December 29, 2012

Remembering and Restoring…

 

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I slept in till eleven this morning.  No pitter pat of feet to hasten my waking.  I think I needed the little extra anyway.  The junior Skelton entourage left in the wee hours to make its way home today.  I lent a hand to the pulling on of little socks and shoes, the tucking into carseats with kisses of blessing and hushed goodbyes.  No tears; we were all too sleepy or too focused on catching ferries and double checking that favorite blankies, pillows and soothers were not left behind.  Then with a prayer of thanksgiving and petition for their safety and blessing the old van was off with a chirrup and whine into the early morning darkness…

Now the house wears that hollow emptiness of guests just gone, and despite the soothing cello and harp of Christmas medleys, it is all too clear that the festivities are over.  Today is for restoring life to the old quiet order.  It seems  already to be happening. There are no matchbox cars in sight, no stray tires even.  No blocks, or lego or coloring books.  No dollies, strollers, rattles or stuffies. 

Undoubtedly there will be remains—I’ve already found a little lost red T-shirt from last night’s last laundry…and I spy a miniature plastic ‘popcan’ that rolled away to hide amongst the woodstove’s implements…And there are the memories of our being all together again, but all grown up and with babies in tow. It was a rare delight never to be relived.  For babies grow, and downy cheeks turn to stubble.  Baby coos to deep-throated conversation. “Can I have a cookie please” morphs into  an adult avoidance of calories. 

So for this morning, this quiet interlude awash in remembering and restoring, I am glad for the time spent last night making play dough and real bread dough together.  Never mind that the salt was forgotten in the real thing and we shall have to suffer through a couple loaves of very flat bread.  The pink and the blue dough got their share of salt, and play…  I’m glad of the sticky hands stuck in the real thing that had to be washed and washed to get un-‘stuck’, until little shirts were wet and had to be taken off and thrown in the laundry, letting little half-clad people run around screaming for sheer delight… They had fun at Grandmom and Grandad’s house. That’s what matters.  And they know that they are loved.

And I think they tasted morsels not just of goodies but of grace.  There was the night I had to slip out to take out the trash or some such thing.  No sooner had I gone, then looking in the sliding glass door I saw a chair had been pushed up to a desktop and little fingers worked to pry sweets from a forbidden tree.  Oh the shock and shame of being caught red-handed. He knew he must not touch this tree.  There were dozens of other treats and candies and cookies for the asking.  Why must he go for this one? It was the Eden story all over again.  We had read it together in his new Bible Story book just that morning, how Eve had taken fruit from the forbidden tree and shared it with Adam and been turned out of the garden.

Standing in the doorway I reminded him of it now.  He remembered the storyline: the tree, the ‘apple’, the sadness.  Now he was reliving it.  What’s to be done for this longing for the forbidden which proves to ‘taste yucky’ in the end anyway? It proves us to be sinners all.  But I at the door, checked my words of shaming remembering there is grace too. And would he like to have a candy from another tree when Grandmom finishes her chore?  It’s his for the asking. 

Christmas is about the joy of a Saviour being provided for our reconciliation to God, about a re-opening of the Way to the Tree of Life. And this Grandmom is glad.  It would be only a matter of time till I crumbled and gave in to my own temptations spewing ‘madness’ on my progeny.  I too would need to be forgiven and offered a sweet from the Tree of Life.  Grandmom too would be caught red-handed but forgiven.  “Sorry”s and hugs all around—for this is grace and I am glad for it as I sit remembering and restoring my soul…

Wishing you and yours richest blessings and restorative grace this fast receding holiday season…

--LS

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December 21, 2012

Has anyone seen the King of the Jews?

Angels heralded the news of His birth.

Shepherds came to see Him freshly swaddled.

A couple old people in the temple lingered long to cherish the moment of his dedication.

Foreign astrologers brought gifts for royalty and bowed in worship.

But largely his birth was missed, this one born King of the Jews.

Herod was caught off guard, as were the religious leaders and scribes.  They knew the text well that predicted his birth but they weren’t expecting it any time soon. They had no felt need of a Savior. They were in power in their little realms…A king would threaten their dominion.

He would be born in a stable, make His triumphal entry on a humble donkey, and wear a crown of thorns at His coronation—this King of the Jews.  He had come to save His people from their sins, Mt.1:21 not their Roman overlords.  It seems that only those who perceived themselves in need of a Savior were on the scene to welcome Him.

The lowly shepherd outcasts seemed an unlikely welcoming committee, but then again,  maybe not.  They weren’t pre-occupied with important business or illusions of being indispensible cogs in a very busy gear box! And most importantly they weren’t blind to the wonder of a night sky bright with angels.

Two tottering old folks, Simeon and Anna,  whose physical vision was likely beginning to dim with age, seemed unlikely to recognize Him.  And yet they lived focused on the hope of their Messiah’s coming—the ‘consolation of Israel’, ‘the redemption of Jerusalem’ Lk.2:25ff. They were assured that they would live to see the day.  And here it was, their King was born and they got to see Him!

This term of Simeon’s, ‘consolation’, is intriguing.  It is the same Greek root used of the Holy Spirit Himself, the “Comforter”, whom Jesus would send to abide with his followers for ever (Jn.14:16).  This same Spirit who led Simeon into the temple to meet His Messiah and to bless him and his parents, was the One who would Comfort and seal the Redemption of all who place their hope of salvation in the Messiah.  Wonderful.   

And what of those mysterious strangers riding into Jerusalem in search of a newborn King?  How did they know he had been born?  Were there legends in their histories of the great God of the Hebrew people?  The One who sent plagues on Egypt, who fought Israel’s enemies, who dwelt in their Temple and received their sacrifices, making them prosper or fall according to their allegiance. Had they heard of His renown?  They saw the star.  They knew its meaning.  And they came to worship.

What are we to make of these gifts?  Gold is of course fitting for a King.  But frankincense?  It was always to accompany the meat offerings in the Temple.  Its sweet savor was pleasing to God.  Did the ‘wise men’ know?  Did their gift foreshadow the offering of this Lamb of God for the sins of the world in just a few years time?

Then there was the myrrh (literally, “Smyrna”), a bitter gum exuding from incisions in a certain tree’s bark.  It was a costly perfume and an antiseptic. It would be practical for skinned knees and wounds.  But it was more.  Myrrh was used for embalming.  When Nicodemus prepared Jesus’ body for burial he would use 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes. Jn.19:39,40  What more fitting gift for the King of the Jews, the Savior who would be crucified and buried, but whom the tomb could not retain!

This Jesus, “being found in human form…” come to save His people from their sins is the Christmas story.  But somehow I can’t stop there, with salvation left suspended in time.  It’s all that Simeon saw of it. And he was content to die in peace.  But we are privileged to see so much more of the story unfolded, how He “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” , and  how “God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name…”   Here’s where we stand in the story of redemption, given the choice to welcome this King as our King while it is yet optional. 

We get to join with the shepherds and ‘wise men’ and the faithful few, like Anna and Simeon, who eagerly awaited their Redemption.  For we are a waiting people too.  The rest of the Plan has not been fulfilled, the part that says “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Phil.2:8-11  Then  Redemption will be complete.  One can only imagine how the angels will be singing then!

And the words of an old cantata I sang as a kid ring in my ears: “The King is coming, The King is coming, Praise God, He’s coming again!”  We are people with reason to rejoice and to worship.  Our sins which are many have been forgiven.  Our salvation is just on the horizon---

--LS

And if you are needing an interlude from all the Christmas busyness, may I suggest this turn of heart—“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits…” Ps.103—It will do wonders.

