December 27, 2013

Who Knew?

The shepherds are gone back now to watching their sheep.  The angels have long since gone away back into the heavens.  Simeon and Anna will be waiting for the next week or so in the temple to see the Messiah they have long prayed and hoped would come in their lifetimes…They will die in peace. He has come.  But who else knew?

A few observant star-gazers will bow at this toddler’s feet.  Herod will be notified that a rival has been born and order the murder of all  Bethlehem’s infants…Mary and Joseph, forewarned, will sequester the child in Egypt for a while…But who else knew that their Messiah had come?  This one born to save the world from its helpless estate had been announced to a select few but now the excitement is over, the unsung days and years settle in.

Isn’t this the way it is after the height of the Christmas season?  The music fades.  The tree comes down.  Routine returns as the crumbs of Christmas baking are swept away…And a whole lot of unsung days ensue. And who remembers that a Savior has been born and life can never be the same?

For Mary there’ll be the rounds of diapers and feedings, of cuddles and training, of meals and mundane.  The King of Kings must learn to walk, to talk, and to become an ordinary little Jewish boy from Nazareth--an apprentice in the carpenter shop perhaps. These are the unsung years.

But all the while Mary knows salvation is coming.  “God Saves” she repeats every time she calls His name.  And little by little Jesus will grow and become strong and be filled with wisdom.  The favor of God rests on him. But what a long slow march fills this gap between promise and fulfillment.  How slowly the darkness is overcome by the Light of the world.  How slowly salvation seems to come.

All the heavens rang at his birth.  Ages of prophecy climaxed here.  And yet it was only another stage in the unfurling of redemption…a story that continues all around us and in us.

People sit in darkness still, unaware that there is a better way to live.  And even we who have the firstfruits of the Spirit wait eagerly for the hope of righteousness  which will come with the redemption of our bodies(Rom.8:23) (Gal.5:5).

A few shepherds were privy to the glorious announcement of God’s redemptive plan—“A Savior has been born to you!” but the bulk of Bethlehem’s population missed it.  And with each passing year of celebrating Jesus’ birth, still Hope eludes so many.  Personal redemption remains a mystery.  For many the new year will be very much like the old one…a year of working out one’s own salvation as though life depended on it.  Only a few saw the starry sky, the hosts of angels.  Only a few heard God’s revelation that a Savior had been born for them…

And yet, salvation has come.  Hope was born that night.  And for those who have seen God’s glory as revealed in Jesus--for those who have believed-- the Light shines in them and through them.  God’s redemptive work has begun. God is with us, His Spirit at work in the night of our culture, in dim places we cannot fathom Him reaching.  You know the places—those ‘impossible’ situations you wonder how the Gospel can ever permeate…there are names and faces we each carry in our hearts… And we, like Mary ponder the passing of years and wonder when ‘the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ’ (II Cor.4:4) will shine in these places.  How will their redemption be accomplished?  The Savior has been born but who knew then?  Who knows now? And how long before they are saved?

But as I reflect on the passage of time from Jesus’ birth to His ‘It is finished’, and from then till now…it is clear that the timetable of redemption is not in our control.  God is in no hurry; nor is He slow to keep His promises.  Our part is to present ourselves, living sacrifices, for His purposes, whatever that entails, even as Mary did: “Behold, I am the bondservant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” Lk.1:38

We have not been called to give birth to the Savior, but we do carry Him with us into the world day by day. And though we cannot personally effect a single soul’s redemption we can believe that “nothing will be impossible with God.”  Lk.1:37,38 And we can pray for eyes to be unveiled to the Gospel’s glory.(II Cor.4:4) Only God can accomplish this. 

So as we wrap up another Christmas season and lay to rest both its sweetness and its sorrows…as we face another year and wonder when and how redemption will be accomplished in the myriad of situations we carry on our hearts…let’s continue to hold onto the hope of Christmas. A Savior has been born to us.  He is still the answer.  He alone can reconcile man to God--the crucial need at the heart of every woe. His Lordship alone can bring peace on earth and within our own hearts.

We who know Him, who have glimpsed the glory of the Gospel,  have every reason to  maintain a joyful expectation regardless of the blackness of the night.  God is at the helm of redemption’s plan.  He will accomplish it—our salvation is nearer now than when we believed!    Who knows what He will do in the coming year?  Let’s be attending to our sheep on the hillsides alert to the glory of the skies.  Our redemption draws nigh!


“…who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” I Pet. 1:5-7 ESV

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
I Pet.1:8-9 ESV

For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to [give] the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. II Cor. 4:6 KJV

“…now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.  Rom 13:11-12 KJV

And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.  Luke 21:27-28 KJV


December 21, 2013

Sleepless Nights

There are things not worth losing sleep over…

With just days remaining till Christmas morning dawns, these are the nights mothers stay awake-- either doing things to get ready or thinking of things that need yet to be done! Sugar plums fairies aren't dancing in our heads. No. Greedy gremlins grimace there--egging us on to do more, more, more to make everyone happy and the holiday unforgettable…It's all up to us! (?)

There are endless lists of things to make, bake, buy, wrap, and mail…And then there are the 'stocking stuffers' that send us back to the store to meander in circles trying to find the perfect little 'somethings' and maybe just one more gift while we're at it. After all, we don't want anyone to be disappointed on Christmas morning…

And is it just me, or are other moms dogged by the persistent glimmer of an elusive gift that hangs just beyond our consciousness waiting to be thought of?  We wake at night scratching our heads to conjure it up but it eludes us…that ideal gift.  No, these are definitely not sugar plum fairies. Anticipation isn't the cause of our sleepless nights. Anxiety is!

A roaring lion, this, stalking his prey in the middle of the night…looking for someone to devour…. How about this mother. She looks peaceful sleeping there…She thinks everything's under control and that this year is going to be a peaceful celebration of the real reasons for the Christmas Season. Wait till I get through with her!

And then they come, the arrows--pangs of reminder that the time is too short, the presents too few and too feeble. And this idea of having a peaceful season, why it's simply laughable. Never! You're a Martha, not a Mary!

It's sabotage at its best--get 'em when they're down with sleep muddling their heads.

Have you been there? I don't know about you but I'm more vulnerable in the night to anxiety's taunting. By day I'm happily busy, trying to be intentional about what matters and let the rest slide. The annual family letter, the Carols by Candlelight tradition with friends, the Christmas music—these I value. A bit of decorating and some baking too. I even made one homemade card this year which may arrive at its destination by the New Year! (sorry, sis!) But best of all for keeping the peace (and the joy!) of Christmas is spending time in the quiet of morning, or at the hearing of a carol, pondering the mystery and wonder of Christmas.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory…”

Or as a modern Christmas anthem puts it:

"God Invisible appears, endless ages wrapped in years"*

I've heard more than enough of "I'll be home for Christmas" and "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow". But what other time of year is the Gospel played and sung so unapologetically in public places? Have you heard it? O come, oh come Emmanuel…Joy to the World—the Lord is come; let earth receive her King… O Holy night, when Christ was born…The Lord God Omnipotent reigneth. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

People with little personal connection to the words they are singing, declare the gospel for all to hear. And surely some hear and wonder… Yes, amidst all the Jingle bells and Silver bells, manger scenes too are extolled in song. Over the din of busyness and the distraction of giving and getting, there is a real reason for hope, for joy, for celebration—God was born a boy-child to reconcile us to Himself! This is news we can't let slide. And somehow it's got to make a difference in the way we do Christmas. If Mighty God has lived where we do He knows the crush of pressing details, of endless opportunity to serve, of what it means to walk in the world to the beat of a different Drummer (and I don’t meant the Little Drummer Boy!!).

