June 23, 2011

Nothing gold can stay…

Have you noticed how good things always come to pass. Long-awaited but so quickly past?

Old friends from far-away and long-ago come to visit—stirring memories and names long unspoken—and when good-byes are said a kind of weary home-sickness settles in…

Not a longing for any physical place. Not a longing earth can satisfy--but a longing for no more change, no more growing old, no more good-byes

Nothing stays. Nothing lasts. The cherished, the familiar, the routine… the best of things are broken, or taken, or lost, or parted with in some way… Season gives way to season passing in a succession that quickens with age. Winter will come, though summer delays yet. Death is sure. Obsolescence is the rule. Tomorrow is uncertain—will it bring sun or clouds? Loss or gain? Wonder or grief?

I feel it in my joints. I am no longer twenty-something. I hear it in my children’s cautions…(who’s looking out for who?!) I see it in my parents—ailing, failing, calling obliquely for help from far-away…Roles reverse and I’m called on to grow up and be care-giver…

Life seems like a very long ‘good-bye’…

An endless deposit of blessings come my way, it’s true. But not for keeps. With open palm I am to hold each one, to delight in it but never grasp it to my heart…to be filled with wonder and gratitude at each and every one, but not to insist on possession. It is as though I’m being forever weaned from the temporal so as to acquire a taste for the eternal—the better and lasting possessions yet to come. Only gratitude, born of trust, is a fitting attitude with which to handle such transience.

I am so fickle, like a spoiled child. Always wanting more. Delighted for a moment and then dejected and demanding. Sinking my hopes in earthly moments, living for bright but transient tomorrows which when come and gone leave me despondent…

And yet we are heirs of an eternal Kingdom, one which will not, cannot,  be shaken. (Heb. 12:28)

Our citizenship is not here, but “in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Phil.3:20,21)

“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” (Heb. 13:14)

It’s true, all I see and know here, everything that ‘matters’ in a worldly sense,  is destined to perish with the using, and guaranteed to pass into oblivion (I Jn.2:15).  How should I then live in the meantime? 

It was said of the ‘Hall of Faith’ heroes who lived and suffered and died in faith, that the world was not worthy of them. (Heb. 11:38) They lived differently because they believed in an unseen hope.

If we are truly strangers and pilgrims here and now, what purpose and vision distinguish us from earth-dwellers with no other hope?  If this world is like a scene in ‘Our Town’ (see Thornton Wilder’s thought-provoking play by this title) and real life transcends it… how differently will I choose to live? Can I face each day grateful and unafraid—knowing whatever comes is for now, but not forever.

True enough, good things come only to pass, not for keeps. But so do the hard things. The sad things. There is a better day coming, a certain hope that will not disappoint, a goodness that will not fail, a bright tomorrow that will not end…Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and what’s more, I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. That’s a long time of a good thing, unchanging, unfading, for ‘keeps’.

I guess it’s all a matter of where I set my sights.  That which is truly gold will last--“the city was pure gold, clear as glass.…” (Rev.21:18)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, (I Pet. 1:3,4)


P.S. My title is drawn from this poem by Robert Frost:
Nothing Gold Can Stay

“Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.”

June 16, 2011

Good enough for me!

 I have to chuckle sheepishly to myself this week as I chew on some good words:
.“So much of our praise to the Lord is limited to the moments when we have determined that what He has done is good…in these situations we praise God for His faithfulness.” (Paul Tripp, War of Words, 74)

When things have turned out as we wished, when a prayer has been answered promptly with a ‘Yes, I’d be glad to do that’, when the sun shines and life feels good, it’s pretty easy to exclaim, “God is so good!” or “Isn’t God so faithful!”

Is He not good the rest of the time? Does His faithfulness lapse? And when that trying situation is not resolved and there’s no end in sight—am I quick to believe that God is good and faithfully at work despite what I can see and feel?

These are thoughts that challenge me. My heart’s been a little sad this last few weeks. My faithful hiking companion and ‘bear-dog’ injured his leg in a rush of bravado shooing a bear from the yard. That was nearly three weeks ago. It happened all in a moment but he has not been up to going on walks since, let alone climbing Scout or rambling off in search of new trails and making me feel ‘bear-safe’. I’m on my own and the sense of his absence is acute, especially when I consider the likelihood that his injury may not heal itself. There’s this great sense of loss—loss of a good thing, loss of freedom to hike with a carefree aloneness--the sense of loss that always comes with sudden change. But I tell you this because I am so encouraged by what I sense God doing in the backdrop of my sadness.

