August 25, 2011


"Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live.” Is.55:3

I sat in the back yard this morning—my very own retreat center—savoring sunshine, and the quiet that is not quite silence… mulling over the Word and my reactions to it, reading, cat-napping, and just relishing this being a living temple for Almighty God to inhabit by His Spirit.

Incredible reality.

This phrase “incline your ear” is rolling about in my mind of late. I love the picture of it. Can you see it? Like a good sheep-dog, one ear cocked, ready, listening. Like young Samuel—“Speak Lord, I’m listening.” It’s the part of prayer that we sometimes overlook. The part where we need say nothing.

How many times did Jesus say, “Let him who has ears hear…”? And in Luke He adds: “Take care how you hear!” (Lk.8:18) In the parable of the sower and his seeds, the good soil is commendable. It represents the one who upon hearing the Word ‘holds it fast in an honest and good heart, and bears fruit with patience’(8:15) Oooo I like that. Hanging onto God’s words, whether they ring true for me or not. Hanging onto them because He promises that His Word “will accomplish that which I purpose and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Is.55:11)

His words are spirit, they are living and active (Heb.4:12); they are life-giving. Do I really believe that?! Then why do I sometimes cringe, turn a deaf ear, harden my heart, not want to hear what God will say to me next… while He’s saying: “Hear me, that your soul may live!”

Hmm… so I’m mulling over these things this morning. And what it is the Gospel has to offer the cringing deafened ear… cringing lest a command be given that will be too hard to obey or too unpleasant or too fearful a thing… What does the gospel have to offer? Repentance and forgiveness of sins, for saint and sinner alike; for we are alike but for the living breathing spirit of God in our beings making all things new.

His Word mirrors to me who He is, who I’m not. It offers me the correction I need to hear, and the reassurance. It breathes new life into my deadened hard spots. It invites me to come, to call, to fear not, to know and believe my Redeemer is strong enough for even my weaknesses. And yes even I can be a witness to His being alive.

“Woman, where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

I do not stand condemned but shown a better way, encouraged, emboldened to ask…and reminded that yes, I’m chosen to be His witness, a witness to who God is, not who I am. He is strong in my weakness, able without my strength, a Redeemer who turns all things to good, who speaks life and peace, who restores joy and invites me to be of good courage, for He has overcome the world. I need only follow Him, one ear cocked to hear His voice, eyes wide to watch the way He does it.

Funny, I see this generation following after us, but not exactly in our footsteps. This is at first alarming, but when I look more closely I see them choosing different steps, getting to know the world, the people in it, not just believers. Listening to people. Walking and working with people. Caring. And finding Jesus’ way with people. He enjoyed people. He spent time with them. They enjoyed being with Him too. And in the process life was breathed into dark places. Hope was born. Healing granted. Freedom and forgiveness found. And there was joy.

This is the by-product of listening to Him. Not only do we find life, but we reflect who He is.

Ah, Lord, you’ve chosen us to know you and made us witnesses to the Life you are to us. You are the Redeemer. Redeem our weaknesses. Shine through our cracked places. Be glorified in our lives from generation to generation…


“Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today, which you shall command your sons to observe carefully, even all the words of this law. For it is not an idle word for you; indeed it is your life.” Deut. 32:46,47

"But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.” Is.66:2

August 19, 2011

When Love says, “Not Yet”

--The ‘already’s and ‘not yet’s of the Gospel--

I read an article this week by Tim Keller [If you haven’t encountered his books, do look up some reviews. He’s a pastor in NYC making inroads for the Gospel in a tough place and doing lots of thinking and writing in the process, books and articles arguing for the relevance of the Gospel. The Reason for God is one in my collection, waiting for a long sea voyage in order to get read!! ] Anyway, in a long article entitled: “The Centrality of the Gospel”* he talked about the ‘already’s and the ‘not yet’s of the Gospel and how a thorough understanding of the Gospel in its present and future implications will impact the individual and nurture the church.

Can I whet your appetite with an example? With regard to doctrinal distinctives he says (and I very much needed to hear) this:

‘The “already” of the New Testament makes us bold in our proclamation. We can most definitely be sure of the central doctrines that support the gospel. But the “not yet” requires charity and humility in nonessential beliefs. That is, we must be moderate about what we teach except when it comes to the cross, grace, and sin. In our views, especially our opinions on issues that Christians cannot agree on, we must be less unbending and triumphalistic (believing we have arrived intellectually). It also means that our discernment of God’s call and will for us and others must not be propagated with overweening assurance that our insight cannot be wrong. (Unlike pragmatists, we must be willing to die for our belief in the gospel; unlike moralists, we must keep in mind that not every one of our beliefs is worth fighting to the death for.)’

