Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop [Book Review]

We live in a fallen world, and many people do not know what to do with their anger, hurt, sorrow, and grief. Much of it is churned into bitterness and spewed out on social media. Unfortunately, cultural Christianity has no place for biblical lament which is a proper response to such things. Even our funeral services have become life celebrations where we do not allow the grieving to grieve. This is why we need Mark Vroegop’s book, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Rediscovering the Grace of Lament. The book is broken into three heads:

Section 1: Learning to Lament

Vroegop shows us how to lament biblically and the pitfalls to avoid. Lament is not being angry with God. Lament is not complaining as if we are not getting what we deserve from God, and lament is not despair. Vroegop gives us a thoroughly biblical understanding of lament and encourages us to turn our pain into passionate cries to God. He reminds us that one third of Psalms contain lament, and it should be part of our worship. If you are hurting, he will show you how to lay out your pain before God.

Section 2: Learning from Lament

Like all prayer, lament is a means of grace that leads us into several spiritual benefits. Vroegop spends time leading us through those blessings. Two examples are that lament takes our trials and turns them into trust, and it uses our injuries to tear down our idols that subtlety hold our hearts captive. This section opens eyes to the individual and corporate blessing we miss when we fail to lament properly.

Section 3: Living with Lament

The book closes with instruction on how to put lament into practice personally, in our churches, small groups, funerals, and life with others. In this section, it becomes even more clear how much we need lament. People are hurting from both actual and perceived injustices. Our political culture stirs up animosity, anger, and resentment, and biblical lament can be one aspect that could help move us toward healing by weeping with those who weep.

If we do not see any reason to lament, then we are not paying attention to the world around us or the sin that that still dwells within us. Vroegop has done the church a great service by pointing us back to a biblical act of worship that is too often neglected and replaced with bitter and angry social media rants. The church needs to understand and make room for lament, and the world needs the church to understand it as well. Lament is one of the first places we should go when confronting this fallen world.

-D. Eaton

No Sin of Man Can Diminish the Perfections of God

Futility. That is what every attempt at rebellion against God entails. Every railing of sin, every shaking of the fist in His face, results in the same thing. Nothing. We serve an unchanging God and nothing can diminish His perfections.

For I, the LORD, do not change. – Malachi 3:6

Thomas Brooks once said, “If it could be carried by votes, God would be voted out of the world; for the language of the carnal heart is, “Leave us alone! We have no desire to know Your ways!” (Job 21:14).”

We live in a society that attempts to determine its own truth and morality. They vote in and enact many laws that call evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20). Yet, truth and morality will never be established by popular vote. All of the world’s statutes that celebrate sin and punish good will never alter the word of God.

The counsel of the LORD stands forever. – Psalm 33:11

The doctrine of God’s immutability should do two things for the believer. First it should leave us in awestruck wonder since it so far beyond our full comprehension. The second thing it should do is comfort us. Just as no sin can diminish His perfections, neither can our excellencies increase them.

With this knowledge all believers can let out a huge sigh of relief. We sometimes live as if the existence of God is up to us. We sometimes feel like we must be His protector. We are not God, and living like He is dependent upon us is exhausting. He has called us to find our rest in Him, not for Him to find His rest in us.

The best thing we can do is point people to the place where his excellencies are most clearly seen: the word of God. Too often we feel that we must be creative and come up with something new in order for the Lord to be known. All the while, we neglect the revelation He has given of Himself: scripture.

If you are in Christ Jesus, you are as secure as His being. He alone is the rock of our Salvation that will never be moved (Psalm 62:6). May we point the world to His perfections through His word with a confidence that is not derived from our abilities, but in His immutable splendor.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. – Hebrews 13:8

-D. Eaton

Utterances of Love in the Desert

Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards. Hosea 2:14-15

“Therefore” has a strangely beautiful connection in this verse. God’s people had been grievously backsliding. He had been loading them with mercies; they had been guiltily disowning His hand. They had taken the gifts and spurned the Giver. “She did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold.” No, more, she had shamelessly gone after her lovers—she had deliberately preferred the ways of sin to the ways of God. What will His thoughts be towards this treacherous one? Can they be anything else but those of merited retribution—casting her out, and casting her off forever?

We expect when we hear the concluding word, “therefore,” that it is the awful summing up of His controversy—the turning of the Judge to pronounce righteous sentence. We listen, but lo! utterances of love are the exponents of ‘the thoughts of God.’ “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards.”