That first tear-filled walk alone I was bursting with tension between grief and gratefulness and could really not say much but “Lord, you know…” But there was deep gratitude welling up for all the good years He’s given. Eight years of carefree rambling and idyllic retreats with the Lord in His Creation. It was all so custom-made for my very own soul that I can’t really explain it. Can I complain if that season is drawing to a close? Are there new possibilities ahead that I would fail to see unless weaned from this delight? I don’t know, but I am so encouraged that God has planted in me this sense that it is all under His control and He is indeed working all things for my good.

Ha! There is a potential pitfall in expecting always what’s ‘good’. So quickly I can lapse into self-pity and doubt and begin to think I’ve been neglected, mistreated, etc… Our ‘good’ sensors are terribly out of whack, magnetized to self-centeredness. If it doesn’t please me at the moment, if it doesn’t ‘seem’ good, if it’s painful in any way… how can it possibly be good?! But God says He is working everything out for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom.8:28). Of course, one big adjustment we could give our ‘good’ sensors would be to orient them to what God’s purposes for us in fact are: to make us just like Jesus being the main thing! And the prescribed process is likely to include discomfort. (See: Heb. 12, James 1:2-4, I Pet.1:6,7) Funny how we get to thinking the discomfort is evidence that we’ve been forgotten, when in fact it’s quite the contrary. God is giving evidence that we’re His very own sons, being shaped for glory!!

So my trails have been abruptly halted, except for those I’ve taken with real people companions. These are increasing –a new thing growing? Am I being weaned from my solitary habits? Hmm… Can I trust that God is faithfully accomplishing all the good work He has promised to do in and through my life?

Absolutely, by His grace I can.

Do I yet have to fight anxiety some times when I don’t know what to do next with this faithful hound?

Yep. That too is part of the process. But ya’ know, the one bad night when the dog was acting agitated and senile, and I was very consciously busy ‘not being anxious’ but still not knowing what I should do, this solution came (thanks to my wise bedfellow):Count your blessings”. You’ve heard of counting sheep, well that has never worked for me; but I can tell you that counting blessings does. My mind wandered back to the delight of getting to keep Louie when he was just an energetic two-year old…and I was asleep before the count of eight.

I’ve been giving myself doses of doctrine lately regarding God’s sovereignty, and find I just want to lap up more! For instance consider Nebuchadnezzar’s conclusions about God after his bout with insanity:

“I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?” (Dan.4:34-35)

If this God is in control of my life, need I ever panic (or despair)? Life is never really out of control and though I may be confused or not know what’s going on, God does. And I’m His. And He cares about every little detail. Isn’t that enough?

Or consider this inheritance we’ve been freely given:
“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” Eph. 1:5,6

For that matter, look at the whole of Ephesians 1 and it’s pretty clear that God is the one pouring on the blessings, guaranteeing our inheritance, assuring us of a blameless stance before Him, sealing our adoption ‘papers’ with His Spirit… in short, doing a host of things we are helpless to do for ourselves, a host of things that beg the question: “If God be for us, who can be against us?!” Can any circumstance obstruct His purposes for us?

Ahhhh… to get to the point where I remember at every moment that He is active in my life, working in all things for my redemptive good. That would sure change the way I react to ‘problems’ wouldn’t it? If indeed, “God has us just were we need to be so that His purposes for us and His promises to us may come to pass,” (Tripp, 74) then what more could I wish for?

And the more I think about God’s sovereignty, the more I’m drawn away from worry and toward worship. God is so good and so faithful—all the time--and that’s good enough for me!

“Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah.”  (Ps.62:8)

“Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come--For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord from my youth—I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more—So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.” (Ps.71)

I leave you with a snatch of a favorite poem by George Herbert (a pastor and poet, 1593-1633) entitled:


Thou hast giv’n so much to me,
Give one thing more, a grateful heart….

Not thankful, when it pleaseth me;
As if thy blessings had spare days:
But such a heart, whose pulse may be
Thy praise.