How does that set with you? I want to argue. But I have been meditating on the traits of the ‘wisdom from above’ this week and I find that it’s meek, “pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17,18) What’s more, ‘a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace’. I had occasion to need a peacemaker this week. I need these sorts of reminders to keep the Gospel central and operate in spiritual wisdom!

Tim Keller goes so far as to conclude that:

All problems, personal or social, come from a failure to apply the gospel in a radical way, a failure to get “in line with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14). All pathologies in the church and all its ineffectiveness come from a failure to let the gospel be expressed in a radical way. If the gospel is expounded and applied in its fullness in any church, that church will begin to look very unique. People will find in it both moral conviction yet compassion and flexibility.’*

Wow! The article goes on to describe the power of the gospel as it applies to a host of areas in sharp contrast to either a merely ‘religious’/moral or a relativistic/hedonistic approach to life.

But it was that concept of the ‘already’s and ‘not yet’s of the Gospel that grabbed me. I’m reading I Samuel these days. Saul’s been rejected as king for running ahead of God on his own steam instead of obeying. God has searched out a ‘man after his own heart’, David of course, and sent Samuel to confirm his choice by anointing him to be King of Israel. He’s come straight from the sheep pasture. And presumably, gone right back there to wait God’s timing on this amazing turn of events! Chosen, but not yet crowned.

Next thing you know, Saul’s tormented by a bad spirit and someone suggests he find a musician to soothe him. Turns out that David, the shepherd boy, is also a skilled musician (lots of practice time with his lyre in the hills) noted for his valor, prudence and ‘good presence’. He is recommended to the king with the observation that: ‘the Lord is with him.’ (I Sam.16) And so the king-to-be, already selected and anointed, becomes armor-bearer and part-time musician to the king-who-is-but’s-been-rejected. Not yet, David, not yet.

Well, you know the story. Next thing recorded is he’s running back and forth from sheep pen to battle front delivering baguettes and cheese to his brothers and getting the latest news for his dad. Pretty humble position for a king. And yet, he is the anointed king; it’s already been declared. But first the training. This is the ‘not yet’ of God’s timing in David’s life. Pretty soon, he takes the tricks of his trade—smooth stones and a sling—and uses them in a new context; what’s the difference between a lion, a bear, and an uncircumcised Philistine if God’s calling the shots? David sees none. His training as a shepherd stands him in good stead and next thing you know he’s put in charge of Saul’s men of war (and his dad’s got to find another shepherd for his flocks).

Already anointed, but not yet king. The story goes on for a long while yet. This training to rule is no quick process. And that makes me ponder the ‘not yet’s of the Gospel. Believers are called “A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR GOD’S OWN POSSESSION” (I Pet.2:9) but in the next breath referred to as: ‘sojourners and exiles’. Our kingdom hasn’t come yet.

We are said to be ‘seated in the heavenly places with Christ’ having been ‘raised up together, and made [to] sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus’ but it’s a reality that will come to fullness “in the ages to come” (Eph.2:6,7).

On the one hand we’re called sons of God, joint heirs with Christ and given eternal life! On the other we ‘groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies’ (Rom.8:23) and the fact is we must part with these earthly bodies in order to be with the Lord, “knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord.” (II Cor 5:6).

So we’re given God’s own Spirit to indwell these makeshift tents as a guarantee of the life to come (IICor.5:5). Like David, we’re ‘anointed’ so to speak, appointed as ambassadors, invited to speak in Jesus’ name, with His authority. These things are true and yet we find ourselves for the most part subject to the physical laws of nature, decay and corruption, waiting for the ‘not yet’ of future glory that is to be revealed in us (Rom.8:18). Could it be we are in training?

David was. Had his been an instant coronation think of the Psalms we’d be without--those ones that give us hope when the world is harsh and our circumstances unintelligible, the ones that remind us that the enemy will not win, that God is indeed good, that He is a refuge we can trust no matter what…the ones that contain words Jesus Himself uttered from the Cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

The Gospel fully comprehended in its ‘already’s and ‘not yet’s will transform the way we live and what we hope for. It is enough in sickness or in health, for richer or poorer but the really good news is that nothing, not even death, will part us from the King of life in this world or the next, and we shall reign with Him. It’s already true, but not yet fully realized. There’s an order to things, a victory that’s won but some mopping up to do first.