Even on the nights when to-do lists loom large, especially on those nights, it's worth meditating on the one reason worth losing sleep over—A Savior has been born to you—Come and see!!

That was the announcement that left the shepherds sleepless and sheepless rushing to the stable. Nothing else mattered! Only one great joy filled their minds with intent—to find that baby and bow in wonder.

Years later a Mary from another story would sit in awe at Jesus' feet. No longer in a stable, He was grown now and in her home visiting. Imagine getting ready for that event?! No wonder her sister, Martha, was anxious and "troubled about many things". Mothers understand. Christmastime gets like this. In the bustle to celebrate Jesus' birth we so easily relegate conversing with Him to second priority. But Jesus said only one thing was needful and Mary had found it. (Luke 10:41-42) This was the best part for her—the being able to sit at His feet and listen to Him teach. 

Mary and Jesus

Can you picture her face, her posture, her heart? In my mind's eye is a picture from an old children's Bible we read to our own kids, of a young Mary sitting adoringly at Jesus' feet with eager face upturned, listening… Recalling it when I am 'troubled about many things' reminds me of the one thing that is needful—O Come, Let Us Adore Him…

And I’ve found it this week to be the cure for insomnia brought on by lurking lions preying on sleeping mothers… Counting sheep is futile. But there is a shepherd who cares. Will I wait on Him to direct my limited energies? He is no Santa but I can trust Him with my Christmas lists. He invites me to make my requests and leave my lists in a heap at His feet. Then to sit awhile and listen for His words to quiet my soul..

When I turn my attention not to counting 'to do's, but to counting on Him to do what is best, rest returns. Only when I insist on doing it all am I anxious.  I can do nothing of value without Him.  And did you notice His solution for Martha was not to pitch in and help her get it all done?!  My lists too may need revising in light of what's important about CHRISTmas.  Am I OK with that?  Can I stop striving to think of the perfect present and trust Him to direct my thoughts and efforts?  He is after all the Giver of all good gifts (Ja.1:17).  Surely I can trust Him with those I care most about.  Will I cast my cares on Him and rest under His mighty hand? He gives to His beloved sleep, but only if we’re willing to rest in His care.

These are things not worth losing sleep over…


It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. [Unless the Lord participates in your Christmas preparations, you labor in vain that prepare.] Ps.127:1-2 Amplified by me!

Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come…and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood---and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen! Rev. 1:4-6

Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! II Cor.9:15


*"God Invisible appears, endless ages wrapped in years" [Words by Charles Wesley and Bob Kauflin]

Lyrics are from “Glory be to God” from Savior: Celebrating the Mystery of God Become Man by Sovereign Grace Music.  I highly recommend this all-original Christmas themed album, as its lyrics point solidly in a fresh way to the reasons we have to celebrate!  Have a listen here:

[Above illustration is by Donald Kueker in The Bible for Children, Tyndale Publ:1990, p.1184.]

December 13, 2013

Humbled Prayer


I had not seen it before—this business of pride being the antithesis of casting care.  It’s right there prefacing a passage I’ve loved since I was a kid learning to cope with my propensity to worry…

You know the passage: “Casting all your cares on Him, for He cares for you.” (I Pet.5:7)  Ahh… such comfort for the the perennially anxious soul.  This is followed by a warning about the devil’s wiles and a call to remain steadfast in faith.  It’s an encouraging passage roughly equivalent to another favorite: Phil.4:6,7-- “Be anxious for nothing but in everything, by prayer and supplication…”  I have long lived with these verses and tried to walk them out with varying degrees of success. 

But somehow I have always had a conscientious bent to worry, as if it were the only responsible thing to do. It’s become a joke at our house.  Jim’s predictable response to some petty trouble I present is: “I wouldn’t worry about it”.  And my predictable rejoinder is:  “That’s why I have to; somebody’s got to do it!” It’s just logical right?  If noone bears the weight of this care how will it be taken care of?!  The first time that interaction was actually voiced it dawned on me:  No wonder I am anxious; I think it’s the responsible thing to do.

But this week’s sermon covered all of I Peter 5.  And just preceding this imperative to cast my cares on God is the imperative to: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (I Pet. 5:6 NIV) Could there be a connection between casting our cares and humbling ourselves?  The New English Translation says it this way: “And God will exalt you in due time, if you humble yourselves under his mighty hand 7 by casting all your cares on him because he cares for you.” 

I had not thought of my determination to cover all potential troubles with a good dose of worry as actually being prideful, and an affront to God’s loving and mighty ability to care for me.  He is opposed to the proud.  It is the humble who truly know His grace.

I think I have mentioned before that I have been asking God to teach me to pray.  First it seems He must disassemble my faulty understanding of what prayer entails. It is not a spiritualized form of worry where I air my concerns and then tuck them back away for safekeeping.  He asks me to give them up to Him, to yield them to His Mighty hand.  Why is that so hard?

I think it’s because I really would like certain sorts of outcomes.  I would like to think prayer is a guaranteed means of avoiding accidents, pain, tragedy, and all manner of disasters.  If I pray, about everything, God will be the genie that makes life smooth sailing. Of course that belief also makes prayer a joyless burden and an impossible necessity.  Who can ever pray enough?  Where is the place of rest in God’s assured care? 

Under this erroneous belief prayer morphs into a superstitious religious exercise aimed at getting God’s attention, approval and blessing. It has all the earmarks of religion—of us gaining favor with a disinterested God in order to bring about our own ‘salvation’ through our own works (and words!) And it ignores the reality of relationship known only in Christianity-- that God indeed cares and loves and grants us His favor apart from any work on our part.  Our part is to repent of our independence and rest our case with this all-knowing, all-powerful and loving God who cares for us! 

Of course, this doesn’t guarantee a trouble-free existence.  Suffering is sure to come. (It is the context of I Peter). The older I get the more I see of it both in and out of the Church.  God does call us to pray (“Far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you”-- I Sam.12:23) but He does not guarantee our every heart’s desire.  Sin runs rampant on the planet and in our natures.  We will not necessarily be protected from the sins of others.  Abuse happens.  Drunk driving kills. Marriages fail.  People disappoint. Prodigals land in pig pens. No, prayer does not put life under our control.  We cannot even guarantee our own children’s safe passage through its perils.  God controls destinies. 

Did Joseph’s father not pray enough?  Did he think his prayers had failed when his favorite son was sold into slavery by jealous brothers? No, God had a bigger plan than even conniving Jacob could not foresee.  What was intended for evil God used to save the entire nation from starvation.

Did Moses’ mother not pray hard enough?  He was snatched from her as a toddler to be raised in a pagan palace.  This was his destiny under God’s mighty hand.

And what of Daniel and his handsome friends—young men in the prime of life, the cream of the crop in Judah—all seized by the enemy and conscripted to be trained in pagan-ness and serve a foreign power.  Was this part of their parents’ prayers for them?

This is the unsettling thing about prayer.  We are called to cast all our cares on God along with the deepest desires of our hearts, and then to leave them there with no guarantees that things will turn out how we think we’d prefer.  We are only assured that God cares for us, that He loves us and is mighty enough to cause everything to work together for our ultimate good and His ultimate glory (Rom.8:28). 

But as long as we view prayer as our means of preventing disaster and assuring success, it will be driven by fear more than a genuine desire to spend time knowing and being known by our faithful Creator.  Prayer and petition will become synonymous and we will miss out on the fellowship that prayer is meant to be and the relief that comes of truly casting our cares on our faithful Creator.

