildflower lives on God’s green earth.

We can know this too. We-me and you, church, the body of Christ, his betrothed bride-we aren’t unaware.

So revel here a minute with Swinnock and Grandma and me.

Come forth; behold your beloved in all His glory. His arms are stretched out to embrace you. His lips are ready to kiss you. Oh, what a loving look He gives you! I am certain that you have a greater place in His heart than you have in your own…Your beloved will entertain you with precious and costly feast at His own tableIf you accept this offer, it will be life for you to think of death. You will lift up your head with joy when the day of your redemptions draws near. (Swinnock, p. 76-77)

Saints know where their portions lay. Grandma’s portion showed through at her shower on Friday night. I saw Grandma’s affections are getting more set on Christ, her true husband, and that this world is gently easing out of her, so it’ll be easier to say good-bye. 
For now Grandma’s showering us all-her beautiful Connemara Girl and woolen Sunbonnet girls, her hand-sown quilts and beloved hymnals, even her dear Dutch art-her Delft blue and windmills and tulips. She’s giving it all away. 
And she’s sealed and dressed in fine linen and fist-pumping awaiting one glorious redemption day. 
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
“Hallelujah!

For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. 

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,

for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;

it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

Revelation 19:6-8

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On Choosing Friends And Cowboys

“In friendship…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another…the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting–any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.” 

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

We learn from masters. We learn from them how to live and die and fade with grace. Be like Mike and look to Jesus and do all we can with the time God gives us. Like Rory and Joey. I watch their story play and pray I’ll have grace like theirs one day.

Rory Feek just posted what is likely his last update on his dying wife Joey. Here’s part. 

There’s the easy way… and then there’s the best, right way.
My wife has always known the difference between the two.  And ninety-nine times out of a hundred, she has chosen the right path over the least-difficult road to take.  She is still making the best, right choices.  Even now. 
Joey loves her some George Strait.  She always has.  He’s her go-to guy whenever she puts on a cd and is cleaning the house or driving her car.  And when romance is in the air, it’s not Michael Buble’ or some crooner that she wants me to put on… she wants king George.  And I am more than happy to oblige.  A love-affair with a singing cowboy who lives a million miles away in her dreams seems safe enough for me.  Heck, I think there are really only two or three men out there that I would’ve had to worry about being jealous of…. George, Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones.  The last two are because of the movie Lonesome Dove.  My wife and I have watched ‘Gus’ and ‘Woodrow’ make the long cattle-drive to Montana a half-dozen times or more over the years.  And she gets that look in her eyes when she watches that movie.  She’s enamored by those men.  By that lifestyle.  Joey loves real cowboys.
And me.
I don’t know why she loves me.  She could’ve had any cowboy she wanted…. could’ve had the western life she dreamed of as a little girl riding her first horse Velvet.  But she didn’t choose some handsome Marlboro man with a Sam Elliot mustache and a thousand-acre ranch… instead, she chose our little farm and she chose me.  And I’m a long way from a cowboy.  We do have horses now…well, the two that I got for Joey for her birthday this last fall (though she and I only got to see them a couple of times before our lives took us back to the Cancer Center in Atlanta and then here to her hometown in Indiana).  And unfortunately, she will never get to ride those or any horses again.  They will instead be grazing in the pasture around the family cemetery in the back field behind our farmhouse, where my bride will soon rest.

Joey chose Rory. Come what may. Friends choose friends. Come what may. Jesus chose us. To stay.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about her love of cowboys and after all these years, I can’t say I have understood why Joey would choose me and not some rugged horseman from Texas or Montana or somewhere.  But then again, maybe it’s not about looking like a cowboy, it’s about what’s inside.  Maybe that’s what she saw in me that I didn’t.  Maybe there’s more to it than the hat and horse that Joey admired about George and Gus and Woodrow… maybe it was what she believed was inside of those cowboys.   What she believed was inside of me… 


But for God, it wasn’t a guess-God knew-what was inside when He chose you. Cowboy or no. He knew. 

And He called you you and chose you and loved to the cross to make you his. Cowboy or no.

He knew.


You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, 
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
John 15:16

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Fading Into Glory

“Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you.” 