"So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him." Heb.9:28

“For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.” Gal.5:5

‘…when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed…” II Thess.1:10

December 14, 2012

A Peace of My Mind

The morning fire wards off night’s chill, as I sit all nestled in my blankies, with tea and toast, chewing on morsels of the Word.  I’m reflecting on this peace Jesus came to bring, this peace that seems more elusive than ever at the very season that celebrates ‘peace on earth, good will to men’

You know the fluster, the pressure—presents to buy, cards to send (which hopefully will include a re-cap of the whole year and a picture of the whole family, right?), parties to attend (or host!), baking to do, meals to plan, shopping and more shopping for that other ingredient, that little extra, that perfect stocking stuffer—These are the surface things.  That’s not to mention the underlying loneliness, grief and sadness that the memories of Christmases past may evoke for those whose dear ones won’t be coming home this year or others with no home to come to…

It’s a season in desperate need of peace.  At my house too.  So I sit here morning by morning, determined not to be too busy for this—and I chew on the Word, beautiful words-- Zechariah’s prophecy over his son, for example, who will

‘give knowledge of salvation to his people, in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’ Lk.1:79 

My feet need such guidance! 

I know, ultimately the peace Jesus came to offer is reconciliation to a Holy God, a removal of enmity between us, a bringing us near, adoption, Sonship. These are awesome realities we are never meant to take for granted. But do they percolate through the way I live from day-to-day, especially in the pressure-cooker seasons of life? Am I at peace in my scurryings around to ‘make Christmas’? Must I even scurry?  Just the sound of the word makes me feel rushed!

There are so many things Christmas ends up meaning: the party, the baking, the music, the pressure of gifts not yet bought, not yet thought of!  All these things vie to outdo the one thing that is needful—O come let us adore Him, Jesus Christ the Lord.  I get this when I’m quiet in the mornings and the day’s cares aren’t yet on my plate, but in the hustle and bustle? in the middle of the ‘to do' list?  How do I maintain that peace?  This is what I want for Christmas, the whole season through, this peace that passes human understanding, that guards my heart like a nutcracker sentry. 

How does that happen? What does the Word tell me? “Keep in step with the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.”  I hadn’t thought of anxiety and irritability as lusts of the flesh. And that demanding everything to be ‘just right’ may be an unruly desire… These may be part of the ‘spirit of Christmas’ but they’re certainly not fruits of the Spirit! 

Love, joy, peace…ahhh these are the things I truly want.  Mary sat at Jesus feet adoring, attentive to His Words.  Martha scurried about preparing, heedless of the moments she was missing.  Too rushed to listen in on the conversation. Petulant that Mary wouldn’t help her.  It wasn’t wrong of her to fix a meal, to serve, or even to plan a party. It was wrong to lose sight of what would most please her Guest of honor.  Most of all He wanted to spend time with her. Jesus always had time for people.

Every year at this time I tread this fine edge between imitating Mary and Martha.  But I see now the advantage I have over Martha. She did not possess the indwelling Spirit of God.  Being a God of order, not confusion; of peace, not pandemonium, (I Cor.14:33) I can rest assured that he will guide my steps in the way of peace. He will give direct in all the planning and doing of what is really needful, as I keep an ear open for His direction and re-direction!  As I keep my eyes open for the people in my path who need the peace He would exude through me, or perhaps just a ride into town?! Or a visit over lunch?!  These are opportunities I have already missed in my hurrying. (I’m grateful for forgiveness and fresh chances) So  I press on, intent on ‘keeping the peace’ for the rest of the season. 

My reminders:

Walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Gal.5:16)

“…but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Rom.8:5,6

Rejoice in the Lord always…(He’s is the Lord after all. Not I. Relax!) Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Phil.4:4-6

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” Is.26:3

These verses embody my Christmas wish for you and me:

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Col.3:14-17

May all we do be wrapped up in love,
flowing from a heart at peace (regulated by Jesus, our Pace-maker) and saturated with His Word. 
Then our souls will sing as we go.   
And may everything we do and say reflect Jesus’ rule in our hearts as Prince of Peace and God with us.

Then we will overflow with thanksgiving for God’s love, God’s peace and God’s Word--all gifts to us at Christmas.

“For God so loved the world that He gave us his Son…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...for He Himself is our Peace.” Jn.3:16,Jn.1:14,Eph.2:14

Peace be with you and yours this Christmas time.

--LS

December 7, 2012

Rooted and Grounded in Love

I had a silly dream the other night--the kind you wake up from shaking your head at the preposterous suspension of good sense and logic in dreams. Anybody knows you cannot sustain a cut tree by periodic submersion in water, and yet this was the challenge that beset me in my dream: how to keep this silly ornamental fig propped up in a bucket long enough to give it a drink. Weird. Upon waking the solution was obvious—a Christmas tree stand of course! That took me off on another tangent—how strange the tradition of propping up dying trees and dressing them all pretty to celebrate the birth of a Life-giving Savior. All the while the tree is dying, if not dead. The charade is prolonged as long as needles remain (or until the housewife cannot stand the quantity of needles on the rug, or her firefighter husband recognizes the fire hazard this no-longer-evergreen is presenting…)

But I assure you we still haul in Christmas trees year-by-year. They are a beloved tradition. Now we grow and cut our own, a readily renewable resource. They grow like weeds along the roadside here, readily transplantable and voila, in a few years time, your own Charlie Brown tree! With more patience and a little trimming, a more refined look. Still, once that tree is severed from its roots, it becomes unstable and as good as dead. There will be no more growth, only a delayed wilt if we dig out the Christmas tree stand and water it well… And it occurs to me that this is my life in Christ—

I am rooted and grounded in Love (Eph.3:17). As I come to comprehend the extent of this perfect Love it will be to me a stabilizing, energizing, sufficient supply for life. Apart from it I am vulnerable to wilt. I reel from harsh words. I cringe when misunderstood. I slump and drop needles… But rooted and grounded in Love I can be like the tree planted by a stream "and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit" Jer.17:8. I'm thinking on these things this week--this love beyond measure, this love that extends forgiveness and acceptance.

I guess I am still reeling from a wound unwittingly delivered—I didn't see it coming. It hurt. It still hurts. Yet I am forgiven so that I may extend forgiveness. It is the overflow of Love. Love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…this love that is not easily provoked and refuses to assume the worst…(I Cor.13) This is the Love I have been shown. This is the Love that I can extend because I am rooted and grounded in Love.

Forgiveness is a much hashed-over topic. Is there anything new to say? I thought I understood it pretty well. But it never becomes quite so clear as when it is required of you… A friend pointed me to this clarification of the nature of true forgiveness written years ago by George MacDonald. He suggests there are forms of 'forgiveness' which do not truly 'send away' the offence but only refrain from revenge. We say we 'can't forget' when what we are doing is holding onto the memory in case we need to substantiate our claim to having been wronged. We hang onto the evidence, just in case… It bolsters our ego to be the one in the right. We hold hostage the wrongdoer to serve our pride. Is this true forgiveness? Is it the sort we have been shown?

God instead sends our sins as far away as the East is from the West. He removes all that would prevent our fellowship with Him. Restoration is the aim of forgiveness, not merely a refusal to retain resentment or take revenge. Is this my ideal? Or does my smug 'I forgive you' backhandedly imply 'but I'm not forgetting what you've done!'