Maybe I don’t need to pray ‘better’ or ‘more’ so much as I need to humble myself under God’s mighty hand and rest there.  I don’t need another book on prayer or another sermon to propel me to it.  I need to realize my helpless but secure position as a dependent in God’s loving hand.  I need to trade my petition-oriented view of prayer for one that knows what it is to delight in the Lord and wait for Him to make my desires like His own. 

I read an article lately* which likened prayer to Mary's pouring out costly perfume on Jesus' head and feet. He called prayer: "poured out soul", 'gloriously impractical' as seen by the world.  He acknowledged that prayer that seeks to worship and not to ‘get’ seems like a waste of time but to God it is precious.  This is the heart of prayer that I have missed in my haste to accomplish something and secure dividends with my prayers.

This is the fulfillment of the angel’s tidings at Jesus’ birth--“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Lk.2:14  We as believers are that people, forever in a favorable standing with God because of Jesus. It doesn’t get any better than that. And from this position we are invited to commune with God in prayer. How can worry or pride exist here? 

O come, let us adore Him and cast all our cares and our every heart’s desire at His feet!


Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart. Ps.37:4

We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Rom 8:26-27 NIV

“Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” Heb.7:25


*”Rediscovering the value of prayer  in a high-tech world” by Robert Osborne, in Testimony Magazine, Nov/Dec 2013, p.9

December 6, 2013

Waiting on God

I bumped into a tired old paperback on a neglected couch-side shelf this week.  Its yellowing pages and faded cover picture a man kneeling at a stool, head in hands.  Its title is Waiting on God, by Andrew Murray.  Flipping it open I scanned a few lines and realized this was the book I needed though it wasn’t the one I had actually been looking for.

It is not merely a book on prayer but on its correlative: waiting.  I appreciate Murray’s distinguishing the two.  He says “there may be much praying with but very little waiting on God. In praying we are often occupied with ourselves, with our own needs, and our own efforts in the presentation of them.  [Yes! This is precisely my experience!; something’s missing] He goes on: In waiting upon God, the first thought is of the God upon whom we wait...” 

Have you ever noticed how God inexplicably supplies just what you need when you need it? It was no ‘fluke’ that I happened upon this old book I had yet to read.  I couldn’t even remember at first where I had come by it.  But  I have been frustrated with my ‘prayer life’ for a long time.  It has been an ongoing plea: ‘Lord, teach me to pray.’  I see the need; there’s no want of opportunity to intercede!  And since communication is a backbone of relationship, obviously prayer  is basic to a  believer’s life. Why then the disparity between what I know to be true and the way I pray?

Could it be I have not learned the value of waiting on God?  Seems everywhere I turn of late I find a lesson on waiting.  I read  King Saul’s story this week—you remember the incident where his impetuousness lost him the kingdom?  His enemies were gathering on his borders in formidable numbers—“like the sand on the seashore”.  His own troops numbered mere hundreds and had neither sword nor spear to face 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen and troops! (I Sam.13) Desperately Saul waited for Samuel to come and officiate at the burnt offerings and peace offerings.  He needed God on his side!  Unfortunately he had the wrong idea about God.  He viewed the sacrificial system as a sort of good-luck charm—a means of gaining God’s favor and guaranteeing victory.  Do I sometimes view prayer this way?

And when Samuel didn’t show up punctually, Saul panicked and took charge of offering the sacrifice himself in clear violation of God’s standards. His desperation revealed a heart out of sync with God’s heart. 

Did he think all depended on him to do something

Did he not realize that ‘the Lord will not forsake His people for His great name’s sake’.  (I Sam.12:22)  His calling was to ‘fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all [his] heart’ (I Sam.12:24) but fear of his enemies outranked his fear of God. So he failed to wait to see how God would choose to act. His kingship was revoked.

When we face impossible situations and impending crises our hearts’ devotion becomes transparent.  Have you been there? I have.  Panic!   Unless we have learned to wait for God, and in these times to know His heart, we will be unprepared in crisis to trust Him and fear Him only…We will be tempted to run ahead and do something, anything! to save ourselves (or whoever needs saving!). 

In panic we will tend to use prayer like a magic bullet—devoid of faith, driven by fear, offering words, demands, desperate pleas, but not trust.  Meanwhile God’s spirit whispers: “In quietness and in trust shall be your strength…” Is.30:15  And He waits to be gracious to us…He waits for us to wait for Him. Is.30:18

I’ve been struck lately by Jesus’ words:  Without me you can do nothing.  Nothing.  What is the use of worry, of scurry, of meticulous ordering of my days—all belying my supposed dependence on Him.  Unless I’m actively depending on Christ, abiding in Him, waiting on His direction I accomplish NOTHING.  It may look like a something but He says it is nothing.

The stuff of waiting revolves around two deep convictions:

1) a deep sense of personal helplessness to accomplish anything of eternal value

2) a perfect confidence that God is willing and able to do beyond all that I could ask or even think! (Murray, p.20-21)

Without these I will be good at ‘busy’ but not so great at ‘wait’.  Busy implies significance, being needed, being ‘somebody’.  It’s a classic way of conforming to the world. 

Waiting implies dependence, being in need, and being ‘nothing without Him’.  It demonstrates I am not in control but He is.

I think that as we age this becomes more evident.  Our bodies no longer do our bidding as they once did.  We begin to need aids:  seeing aids, hearing aids, walking aids, sleeping aids… As the outer man fades the inner man is given opportunity to grow strong, to deepen its dependence on the God who has sustained us all along.  Before I lose all my faculties I would like to learn to wait on God.

As I began to read Andrew Murray’s book I came upon a card marking someone’s place.   It bore my Dad’s handwriting, as he struggled to untangle the spelling of a familiar word…he was likely in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s when he read this book.  (Yes, that’s where I’d gotten it. I’d tucked it in my suitcase on my last visit--a sampling from Dad’s bookcase.)  The card he used as a bookmark and ruler for underlining was an ad for woodworking patterns—for a tractor and a model T,  for a familiar looking loader and a dump truck.  Dad made these things.  Now he lives in a care home, incapacitated and unable to communicate, waiting on God to issue his call home. He can do little else.

Dare I?


“From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a god besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.” Is.64:4

[the verse by my kitchen sink]:
“In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly…but I, by your great love, can come into your house, in reverence I bow down toward your holy temple.” Ps.5:3,7

[my bookmark]:
“My soul, wait thou only upon God: for my expectation is from him.  He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved.  In God is my salvation and my glory; the rock of my strength, and my refuge is in God.”


If you have a few minutes more, consider this profound foreword to Andrew Murray’s book, Waiting on God:

Wait Thou Only Upon God

"Wait only upon God"; my soul, be still,
And let thy God unfold His perfect will,
Thou fain would'st follow Him throughout this year,
Thou fain with listening heart his voice would'st hear,
Thou fain would'st be a passive instrument
Possessed by God, and ever Spirit-sent
Upon His service sweet—then be thou still,
For only thus can He in thee fulfill
His heart's desire. Oh, hinder not His hand
From fashioning the vessel He hath planned.

"Be silent unto God," and thou shalt know
The quiet, holy calm He doth bestow
On those who wait on him; so shalt thou bear
His presence, and His life and light e'en where
The night is darkest, and thine earthly days
Shall show His love, and sound His glorious praise.
And He will work with hand unfettered, free,
His high and holy purposes through thee.
First on thee must that hand of power be turned,
Till in His love's strong fire thy dross is burned,
And thou come forth a vessel for thy Lord,
So frail and empty, yet, since He hath poured
Into thine emptiness His life, His love,
Henceforth through thee the power of God shall move
And He will work for thee. Stand still and see
The victories thy God will gain for thee;
So silent, yet so irresistible,
Thy God shall do the thing impossible.