If you enjoy poetry, you’ll enjoy the rest of this poem found here: http://www.janice-campbell.com/2007/11/20/gratefulnesse-by-george-herbert/


P.S. I am indebted to author Paul David Tripp for encouraging my thinking along these lines in his  thought-provoking book: War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles in which he explores the implications of God’s sovereignty on the way we communicate.  Good stuff!

June 10, 2011

Eager Beavers!

“…eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:3)

I noticed something recently in the tower of Babel story. God said there wasn’t anything these rebels couldn’t do when they were unified in purpose. “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.

And it struck me, if this is the case with mere men in defiance of God, setting out to make a name only for themselves, what would be the possibilities for us as believers? If we were so united in purpose with Christ as our Head--think of the possibilities? The Babel-ites set out to make a name for themselves. What is our mission as God’s ‘chosen ones’?  Is it not to make His Name look good?

Jesus’ prayed before His crucifixion: “…that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me…that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”(Jn.17:22ff) There’s power in unity! The world will sit up and take note when we are filled with that kind of love for each other. Such unity is a wonder of no small proportion.

But it won’t happen without the Spirit moving in each of us—to replace our natural conceit and envy with compassion, our judgmental fault-finding with humility, our irritable complaints with forgiveness, our self-exalting, self-promoting, self-centered natures with His love.

Where does it start? I like the way Romans 5 puts it: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” That’s the ticket. His love poured in so we have something to pour out! We’re destined to love just like Jesus. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son…” (Rom.8:29) In the meantime there’s the practicum—right here where we live loving the spiritual ‘kin’ that surround us. Together we’re being shaped to resemble Christ.

In his book, Becoming a True Spiritual Community, Larry Crabb envisions such an environment for growth: “Members of a spiritual community look at each other with the conviction that God has placed something terrific in every member. It may be well hidden, but spiritual energy can see it, call it forth, and enjoy it.” (97)

This kind of interaction may mean we have to adjust our focus when we look at each other—looking not at what’s wrong but at what’s right! What evidence can we find of the Spirit at work in each of us? It means learning to talk (and listen) with the Spirit’s energy, not from my old nasty nature, which gives me that smug self-righteous feeling (‘rejoicing at wrongdoing’). The Spirit’s energy in my new nature will generate a response based on love and leave us both encouraged and ‘knit together’-- in a way that brings God great pleasure. He’s out to make us look like Jesus and He delights in us ‘as is’ and calls us ‘saints’. Can we do less for each other?

What drives my communication?

From what I read in Scripture the purpose is ‘building up’ and ‘giving grace’ to the hearer (Eph.4:29)—not necessarily airing my every complaint, opinion and latest ‘news’ tidbits…Not that these are always out of place, but what is the ‘aftertaste’ of our conversation? Does it leave us mutually encouraged? Reminded of the goodness of God, viewing life in all its myriad details with a confidence that God is at work in and through us?

Does the way I speak make God look good, or absent?!   “Speaking the truth in love” is our rule of thumb, for the purpose of growing up together in Christ. What would that look like?

“In spiritual community people participate in dialogue: They share without manipulation, they listen without prejudice, they decide without self-interest. The absence of dialogue is sure evidence that we don’t really believe others are speaking from a place worth hearing, and it is even stronger proof that we ourselves, whatever we may think are not in fact speaking from that place. Our words are so often unwholesome, not the edifying words we’re told to speak” (Crabb, 95)

We sometimes substitute puffing ourselves up for building others up. This happens when I think more of myself and my experiences than I ought to think. (Col.2:18) Love isn’t like that. It ‘vaunteth not itself’ (I Cor.13). That’s a wonderful old-fashioned word that means to display oneself or ‘employ rhetorical embellishments in extolling one's self excessively.’   Hmm… (ouch).

I was looking at that passage in Eph.4 about building up and giving grace to the hearer and do you know what it says next? “…and do not grieve the Holy Spirit, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”   Is there a connection? Could it be that we literally cause the Spirit within us great sadness when we speak in ways that puff us up and tear another down?

Considering His role in our lives, it makes sense. The Spirit is the One at work in us all to bring us to “the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect (“finished”) man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13) This is not just about me, it’s a project necessitating our joint co-operation, and joint allegiance to the Head: “From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” (Eph.4:15,16)

We’re in this thing together. Our conversations matter. We need each other.

