A Little Gem in Stepney

On Sunday, June 19, my daughter, son-in-law, and I were in London, mid-way through a trip of a life-time.  We were traveling with a group from their church through 5 countries looking specifically at the Reformation period of Church History.  I have SO much to say about this trip, and am getting ready to share photos and thoughts with you, but you know how it is when there’s something that just won’t keep?  I have been chomping at the bit to share one particular memory with you.  It was not a part of the scheduled tour, but it was a thrill for me personally and I was inspired to paint as soon as I got home.

St. Dunstan's Church, Stepney

Sunday, June 19, 2016

One of many descents into the Tube.

One of many descents into the Tube.

My eyes filled with grateful tears, when descending the escalator to the London “Tube.”  With our very busy tour schedule, and the remoteness of this little church, I was so happy that things were working out.  It would take about an hour of underground (the London “subway” or Tube) , bus and walking.  I’m not sure I could have found it on my own, but thankfully, Jon and April joined me for free-time that day.  I will always be grateful to Jon for making it possible. 

A little church, in Stepney Green, at the East part of London, and just a few blocks from the Thames, was our destination.  From 1640 – 1646, Jeremiah Burroughs was preaching here, for the last 6 years of his life.  He was called “The Morningstar of Stepney” back then, and 350 years later, his most well-known work, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, became one of my husband’s favorite books.  Burroughs was a faithful Puritan pastor and member of the Westminster Assembly, for more info, click HERE. or for more detail... HERE

But, back to my story…

It had been a very full day; church in the morning, a 2 hour walking tour in the St. Paul’s Cathedral area, the Tower of London, and a quick look into the British Library “Treasures” room before it closed.  Interspersed were meals, eaten on the run, and multiple Tube and taxi rides.  (Thankfully, all museums in London are free, so you can duck in and out, and not feel ripped off.)  Walked a few blocks to grab some dinner, which we ate on the run, now aware that the evening would soon be upon us, and we still had a ways to go to find St. Dunstan’s Church. 

With dinner in hand we discovered that the Underground route we needed was closed. We had to go a round-a-bout way, (still with dinner in hand), sharing the most crowded underground ride yet.  We were literally inches away from everyone, including a drunk guy who was nearly falling over on us as we stood holding on to the poles.  (no such thing as "personal space")  He was intent on telling us how we Americans should vote this fall.  So funny!  I felt relief when the doors opened at our stop.  Next, a bus ride, and then a walk of 5 blocks through a quiet, residential neighborhood.  I was so thankful to have Jon with us, as it was a bit lonely feeling. 

St. Dunstan's and All Saints Church, Stepney, London, England

St. Dunstan's and All Saints Church, Stepney, London, England

And then, rounding a corner, there it was.  St. Dunstan’s Church in the midst of a beautiful, churchyard of green grass, big trees, and old tombstones.   It was not crowded-in by high-rise office buildings, like so many of the churches we’d seen.  The gate was open, though the church door was locked.  There were some people walking their dogs and a few men sitting on a grave, talking with their friends.  It was a very quiet scene.  This church dates back to the 7th century, but most of the current building was built in the 15th century.  (some parts go back to 1200)  Amazingly, the building had survived the Blitz of WWII and with minimal changes over the last 500 years,  it is almost entirely the same building that Burroughs preached in, rag stone rubble, limestone trim, gargoyles, and all. (*more info at end of post) 

How Gary would have loved this place.  He would have enjoyed seeing where one of his heroes preached, and walking around looking at the gravestones.  But, of course, he's actually WITH Jeremiah, in the presence of the Savior they both love so I won't feel sorry for him.

I love looking over the notes Gary wrote to himself, to see what was important to him.  

I love looking over the notes Gary wrote to himself, to see what was important to him.  

I am grateful for Jeremiah Burroughs.  Gary, sat under his training, every time he returned to "The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment." I believe Gary's peaceful acceptance of life's ups and downs was largely due to this book.  Gary did not particularly love reading, as it was not easy for him, and there were few books he read, but let me share a couple of things he underlined in the book.  Maybe you'll be blessed by them too.

"Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God's wise and fatherly disposal in every condition."  J.B.

"Contentment is a sweet, inward heart-thing.  It is a work of the Spirit indoors." J.B.