Oh, question not henceforth what thou canst do;
Thou canst do nought. But He will carry through
The work where human energy had failed
Where all thy best endeavors had availed
Thee nothing.
Then, my soul, wait and be still;
Thy God shall work for thee his perfect will.
Thou wilt take no less, His best shall be
Thy portion now and through eternity.

--Freda Hanbury

in Waiting on God by Andrew Murray

December 2, 2013

From Fisherman to Follower

P1130294Home now from Texas, reflecting on our time there (visiting Rachel and attending a conference at Capernwray’s His Hill school), collecting my thoughts…catching my breath for the “Christmas season”. 

It will be a very different one this year.  The familiar tunes playing in my ear this afternoon have a melancholy pull—reminding me of Christmases past when so much of what I did to ‘get ready’ for Christmas was about the kids under my roof…This year everyone will not be coming home for the holidays.  I will need sustaining joy not bound to circumstances!

Isn’t this the Christmas story in a nutshell?

I bring you good tidings of great joy!  Unto you is born this day a Saviour— Christ the Lord—Jesus, my joy.*  The life I now live I live by faith in this One who died for me so that He could live in me… This was the theme of the conference really—Jesus, our life—who calls us to Himself so that He can be our life.

We were reminded that in Jesus we have everything needed to live the Christian life.  The call to follow Him is a call to that will ultimately transform us into His likeness as He lives out His life in us. Through the life of Peter we looked at the process by which this transformation takes place.  How did Peter get from being a mere fisherman to being a committed follower of Christ--one of those who turned the world upside down wherever he went?

The first message in the series** was taken from the calling of the first disciples in Luke 5.  We looked at six stages that characterize hearing God’s call to  transformation.

It begins with being in the place of wanting to hear it.  When the temporary satisfaction that distractions give is removed our ears are opened to hear what Jesus is saying. This is a good place to be.  The crowd was ‘pressing in on him to hear the word of God…’

Secondly, we will hear the call of God when we realize it’s about Him and not primarily about what He does for me.  “There is a profound danger of being more impressed with the activity of God than the person of Christ.”  God calls us not primarily for what we will do or what He will do through us, but in order that we might know Him.  Our calling is first and foremost to know Him.

Next, Jesus got right into Peter’s boat. If we are to be transformed by God’s call on our lives we must let him enter into our world, our very identity, all that matters most to us.  It is here that we most need Him to make Himself at home.

At this point, our own bankruptcy becomes evident:  “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” (Lk.5:5)  We must come to the realization that without Him we can do nothing of consequence.  And we must submit ourselves to His direction, not our own best notions.

At this point in Peter’s story, he obediently lets down his nets into deep water and a net-breaking catch results.  Peter is overwhelmed by Christ’s greatness and broken before Him.  "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” is Peter’s response.  He is convicted of his own unworthiness to have Jesus in his boat.  Until we come to the point of seeing how good we are NOT, we will not know the dependence on God necessary to transformation.  Not until we take our hands off ourselves and our abilities and put all we are and have at God’s disposal will we know the transformation to which we are called.

And finally, as the boats come to land, Peter and his fishing partners, James and John, leave everything to follow Jesus.  The call of God to transformation is more than the passion of a moment of revelation.  It requires a day-by day commitment to put all we are at His disposal and follow Him wherever He leads us.  These fishermen have turned their backs on all they claimed their own.  They have become followers of Christ and are being transformed into fishers of men. They will never be the same.  They have responded to God’s call.  This is the path of great joy!

Unto us is born this day a Savior—He is Christ the Lord!  Let us be among those who leave our nets and follow this One who came to be our very life!


For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:3-4 KJV)

May I add this link to a whimsical, fresh and ultimately exhilarating rendition of what the angels announced.  It’s The Piano Guys latest.  Enjoy!(

*And speaking of Jesus, the Joy of the world, I discovered Jerry Benjamin this morning in his excellent message entitled: “Christ is Our Joy”.   I commend  it to you no matter what your circumstances this advent season ( ;

**These notes are taken from Peter Thomas’ first message in the series: “From Fisherman to Follower”, presented at the His Hill Thanksgiving Conference, 2013 in Comfort, TX.  P1130295

Peter is the son of Ian Thomas, founder of Capernwray Missionary Fellowship of Torchbearers.  Through Bible schools and conference centers worldwide its mission is to:  “proclaim the transforming presence of Jesus Christ through Biblical teaching and practical training, equipping men and women for service in His Church worldwide." 

Its various schools worldwide (one of which is His Hill, where our daughter is attending this year!) provide practical Christian education to develop personal spiritual growth, prepare people for an effective church life, and teach a working knowledge of the Bible.

November 22, 2013

Small Starts


I am learning something about free time.

It is not the missing magic ingredient that will automatically free us to make all our long-held dreams and ambitions come true.

"If only I had time I would…"


What uncharted amounts of 'free' time do is call our bluff.

Perhaps you know how it is… When the kids are young we long for time to ourselves… just a little more time than we have. Then they get a little older and more self-sufficient but life somehow isn't any less busy. And we wish we had time from what we are doing, to get to things that we aren't doing—whether it be that shoebox of photos we want to put in albums, or that book we'd read if only, or maybe that book we'd write if we had half a chance! Or maybe we just want some 'down' time to relax and rejuvenate. We could pray more, play more or develop our artistic bents if only there were time…right?

Well, then the kids all up and move away leaving a void of space and time. Time to pursue our dreams, to do all those things we've waited to have time for. And surprise! It takes more than mere time to get down to them.

For me, one of those things I figured time would free me to do is writing. But it's been comically difficult to devote swaths of time to it now that the time has arrived on my doorstep!

As a writer to writers has said: "…the greased slide to writer's block is a huge batch of time earmarked: 'Now write.' "  (*Cameron,13)

This is SO true! Have you read the adorably illustrated children's picture book: "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie"? [You can have it read to you here]  Here is an exaggerated depiction of the unforeseen string of consequences that can flow from the simple offering of a cookie. For me, that cookie has been time. And if you give a would-be-writer unlimited time, beware. A host of other activities may eat it right up! Here's what may happen:

First, she will notice it's practically lunch time (where did the whole morning fly anyway?!) and she really shouldn't try writing on an empty stomach… While she's making short work of chronic leftovers she will realize how cold she is. She decides to warm up with her 3 minute weight-lifting routine, aww…why not do some lunges while you're at it? More fun with music… Oh and look here, a whole exercise routine on You-Tube, and it's 'Christian'. Fun!

Well, there, that warmed things up. Oh, wait, this is actually elliptical exercise day. May as well get that out of the way now so the writing will be uninterrupted. Maybe just do a shorter workout than usual. It'll only take 10 minutes. But the music is rousing; why cut it short? A half hour later it's time for a shower--a quick one of course. (Are you kidding? Who takes quick showers? Water is in endless supply in our locale. What we don't use flows out to sea. We live with the rain; long showers are a dividend.)

…OK, there. All ready to settle down and write, right?

Well, then up pops a 'should'…she really should phone the kids and see how they're doing. It'll be quick. Minutes tick by. No worries. They're free. Good phone plan. All caught up with the 'mama'; better talk to each of the grandkids too… Finally, 'Bye,bye'.


Oh, what's this? New email message? These smart phones are so handy. Ah, and a notification. Hmm… ought to re-schedule that get-together for a different day. Monday's a holiday. Hmmm better do that now before I forget.