It is the way He deals with His people still. They often forget Him in the glare and glitter of prosperity. He hushes the din of the world—takes them out into the solitudes of trial—and there—while abased, humbled, chastened—He unburdens in their ear His thoughts of love, forgiveness, and “comfort.” Oh, what infinite tenderness characterizes the dealings of this Heavenly Chastener! How slow to abandon those who have abandoned Him! Every means and instrumentality is employed rather than leave them to the bitter fruits of their own guilty estrangement.

The kindest human thoughts towards an offender are harshness and severity compared with His. What were the thoughts—the deeds—of the watchmen in the Canticles towards the Bride, as she wandered disconsolate in search of her heavenly Bridegroom—and that, too, in consequence of her own unwatchfulness and sloth? They tore off her veil. They smote her—reviled her—loaded her with reproach. But when she found her lost Lord, though she had kept Him standing amid the cold dews of night—He smites her not—He upbraids her not—no angry syllable escapes His lips. He brings her into the wilderness, and speaks comfortably unto her—and the next picture in the inspired allegory, is the restored one coming up from that wilderness “leaning on her Beloved.”

Reader! is God dealing with you by affliction? Has He blighted your earthly hopes—”caused your mirth to cease,”—”destroyed your vines and fig-trees,” and made all around you a desert? Think what it would have been, had He allowed you to go on in your course of guilty estrangement—your truant heart plunging deeper and deeper in its career of sin! Is it not mercy in Him that He has dimmed that false and deceptive glitter of earth? You would not listen to His voice in prosperity. You took the ten thousand precious gifts of His bestowing—but there was no breathing of gratitude to the Infinite Bestower. You sat, it may be—sullen, peevish, proud, ungrateful, at the very moment when His horn of plenty was being emptied in your lap.

He has brought you into “the wilderness.” As Jesus did with His disciples of old when He would nerve them for coming trial, He has taken you to “a high mountain alone,”—”a solitary place”—apart from the world. He has there humbled you and proved you. He may have touched you to the quick—touched you in your tenderest point—severed hallowed companionships—leveled in the dust clay idols—but it was all His doing. “Behold, I will allure”—”I will bring into the wilderness”—”I will comfort.” He leads us into the wilderness, and He leads us up, and He leads us through.

As He gives us our comforts—our “oil and wine,” our “wool and flax,” our “vines and our fig-trees”—so when He sees fit does He take them away. Whatever be the voices He may be now addressing to me, be it mine to recognize in them the thoughts and utterances of unalterable love, and to say—

I listen carefully to what God the Lord is saying, for He speaks peace to His people, His faithful ones. Psalm 85:8

-John MacDuff (1818-1895)

What Can Illness Do To Us? – A Meditation

ESo we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.The Lord is on my side, I will not fear. – Psalm 118:6

Is it not in the sovereign hands of the Lord? Every pain and every distress is under the supreme authority of our God. Even if Satan and his legions are involved, they are only permitted to go as far as His hand allows, and He could reverse their work in an instant if he decided. Even if the illness is due to sinful choices, is not Jesus the forgiver of sins and restorer.

If we face any illness, no matter the cause, God does not cease to be in control. Did He know this was coming? Does He have the power to stop it? Most certainly. The logic that flows from these two truths is that God is the final decision-maker for everything that comes against us.

What, then, can illness do to us if it is under the providence of God? It can afflict, but not crush. It can perplex, but cannot drive us to despair. It can even strike down, but it cannot destroy.

On the contrary, sickness, sovereignly wielded like a scalpel in the hand of our good God, can only heal. For all things work together for the those that love Him (Rom. 8:28), and disease certainly does not fall outside the category of “all things.” By it, He weans us from the passing treasure of this world, and He teaches us to redeem the time. In all of it, He is spurring us on to holiness, and holiness is where true happiness is found.

Lord we resign ourselves to your perfect will. We will fight for our health as your word calls us to since our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and anyone who destroys the temple will also be destroyed (1 Cor. 3:16-17). However, we leave the results of our fight in your hands because we know that even if the outward man is wasting away, the inward man is being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16).

We will not look on the things that are seen, but the things that are unseen (2 Cor. 4:18). In this way, we will find peace in the pain, deliverance in the distress, and healing in the hurt.

We love you, Jesus.

Seek the Lord and His Strength

Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually! -Psa 105_4

Seek the LORD and His strength; seek His presence continually! – Psalm 105:4

Lord, Your word gives me this invitation, so I come. I came yesterday, and You provided the strength I needed, so here I am again, seeking You.

I know Your strength is the result of Your presence, so I seek that first and foremost. You are the One I want. If I could have Your power without having You, I would instead remain weak with You, but I know Your presence and strength cannot be separated.