 “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.  But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
I Cor.15:22ff

There were folks in the church in Corinth who lost sight of the significance of the resurrection. They claimed life was about ‘now’ and denied that there would be anything more. Paul had to set them straight. Christ died for our sins, and was buried, and was raised, making the power of the Gospel effective beyond this lifetime. In fact he said, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” I Cor.15:19 After all, the gospel isn’t only for unbelievers, to turn them into happy healthy church folk in the here and now. It is the good news ‘by which we are being saved.’ Christ not only died for the unbeliever’s sin and restoration to fellowship with God. He lives so the believer can start living an eternal quality of life in the here and now, triumphant in the midst of pain and suffering and death, knowing the ‘fellowship of His sufferings’.

Maybe our generation, at least in the Western world, is not so very different than the Corinthians. Hoping and planning for comfort in the here and now is after all a pretty obsessive priority in our culture, even our Christian culture. Larry Crabb in his recent book, God’s Love Letters to You, in reflecting on Colossians says that when we place our hopes in experiencing satisfaction in the here and now, we are actually “shifting away from the hope held out in the gospel”, disfiguring the Christian life and blurring and discounting what Jesus accomplished in His death and resurrection. He is in us as our HOPE of glory, not our ‘opportunity to experience glory now.’ (95). He suggests that God might well be saying to us: “You are not alive in this world in order to experience Me or to enjoy the blessings of a comfortable life. If that were My purpose, I’d have brought you into My Presence in heaven the moment you were forgiven and adopted into My family.”

“Your purpose until you die is to reveal a new attitude toward suffering and a new agenda in prayer that flows out of your new purpose in life that makes sense only if you claim your new hope of resurrection…”(74)

Tim Keller concurs with this perspective when he says: “The cross shows us, however, that God redeemed us through suffering. God suffered not that we might not suffer but that in our suffering we could become like him.”

I don’t much fancy this suffering stuff, but Paul called it a fellowship and expected it to make Him like Jesus (Phil.3:10). He told Timothy it was a fact of life: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” II Tim.3:12. And the Hebrews 11 folk who had their share of it were commended for their faith and said to be ones ‘of whom the world was not worthy’. Could be it’s part of the process of preparing us to reign?

“The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful-- for he cannot deny himself.” II Tim.2: 11-13

So we live between what’s been accomplished already and what’s not yet come. We rejoice in the grace we’ve already been shown, the grace that is sufficient still and the grace that will yet be revealed when Christ returns. “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" I Cor.15:54,55. And that’s News worth getting excited about!


“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens…so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” (II Cor. 5:1-5)


Tim Keller quotes are taken from his article “The Centrality of the Gospel”
Copyright © 2000 by Timothy Keller, © 2009 by Redeemer City to City, available in its entirety at:

Larry Crabb quotes are taken from God’s Love Letters to You (Thomas Nelson, 2010)  For a review of this book see my blog: “A Few Good Books”

August 12, 2011

Dreaming Big

 I’m reviving an old habit this week, thanks to the faith-boosting writing of Paul Miller in A Praying Life. I’ve pulled out my old prayer-request notebook and have been browsing through the entries…It’s one of those old-fashioned, pocket-size, 6-ring binders. Mine’s got custom pages, mostly hand-cut, color-coded into three main divisions: Family, The Body, and The World. Just about everything I pray about fits under one of those. Then there’s another section for writing out prayers and prayer promises straight from Scripture. Who wouldn’t want Colossians 1:9-10 prayed for them consistently?!
“We ask God to give you a complete understanding of what he wants to do in your lives, and we ask Him to make you wise with spiritual wisdom…we also pray that you will be strengthened with his glorious power so that you will have all the patience and endurance you need…May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father who has enabled you to share the inheritance that belongs to God’s holy people, who live in the light…”
Some of praying requires dreaming big, asking for the sky! Seeing beyond the present to a future that is altogether different and praying that direction. That’s what praying from the Word spurs me on to do.
I’ve been reading in particular the Family requests. Lots of long-term things for all of us, character qualities to sharpen, bents of heart to bless, habits to shake. There’s a lot of watching and waiting involved in these things…

The catch is, the details--the events that happen on the way to the dream being fulfilled. They don’t always (often? ever?) look like I imagined they would/should. And sometimes that makes me think I’m on the wrong track, shooting for the wrong dream. But after all, every story has a plot and is built around some sort of conflict or suspense (or it wouldn’t be a story!). I just have to remember I’m not the Author of the story! So, I’m back on the written page, working on a fresh index card system, penning my suggestions for how the story line might go, submitting my requests for plot adjustments and waiting in the wings to see how it will all play out in the hands of the Master Playwright.