And so goes the would-be-writer's afternoon. This is evidenced in the fading daylight coming in the study window. But maybe there's still time to tap out a few words at the computer…Hmm…best get a snack first; all that exercise, you know. What's something quick? How 'bout a frozen waffle with Nutella? Gotta toast it…………….then the spreading with luscious gooey chocolaty goodness…Mmm. But it's still rather dry. Better get a glass of milk to go with it.

Now we can get started, at last. Wait. Messy fingers. And while she's in the kitchen rinsing fingers she realizes it's almost time to start dinner and she really should make something special from scratch, since she has all the time in the world…right?

And behold. All that vast expanse of fertile time just waiting to be turned into timeless words has vanished! What happened?

Truth is it's a daunting thing to come face to face with opportunity to do what you've only dreamed of having time for. Dreams tend to preserve ideals that can't stand the light of day. To imagine doing something, to wonder if you might be able… is quite different from pulling it off. Procrastination is just the outward symptom of a greater malady.

So, if you're waiting for an elusive quantity of time to present itself so that you can accomplish great things hitherto only dreamed of, may I make a few suggestions based on my experience?

  • Don't wait. Start now with any 15 minute chunk you can scavenge from some dusty corner of your busy day. Then take a tiny imperfect faltering step in the right direction. It sure beats standing still.
  • Start small. Set a measurable clear daily objective.

"A small daily task if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules." –Anthony Trollope

This thought inspired me to make a 30 day grid on watercolor paper of the month of November, and into each tiny square to daily plunk a momento in watercolors. In this way I've broken the stalemate of wanting to begin but not knowing quite what or how.

  • Don't require a perfect product. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first… You have to start somewhere! My little squares of color, my scribbled pages of journaling, my roughly composed essays…are not finished products in themselves. But neither does the pianist expect to play in the concert hall without hours of daily practice spread over months and years. Once you are willing to do a thing poorly you will find you have time to begin. Or as Julia Cameron says in an essay of advice to writers:

" We have time to write the minute we are willing to write badly." (The Right to Write, Cameron, p.16)

  • Do create arbitrary deadlines, occasions for which to accomplish a thing. That's what a weekly blog deadline does for me. As Friday draws near, ideas condense and writing happens because it must. It becomes a priority. Birthdays and holidays make great occasions for which to create that personalized 'something' that will get your creative juices flowing. But don't insist that it be perfect. Give who you are at present. It really is the thought that counts.
  • Be patient with yourself. Consider how long it takes an infant to become an athlete… First he must learn to stand and then to take those first faltering steps that most surely will end in a fall. Many falls. Many messes will happen before a beautiful creation is accomplished. Becoming proficient requires practice. Practice looks immature, silly, and yes, messy. Somehow babies manage to always be 'cute' whether toddling unsteadily, plopping unceremoniously, or scribbling indecipherably. But not so the rest of us. We must be prepared to look silly, to produce work below our own standard of acceptability, to be learners.

But above all, don't ignore that creative God-given bent that burns in your bones to be given time to blossom… Ask God to open your eyes to the time that you have now and to hold your hand as you toddle forth… What's in your heart to learn / to do someday? Today is a good day to make a small start.


So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. ... And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it. Ps. 90:12, 17 KJV

“Who dares despise the day of small things…” Zec.4:10


P.S.  A helpful book on jump starting your creative bent, written from a Biblical perspective, is Janice Elsheimer's: The Creative Call .
For more information click here


*Cameron, Julia. The Right to Write, Putnam, 1998, p.13

November 15, 2013

I don’t have the gift of making sandwiches

I don’t have the gift of making sandwiches, but that’s ok.  I will bring the cookies and maybe some celery sticks stuffed with Cheese Whiz…

I am late in life coming to terms with oughts and shoulds, confessing who I am and who I am not, realizing what I am designed to do and what I can freely leave undone. Though it is difficult to teach an aging hound new tricks, it is not impossible, with God.  So when the plea went out for generous hearts to make a last-minute luncheon impressive, I quickly texted back before my indecisive, over-thinking oughts and shoulds could kick in: “I’d be glad to bring cookies and some veggies.” And that was it. 

I will leave the making of sandwiches to the culinary queens—those ladies that do wonders with cream cheese and thinly sliced cucumbers, and have the savvy to turn cold-cuts and hard-boiled eggs into eye-pleasing, palate-satisfying geometric wonders.  This is not my gift. 

Oh, I can ‘do’ sandwiches.  A mother must resort to these at times.  Bread and Jam are great stand-bys when slathered with Carver’s nutritious invention of PB. But I would better glorify God with cookies and Grandma’s cheeze-whiz celery sticks I think.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about oughts and shoulds, and how they fit in with the works we’ve been designed for from the foundation of the world…(Eph.1:4;2:10)

I’m wrestling with writing and watercolor—those pursuits that I’ve always supposed would blossom and flourish with the simple addition of unlimited time.  And I’m finding that just as all of creation cannot be accounted for by a chance+time formula, so neither can human creativity.  There is a certain something that is innate, God-given and by design.  No amount of time spent ‘getting down to it’ will substitute for that.

But even so we whole-heartedly present our bodies, ‘as-is’,  for God to direct and energize.  And He uses them for His own purposes and glory as He will. 

No better illustration comes to mind than the movie Chariots of Fire.  I watched this old favorite again with Jim this week.   We went on a date to see it back in the 80’s when it first hit American theaters.  Its rousing theme never fails to take us back to those days…

The film depicts a sharp contrast of motive in the pursuit of excellence.  It is the story of two British athletes that compete in the 1924 Olympics. One man runs for the glory of God. “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”  The other runs to prove his own worth.  There is little pleasure in it, only compulsion.  “I'm forever in pursuit and I don't even know what I am chasing.”  Both are world-class athletes.  But only one receives an enduring prize.

That fleet Scotsman, Eric Liddell, convinced that to neglect his gift would be to hold God in contempt, pursues Olympic excellence to honor God. (This is the part of his life covered in the film).  But having gained fame he leaves it all behind to bury himself (literally) in China as a missionary.  He dedicates all He has to God-- his running, his preaching,  his teaching,  and the actual laying down of his life for fellow-inmates at a Japanese internment camp. (This is the part not seen in the film.)

Through the film Chariots of Fire this life story has been resurrected for our edification.  This is what it means to run the race set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.(Heb.12:1,2)  This is what it means to present our bodies a living sacrifice, ‘as is’, for whatever God purposes to do with them. (Rom.12:1,2) This is how we bring God pleasure--by being who He has designed us to be.

We have nothing to prove.  There is no competition.  We run for His glory the race set before us.  And He empowers and equips us individually with all that is required to run it.  That is all.  To do and to die looking unto Jesus with all our life’s energies…this is our calling. 

Will it be a ‘creative call’?  For some. 

Will we be lauded and memorialized? God sees. He remembers.  That is enough. If He chooses to use our story to spur others on, so be it.  If not, that is His business. 

And as I reorient myself to this life of faith and faithfulness, the clamor of  compulsive ought’s and should’s fades into irrelevance.  My talents or lack thereof are not the point.  For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.  For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.  Rom 14:7,8 ESV

But others have said this better than I.  Let me close with a quote from a book I finished recently by Pastor Jud Wilhite:

God challenges us to realize we were not created to be made much of, but to make much of Him. At our core, we’re not created for fame. We’re made to make God famous, designed to love Him with all of our heart, without leaving room for would-be idols . And until we realize God rescued us for His fame and not our own, we’ll miss the ultimate purpose for life, which is Him. We are found when we realize our center is outside ourselves and our achievements, in God Himself.  (Pursued,p.50)

And now I should probably get out that cookie recipe…


Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD! I have fled to you for refuge. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground! Ps. 143:9-10 ESV

Now may the God of peace…equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. Heb.13:20-21 ESV

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. ... All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.1Cor. 12:4-7, 11 ESV

For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure. Phil.2:13 KJV


Wilhite,Jud. Pursued:God's Divine Obsession with You .  FaithWords: 2013. Kindle Edition.