J.I. Packer, Knowing God


Without Apology


The last post was about how God holds our hands. The first post four years ago was too.

Firm and kind, I often feel His hand guide mine. It helps me die to sin and side with Him and rise in newness of life. This familiar hand I know by feel.

But his hand helps in a way I know only by sightI saw it over Uncle Kevin when he faded from this life. I saw again when Uncle Tony went graceful into glory. And I saw it this week how his hand holds the hands of J.I.Packer and Rory and Joey.

And I know it sounds so sentimental, spiritual- all this hand-holding talk. But I do not apologize. Because it’s God-talk. Holding hands is the language of our Lord. He said it first. And not just once or twice. 

Take Isaiah 41. It’s laden with that language. To his frightened, fading flock God said,

Fear not, for I am with you, 
Be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, 
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them;
Those who war against you shall be as nothing at all. 
For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand;
It is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” 

God said he’d hold our hand and help us when we do hard, scary things. 
Things like repent and fly from sin and fade away and die. 

Those who war against you shall be as nothing at all. 


Satan wars against us. He’d have us despair and lose heart and break faith. He’d have us puffed with pride. He’d have us think we can handle our own problems without God’s hand or that our pain is beyond help from God’s hand. That’s when pain gets proud.

Satan would have us-dismayed at fading and filled with dread. He’d have us doubt our God will hold our hand when we fade- that he doesn’t love us enough to heal us, that he’s not strong enough to fix us. Those are Satan’s weapons. 

But, Those who war against you shall be as nothing at all, God said. Saints who fade graceful rouse me to see God’s hand at work, not by feel, but by sight. Fading saints prove that nothing at all can block God’s hand. God holds the fading fast. 

Saints Fading Gracefully


Theologian J.I. Packer developed macular degeneration in December. It’s already impaired his vision so that he can’t read or write. When he announced he’d have to cancel all writing and speaking engagements, he called his condition, “a clear indication from Headquarters.” 

WORLD Magazine (2/6/16) reported, “the 89-year-old British author of more than 300 books and articles said he’s experienced enough with God not to doubt Him: ‘God knows what he’s up to.'” Packer knows whose hand hold him fast. And fades gracefully.

Then I flipped to A Star Fades Gracefully and was introduced to Joey Martin Feek and her husband Rory. The two were a country singing duo. Joey’s 2012 song “When I’m Gone” is the story of a dying wife encouraging her husband to carry on. The song has come true. 

Two years after the song came out, shortly after the birth of Indiana-an almond-eyed daughter with Down syndrome-Joey learned she had cancer. She fought hard. But after surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, the cancer is winning. 

But God still holds her fast. Hospice care began this fall. Doctors didn’t know if Joey would last to December. Jeff Koch shared their story, 

Rory called the season’s first snow “manna from heaven,” because it brought comfort during one of Joey’s darkest moments. “I want to raise our baby,” she had cried. “I want to be the one to teach her.” Yet the sight of snow shot a bolt of light into Joey’s heart as she admitted, “I didn’t think I’d get to see snow again.” She then raised her eyes upward and said, “If this is the last snow I ever see, thank you, Jesus.” 

Christmas was a treasured milestone. Rory wrote, “The prognosis was clear that there was a good chance Joey wasn’t going to be with us” for the holidays. But Christmas Day came and a smiling Joey celebrated with family-what Rory called “the best gift of all.” He wrote, “We will continue to believe and trust that what is waiting on the other side of the deep, dark wood is something even better and more beautiful than our minds can even imagine.”

Joey and Rory knew what Paul knew, fading his last years in a Roman prison. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. (2 Timothy 4:18a) So Joey and Rory weren’t bitter and Christmas was sweet. God knows what he’s up to, Packer said. Graceful on they go, held fast. 

Because no one is strong enough-or weak enough- to fall away while God is resolved to hold us. No one, no thing, no-nothing can separate us from His hand of love. 

Nothing at all. Those who war against you shall be as nothing at all.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Romans 8:38-39

So into the perilous grace of God, with all my sins go I. 

And things grow new though I grow old, though I grow old and die.