Paul echoes the significance of this unity in his letter to the Philippians: “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility…”(2:2-3)

And again to the Colossians:  “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony,” (Col.3:14) This is literally a picture of ligaments binding together the body. Love keeps us from being out of joint!

Paul says he struggles greatly on their behalf “…that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col2:2)

From prison he urges the Ephesians to walk worthy of their calling “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:3)

So much emphasis on unity!  Must be we need to take note.  Must be unity is worth the work of preserving.  Being a devoted loner much of my life I can’t speak with great experience here but this past year I’ve been part of a wee gathering of saints committed to grappling with some key issues in the Word and coming to a consensus as much as possible. It’s been a stretch and a precarious unity at times. But unmistakably we have grown and been enriched by each other. Our disparate little group is learning to love beyond disagreement and to hang onto each other through differences. The Spirit is clearly at work. And we are the recipients of His joy!

What I’ve tasted of such ‘community’ whets my appetite for more. Imagine a place where it would be ‘safe’ to ‘confess your sins one to another and pray for one another that you may be healed’? Might this healing be just what the Body in our day is lacking?

Crabb comments: “I know of little else so powerful as confessing wretched failure and having a friend look on you with great delight.”(99)   This is what God does; He delights in our confession and gladly grants forgiveness.  Can we fully celebrate God’s forgiveness together if we have never admitted we are sinners? “The safety necessary to own my badness comes when someone believes that I am in Christ and that He is in me. Then anything can be faced without fear of being discarded.” “The more I see sin in the presence of a spiritual community, the more I see Christ and celebrate Him and long to know Him and be like Him.”(99)

So, though I’ve had but a taste of such community, such unity of purpose, such love-- I’m increasingly convinced that my life in Christ is meant to be lived in context of other ‘joints’ and will only realize it’s full purpose in that context. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say here.

It’s not about me and you and our separate ways and means. It’s about me being there for you to cheer you on, to be glad with you, be sad with you, to share my own failures and the lessons I’m learning. And maybe it’s about me looking at you and seeing the good things God is doing and reflecting that back to you. And maybe we are meant to get together and admit the places where we can’t see Him working at all and ask Him together about it. It’s about our being ‘knit together in love’, not for the comfy-cozy of it but for the strength it gives the Body.

So let’s be EAGER BEAVERS ‘to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of love’ as “we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, [even] as by the Spirit of the Lord.”( II Cor 3:18)... and who can tell what God will do in and through us?!


June 3, 2011

What’s to Eat?

A timely book came to my doorstep this week (How I love when those little brown parcels arrive!) which has offered a refreshing reminder of how transformation into Christ-likeness works. This is a practical book, no formulas, no elite ‘spiritual’ exercises. In fact the bulk of it is built around the premise that it will be in really seeing Jesus that we will be transformed. He is the one after all that invites us to come to Him, find our hungers and thirsts quenched in him, rest in Him, and follow Him. He didn’t talk like we do about a ‘plan of salvation”. He said, “I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn.14:6)….’Come to Me that you may have life’… ‘I AM the Bread of Life’ (John 6,7) ‘Eat Me, drink Me, Abide in Me’… It will be in knowing Him intimately that we will be changed.

So I was taking a closer look at Jesus in the boat with his disciples. They’re fretting about not having enough bread with them. Now, mind you, this was very shortly after the feeding of the thousands with just a few loaves. Jesus is grooming these men to advance the Kingdom of God and they are hung up on ‘what’s for lunch?’. Nonplussed he uses the teaching moment to warn them about the bad ‘yeast’ of the Pharisees but goes on to ask them if they really didn’t get the point of the miracle of the loaves and fishes…