November 8, 2013

“He has my heart”

The little guy sat among all those adults coloring while the preacher preached. He was only six but his parents thought the whole family should sit in church together-- whether they 'got' everything that was said or not. So, here he was, coloring as Pastor Roger laid out his theme…
God treasures our sacrificial love. We show we love Him when we give the best that we have… The widow gave her mite. Mary spent her precious bottle of perfume. Cups of water given in His name count too. As the message came to a close its theme was brought home with a pointed question: "Does Jesus have anything of yours in His treasure box?"
Without hesitation, the little fellow looked up from his coloring and responded matter-of-factly: 'Yes, He has my heart.'  Few heard his little voice. But his mother, sitting beside him, teared up at his words. To her they were precious—an indication that he really understood the transaction he had made with Jesus several weeks previous.

It had happened on the walk to the school bus stop. How she hated to release her tender first-born to the wide cruel world in this way, but at least she could accompany him to the bus stop… She had baby brother in the Snugli and little sister in tow. And as they walked they couldn't help noticing the majestic billowing clouds on the horizon. It had made her think of Jesus' promise to return and to whisk away His children to meet Him in the air. And so they talked about that.

Would everyone go? No, only those who had invited Jesus to live in their hearts…Well her firstborn son sure didn't want to miss out on that. They had stopped and bowed their heads right then and there on that long dusty driveway under the shade of a big blue umbrella and they had done business with God. It was a simple beginning to a relationship with Jesus. But that child knew that Jesus had his heart, and  counted it precious.

That was twenty-three years ago. The little fellow grew up to be a strapping young man—handy and hard-working, daring and doing all manner of things hitherto unheard of in his family. He was a dynamo, that boy. Everything he did was done with intensity. He threw himself into stamp collecting and odd jobs, magic tricks and juggling. He swam competitively and memorized AWANA verses the same way. He composed and performed rap lyrics that echoed long after the performance ended. He wrote unforgettable essays and plays--unforgettably revealing and convicting, that is. And eventually he graduated from high school and moved away to see what in the wide world he had missed in the protective environs of home…

Many things vied for his heart; it was a big one—strong, and eager to live fully. He embraced mistakes as an effective way to learn, and grew wise. All the while his heart was kept in Jesus' treasure box. Try as he might to give it away to lesser things, the reality of his childhood decision pulled him back. He himself would remind his anxious mother of the reassuring proverb that a child well-trained will not turn away from his upbringing. And his mother watching from afar gradually let out her breath and thanked the Lord for keeping this one's heart in His treasure chest. And she watched as her son became the devoted husband of a God-fearing and beautiful wife, and the affectionate father to his own little ones.

And as she watched, she prayed… This was her calling. This is her calling still. Her first-born's 29th birthday is coming up. She is proud of all that he has become and is becoming. She feels privileged to have been called to the role of "mother" to this whole-hearted son. And as she watches God's hand at work in his life, she stores up all these things in her own treasure box. And one day, when Jesus comes in the clouds to whisk His children away, she will present it to Him in gratitude for letting her share this small part in furthering His Kingdom.

Happy Birthday Son!

I am confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus!


Who is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Mt.24:45,46

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart... Lk.2:19

"Thine is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty… all is thine." I Chr. 29:11

November 2, 2013

Good Gracious!

Now there’s an expression I haven’t heard in a long while!  Apparently it dates back to the 1700’s.  And though it alludes to the goodness and grace of God it is used commonly as an expression of surprise, dismay or alarm. 

I would like to reclaim it as an expression of actual appreciation for God’s grace—GOOD GRACIOUS!—He has been so gracious to one so lacking in grace.  I see this from fresh vantage points every passing year.  I stumbled upon an old post just now, written just over a year ago.  I was wrestling with the damning sense of ‘falling short’, and grasping for freedom to live out God’s design for me without this stifling condemnation.  This seems to be a recurring theme for me. But God keeps on pursuing, keeps on wooing me to rest in grace and to relax in the freedom He has purchased for me.

  • This week it came through a missions conference—a thoroughly winsome and passionate appeal by a young lady mesmerized and transformed by God’s grace. 
  • God spoke too through other well-timed testimonies—simple evidences of God at work through ordinary people for His Kingdom’s sake.
  • Through fragmentary texting and conversations over tea I saw His grace at work in others.
  • And always through His Word He sets grace before me as not only the means of my salvation but of my walk before Him in this world.  I need grace and His is enough for all my lack.  No, God hasn’t given up on teaching my stony heart what grace is about.

He sees the mode I live from.  Though an heir to Christ’s righteousness I act as though my life depended on my own goodness?   I live as though avoiding mistakes and messes and sins and ‘scenes’ were the main thing. I  readily confine myself to the ‘tried and true’, things I think I can competently manage.  Or in lieu of that, to at least keeping up appearances, which demands limiting opportunities to fail. 

It’s a grace-less and confining way to live.  And I’m sick of living in a cage!  God is too good and too GRACIOUS and life is too short for this. I want to fly!

The way out of this cage is more elusive.  It’s one thing to evaluate the cage you’re in and to see how you got there, but quite another to get the latch undone and fly free!  Pride has wired it tightly shut.  My life may not depend on limiting myself to known areas of competence, but my pride certainly does!!  I think it must be part of the human condition to want to be good enough to merit something!   But in this place how shall we ever know life-transforming grace? 

There is no parable that displays this problem more clearly than the story of the King settling accounts with his indebted servants. (Mt.18:23ff) Before him stood a servant that owed him more money than could be earned in a thousand lifetimes as a common laborer!  

The fellow is about to be thrown in prison for life, so what does he do? You’d think he’d throw himself at the King’s feet and plead for mercy, right?  But no, he has his pride.  Instead he asks for time--for the king’s patience while he pays back his debt. Patience?  Is that really all he needed?  Does he really think he owes so little that he can make it up in a few short years? Never mind, the king took pity on this conceited servant, released him from prison and forgave his debt. It was sheer grace.

But was the debtor grateful? No, he was too proud to accept handouts.  This was no time for gratitude.  All he could think of was the fellow who owed him money. It was just a day’s wages but oh, how he throttled him, demanding that what was owed be paid back.  There was no place for grace. This servant of the king needed cash badly. He was intent on paying back the king.  This might be admirable in some other context but in light of the horrific debt he owed, and the King’s life-sparing offer, it was an insult to His gracious King. And because he had failed to comprehend the magnitude of what he had been forgiven, this servant was unable to extend grace to others.

He ended up back in prison, a permanent debtor to the king, only because he could not admit his own bankruptcy and welcome the King’s gracious offer:

“You have nothing. I have everything.
Here, I gift you your freedom from the debt you owe.”

I need this parable. It reminds me of the immense grace of God in which I stand. Grace which cost Jesus His life. Surely I have been forgiven much. But only to the extent that it sinks into those self-righteous sinkholes in my soul will it be truly transformative in my day-to-day encounters with real people.  And I am brought again to repentance—the starting place for grace to work its wonders and to free us from our self-serving confines.

We have been set free. 

Freed from--sin’s domination,  the Law’s condemnation and our pre-occupation with falling short.

Freed to--live a life of love, led by the Spirit and governed by faith, not rules.

And there really is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus—though we bungle, though we stumble, though we fail to reach our own ideals…If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed!