Habakkuk knew the feeling. His people were about to be taken captive by the meanest guys around, and God was allowing it, orchestrating it even…Sounded like crazy talk but he stood on the frontlines watching to see what would transpire, confident that his hopes were well placed in the God of his salvation and his strength. Here’s what he said, and how God answered:

Habakkuk: “I will take my stand at my watch post and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me…”

The Lord: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets,…for still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay….but the righteous shall live by his faith.” (2:1-4)

And that’s why I’m putting pen to paper, so I will keep my vision clear and my faith unclouded to watch as the story of our lives unfolds.


I’m keeping this post short so that I can tell you more about Paul Miller’s book: A Praying Life. Here’s an excerpt of my thoughts, taken from my own review at:
“Here it is, a book for Christians “struggling with life, who pray badly yet long to connect with their heavenly Father.” I’ve collected lots of book on prayer over the course of my guilt-ridden life, driven to do something about my substandard ‘prayer life’. I’ve started in to read the classics by the ‘famous’ Christians who knew how to pray and could lay out the ‘doctrine’ of it thoroughly and without a loophole. And I’ve read some ‘loopier’ modern ones-- that imply that God is always talking to me and if I’ll just learn to tune in, I can ask anything I want and voila! I’ll have the answers I’m seeking. It’s just that easy. But buying books on prayer is kinda like buying art books—it’s easier to spend the money collecting the books than the time learning to draw. Prayer comes down to that, spending time talking, and listening, and being conscious of God’s responses as they’re woven into my days.

“What’s neat about this book is that it’s not only inviting to read because it’s built on the real life experience of the author (and his family), but it also makes you want to pray, to stop reading and start in, right now! Life-as-is becomes the starting point for coming like a dependent child to a Father who cares intimately about everything and desires to meet my needs. It’s not so much a matter of discipline once I recognize my utter need for God’s intervention in my days. Prayerlessness implies that I’m trusting in something else—my money, ability, spouse, fate?…to get me through without God. Anxiety is the tell-tale sign of my misplaced confidence. The circumstances of life are better seen as an invitation to talk to my Father about everything….”
To continue reading and sample some choice excerpts please see my book review blog: A Few Good Books, here. I hope you’ll be inspired to take a fresh look with me at the best habit ever, a praying life.


August 7, 2011

Our Plentiful Redemption

Lots of time for wind-swept, driftwood filled meditations this week. We’ve been on a sailing trip, just Jim and I. I’ve been thinking how life is a lot like a sailing trip… We head out with dreamy-eyed visions of sunny skies, perfect breezes, scenic seascapes and blissful relaxation. That is after all why we take sailing trips isn’t it? Would we embark if we knew the skies would turn grey and begin to spit and the wide ocean be stirred up to pitch us about? Maybe. But why? What’s the draw?

Can’t the captain guarantee us such things? No. He only promises to stick with me come wind come weather, to pilot me safe to the destination he has in mind. He’s got the charts. He knows the perils. We’ll be in this thing together, for better or for worse. Whether it be grilled pork chops on deck in a calm harbor as the day settles around us or canned soup by dim cabin light long after night fall and a long day of navigating. We’re together.

Will it be scintillating sunshine and fresh steady breezes or stifling heat as we languish in the doldrums? Or maybe rainy squalls that drive me below deck to ride it out in closed-eye concentration of mind over matter. It’s ok; we’re in this thing together. It’s a bonding thing. I am my beloveds and he is mine. He takes me on adventures I could never know without him.

And somehow, in the enduring of the not-so-pleasant, and the mildly terrifying and the humdrum our capacity for the joy of the sunny moment, the blissful leisure and the breathtaking vistas is enhanced! Don’t you find it so?

