God Our Help in Ages Past and Years To Come

Posted in Heaven, Hymns, John Bunyan, Puritans, Suffering, The Pilgrim's Progress, Valley of Vision on January 29, 2015 by kevinwilkening

My younger brother’s thirteen year old daughter, Eilise, has been diagnosed with a pinealblastoma: an aggressive brain tumor. After hanging up the phone, having heard the news through my brother’s breaking voice, and our short but meaningful tear-filled conversation, I was reminded once again of The Pilgrim’s ProgressThe Pilgrim’s Progress is a Christian allegory that was written by John Bunyan, and published in February 1678.

I began thinking particularly of a couple sections. First, when night is falling, and Christian has entered the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Christian finds himself in the middle of the valley amidst gloom and terror, but then he hears the words of the Twenty-third Psalm: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Christian makes it through the night trusting that God is with him. Then, he leaves valley as the sun rises on a new day.

The second is when Christian and Hopeful, having just visited Vanity Fair, are traveling along a particularly rough section of road. They leave the highway to travel on the easier By-Path Meadow. However, there is a rainstorm that forces them to spend the night, and in the morning, they are captured by Giant Despair who takes them to his Doubting Castle where they are imprisoned, beaten and starved. The Giant Despair wants them to commit suicide, but they endure his misery until Christian realizes that he has a key called Promise, which will open all the doors and gates of Doubting Castle. Using the key, they escape. Eventually, Christian and Hopeful come upon some shepherds in the Delectable Mountains. And the shepherds show them some of the wonders of the place also known as “Immanuel’s Land.”

What a helpful allegory for the Christian life. I love The Pilgrim’s Progress for several reasons. However, the one I will highlight today is that this story reminds us that our lives are all pilgrimages, or journeys, or voyages. And all pilgrimages, journeys, or voyages have real danger, and put us in real peril. However, for the Christian, the peril is never experienced apart from God’s grace. Oh, for more grace!
valleyofvisionHere is a Puritan prayer entitled “Voyage.” I have posted this before. However, it is the prayer that I immediately think of when my friends or family find themselves in the midst of this life’s raging storms. So, today I pray this for my brother and his family, and to The Lord of the Oceans!

O Lord of the Oceans,

My little bark sails on a restless sea, grant that Jesus may sit at the helm and steer me safely; suffer no adverse currents to divert my heavenward course; let not my faith be wrecked amid storms and shoals; bring me to harbour with flying pennants, hull unbreached, cargo unspoiled.

I ask great things, expect great things, shall receive great things. I venture on thee wholly, fully, my wind, sunshine, anchor, defense.

The voyage is long, the waves high, the storms pitiless, but my helm is held steady, thy Word secures safe passage, they grace wafts me onward, my haven is guaranteed. This day will bring me nearer home, grant me holy consistency in every transaction, my peace flowing as a running tide, my righteousness as every chasing wave.

Help me to live circumspectly, with skill to convert every care into prayer, halo my path with gentleness and love, smooth every asperity (harshness) of temper; let me not forget how easy it is to occasion grief; may I strive to bind up every wound, and pour oil on all troubled waters. May the world this day be happier and better because I live.

Let my mast before me be the Saviour’s cross, and every oncoming wave the fountain in His side.  Help me, protect me in the moving sea until I reach the shore of unceasing praise.

In the words of the great hymn writer, Isaac Watts, “O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home.” ~ O God, Our Help in Ages Past ~ by Isaac Watts, 1719.

My brother, may our faithful God grace you on your pilgrimage, and shelter you in the midst of your current storm.


A Dramatic Reading of The Gospel of Mark

Posted in Max McLean, The Gospel of Mark on March 6, 2014 by kevinwilkening

I mentioned on Sunday Morning March 2, 2014 that it takes a slow reader about 2 hours to read through The Gospel of Mark, and it takes a fast reader about an hour. If you are not a reader, then here is another way to immerse yourself in The Gospel of Mark. And this is good stuff!!

If you go to YouTube you can watch all sixteen chapters of The Gospel of Mark as performed by Max McLean.

The Gospel of Mark

Posted in R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark on March 6, 2014 by kevinwilkening

The Gospel of MarkAs we (CHBC) embark on our sermon series through the Gospel of Mark, I thought an outline would be helpful for us to grasp the flow of the narrative.

The plot of Mark’s Gospel is often understood (after the prologue verses 1-13) as consisting of three main stages that are focused on three geographical locations. Thus, it would be appropriate to read Mark’s Gospel as ‘A Drama in Three Acts.’ This is not to say that Mark designed his Gospel in this way. It seems clear that Mark did not write his text in sections, but rather as a single flowing narrative. We need to keep this in mind as we observe the following outline of the Gospel of Mark.

1:1                   The Heading

1:2-13             The Prologue: Setting the Scene

1:14-8:21        Act One: Galilee

1:14-15            Introduction: The Essential Message of Jesus

1:16-20            The Formation of the ‘Jesus Circle’

1:21-39            Preaching and Healing: General Impression

(A Day in Capernaum)

1:40-3:6           Controversial Aspects of Jesus’ Ministry

3:7-12              Wide Recognition of Jesus’ Authority to Heal

3:13-35            Varying Responses to Jesus: Supporters and Opponents

4:1-34             Explanatory discourse: The Paradox of the

Kingdom of God

4:35-5:43         Further Revelations of Jesus’ Unique Authority

6:1-6                Not Everyone Is Impressed by Jesus

6:7-30              Jesus’ Mission Extended through the Disciples

6:31-56            A Sequence of Miracles around the Lake:

Who Is Jesus?