George MacDonald explains the ideal forgiveness as one that hates the sin, not because it hurt me, but because it has broken fellowship with my brother…

One more will say: "He has wronged me grievously. It is a dreadful thing to me, and more dreadful still to him, that he should have done it. He has hurt me, but he has nearly killed himself. He shall have no more injury from it that I can save him. I cannot feel the same towards him yet; but I will try to make him acknowledge the wrong he has done me, and so put it away from him. Then, perhaps, I shall be able to feel towards him as I used to feel. For this end I will show him all the kindness I can, not forcing it upon him, but seizing every fit opportunity; not, I hope, from a wish to make myself great through bounty to him, but because I love him so much that I want to love him more in reconciling him to his true self. I would destroy this evil deed that has come between us. I send it away. And I would have him destroy it from between us too, by abjuring it utterly." [Unspoken Sermons I, "It shall not be forgiven"]

And here I am brought back to consider the poor fig tree. The truth is, there is more to its need to be rooted and grounded in love than merely allowing it to extend love and forgiveness to others who are in the wrong! This smacks of the noble-sounding sentiments of the Pharisee gone down to the temple to pray: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men…’ Lk.18:11 No, the greater reason for needing such grounding is that I need to be forgiven, continuously. I have been the one to do the hurting. It has done costly damage. Perhaps these wounds I reel from are nothing compared to the ones I have myself inflicted. Could it be I have unwittingly offended, worse yet stabbed, ones who had not seen it coming? Could it be they are reeling from my callous thoughtlessness? Yes, I know this to be true. And for this reason, I need more than a temporary dip in water to reinvigorate my leafy tips. This will take more than a Christmas tree stand. I must be rooted and grounded in love. There is no other hope for this old fig tree. I have been forgiven and continue to need forgiveness at least as much as anyone I perceive as having wronged me. I'm so glad a Savior has been born to us—One who took the initiative to seek and to save that which was lost before they had even come to their senses. (Lk.15)

We, without Him are feeble trees, parched and quaking, Charlie Brown trees, if you will. We carry about in these bodies the death of Jesus "so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies…in our mortal flesh". II Cor.4:10 But rooted and grounded in a living supply of water, there is life, forgiveness, grace! This is why I need this living supply of water.

There was once another tree, cut and formed into a Cross. For this, Jesus was born. "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree." Why? "that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed." I Pet.2:24 Yes! I can string the lights and celebrate! I am rooted and grounded in love.  Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! II Cor.9:15

'It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.'Lk.15:32

--LS

"…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Rom.5:8

Blessed [is] the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. Jer.17:7

He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, [so] great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, [so] far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Ps.103:10-12

"…according to the riches of his glory [may He] grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.Eph.3:15-19

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Eph.3:20-21

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This beautiful song sums it all up:

How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

 

November 30, 2012

The “W” Word

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Louie was a dog with a serious side, being of German extraction. Playing 'fetch' was no game. It was growling serious that he 'win', that he possess that stick and keep it from lying lost on the lawn or being snatched away from him…This was his work and there was nothing playful in it. He was focused and serious. I suppose that's why German Shepherds are chosen for police dogs and working occupations…

We made a good pair that way. I too see the serious side of any given incident, even if it's meant to be a joke. I suppose I take even myself too seriously. Always have. It was once about earning A's, pleasing the teacher, and so establishing my identity as a 'good' student. Did I transfer this mentality to God? I wonder sometimes. Do I work still for A's so He'll be pleased?

There's one snag in the whole thing. I'm not really an 'A student' when it comes to the heart of the matter. 'Full of dead men's bones' is how Jesus described anyone trusting in their own performance but not concerned about the hidden matters of the heart. Only Jesus can change that. I've just finished listening to an excellent series of messages by Charles Price, addressing what's to be done to live the Christian life without it becoming a 'try-harder-to-be-good' sort of thing (which is futile, frustrating and a booby trap for prideful self-delusion!)

The concept of welcoming death to self in exchange for union with Christ keeps popping up for me. I'm a slow learner? No sooner did I finish this very encouraging series, then the following morning in church the message was taken from Romans 6—a matter-of-fact presentation on our 'union with Christ'—the key to having any capacity to please God. United with Him in His death—so we have died to our old sin nature. United with Him in His resurrection—so we have a new life, His life, motivating us from within.

So there it was again, this Christ who IS my life. I so readily fall out of grace and into effort. Surely I must need to DO something myself to be really pleasing. I so readily forget it's faith that pleases God and the obedience it engenders. To attempt obedience without faith is to follow Abraham's misguided effort to fulfill God's promise in his own strength. Disaster!

Another tell-tale sign of misunderstanding my standing as one dead, but alive despite myself, is that when I do fail or disappoint (myself or you!) it's a hard blow, as if it threatened my whole identity! God is not disappointed. He knows me through and through, knows my points of weakness, knows what I'm made of and has all that covered with Jesus! From me He expects repentance and a confident coming to the 'throne of grace' for all I lack. It is enough. I am able to resume life, humbled maybe at the recognition of my own propensity for sin, but forgiven and unashamed, accepted in the Beloved. As I write this I am preaching it to myself. It does not come naturally or easily for this would-be-perfect-in-her-own-strength girl. Reminders come.

I guess that's why I've so appreciated Price's messages this week with their emphasis that the Christian life is not about self-improvement but about dependence on Christ to live HIS life through me. The devil's not to blame, (or anybody else!). I am. But that's OK. Repentance is a breath away. And it's a relief to cast myself on One who really is good and wants to live His life out in me. He knows how to do it right!

What's the trick? There is none. The most confusing thing about the Christian life, Price suggests, is its simplicity. You cannot live it without Christ but when you're abiding in Him, by faith, things happen. It's like flying. You can't, until you're in the plane. Then there's nothing more to do but trust the plane to get you there. Even the anxious traveler arrives, though he may miss the pleasure of the trip! It boils down to faith. Just as I came to Jesus in the first place by faith acknowledging my helpless sin-bound state, so this is how He expects me to live the Christian life, by faith, dead to my old self and alive to Him.

I can get in a pretty serious state looking at the 'old mare' and her propensity for selfishness. I can be like Louie, taking life way too seriously. 'This stick is mine and I'm going to see that it stays in my control'…But Louie had another side. A single word could transform him into an ecstatic, tail-wagging, happy bundle of energy. The "W" word, my friend used to call it. And if you have a dog, you know it well.

(shhhh… I'll say it quietly) The word is walk. Why keep it quiet? Well once it's out, there's no rest for the speaker until the leash is fetched and the door opened!

I smile to myself to realize how the "W" word applies also to me. What will rescue me from my moribund hold on good intentions?

The Spirit invites me to WALK with Him. And as I do, all the rest of the Christian life falls into place. He's got the trail planned. He knows the destination and all the highpoints and muddy crossings along the way. He directs my steps. I need only obediently trust His lead. This is the way to live the Christ life, not fixated on the flesh and what it's up to but ambling down the road eager to comply with my Master's directions. By faith heeding his: Heel, Fetch, Sit, Down, Wait… He's got my days planned and my trails are by His appointment. I'm his concern after all. How carefree is that?

And look at the side-effects of walking by the Spirit..Not only will I not gratify the desires of my sin-bent nature (Gal.5:1) which do damage to myself and those around me, but there'll be an overflow of love and joy and peace, patience and kindness and even goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal. 5:22,23) Sounds like something to get excited about!

As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him… (Col.2:6)

Did Someone say, "WALK" ?!!!

--LS

For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. Gal.5:5,6

Having begun by the Spirit are you now being perfected by works of the flesh? Gal.3:3

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Gal. 5:25,26

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. Phil.1:6

Before I scamper off down the trail may I leave you with a poem that grabbed my heart this week. It portrays so well the relief of repentance and the joy that is its reward. Would we not cease to trudge downcast through life if we kept this gracious prospect in our mind's eye?