Now, I can sympathize with those disciples. Have you ever been stuck on a boat with no food? Good food is an essential element of a good sailing trip for me. Last weekend was our first overnight sailing trip of the season. The captain being an eager sailor was glad to take the clothes on his back and set sail but I was not fully ‘ready’ to embark till I’d made a quick trip to the grocery store for ‘provisions’. Not that we wouldn’t have had enough to survive otherwise—canned things and emergency snack food, but there’s an improved morale for me in a trip that includes a fresh, crusty-but-soft loaf of French bread… and some chops to grill… and maybe some fruit and chips…OK, so all the disciples wanted was bread; but they too knew it’s no fun being stuck on a boat without food. So they were pre-occupied. Jesus says, ‘Don’t be, this is just stuff. I’ve got you covered.’ He was disturbed that they hadn’t gotten that lesson when they’d collected the TWELVE BASKETS of broken pieces leftover from the breaking of the five loaves for the five thousand. Twelve baskets was enough for one basket each for the disciples… plenty to eat and to share! When Jesus is with you, there is no want. When Jesus breaks the bread there is always enough and plenty to spare.
He is the one who broke the bread at that last supper they shared and handed it to His disciples saying: “This is my body, which is given for you. Take. Eat.” (Mt.26:26; Lk.22:19) What more could He give? What more could we need?

Paul spells it out in Colossians when he says: “in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete.” This word ‘complete’ means filled up to the brim so that nothing shall be wanting, complete in every particular, rendered perfect. It is the same word used of a fulfilled prophesy, of something realized or accomplished. This is us, in Christ. So what is the obvious necessity for growth or service or any other aspect of fulfilling my calling as a believer? It must be in cultivating this connection with Jesus.

Which brings me back to that book I mentioned….Subtitled, Experiments in Christlikeness, it’s all about weaving simple disciplines into the ‘ordinary fabric’ of our days for this very purpose. From the start this clarification of motive jumped out at me. The point of doing any ‘spiritual’ exercise, for instance daily Bible reading, is not ‘to be a better Christian or to be holy’. It isn’t? (I had to read that one over again.) What then is the point? I am to discipline myself to read or to pray or to spend time in quiet… for the purpose of connecting with God, of learning to abide in Christ, to hear His voice, to share my heart and know His… A simple discipline is only a tool toward the cultivation of relationship. And it will be in the cultivation of that relationship that I will be transformed into Christ’s likeness. This transformation will be a product of abiding in the Vine. Now that does make sense. But how easily I can forget the point and think that my ‘doing’ is making me ‘holy’

“The distinction of where to put the effort is crucial: not in trying to be good (or do what Jesus did) but in connecting with Jesus himself….You do the connecting (with God), and God does the perfecting (in your behavior).” (Johnson,21,22) I find this thought tremendously freeing. I have long recognized myself to be a ‘pleaser’ with a strong desire to come across as ‘nice’ regardless of what is beneath the surface. I was the model child they say—‘good little Lindy’, an “A” student, quiet, an ‘easy’ child…but little known. My few best friends knew I wasn’t so quiet (and not so ‘nice’ all the time perhaps?) Unfortunately, growing up in a sub-culture that valued a ‘holiness’ that was easily mistaken for outward conformity to multiple “do’s” and especially “don’ts”, I learned to believe I was truly ‘nice’, even before God. I had better be--sinlessness was the goal! Covering sin up or denying it was the practical outcome. Relationship was really not emphasized as much as behavior. So, I toed the line and took my ‘nice’ disposition and circumspect behavior as being ‘holy’.

How woefully wrong was I. It’s not about being ‘nice’ anyway; it’s about being perfect—“brought to its end, finished, wanting nothing necessary to completeness”. This is no self-study program! Divine intervention required. Have you ever squirmed in reading, "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt.5:48) ? I was intrigued to find this same word used when Jesus instructed the rich young ruler in what he must do to inherit eternal life. After a quick review of the commandments Jesus said, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." There was something keeping this man from treasuring the Kingdom above all else, and that something kept him from following Jesus. I think this is the point. It’s not so much about what he needed to DO as it was about exposing his heart and its treasure. If I will cultivate a heart that treasures Jesus, that ‘feeds on’ Him above everything else, the doing (and the being) will fall into place. Everything ‘necessary to completeness’ was accomplished at the Cross when Jesus declared: “It is finished (perfect)” (Jn.19:30) That’s enough for even me. Let’s eat!

"If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me." (Rev.3:20)

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.(I Thess. 5:23,24)


I always enjoy Twila Paris. Here’s a reminder to “Hold On” to the real treasure and let the rest go.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZwelxYavVY (Never mind the Hungarian (?) subtitles. Her words are clear.)

“Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days…” Deut.30:19,20