"When you are in a ship at sea which has all it's sails spread with a full gale of wind, and is swiftly sailing, can you make it stand still by running up and down in the ship?  No more can you make the providence of God alter and change its course with your vexing and fretting; it will go on with power, do what you can.  Do but understand the power and efficacy of providence and it will be a mighty means helping you to learn the lesson of contentment." J.B.

"So this is the art of contentment: not to seek to add to our circumstances, but to subtract from our desires." Jeremiah Burroughs

"So this is the art of contentment: not to seek to add to our circumstances, but to subtract from our desires." Jeremiah Burroughs

I'm glad contentment was important to Gary.  He would be the first to say it did not come easy to him but he really wanted to trust the Lord in every area of life, especially the rough patches.  He prayed to have a trusting heart often and God answered that prayer by making the big trials in our life so much easier, and enriching.  The girls and I have read it too, and I'm going through it again, because I'm struggling with a greedy heart lately, and contentment in God's plan for me is the answer to greed!  

A few hours earlier on this day, I had stood in a very, very long line to see the extremely valuable, and highly guarded Crown Jewels, in the Tower of London. They were amazing.  The royal crowns and scepters, are decorated with HUGE and beautiful diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and more. British royalty are honored with the biggest and best gems in the world.  But Jeremiah Burroughs calls "Christian Contentment" the rare jewel.  Contentment, is so elusive yet we are called to it.  One day, in Glory, it will be mine.  Until then, I entrust myself to the Lord's training and like the apostle Paul,  am "learning" the secret of how to be content.  On this day I was able for a little while to walk in the steps of a faithful man who, though dead, still speaks.  Thank you Rev. Burroughs. 

This rose, if I'm not mistaken is a Newport Fairy Rose.  Gary grew these rambling pink roses at our Sunland home.  It was frosting on the cake to see these growing on the church grounds. 

This rose, if I'm not mistaken is a Newport Fairy Rose.  Gary grew these rambling pink roses at our Sunland home.  It was frosting on the cake to see these growing on the church grounds. 

 
"My brethren, the reason why you have not got contentment in the things of the world is not because you have not got enough of them - that is not the reason - but the reason is, because they are not things proportionable to that immortal soul of yours that is capable of God himself."  Jeremiah Burroughs

"My brethren, the reason why you have not got contentment in the things of the world is not because you have not got enough of them - that is not the reason - but the reason is, because they are not things proportionable to that immortal soul of yours that is capable of God himself."  Jeremiah Burroughs

"...I have learned, to be content, in whatever circumstances I am. 

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." 

Philippians 4:11-13

(FOR MORE STUDY, Pastor Mike Riccardi preaches about Biblical contentment; what it is, and how to learn it.  To listen, click HERE!)


*INTERESTING TRIVIA:  St. Dunstan's was known as the "Church of the High Seas" and many sailors are buried here.  The naval ensign continues to fly from the bell tower.  There is a stained glass window dedicated to those sailors who lost their lives in the war.  It is built of Kent limestone.    Shortly after Burroughs died in 1648, the churchyard had been expanded to 7 acres to accommodate the massive number of deaths due to the Great Plague of London.  Today it is a park, open to all. 

St. Dunstan's Church, Stepney

St. Dunstan's Church, Stepney

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Facing Grief - A Book Review

Saying goodbye to loved ones is nothing new.  Death is as sure as life.  Three hundred and forty two years ago, in 1674, a little book was written to help some parents who lost a beloved child.  It has helped me too and I want you to know about it. 

The title, “Facing Grief: Counsel for Mourners” perfectly describes what this little book is about.  The author, John Flavel, a minister in the south of England, had already buried two wives and his parents when he wrote these pages.  Facing Grief is not an autobiography, but his own tragedies, give legitimacy to the hard but helpful truths he put down on paper.  There are minimal stories, or personal examples, but if you want to know how to mourn in a way that glorifies God, Flavel brings Scripture to bear on grief.  The language is in the “old English” style, but this did not deter me.  I soaked up the pages. 

Everyone’s path of grief is different, and yet, for Christians, there are certain things we need to remember. 

Here are a sampling of quotes from each section…

  • The difference between “moderate” and “immoderate” sorrow and the biblical parameters of both. 