"Prodigal"

"Come to myself, I trudge down distant roads.
Tired of the husks of life, I hurry home.
Knowing the cross awaits, I still must come,
Prepared to be a servant, not a son.

Your longing love outreaches me, outruns
My tardy progress borne on dragging feet.
Blessed, kissed, forgiven, lifted to my place,
I find the dreaded welcome sudden sweet.

Is this your punishment for sin, dear Lord?
The father's kiss? The ring? The robe? The calf?
Heart-heavy, I had feared repentance, Lord.
I came to cry, and now you tell me, "Laugh!"

--Elizabeth B. Rooney
[from Storing September, 2001, p.75]

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Note:
Charles Price’s series of 5 messages on letting Christ live His life in us were delivered at Prairie Bible College during "Christian Life Week", Sept.25-27, 2012. They can be heard and/or downloaded at Prairie's website under "Special Events" at:  http://www.prairie.edu/page.aspx?pid=450

They are also available on YouTube.

November 22, 2012

Faithful Landmarks

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In unfamiliar territory winds and waves may veer a small boat off course. Without nautical charts to mark the rocks the little boat may ground on a hidden rock, punch a hole in its hull, and founder…Even if it escapes these perils, without a chart to indicate the pertinent landmarks it may miss its destination altogether. ‘Never sail in unknown waters without your charts’ is a rule of thumb for mariners. The ocean is a place of changing weather, strong currents and fluctuating tides. Rocks far underwater at high tide may be just below the surface at low tide. Watch the charts. You may not see the rocks. Know the landmarks.

I wonder if we believers in any age aren't like boats on a voyage. Each generation has its unfamiliar territory, changing tides of faddish teaching and practice, currents of teaching that create unseen undercurrents, hidden perils, nasty rocks lying in wait for an oblivious sailor at ease…Winds and waves happen in culture. Tides rise and fall. Fads and movements come and go. How do we keep from being blown or carried off course?

We have the Chart. Rocks are marked. Beware—the world, the flesh, the devil. Beware false teachers. Beware the leaven of Pharisees. Beware…But what of the landmarks? What landmarks might we chart our course by? Where are those non-negotiable unchanging points of land or clanging bell-buoys to keep us off the reefs and on due course?

I've been pondering landmarks of our faith--sure things to measure a teaching, a ministry, a set of beliefs by, to ensure we aren't being "tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes." (Eph.4:14)

The first, perhaps obvious measure of any landmark is whether it's on the Chart at all! Does what I'm seeing line up with the Word of God? Every since Sinai (Ex.20:19), God's people have been prone to want to hear from God through a man. How often have His people been misled by trusting the word of a man and not consulting the Chart itself? God's Word is written to speak to the common man. His Spirit indwells the believer to enlighten his mind as he studies (I Jn.2:27) We can know God's will, His voice, His intended course for our lives. His purposes are unchanging. His Word has not grown obsolete. Any word given more credence than this inerrant written Word is bound to steer us off course.

A rule of thumb for me in evaluating any ministry is what value it places on the Bible.
If a 'new revelation', experience or interpretation trumps what's written or claims greater significance, I am suspect.
If the Word of God is handled piecemeal or taught in a leapfrog fashion, hopping over problem verses and passages, I'm wary.
Pastors, teachers and prophets are gifts to the Body of course, but are not infallible. How do we measure their ministries? By the Chart! There's no substitute for being good 'Bereans' (Acts 17:11) and distinguishing the true from the counterfeit. Rule 1 of the High Seas. Learn to read and trust the Chart for yourself. Many perils will thus be avoided.

Have you ever studied a nautical chart?

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Whew! There's an awful lot of information there. Distances, points, bell buoys, rocks, sandy bottoms—I guess I should confess that when it comes to nautical charts I'm almost illiterate. But I have had a few lessons. I can spot the rocks. I recognize the sand spits…I look when Jim points out channels and points of land and shows me how they appear on the chart. This is challenging—identifying how the chart relates to the real thing. I once found myself in a little motor boat with just 'the girls', making our way out of a rock-strewn inlet. None of us could read the miniature chart we had along. Only I could actually see it--not yet needing reading glasses. That was stressful! I can testify, it is best to learn to read the Chart and be able to rectify the actual landmarks with those on the chart.

So yes, landmarks. I've been pondering what are the landmarks that I use to keep my little vessel off the rocks?

Landmark #1 The Cross—is it center front? Does it matter anymore now that the rescue has been made? Or is it an offensive doctrine best swept under the carpet and replaced with sweet smelling rose petals. The doctrine of the 'substitutionary atonement' of Christ on our behalf is taking a beating these days. Sin is not that serious. God not that 'cruel' they say. He is love…But the Cross declares His holiness in tandem with His love. It is a landmark we can safely chart our course by.

Landmark#2 The Saviour—is He made much of as both fully God and fully man? Or is He actually sidelined as the One who makes me great? Whose esteem is made much of: mine or Christ's? I elaborated on this already last post, so will not repeat myself here except to point you to a book (review) you may have missed that is well worth the read and available online besides! Christ Esteem is the book. I've posted a review and sampling of quotes here. [Click link to access]

Landmark#3 The Second Coming—is it a 'blessed hope'. It may seem spiritual to insist that one is more concerned with saving souls or bringing the kingdom to earth or in some other way serving God now, and therefore not concerned with His coming, but for me this is a red flag. All through the history of the church beginning with His ascension, the coming again of Jesus has been held out as our 'blessed hope'(Titus 2:13). John says this hope is in fact a purifying hope: We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. (I Jn.3:3) We are called strangers in exile here. This world is not our true home. We are not to love it or the things in it but to follow the example of the Hebrews 11 crowd of witnesses who lived in hope of a 'better country, a heavenly one' (Heb.11:13-16) Any movement or teacher that loses this hope has lost their way.

Landmark#4 Moral Purity—is the teacher/leader above reproach? This would seem to be a 'no-brainer' but oddly (or perhaps not so oddly) where teaching is unsound, very often moral laxity slips in. It may not be apparent on the surface. It may not even be present at first—but it's not unusual to find persons claiming to be speaking for God who have abandoned their own marriages in the process. This should be a clanging 'bell-bouy' that the shoals are near. Do not trust this teacher, no matter how 'spiritual' they seem.

Landmark#5 Fear of God—Is God revered as the Almighty Sovereign before whom man cannot stand in his physical state and live? Or is a sloppy 'intimacy' with God boasted of and encouraged. Is God spoken of flippantly and casually as though he were a chatty chum, or with deep reverence? An authentically spiritual man or ministry will be characterized by the fear of God.

Landmark #6 Their testimony—Is it about Jesus, conviction of sin, repentance, and a new life in Christ? Or something else? Listen carefully. I have heard 'testimonies' that were more about advertising one's authority to speak in God's name, based on a bizarre encounter, than they were about genuine heart transformation. Nor does an emotional experience equal salvation. A testimony of God's gracious salvation will exude humble gratitude and recognition of having been wrong. It will promote Jesus not self.

Landmark#7 Gratitude—Is this the theme echoing behind all their other teaching? A genuine minister of the Gospel will never have gotten over the marvel that God stooped down so low to bring him/her to Himself. This is a landmark requiring maintenance in my own life lest it deteriorate with the fading memory of what Christ has done. And on this Thanksgiving evening what better note to close on.

"Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe." Heb.12:28

--LS

Thank YOU for considering my ponderings. I hope you will feel free to ammend this list of 'landmarks' with your own comments on ones that you've discovered along the way. We are after all in this boat together!