Good gracious!  That’s a  liberating reality to fly with!


“…for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace…” Heb13:9

“For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Gal.5:13

“For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus….only faith working through love [counts].” Gal.5:6

Who shall bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.  Who is he that condemns? Rom. 8:33,34

October 25, 2013

The Essence of the Editor

I've finished reading three books in the last month or so--one by a fledgling Christian author not yet 30 years old, another by a long-time bestselling author, now dead, who didn't begin writing till he was 40. [The third, by an acclaimed novelist I had never read--but that story will keep for another time.]

Each of these books--the first: a memoir, the second: fiction--has shown me something valuable about who I am and who I want to be.

The In-Between, by young blogger, now author-in-print, Jeff Goins, reminded me that the thing we press ahead to attain may not be all that we intend if we manage to make it happen prematurely or without the necessary teamwork. An accomplishment reached before its time is like a rosebud forced open and spoiled. Maturing and reaching the ideals we most admire takes time. The 'in-between' interim is not a waste of time, but crucial to our growth and integral to the becoming we await…

This is the main point of Jeff's book, but ironically, it is also the truth I see underlined by the poor quality of this, his second paperback in as many years. I have appreciated Jeff's good words at his blog for writers. He does an excellent job at it. But his goal was to get published, and so he has. The product is rough and awkward, not the well-honed product one expects from a major publishing house. Granted, The In-Between is readable and of inherent value as Jeff's candid personal memoir, but it is not excellent. It lacks the eye of an experienced editor willing to come alongside and help him sort and polish his words to greater clarity. Could it be that rushing to the goal of 'getting published' has short-circuited the crucial 'in-between' time of preparation?

Or maybe the world of publishing is just changing and audiences are more tolerant of 'mistakes' as long as the author has something to say and shares a piece of himself in the process. Jeff has done this.

Perhaps the reason I find myself criticizing the quality of his finished work is that concurrently with reading his book I have been reading The Novel by seasoned writer, James Michener. Written back in 1991 toward the tired end of his successful career as a novelist, it lacks the 'umphh' and excellence of his popular earlier works. [Contrary to cover descriptions it is neither riveting nor suspenseful, at least not until the last 35 of the 435 pages, which unveil and hurriedly solve an unexpected murder mystery!] It is not his best novel but what did fascinate me about this slow-moving fiction was its thorough depiction of the inner workings of the publishing world. The role of the editor enthralled me. Was I born for this?!

The book is divided into four segments, each written from a different point of view: The Writer, The Editor, The Critic, and The Reader. I had imagined the part of the writer fairly well but had little idea how influential the editor's role is in determining the final product. Here is the person without whose expertise the writer will never achieve his best work. Here is the person who must not only spot the author's faults and quirks but must be able to cheer him on to remedy them.  She must inspire him to improve, to revise his story line if need be, to re-cast his characters more credibly, to rewrite and revise until his story truly represents his best effort. Her role is indispensable. 

Ironically, the editor is tasked with inspiring and facilitating a task which she herself is unable to do. She is not a novelist. She is an editor. But her skill or lack thereof will be clearly evident in the finished product. The author is deeply indebted to a competent editor, but the book will not bear her name. She is just the editor. But the book will not fulfill its potential without her best efforts.

How like the Body of Christ this is. We are not intended to be 'solo' saints, heroes doing exploits single-handedly, pedestal people clambering over one another to be the best--'conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.' (Gal.5:26) We are each only parts of the great published work that will chronicle our Lord's glory. Only together with each member doing the part for which she/he was designed will we showcase the manifold wisdom of God to all the powers that be, in both heaven and hell! (Eph.3:10)

It's a team effort. One may be chosen to write. Another will have suggestions to add to that work, and corrections. Another will work to make the formatting and cover design attractive. While yet others will be busy with the technical features of printing and binding, and still others the ‘people’ aspects of marketing and sales…All contribute their best so that the reader can know the thoughts of the writer. Without any one of these experts the end-product will not achieve its fullest potential.

A book with a professionally designed cover and immaculate formatting will be a failure if the editor has neglected its content.

And even the most insightful writing, edited to near perfection will miss its greatest audience if it is wrapped in a glum unattractive cover and left on a shelf to be discovered.

But back to Michener's novel... the third point-of-view was that of the Critic—the one who assesses the worth of the finished product, but has no vested interest in its success. Depending on his expert opinion, sales of the book may rise or fall, unless common good-sense and relish for the book override his intellectual opinion. The critic's reviews may be scathing and heartless; encouraging the author is not his task. Promoting excellence in literature is. But if he is not watchful, his elitism may blind him to what is truly good and praiseworthy. The Critic in this story was my least favorite character, but I also recognize my own propensity to fill this role. Pronouncing judgments without regard to the person behind the work is an odious fault.

But the critic in this story had an epiphany. He was intent on writing his own novel, one that would tower above the common lot. But try as he would, he could not. Being also a university professor who taught writing, he had a sense of excellence that he himself could not produce. But he could train others. At last he had to concede:

"…I had an obligation to become honest about who I was and was not. I was not a novelist. I did not have the insights and poetry required by the creative writer. What I did have was a powerful understanding of what good writing was. I had a nose that unfailingly identified rubbish. And I could teach others to do what I couldn't." (Michener, The Novel, p.291)

Isn't this too what it is like to be a part of the Body of Christ? Some of us are noses, others livers. Some are hands and feet, others eyes. There is no point in envying or longing to duplicate another's excellence (though I still do at times). But we can honor others' abilities even as we contribute our own to their success. Only then will we all "attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…" Only together, "when each part is working properly," will "the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." (Eph.4:13,16)

Fulfilling our callings is not an individual pursuit, anymore than a writer can create a masterpiece alone. But with each one doing his part the final copy will be amazing. And whose name will the cover bear? not ours, but Christ's who dreamed up the story of redemption before the beginning of time and has given us the privilege of taking part in its being published!


Meanwhile, behind the scenes at the Skelton house, I am studying the trade of Copy-editing. This is what I want to be when I grow up! I am seeing now that it is not all negative—finding fault and circling it in red. That part comes naturally to me! The true goal is to see beyond the errors to what a manuscript might become if the author will persevere with the editor at his side cheering him on. And I think that's a pretty awesome role to aspire to in this next season of my life…


"…speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” Eph.4:15   " He must increase, but I must decrease." Jn. 3:30

Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Gal.6:2

"Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them…” Rom 12:6

October 18, 2013

“I have this against you…”

What does Scripture have to say to the Bible zealot--that one who lives to know and defend Scripture?  [I’m not talking about the  “Pharisee!” accusation; it is so overused and misapplied that it deserves a post all its own.]  What will keep the eager Bible student from being either slack or heartless in his application of truth?  What can go wrong in using Scripture as a litmus test of every fad and teaching that comes along?

I concluded last week's blog with these thoughts:

Could the ardent Bible scholar use some prompting to make sure his/her head knowledge translates into real live discipleship? Absolutely. Are there cautions for him/her in the Word of God as well? Certainly. More on that next time (hopefully).”

Toward that end I've been reading Paul's letters to Timothy, his young protégé and 'child in the faith'. And I've been thinking about the Church at Ephesus, which is where Timothy served.…

In his letters Paul exhorts Timothy to hold onto solid teaching, to be a careful student of the Word and to preach it unapologetically. He spurs Timothy on to train himself in godliness and to be on guard for things that precipitate falling away from faith. He repeatedly warns Timothy about false teachers and how to recognize them.