I seek Your presence, not in this moment only, but through the entirety of my day. If at any moment I begin to feel independent of You, remind me of my need. You are my all in all, Jesus. You are my everything.

Be with me through this day, and let Your strength be seen in all that I need to face. For I know, in that way, all that needs to be accomplished will be accomplished. In that way, may I glorify You and enjoy You forever.

The Benefits of the Lord

Benefits

Forget not all his benefits. – Psalm 103:2

Jesus, Your benefits are innumerable. They are as infinite as You. You forgive all our iniquities. They are too numerous for us to count, but where sin abounds, Your grace abounds all the more. The wrath we deserve, You bore on the cross.

Oh, Father, You heal all our diseases. How many times have our bodies been ill and then restored back to health? We are not able to recall them all. We also know that one day we may face a disease that will take our life. We may even be fighting that illness right now, but even that will be healed when You resurrect us. Though we are sown perishable, we will be raised imperishable.

Lord, You redeem our life from the pit. You save us from snares that have been laid for us by our enemies, and much more frequently, You deliver us from the tombs we have dug ourselves in our sinfulness. We dug the graves of sin and then fell in. You do not hold our iniquities against us. You rescue us from ourselves. We also know that the way you sometimes deliver us is through the illnesses already mentioned. When we place our hope and confidence in the things of this world, You show us our frailty and folly through bodily weakness and point us back to You. In one movement You heal our diseases and rescue us from worldliness.

With steadfast love You crown us. This crown of love is what moves you to do everything else already mentioned. You satisfy us with good, and You are the preeminent good. The source of all other goods. You give Yourself to us, and there is no higher gift. No greater satisfaction can be found. As You give Yourself to us, You lift our heads, and our youth is renewed like the eagles.

You are the Gospel, oh, Lord. It is You we desire, and You fulfill that desire with a satisfaction that promises more as it both quenches and stirs our thirst. May we never forget Your benefits. May we be ever mindful of You.

We love you, Jesus.

Keep My Eyes From Worthless Things

I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. – Psalm 101:3

Lord, our days are often spent looking upon worthless things, and this is a great sin. We ask for your forgiveness. This world is continuously setting them before us. From T.V. movies, and billboards, to social media, they seem to be everywhere we look. To make matters worse, our hearts often long for them. We are drawn to them to such a degree, that even if the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak.

We know, as you have told us, that the eyes are the windows to our souls. Where we direct them not only reveals the condition of our hearts but moves our hearts to desire what we look upon more earnestly.

Help us, Lord, to set our eyes on what is holy and worthy; to set our eyes on things unseen. For until we turn our eyes to what is truly beautiful and worthy, we will be held captive to the lesser things.

Lord, give us the strength to pull our eyes from the unholy distractions of this world and place them upon You. As we look to You, sanctify our hearts, so when the worthless things are once again before us, we will see them with holy eyes and immediately turn away.

Jesus, you are true beauty, and you are true worth. Be the center of all our thoughts and desires.  We love you.

Thanksgiving, Gratitude, and Leanness of Soul

thanksgivingOh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! Psalm 106:1

We often talk about the benefits of being thankful this time of year, but it is also important to look at what can happen to us if we are not. Psalm 106 begins by calling the people of God to praise and thanksgiving. The following 12 verses continue by reminding them of God’s great and merciful works. How He showed His power and set them free from the slavery in Egypt, parted the Red Sea to get them to safety, and covered their enemies with water. As they remember God’s goodness toward them, we see thanksgiving flowing from grateful hearts as they recognize the Lord and His mighty works.

Then, a few verses later, we find a drastic change as we are told how they soon forgot His works and did not seek His counsel. Later, when they were in the wilderness, they began to lust for the pots of meat they had in Egypt and began to test God in the desert. As they started to demand meat, as if the Lord had not given them something they deserved, we find this in verse 15, “And He gave them their request, but sent leanness of into their soul.

The Lord had granted them their fleshly desires, which was meat in the form of quail, but the meat did not satisfy them. The more they ate, the more it left them empty, and for some it even caused disease. Ingratitude works much the same way. When we think that we need something more than what God has already given us or has promised to provide, we tend to find that when we get what we desired, our longings had deceived us. The reason for this is because we should be feasting upon God, through His word, in remembrance of all He has done on our behalf. When we begin to forget God, and ingratitude begins to set in, it doesn’t matter what we receive, we will still want more. If God and His great mercy are not enough to fill our hearts with gratitude, nothing will.