November 15, 2012

Affirming Who HE is

 

We ladies all stood there reading aloud together things we know to be true; the Bible says so…"I am God's child…I am a friend of Jesus, I have been justified…I am free from condemnation, I am assured that God works for my good in all circumstances, I am a branch of Jesus Christ, the true vine, and a channel of His life…I am God's temple, I am God's workmanship…."

All we said was true. Why then my misgivings? The list was long, grouped under headings of "I am accepted", "I am secure", and "I am significant". Ah yes, my ultimate set of needs according to secular theorists. Having these needs fully met is said to be necessary for self-actualization, critical to reaching my self's full potential.

Seems that God knew what I needed. As His child I am all these things. So, what's the problem? Why my uneasiness? I couldn't put my finger on it right away. Apparently others haven't either. Consider the logical extension of these Biblical "I am's", and I quote:

"I am amazing!"

I am God's greatest creation.

He loves me to death.

I was born to do greater works than Jesus.

I was born for glory.

Nations are attracted to me 'cause I'm so good looking.

I have the mind of Christ: I think like God.

He's my inheritance. I'm His inheritance,

And He actually likes me.

I like me too, and if you got to know me you would like me too.

Creation knows who I am.

The devil knows who I am.

God knows who I am.

Angels know who I am.

Today, I know who I am.

I ROCK!

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I kid you not. This is a verbatim script recited responsively with great enthusiasm by a large gathering of earnest students.* They are being trained to recognize who they are so they can go out and release all of Creation from the curse and take dominion of the earth. They are being taught they are little gods and therefore they should be asking: "Where's my power?!"

This is 'self-esteem on steroids', as Jim puts it.

If ever there has been a self-actualized generation, ours should be it! We have no want of teaching on who we really are…(or do we? Have we missed something?) Now if we can just get this self-talk into our psyches till we really believe it. Just think what we might accomplish?!

Really?

Is focusing on ourselves really what we need?

This same teacher* had more to say:

"When you act like God you're being yourself" he explained, not realizing the full implications of what he had said. Wasn't this the original sin-- wanting to be like God!

"The only reason you have a bad thought in your head is because you have [there is] a Devil who wanted to be what you became," he explains, complete with a mocking depiction of those who contest that we are actually 'sinners saved by grace.'

The Devil wanted to be like God, he explains. God said, "No way", stripped him of power and made him watch while billions of people were made what he wanted to be-- the image of God. [This is messing with my head, and my Bible, what about yours? Have I really gotten what Satan wanted--God-hood?!]

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It seems so right… God has glorified you. You rock! You have only to recognize who you really are to exercise the dominion you've been given. This is the natural (humanistic) extension of the focus on Who I Am (in Christ).

And the kids lap it up like so much sweet antifreeze…

But somehow the 'IN CHRIST' part of the equation gets lost in the flattery. Everything seems to come from Scripture, right? kinda? This message did have a text—Daniel 7, with the key verse: "And the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom."

And there was a great collection of 'Kingdom of God' Scriptures fired off like so much ammo culminating in this heady conclusion: The time is here and now. You rock!

But where did Jesus go? I thought the whole point of life, the universe and everything was the 'summing up of all things in Christ' and 'the praise of His glory'. Eph.1:10-12

How did we get to this place of being so amazing anyway? Used to be we were content to be 'sinners saved by grace'?  I was preparing this morning to play piano at the local old folks' home. As I leafed through the old hymns I marveled at how far we've come…

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me…” [oops that slipped by the 'self-esteem police!]

Beneath the Cross of Jesus: "two wonders I confess: the wonders of redeeming love, and my unworthiness."

When I survey the Wondrous Cross: "Forbid it Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ, my God; All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood."

"Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness my beauty are, my glorious dress. Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed, with joy shall I lift up my head"

“Wonderful the matchless grace of Jesus—By it I have been pardoned. Saved to the uttermost.”

Oh sweet relief. I do not have to work myself into a fever-pitch of egotistical affirmations. When my eyes are on the One who really is amazing, worship is the only fitting response. When I take my rightful position, one of gratitude and awe at this Wonderful Saviour, this Coming King…self takes its rightful place--as catalyst for praising my Redeemer, not something to gratify, build up, and make much of.

Could it be that in shifting our focus in the here and now to 'Who I Am' we have set ourselves up to fall for Lucifer's temptation? His own beauty went to his head. Considering it intrinsically his he declared: "I will make myself like the Most High." Is.14:14

This was raw pride, the same substance that lurks in our hearts the instant we think we are or have some good thing originating in ourselves. Original sin is as good as it gets! Eve demonstrated the nature of our hearts when she opted to do her own will rather than God's (Gen.3). This is who we are when left to our own devices. Of course this is why we needed a Redeemer. But is that need all in the past? Can we afford ever to forget "[our] purification from [our] former sins" (II Pet.1:9).

Is it really inappropriate for redeemed saints to speak of themselves as sinners? Do we not still daily need this Redeemer?

Yes, there is the objection that we are new creations in Christ. We are declared 'holy ones'. And of course this is true. We do indeed stand freed from condemnation. And we are seated in the heavenlies too! Yet, here these bodies are living in earth's gravity. And sinning. We are prideful. We continuously consider our selves to be of greatest importance, far more than we recognize I suspect.

As long as we inhabit these natural bodies we will know the nakedness of self-consciousness where we were intended only to know God-consciousness. For good reason our Redeemer ever lives to make intercession for us (Heb.7:25). For good reason we are called to 'die daily'--to put to death the self-will that dogs our every waking moment
(I Cor.15:31; Rom.8:13).

Who I am in Christ is an incredible marvel. The list is worth reading regularly, but only as a backdrop to Who Jesus is. We will be on a surer footing to major here—on Christ-esteem.** Otherwise we are apt to mistake "Who I am in Christ" for my claim to fame, and to forget from whence we've come. To confuse my identity in Christ with my intrinsic nature is to fall for a subtle lie. And from that lie stems all manner of horrible, self-exalting, God effacing nonsense. I am… I am… I am… And forgetting all self-restraint we are soon feeding the flesh instead of putting it to death!

Do we think God's Kingdom and ours can co-exist? It's no use declaring who I am in Christ until I've filled my mind and bowed my heart to Who Christ Is. And when I'm occupied with that, who I am becomes a non-issue. I simply don't need to talk about it. I am accepted, secure and significant in Him and the rest of my story is all to His credit. He is amazing and not only does he 'rock' but He is the ROCK of my salvation!

His Kingdom will come and He will be the uncontested glory of it. We will be forever the grateful creatures enthralled with Who He is, oblivious to how glorious we have been made, intent on worshiping the Lamb that is worthy because He was slain to redeem us to God. We will be free at last from self-interest, free to reflect His glory fully; this will be our ultimate fulfillment.

When we are tempted to ponder who we are we might do well to consider God's response to Moses when he asked "Who am I…" in the face of a daunting assignment. God made no attempt to affirm poor inept Moses. Instead He diverted His attention to His own identity as the great I AM. This was in fact what Moses needed most to know. God would go with Him and that was enough. Ex.3:12-14

--LS

“And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."
I Cor.1:30,31

" His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence... be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; …for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.” II Pet.1:3,10-11

When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you… Col.3:4,5

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  *Kris Vallotton, “Your Identity as Sons of God” audio, Jan.27,2011.