              “We must allow the mourning, afflicted soul a due and comely expression of his grief and sorrow in his complaints to both God and men….There is no sin in complaining TO God, but much wickedness in complaining OF Him.”  Flavel sites David in the Psalms as an example of the right way to grieve…”I poured out my complaint before Him; I showed before Him my trouble.  When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then you knew my path.” Psalm 142: 2-3

  • Sorrowing can cross the line and become sinful. 

              “Our sorrows may then be pronounced sinful when they deafen our ears to all the wholesome and seasonable words of counsel and comfort offered us for our relief and support.”  I myself have been guilty of this.  On more than one occasion, I’ve said to dear ones, “You don’t understand!”, hurting them, and missing out on the comfort I needed and would have truly helped. 

  • For the unbeliever, sorrow can be a good thing.

              “This affliction for which you mourn may be the greatest mercy to you that ever yet befell you in this world…Why this is sometimes the way of the Lord with men: ‘If they are bound in fetters, and held in cords of affliction; then he shows them their work, and their transgressions that they have exceeded.  He opens also their ear to discipline, and commands that they return from iniquity.’ Job 36:8-9

  • There are many, many comforts for believers.  (This is the largest section of the book.)

              “Always remember that, however soon and unexpected your parting with your relations was, yet your lease was expired before you lost them, and you enjoyed them every moment of the time that God intended them for you…Oh, if this had been done, or that omitted; had it not been for such miscarriages and oversights, my dear husband, wife, or child had been alive at this day!  No, no, the Lord’s time was fully come, and all things concurred and fell in together to bring about the pleasure of His will.  Let that satisfy you: had the ablest physicians in the world been there, or had they that were prescribed another course, as it is now so it would have been when they had done all…He who appointed the seasons of the year appointed the seasons of our comfort in our relations; and as those seasons cannot be altered, no more can these.  All the course of providence is guided by an unalterable decree; what falls out casually to our apprehension yet falls out necessarily in respect of God’s appointment.  Oh, therefore be quieted in it.  This must needs be as it is.”

“Call to mind in this day of trouble, the covenant you have with God, and what you solemnly promised him in the day you took him for your God… Now Christians, make good to Christ what you did so solemnly promise him.  He, I say, HE has disposed of this your dear relation, as pleased him, and is thereby trying your uprightness in the covenant which you made with him.  Now where is the satisfaction and content you promised to take in all his disposals?  Where is that covenanted submission to his will?  Did you except this affliction that is come upon you?...this day it is put to the proof.  Remember what you have promised him.”

“Be careful you exceed not in your grief for the loss of earthly things, considering that Satan takes the advantage of all extremes…When it is dark night with men, it is noon-day with Satan; that is, our suffering-time is his busiest working-time; many a dismal suggestion he then plants and grafts upon our affliction, which are much more dangerous to us than the affliction itself…desponding thoughts…hard thoughts of God…murmuring and repining…irreligious and atheistical thoughts…By these things Satan gets no small advantage on the afflicted Christian.”

“If God be your God, you have really lost nothing by the removal of any creature-comfort….God is the fountain of all true comfort; creatures, the very best and sweetest, are but cisterns to receive and convey to us what comfort God is pleased to communicate to them; and if the cistern be broken, or the pipe be cut off, so that no more comfort can be conveyed to us that way, he has other ways and means to do it by, which we think not of; and if he please, he can convey his comforts to his people without any of them.”

  • Excuses and pleas for excessive sorrow AND practical ways to restrain oneself from it are answered in the final chapters.  These hit hard and get right to the point. 

Facing Grief is not an easy “feel-good” book.  But good theology is comforting.  As a Christian widow, I find my greatest comfort in my relationship with Jesus, my Lord and savior.  I always have.  This book has reminded me of His wonderful love, and comforts that come in many forms.  Sorrow over losing a loved one is normal, but because of Jesus, I can sorrow with HOPE!  Not “hope” meaning “I hope so.” But HOPE meaning “SURE of God’s promises.”

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Lest anyone think I’m not grieving about Gary, don’t get me wrong, I am still sad at times.  But this very good book has cautioned me to be careful as I grieve.  My loss should not be a source of sin in my life.  It should drive me to a closer walk with the Lord.  Peace and Joy are the beautiful byproducts.  Just as King David knew he would see his son again, I know I will see Gary too,  He's not coming back, but someday I get to go where he is!