It seems to me life is like that. On this side of the grave, given a sin-fractured world, an enemy scheming sabotage and even our own natures bent on betrayal of our best interests…what hope is there of endless bliss? And yet I find myself incorrigibly aiming for it. And then I’m shocked and affronted when trouble comes. Why? Does the captain owe me a fair-weather sail guarantee? Do voyages come with guarantees? Does life?

I always have to come back to my real hope, the one that won’t disappoint, that Good News that was the ticket for the journey in the first place. When I push back from circumstances and think objectively I see a disconcerting trend of thought that speaks of hope as a future thing, an inheritance that isn’t fully realized yet, but guarded in the here and now by faith in my Captain….

“…born again to a living hope…to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” (I Pet.1:3,4)

“Fix your hope completely on the grace yet to come at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (I Pet.1:13)

“For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?” (Rom 8:24)

Is this really where my hopes are set so that in the meantime I can weather wind and seas and delight in tranquil respites but not cling to them, demand them, or live for them?

The real hope is yet ahead—the hope alone that guarantees complete satisfaction. In the meantime, some winds, maybe rain, some tough moments to endure. “With endurance a joy will develop that frees you to appreciate the pleasure of life’s blessings without requiring from them a satisfaction they cannot provide.” (Crabb,101)

But my captain is with me and in real life He has the power to guarantee me a safe haven at journey’s end. Isn’t this after all the heart of the Gospel, the good news that God is with us, forever! He’s made a way, forgiven our sins, brought us near. And now we’re in this thing called life on earth together.

I have a tendency to think of Him as a resource for my comfort here and now but this is missing the point. He’s with me, yes, but not so everything will be just perfect and I’ll sail sweetly home without a snag. There’s this matter of redemption that has nothing to do (yet) with my physical body and everything to do with my character—the soul of who I am and who I live for. God takes the everyday everythings of life ‘as is’ and redeems them for the purpose of reshaping me for His glory. It’s all there just beyond that comforting verse about all things working together for good… to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom.8:28ff) If my purpose in life is about sunny skies, idyllic anchorages and ceaseless ease I’ve embarked on the wrong cruise! This one’s about becoming conformed to the image of God’s Son—whatever it takes!

So while I do know I’m in good hands I don’t know what all my days will hold of pain and pleasure. And they seldom come unmixed.

Take for example this trip. There I was smack dab in the middle of these musings and the dinghy motor wouldn’t start. Here we were anchored in a spacious bay on an idyllic summer’s morning, (now fast morphing into afternoon), fresh and free, ready to zip across to the far shore and explore the little village of Heriot Bay, and our spritely little motor refuses to chug, will scarcely cough or hiccup, listless to the endless arm-tiring tugs of the captain…. An hour passes, and more. The spark plugs, the gas line, the inner workings are all laid bare as the dinghy takes on the look of a mechanic’s work bench. Still no spark, the odd back-fire, no go. And we sit in the bay bereft of power to putt about as the sun rises high and hot. Is God in this moment? Doesn’t feel like it. But He is with us yet, soothing our frustrations, fueling our energies to tinker and to serve with patience. Jim’s arm is weary. His problem solving ideas spent. I dispense screwdrivers and ratchets, sandpaper and a rag, eventually the whole tool box. I offer water, a cool cloth, sunscreen and Gatorade, an orange too for energy, and I pray… Does the motor then just have to start? In my kind of story line, yes. In real life, no. We row the mile and a half to ‘town’ (or rather, my captain does!) with sweat, blisters, and patience. Life is like that sometimes. But its purpose is not trivial.

“The Lord knows the days of the blameless, and their inheritance will be forever.” I think there’s a timing thing we don’t quite get. The here and now seems so large, so present, so all-important. Preserving life and health and happiness starts to look like everything. But it’s a miniscule blip on an endless horizon.

It’s not about our comfort but our conformity to Jesus’ image. This is a part of the redemption going on. It won’t be complete till our bodies are included—“we eagerly wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” (Rom.8:23)-- but in the meantime it seems God’s got designs for our characters that are often best accomplished using circumstance. And through thick and thin He is with us, redeeming every moment for our best good. And that’s a plentiful redemption we can count on!

“Hope in the Lord for with the Lord is steadfast love, and with Him is plentiful redemption.” (Ps.130:7)


P.S. “Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him”…commit your way to Him; delight in Him. Now trust that He will bring it to pass… Don’t fret. Nothing good comes of it. (Ps.37)