**If you’ve ever grappled with how Biblical the concept of self-esteem is, you will be keenly interested in the book: Christ-Esteem: Where the Search for Self-Esteem Ends by Don Matzat (Harvest House, 1990). Now out of print, the unabridged text is available online in easily-readable pdf format. It’s perceptive and challenging, well worth reading.  I’ve tucked in a book review and some favorite quotes at my book review site.

November 9, 2012

I Love this Word!

It's like fresh bread, dropped from heaven for our sustenance and delight.

It's like a hammer, that breaks the rocks of resistance in our lives to pieces, if we let it. (Or we can throw away the hammer. Re-think it. Re-word it. Re-move its hardness…to our own loss.)Jer.23:29

It is like a sword, a fine-tuned sharp sword, slicing through our delusions, pointing out our motives, opening our abscesses for cleaning out. Heb.4:12

It is like a fire that burns away the lies we have believed and leaves us purified, pure gold and untarnished silver. Jer.23:29

It is a light in dark places, a beaming torchlight making our way plain, showing up the tripping hazards, allowing us to walk in this world without falling Ps.119:105, II Pet.1:19

It is like water, cleansing, refreshing, reviving for the marathon that is this lifetime. Eph.5:26

I love this Word. I love that I have God's very Words in my own language, in a variety of versions, at my fingertips.

I love its trustworthiness, its unchangeableness, its absolute authority and sufficiency for the life I'm called to live.

There will be cleverly devised myths. There will be false words that try to slip in to exploit the hearers. II Pet.2:1 But this Word is a sure measure of truth. It is my God-given, infallible guide.

It is profitable for teaching, for reproving, for correcting, for training, for perfectly equipping me (and you) for every good thing He calls us to.
II Tim.3:16,17

We can tickle our ears with other things, tantalize our appetites with half-truths, look for meaning in dreams and omens and wordless pictures, hang on man-made words delivered with authority, thinking them all more significant than mere words on a page in an 'old-fashioned' book that surely needs upgrading to our 'postmodern' times…

But "what has straw in common with wheat?" Jer.23:28

We can sift through the text for words that bring only comfort and shake them free of context and appropriate them for ourselves willy-nilly. For instance, "I know the plans I have for you…" What graduate has not received a card with these words imprinted on it? "…plans to give you a future and a hope…" God had plans alright. Seventy years of captivity were first up. This reassurance was given to God's people as they headed off to Babylon! Jer. 29:11 I suppose there is a principle here based in God's character but…

Interesting that we don't likewise grab other verses in Jeremiah: "I am devising a plan against you…" I have set my face against [you] for harm and not for good" (21:10) We are clearly selective!

But for all the misuse, abuse, and faulty exegesis, God's Word stands sure and eternal—a clear revelation of a God who wants to be known, a clear statement of His love and invitation to relationship, and of the mess we are in without Him! Without this Word we would be adrift to figure out how best to live. We would be hopelessly sabotaged by our own inability to find our own way out of the woods of what seems right… But we have this Word, this true and timeless Word, a custom-fit for the likes of us.

For this I am thankful.

--LS

"Your words were found and I did eat them and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts." Jer.15:16

“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” II Pet.1:19

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” II Tim.2:15

November 3, 2012

Storm Surge

“It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.
And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew.”
Jn.6:18

It happens. Life gets dark. Storms come. Jesus is nowhere in sight. We strain at the oars to make headway alone. When yikes!-- Is that a ghost? Our worst fears get the better of us and HELP!!! Panic ensues. And then the voice: "Don't be afraid. It's me." WHEW! And gladly we let Jesus into our boat and suddenly we've reached our destination. What was the big deal? [Click here to read John 6]

One moment we're exhausted, haunted by imagined ghosts and about to die. The next we're safely in harbor, the wind either abated or not an issue… The difference? Jesus in the boat.

"Without me, you can do nothing" He says. (Jn.15:5-7)  Funny, how much energy we can expend doing nothing!!!  But when we abide in Him and let His words abide in us—when we let Him in for the boat ride--it's amazing what will be accomplished just for the asking.  Peter admonished his readers as they were undergoing persecution to be self-controlled for the sake of their prayers because the end was at hand. I Pet.4:7

In a similar passage Jesus warns his followers of tumultuous events that will come upon the earth and says they should "watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap." In the midst of "people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world" and "in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves", we are to be those who walk with confidence, recognizing that "our redemption is drawing nigh!" Lk.21:25-34 How is this possible? Only because we have His words. We know the rest of the story. Heaven and earth will pass away, but not His words…

I listened with sympathy this week to a young guy candidly rationalizing the acceptability of his lifestyle choices. He has chosen to forego 'old school' moral standards. He's got the map upside down and is heading a direction he doesn't expect. Things are pretty backwards, but in a world of other people doing the same sorts of things, he figures it will all work out. He can't see through this fog of relativism. His grandparents wouldn't approve. His girlfriend's parents either. But this is a new generation. It's all good… And I thought, no. I sympathize with the way things 'seem' to be, but it's a sham. I'll stick with the 'old school' any day if that means the tried and true Word of God. When did God get old anyway? He's not a Grandpa! He is forever timeless. His standards don't flex with our changing times and that's a good thing, not a bondage. His Word is a lifeline! And I'm praying for this young starry-eyed couple. They're entering a storm unawares. I'm holding out the hope that they will cry out in the storm and find that Jesus is close by.

Way back when, people were offended at Jesus' words too. He claimed to be better than the sweet manna that had fed their forebears. He claimed to offer eternal wellbeing, true nourishment. They scoffed and thought Him sacrilegious and impertinent to make such claims.  They only followed for today’s loaves and fishes… Many turned back from following Him. This was too much.

But His hand-picked disciples, what did they say? "To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!" (Jn.6:68)

This is the one whose words we most need to hear in the storm surges of life. When all is dark, when the rules to live by seem to have changed and we're unsure what to do, when we can't see past the rising waves… we can invite Him into the boat and listen to His reassuring, eternally true words—these words of spirit and life that transcend all craziness of place and time. Operating on any other basis is a useless expenditure of energy at best, and a recipe for destruction at worst. Only the Spirit of God, breathing through the Word of God gives the life and peace that we so need. (Jn.6:63)

And I'm passing on this story of Jesus climbing into the boat, to a new generation. With a three-year old attention span my grandson listened this morning, all cuddled up on Grandmom’s bed, imagining as best he could what it would be like to be in a boat at sea in a storm… and the difference it could make to invite Jesus into the boat. He knows little of storms, or boats, or oceans, or life!  But one day I pray this story will hold him in good stead. With Jesus in the boat, we can weather anything.

--LS

“For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." Jn.6:33

October 26, 2012

Loose-ends

Loose ends. The term comes from the old days of sailing ships and their multitudinous rigging ropes. Each end had to be tightly bound to prevent it unraveling. I'm a little like a rigging rope; I unravel easily.

Give me predictability, a plan, a steady routine and I hum along through days and weeks and months. Make a sudden move and I jump (ask Jim how many times I've squealed when he's come up silently behind me in the kitchen in the quiet of a pre-breakfast morning.) Ask me to make an unexpected move on short notice and I am overwhelmed at all the minor details required to transition smoothly. And smoothly is the ideal, right?

Loose ends proliferate in my mind. What will unravel if I don't attend to it? I hate lose ends. The unexpected makes me uneasy. I haven't had a chance to prepare for it. I prefer that everything be tickety-boo, (Don't know this expression? Danny Kay will help. Have a listen here! ) (with perhaps a blue-bird on my shoulder too?)  But Life doesn't seem to come in such a tidy package.