Gratitude flows freely from a heart that is full of God, mindful of His great works, and aware of His grace to such unworthy and sinful creatures. The sinner, who hungers and thirsts after righteousness and has been filled by the justifying work of Christ, can find themselves in any harsh situation that this life has to offer and still have hearts that rejoice and are full. However, the one who forgets God’s great works toward them and begins to think they deserve something more can be in the most pleasant of all earthy positions but will live with souls which are lean.

The same Gospel that saves us from our wretched condition is the same Gospel that will fill our souls with joy for all eternity. We are never to forget how great His love is for us, that we should be called sons and daughters of God. To go about our lives without this at the center of who we are, will bring a leanness to our souls that will never be satisfied by anything else we try to put in its place.

This Thanksgiving, if your heart has been forgetful of God’s great love and works toward you, or if you find yourself unsatisfied with what the Lord had done for you, it is time to seek His face and remember His goodness. Do not let one more day go by without spending time in His word and calling out to Him in prayer. The most excellent holiday meals will not cure the leanness of soul which accompanies ingratitude toward God, and if you have remembered your God and your heart is full of Him, then any lack you face this holiday will not be able to empty the joy and gratitude which fills your soul. Godliness with contentment is great gain.

May all our hearts burst forth with gratitude toward our great God this holiday season!

Happy Thanksgiving,

D. Eaton

Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands! Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations. Psalm 100

He Restores My Soul

Dead. Black. Harmful. Guilty. These are not words that describe a mere principle that worked within me; they described me. Though life coursed through my veins, I was spiritually dead, and death was to be the only wage I would merit. Not simply physical death, but eternal death. Flesh was the only word that could describe me. As in death, my eyes were closed and lifeless; I allowed no light to enter because I loved the darkness. Blackness permeated everything I was. Though my eyes could see, in rebellion they would not look upon light and life. All my actions, though I boasted of goodness, were done in darkness, and because of this I was harmful; dangerous to myself and those around me, and none of it was accidental or blameless. In all of it, I was culpable for I had gone astray.

Broken, Injured. Restless. Fearful. Of no merit in myself and entirely for His name’s sake, He called this wandering sheep. For the first time, I heard His voice and it me gave life, and light began to penetrate my soul. Though still somewhat harmful something had changed. Something old had passed away, and all things were becoming new. Yet, in it all, I was still broken. I had injured myself and those around me, and in restlessness and fear, I began to wonder if He would fulfil all He promised.

Guided. Nourished. Protected. Loved. From a distance, I followed His voice learning that He would only lead me to places that would be to my advantage. In His leading He began to feed my wounded soul with nourishment that could not be found from any other source. In my ignorance, I would wander from time to time but He never failed to fend off the enemies of my soul with His rod, and if necessary He would even use His staff to chasten me. When my foolish legs began to wander, He did not hesitate to wound them. Then in my weakness, He would gather me up into His arms and keep me close to protect me from myself and my enemies while I would mend. In those times, I began to know Him better, and as He spoke to me using a name that was all my own. I knew I was loved.

Peace. Comfort. Fearless. Endless. My Shepherd’s name is Jesus, and He restores my soul. I now lay down in peace wherever He leads me, and I shall not be in want. I am comforted by His rod and staff and now long to be at my Shepherd’s side. No longer do I fear evil for He is with me. His goodness and mercy will be with me all the days of my life, and my dwelling in the house of the Lord will be endless.

“He restores my soul.”– Psalm 23:3

D. Eaton

More from The Fight of Faith

Every Fear Must Bow

You, O Lord, are my refuge and strength. No matter what fears assail me, they cannot stand before you. Whether my anxieties are based on reality or the result of my doubting heart, you are the calmer of my soul. There is no darkness your light cannot penetrate.

You are my peace. Every fear finds its defeat in you because none of them can overshadow your glory. There is no anxiety which can maintain its strength in the presence of your might. There is no cunning that can stand in the light of your wisdom and knowledge.

One day your Majesty will be acknowledged by all. Not only will every knee bow and every tongue confess that you are Lord, but, for all who come to you in faith, every sickness must heal, every broken heart must mend, every need must be met, and every loneliness must find its true companion. All of this is possible because no stain of sin can resist the cleansing power of your cross.

Nothing can touch you, O Lord, and my life is hidden in you. You are my helper, the upholder of my life. I give you thanks and praise in the midst of a dark and troubled land. May my worship be like a lighthouse calling to ships on a dangerous sea to find their rest in your harbor.

Calm my soul, O Lord. Let me look in triumph upon every fear. Let your peace, which passes understanding, rule in my heart. Hide me in the shadow of your wing. My soul clings to you, and your right hand upholds me.

O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress. Psalm 59:9

D. Eaton (with help from the Psalms)