7:1-23              A Foretaste of Confrontation in Jerusalem:

The Issue of Purity

7:24-8:10         The Mission Extended to Neighboring Peoples

8:11-21            Summary So Far: Both Opponents and Supporters

Still Have a Lot to Learn


8:22-10:52      Act Two: On the Way to Jerusalem 

(Learning about the Cross)

8:22-26            First Healing of a Blind Man

8:27-9:13         Learning to Recognize Jesus

9:14-29            Success and Failure in Exorcism

9:30-50            More Lessons about the Way of the Cross

10:1-31            The Revolutionary Values of the Kingdom of God

10:32-45          Following Jesus in the Way of the Cross

10:45-52          Second Healing of a Blind Man


11:1-16:8        Act Three: Jerusalem

11:1-25            Throwing Down the Gauntlet

11:27-13:2       Confrontation with the Jerusalem Establishment

13:3-35           Explanatory discourse: The End of the Old Order

14:1-11            Setting the Scene for the Passion

14:12-42          Last Hours with the Disciples

14:43-15:15     The Arrest and Trials of Jesus

15:16-47          The Crucifixion, Death, and Burial of Jesus

16:1-8              The Empty Tomb

(Outline reproduced from The International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Mark by R.T. France pg. 13-14)

John Coltrane and Ecclesiastes

Posted in Ecclesiastes, Grace, John Coltrane, Music, Tim Keller, Work on October 17, 2013 by kevinwilkening

John ColtraneEarly today, October 17, I posted on Twitter the following: “When Tennessee Ford’s 1955 hit & The Vogue’s 1965 hit make your Ecclesiastes 2:12-26 sermon I am reminded that musicians often speak truth.”

Here is another example of a musician speaking truth. This is an excerpt from John Coltrane’s liner notes inside his 1957 album entitled, “A Love Supreme.” (I have been listening to it all day).

During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which as to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At the time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music. I feel this has been granted through His grace. ALL PRAISE TO GOD …

This album is a humble offering to Him. An attempt to say “THANK YOU GOD” through our work, even as we do in our hearts and with our tongues. May He help and strengthen all men in every good endeavor.

— John Coltrane

*(quote taken from Tim Keller’s book entitled, “Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work”)*

Ecclesiastes 2:24–25 (ESV) — There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, 25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?

About Schmidt & Ecclesiastes

Posted in Ecclesiastes, Film on September 6, 2013 by kevinwilkening

About SchmidtConfession: I have been surprised how well Hollywood understands the Book of Ecclesiastes (although unknowingly).

Think about the movie About Schmidt (2003). Context: Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) is a recent retiree from Omaha, Nebraska. Throughout the movie Warren Schmidt’s inner struggles are heard through the letters he writes to Ndugu, a young African boy whom he supports monthly. As he returns from his daughter’s wedding in Denver, Colorado he stops by a roadside exhibit that highlights the early pioneers who crossed Nebraska heading West. He then expresses his frustration at not having done anything that might make his life significant. In a voice-over, he reads a letter that he has written to Ndugu.

My trip to Denver is so insignificant compared to the journeys others have taken … I know we’re all pretty small in the big scheme of things, and I suppose the most you can hope for is to make some kind of difference. But what kind of difference have I made? What in the world is better because of me? When I was out in Denver, I tried to do the right thing, tried to convince Jeannie she was making a big mistake, but I failed. Now she’s married to that nincompoop and there’s nothing I can do about it. I am weak, and I am a failure. There’s no getting around it. Relatively soon I will die … Once I am dead and everyone who knew me dies too, it will be as though I never even existed. What difference has my life made to anyone? None I can think of. None at all. Hope things are fine with you.

Yours truly, Warren Schmidt

It is true. Ecclesiastes 2:22–23 (ESV) — What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? 23 For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.

Ecclesiastes 3:19–20 (ESV) — For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. 20 All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.

So we are encouraged in wisdom … Ecclesiastes 3:12–13 (ESV) — I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

Are you getting excited for our study through the Book of Ecclesiastes??

Barth, Mozart, & Ecclesiastes

Posted in Ecclesiastes, Karl Barth, Mozart on September 6, 2013 by kevinwilkening

Karl BarthApparently Karl Barth (pronounced Bart) listened to Mozart every day, finding in his music a joy that “overtakes sorrow without extinguishing it, in which the Yea rings louder than the ever present Nay.” (A quote from the foreword of Karl Barth’s book Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart).

Barth, speaking of Mozart in his Church Dogmatics wrote, “He [Mozart] had heard the harmony of creation to which the shadow also belongs but in which the shadow is not darkness, deficiency is not defeat, sadness cannot become despair, trouble cannot degenerate into tragedy and infinite melancholy is not ultimately forced to claim undisputed sway … The light shines all the more brightly because it breaks forth from the shadow. The sweetness is also bitter and cannot therefore cloy (sicken with excess sweetness). Life does not fear death, but knows it well.”

And this is what we will see and feel as we journey through the Book of Ecclesiastes. The light will shine all the more brightly because it will break forth from the shadow.

Like Clock-Work … says Ecclesiastes

Posted in Books, Ecclesiastes, Lewis Smedes on September 4, 2013 by kevinwilkening

Clock“Most of us spend our time crawling, groping, climbing, sometimes running, but always moving like the works of a clock. But now and then joy comes to arrest the motion, it stops the tedious ticking of our life-clocks with the bracing discovery that we have received a gift. It works most magnificently when we feel our own life as if it were God’s gift to us.”

~ Lewis Smedes, How Can It Be All Right When Everything Is All Wrong?

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