My mother-in-law (the greatest cheerleader a wife could hope for) is dying. These many miles away we 'watch' and wonder how long and are poised to travel. Death always seems so unexpected even though it's one thing in life that is assured.

For that matter, life itself is a series of loose ends. Growing up is that—for both child and parent. What will the future hold? Parenting is not an occupation with a tidy job description. Just do this and that and results are guaranteed. Child 4 of 5 is moving out next week. Did we see it coming? Well, yes. Was I expecting it? Well, yes. But am I ready? No. Shouldn't there be a ceremony of some sort? Should it be a celebration or a teary-eyed farewell? Both, I think. But it will pass without fanfare. We may not even be here to wave…

Whether it's a tiff or a task, a birth or a death, or all the growing up in between, I long for the peace of resolution, completion and closure. The uncertainty of the unknown plagues me like a canker sore at holiday time. Makes me edgy and, well, at a loss to know what to do next—'at loose ends' you might say! Leaves me not knowing what to do with expectations. Do I postpone hope or nourish it at risk of disappointment?

Unanswered prayer is another loose end I've been staring in the face this week. Praying without fainting on the one hand, and on the other, resting in faith that my prayers have been heard (even when I can't see the end results!) I don't find this an easy balance. But I'm pretty sure that redoubling my efforts, fueled by doubt as to whether I've been heard, is not the solution. There is no peace here. One could argue from the case of the persistent widow petitioning the unjust judge, but my petitions sometimes seem more like the odious sound of a dripping faucet, the likeness of a quarreling wife never pacified, (Prov.27:15) nagging reminder that her will has not yet been done.

Must I have all the answers before I can rest? Must I know 'the rest of the story' before I will trust? Life is too long a process to be lived in this suspended animation of holding my breath till I can see all the outcomes. Or of living beneath guilt, that I am to blame for hopes gone awry, and therefore must do something, or at least pray harder?!

As a related aside, I read this helpful word from John Piper this week in response to a mother who was feeling the guilt of her child's suicide:

"If you spend your time trying to figure out whether you should be feeling guilty, you'll always come up with an ambiguity. Just relax and feel guilty, and then deal with it the only way that you'll be able to deal with it at the judgment day, because I promise you at the judgment day you'll feel guilty….And if you don't have a solution for that issue now, you may not then. So let's just relax. We're guilty as charged. And now I repent."
[eds:John Piper, Justin Taylor,Stand: A Call for the Endurance of the Saints, Crossway Books, 2008,p.138]

But this whole pressure of wanting loose ends resolved and prayers dramatically answered (now), has come to a head this week. I have been wrestling for assurances instead of resting in the ones already given. Fixation with present loose-ends distorts my perception of God's overarching purposes and unremitting vigilance to fulfill them.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might;

(from Immortal, Invisible God only Wise—Walter Smith, 1876)

I've had to step back, repent, and ask for fresh faith to see His ways as I ought. If I insist on loose ends all being properly tied up before I am at peace… well I am not going to know much rest. It is not to the one who has no loose ends in view that God promises rest, but to the one who knows who is in charge of all those frizzled ends!

They have not known my ways, they will not enter my rest… He said.

We are in fact the flock in His pasture, the sheep of His hand. (Ps.95:7,10-11) The desert walk was a long trudge for the children of Israel. It got hot. Sometimes hunger and thirst set in. The end in sight for the parent generation was death! But for their children, the promised land. For both parents and children the directive was to follow the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night and learn to trust God to care for all the loose ends, all the details in between. He longed for them to know His ways and experience His rest.

I have to come back to this story and specifically this Psalm 95 again and again, and I pray often David's prayer: " Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long." Ps.25:4,5 This was, incidentally, the verse inscribed on a prominent plaque in my mother-in-law's home. I read it many times. It continues to be my own prayer…

And He hears, and answers. What have I seen this week of His ways?

  • Firstly He asks that I hold on to faith. The righteous must live by it. There's no alternative. We do not and will not see the whole story God is orchestrating until this life's chapter is closed. Habakkuk's testimony beckons me to do the same. In the face of impending disaster—the enemy invading, he writes (and I paraphrase):

I will stand at my watchpost and look out to see what God will saythere is an appointed time—it comes—if it seems slow, wait for it. In the meantime, "The righteous shall live by his faith." Don't count on idols. "The Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before Him." (Hab.2:1-4; 18-20) There's no way around the necessity of faith. We do not need a 'sign' of His presence and provision. We need to count on it, come what may.

  • Another reminder. This life may seem to be a riot of loose ends but the things that matter most are forever secured. Jesus finished His mission (Jn.19:30) My sin debt has been cancelled. I am somehow declared forgiven and therefore perfect, while yet in the process of having my loose ends bound up… "because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy." Heb.10:14 What a paradox.

He invites me to revel in this place of grace, to firmly take my stand by faith that I am His, as is, by grace alone. Not because I scrambled to tie up the loose ends of my unrighteousness into an acceptable offering, but because of His mercy.

  • Lastly, there is this: He found me before I knew to seek Him. He shows Himself to those who have not asked. Ultimately, 'it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy." (Rom.9:16) And that is the other 'way of God' I've been reminded of this week—His sovereignty. Have you read Romans 10 and 11 lately? Here is the marvel of the Gentiles being grafted into the family tree of Israel, being brought into fellowship with God. In the meantime God's own people, the Jews' are hardened against their Saviour and Messiah. But only for a time. It's part of a bigger plan of redemption that reaches to you and me.

God's purposes run far beyond the circumstances we behold on any given month or year! They are eternal. We are the clay and He is the potter. It's not our place to question why one heart is hardened--one pot designed for 'dishonorable use', while another is fashioned for honorable use. He works in everything to show the riches of His glory', not ours. Everything is from Him, through Him and to Him. No loose ends excluded! Every strand will be woven for His eternal glory. (Rom.11:36)

In these things I only scratch the surface of God's ways. Ultimately they are so far above ours as to be inscrutable, past finding out! (Rom.11:33) Mercifully, we are given glimpses, and this assurance--He is the alpha and omega (the beginning and the end). And in between? We are asked to present the loose ends of our lives to Him for His use, as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable though frayed around the edges! (Rom.12:1-2)

Knowing I am in His hands for His purposes I can take a deep breath (and let it out!) and pack, and travel unexpectedly, and parent and pray and walk in a frazzled world, by faith that in every 'loose end' He is at work.

The ways of the LORD are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.Hos.14:9

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Be encouraged with me as you consider these verses that point to the great end of all loose ends—

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. (I Pet.4:7)

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. (Heb.3:13,14)

He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. (I Cor.1:8,9)

Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. (James 5:7,8)

Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. (I Cor 15:24)

His kingdom will have no end. (Luke 1:33)

And I hope you won't think it irreverent or impertinent if I tack on this carefree song from my childhood—Zip-a-dee-doo-day, Zip-a-dee-ay—there's plenty of sunshine heading our way!! It's the truth; it's actual. Everything is 'satisfactual' after all!

--LS

"I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways…" Ps.119:15

October 19, 2012

Here in the Shadow


He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
Ps.91:1

Here in the Shadow—Shannon Wexelberg

The autumn rains have returned.  I plunked a Vitamin D capsule by my cereal bowl this morning.  We are braced for a change in weather.  In other ways this is a new season for us.  Changing seasons usually bring unsettled weather.  That’s been true too.  I made a wardrobe switch this week, digging out all my turtlenecks and long wool skirts, tucking away my sunny wear till the sun returns.  Getting ready.  And with the wet roads we’ve parked the tandem so I ‘m back to my ‘hamster wheel’—the elliptical trainer upstairs.  What’s good about this absolutely mind-numbing exercise is the chance it gives me to praise and worship.  I pop in my earphones and press a button and my mind is turned to the glory of God and the truth of the gospel.  As my heart pounds and my muscles contract my soul sings for all its worth and I am freed to worship with body, mind and soul. 

I needed that tonight.  There had been tears and sadness today.  Disappointment.  A sense of loss.  A passionate voicing of our core values and our concerns--a being heard but not really understood.  A knowing we have let others down in our decisions, have caused them sadness, but cannot do otherwise.  Convictions not shared.  Friendships maintained, but changed.  Seasons change…

How do I prepare for a new season?  First I run to the shadow of God’s wings (sit myself down alone, journal in hand, worship music playing…and cry!) and resting here I begin to know He is the King. He orders our days.  Times and seasons are in His hand.  He knows all that concerns me.

I remember Sunday’s sermon taken from Acts 1.  Jesus had risen. The disciples were sure their freedom from the rule of Rome was just around the corner.  Would Jesus set up His Kingdom now?!   This would seem to be the obvious opportunity.  Jesus had shown His power.  He could do it NOW.  But He didn’t.  We can have our plans. We can think them His.  We can lay out the whole triumphant scenario in our mind’s eye and believe it is God’s game plan too—and that we are key players.  Then he shatters our worlds with:

“It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” 

He has bigger plans than our most compelling interests.  His kingdom building entails details far beyond the scope of our knowledge.  In this case, Israel becoming an independent nation wasn’t in view, not for a long while. The disciples had overlooked an enormous interim project--the coming of the Gospel to the whole Gentile world!  The disciples were thinking in their little sphere, of their own especial interest—their own temporal  freedom.  God had plans so much bigger.  His Kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom.  He’s in no rush. He will plug us in where He will, when He will, how He will.  It’s His call.

But there is a promise given that restores our hope.  He does plan to use us.  And he will equip us for our task.  For this He sends His Spirit, to make us able witnesses.  This too, in His time.  In this instance, the disciples are told to wait…another reminder that the Father is in control of times and seasons.  This first coming of the Spirit, token of Christ’s ascension to the Father,  was perfectly timed to fulfill the long-held Jewish Feast of Pentecost.  Did they know?  Did they imagine the significance of this moment for which they waited?  They only knew they held a promise and they waited…

And this I know, that this same Spirit blows where He will.  He touches lives, He enlightens, He revives, He imprints us for the Kingdom…And as wind blows in changing seasons, so the Spirit is at work in His good time, in our days. In my disappointment, my sadness.  In change.  I can rest in this certainty.  All is well in the shadow of His wings.

--LS

And there is nothing quite like worship to turn my woes into carefree worship of the One who is worthy to be rejoiced in!

Hail to the King—Shannon Wexelberg

October 11, 2012

My Own Soundtrack

God is here in these moments as I finish up the supper dishes, everyone gone out for the evening but me, here, with Him. Grateful. There is no audible presence. No proof of His nearness. Just His Word, His oath—I will never leave you nor forsake you… Tonight that is enough.

I walked this afternoon, the days now cool and gray, accented with the brilliance of changing leaves. The energy of rhythm and of the stirring lyrics sung in my ears put a spring in my steps. I smiled thinking of something Jim once said: "Imagine life with your own soundtrack."  Yes, imagine it, just like in the movies. You know, that behind-the-scenes music that sets the tone for what's going to happen, whether romance (bring on the violins!) or suspense or drama. The music makes the mood.

I need a soundtrack some days. Like this morning. I woke early fretting like a silly mother hen, fretting because someone's got to do it if things are going to change, right?!  What I needed was an inspiring soundtrack to stir my soul to rise and believe in things yet unseen…

Instead I woke dwelling on my insufficiency for all that came to mind! I prayed, but sleepily and doubtful, loathe to leave the comfort of warm covers, though needing far more to rouse body and soul to the truth of the matter: My grace is sufficient for you in your weakness…II Cor.12:9

But now at the other end of the day I am ready to write out some things I am sure of, my 'soundtrack' if you will, for foggy mornings when my head's all sleepy and my faith unsteady, mornings when I need the rhythm and music of truth ringing in my ears. Let these things sound in the background of my days:

#1 God is our Shepherd, faithful to shepherd every generation. (Ps.95,100)

This goes for me and my kids, whose success in life is my greatest obsession and easily rises to become idolatry. Each of us must bring our dreams, our fears, and our desires to Him and bow down. He's our Maker. If He leads through a wilderness where we cannot find a thing to drink, we have only to ask, not to whine, not to threaten, not to mutiny. He waits to hear our voice, to see our trust, to know what's in our hearts. This is our test, not His. It is not for us to demand that He prove His nearness: "Is the Lord among us or not?!" (Ex.17:7) We are to trust His heart and learn His ways of answering our every prayer—whether we see instant results or not. He is shepherding. Only by trusting will we find rest.

#2 God does as He pleases. The will of man is no obstacle to Him.

"Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins?" (Lam.3:37-39)

Gone are the days when the solution is as simple as "she spanked them all soundly and sent them to bed". My charges are no longer living in my shoe. But they are not out of reach of the God who has chosen and called them for His glory. He will fulfill His purposes without the old woman's spanking spoon! Nebuchadnezzar learned these things the hard way. His sanity was restored only after he was willing to acknowledge that God's kingdom far outranked his own:

"He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: 'What have you done?'" Dan.4:35

I sometimes pray as if in a 'spoof' of the old hymn, Have Thine Own Way, Lord.* It's as though I've rewritten it to "I want my own way, Lord. I want my own way". No wonder I don't find peace when I'm through! I want what I want, and soon. Surely He does too? I want us all to live happily ever after. I want for my children the good things we have found. I want for them to be unscathed by the mistakes that we have made. Is this too much to ask? Can I assume God's thoughts are my thoughts on this? And then just pray my will be done as though I were the potter and He the clay? As though "power all power, surely is...[mine!]". I can easily forget that God does not exist to fulfill my dreams but that we exist for His glory, however He intends to bring that about. The Kingdom is His and the Glory and the Power. He is not thwarted by man.

#3 God is able to keep that which I've entrusted to Him (and He to me!) (II Tim.1:12)

He is in fact able to do exceeding abundantly above all that I ask or even think? His power is already at work. Must I see it to believe or will I choose to trust His Word? (Eph.1:19,20) Will I trust Him too with my dreams? His are far better and though they foil my best-timed scenarios, His have eternity in view!

#4 Only God is able to change a heart, to fill it with hope, to reveal an unseen inheritance, and to give courage and strength. But I can pray. (Eph.1:17-19)

These things are sure, my stirring soundtrack for mornings that dawn foggy… Can you hear the music?

I read an article this week titled: Four Essentials for Finishing Well.** The author summarized by commending these four keys to persevering. I pass them on to you in closing:

  • a daily time of focused communion with God
  • a daily appropriation of the gospel
  • a daily presenting yourself as a living sacrifice, and
  • a continual firm belief in the sovereignty and the goodness of God

And to these I say 'Amen!' , by the grace of God 'so be it' in my life. Bring on the soundtrack!

--LS

 

“Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” Ps.95:1

"…who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began" II Tim.1:9

“…for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” II Tim.1:12

‘Today if you hear His voice, do not harden you hearts…’ Ps.95:7

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*Have Thine Own Way, Lord! by Adelaide Pollard, 1862-1934. Words available here.

**by Jerry Bridges, p.35, Stand: A Call for the Endurance of the Saints. Eds. John Piper and Justin Taylor, Crossway Books, 2008.