Interestingly, in Paul's last face-to-face meeting with the elders of the church at Ephesus he had warned them of similar things:

"I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears." (Acts 20:29-31 ESV)

So the church at Ephesus was well warned and well-armed, with the likes of Timothy and these solid elders. And we know they excelled at this business of detecting false teaching because years down the road they are addressed in John's Revelation and commended for their unwearied zeal in refusing to tolerate evil and in rooting out false apostles! (Rev. 2:1-3) But something had been lost along the way…

They had lost sight of the motive behind their vigilance. Oh, they were great watchdogs. They hated the works God hates (He commended them for this--Rev.2:6) but they had forgotten love: "I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first." (Rev. 2:4ESV) Love no longer motivated and controlled their zeal.

It hadn't always been this way. Paul had instructed Timothy to keep love front and central in his teaching: "The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." I Tim.1:5 He had made sure Timothy understood that his role as the Lord's servant was not merely to contend for truth but to do so in a way that was kind, patient, and gentle so that those in error could be rescued from 'the snare of the devil' and actually turn to embrace truth. (II Tim.2:24-26). The point of holding forth truth is after all not to damn the hearer but to save him! (I Tim. 4:16) 

The Ephesian church had in fact been known at one time not only for their faith but for their love. Paul's letter to the Ephesians mentions this even as he goes on to pray that they will comprehend the extent of Christ's love for them so they 'may be filled with all the fullness of God.' (Eph.1:15; 3:17-19)

Considering the Ephesians' need to contend with false teaching, I suppose it is no coincidence that the book of Ephesians is saturated with teaching on love:

  • In love God predestined us for adoption 1:4,5
  • I have heard of your faith and love 1:15
  • Because of God's great love He made us alive with Christ 2:5
  • You are rooted and grounded in love 3:17
  • May you know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge 3:19
  • Bear with one another in love 4:2
  • Speak the truth in love 4:15
  • The Body builds itself up in love under Christ's headship 4:16
  • Walk in love as Christ loved us sacrificially 5:2
  • Husbands, love your wives as yourself 5:25,28,33
  • Peace be to you and love with faith 6:23
  • Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. 6:24

If they were to be a church known for their discernment of truth and error it was imperative that they hang onto the motive of love. Without love, truth can be odious.  No amount of knowledge or spiritual gifting can make up for its absence. "If I have all knowledge,…but have not love, I am nothing." (I Cor.13:2)

Herein lies the caution for the Bible student zealous for truth and bent on confronting error wherever he finds it. Be sure your zeal is driven and delivered with love. Or in God's own words to the Church at Ephesus:

I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Rev 2:3-5 ESV)

Let me stop here a moment and clarify how I am coming to understand this passage. It has long puzzled me how it can be understood as a call to 'fall in love' again--to somehow return to the immature first blush of passionate love we had as pre-marrieds. Even if we could by wishing return to this stage, how would this be helpful, given that being 'in love' is more about hormone-driven lust than genuine love? Did we not then mostly love the way we made each other feel? That early 'love' had not been tested over the long-haul of babies, jobs, moves and intermittent crises. It knew little of dying to self or 'bearing all things'—both the ho-hum and high-test. Certainly it isn't to this state of 'love' that we are being called to return in this passage?! If not, then what is being commanded?

As I understand it, what had been abandoned was not merely a passionate emotion. They had lost the sense of being constrained to obedience by the love of Christ. (Cf.II Cor.5:14,15) Their works had once been driven by faith working through love (Cf. Gal.5:6). Now their service had become a robotic duty, fulfilled to the letter but with none of the constraints of love. They were doing, but not loving.

This is a significant temptation for the lover of truth, the one with a gift for discerning truth from error, the eager Bible student… Pride can wiggle in and Love is lost as the motive and means of serving the Body. When we confront error do we do it from a heart that longs for truth to prevail-- not for the sake of saying 'I told you so', but for the sake of the one(s) being misled, for the sake of the Body, for Christ's sake? Do we genuinely desire the ultimate success and blessing of those we disagree with? Or are we ready to gloat when they fail?

It is all too easy when exercising our gifts in the Body to lose sight of the purpose for which they were given--for 'building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ' . This too was addressed to the Ephesians (4:12,13). This is love—seeking another's good with what I have to offer, and this is the purpose for my gifts and yours.

When we lose sight of love, exercising our gifts and pursuing our individual callings can fill us with self-satisfied conceit. Instead of building others up we may find we are only provoking and engendering envy (Gal.5:26).

I confess I am preaching to myself today, as I hope you have guessed by now! As a truth-talker who sometimes blasts others without a view to building them up, I needed this message. It's one thing to know the truth, but quite another to "not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth"…2Ti 2:24-25 NASB

I have found it helps to remember that we are on the same team--members of the same body. We are placed in that body and given gifts for its completion, not our own distinction. We are in this thing together for the glory of God, not our own glory, and for the building up of His church, not our own following. Bringing His bride to perfection is ultimately God's job; the part He calls us to play will have to be done in love if it is to be effective. That's the way He made the Body to grow! (Eph.4:15,16). Without love our best efforts are worthless (I Cor.13).

On a practical note, one sure way I've found to check and purify my motives is prayer. I may perceive errors, bad doctrine, questionable teaching. It may or may not be my job to set a person straight, but I can always pray. I can always ask God to reveal truth to all parties involved, including myself! And when I pray my heart is softened, any hostile intent exposed, and hopefully I come closer to understanding God's heart toward the issue or person at hand. I become more concerned about His purposes prevailing than about being 'right'.  And that’s the best starting point for any disciple!

Thanks for listening in on my lesson this week.  What are you learning about your part in the Body?  I’d love to hear.  Do send along a comment or an email.


Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling." I Jn2:10

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leas, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness." Rom.12:6-8

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Rom.15:5-7

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Rom.16:20

October 12, 2013

Skeptic, Critic, and/or Lover of Truth?

P1020199 “I’m skeptical…”

I’m sure I’ve said this of myself more than once. I am cautious to jump on ‘band wagons’, hesitant to go along with a crowd, wary of ‘new’ teaching and suspicious of the visiting preacher that brings it.  Does this make me a skeptic? Maybe so.  And likely in some areas it’s true.  We all hang on pretty dearly to our most cherished values and it becomes hard to see beyond our blind spots without a third-party view.  It’s good to get an outside opinion and to pay close attention when things/people offend our sensibilities…

But I am also a believer.  I believe in things that have proven true.  I prize the Word of God as the ultimate test of truth.  I love turning its pages, comparing Scripture with Scripture, digging for context and meaning, making notes and reading, reading, reading-- knowing I can rely on the Spirit to teach me from its pages.

[I may as well put in a plug for my favorite Bible study tool while I’m at it:  Never has Bible study been so easy.  In an easy to intuit format that comes with a tutorial if you like, multiple versions, concordances, cross-references and commentaries wait at your fingertips.  Audio and print messages are easily accessible for any given verse or passage. God’s gifts to the Church:  preachers and teachers, modern and long-gone-to-glory, still speak. Read Luther for yourself, or Spurgeon, or R.A.Torrey.  Or sample audio messages from more contemporary preachers. Once you get started you won’t want to quit. It’s wonderful!]

But I was saying…I don’t like being thought of as a skeptic. I would prefer to be known as a lover of truth, a discerning believer, a student of the Word.  But each of these labels has also come into disrepute to some degree by those who protest: We don’t need more theology! We need action! (Or: ‘obedience’, ‘disciples’, ‘doers’).  I hear these objections increasingly and I see  circles being drawn which suggest that genuine discipleship can exist quite distinctly from diligent study of the Word of God.  “Theologians” are scoffed at as irrelevant.  Bible students as overstuffed notebooks without practical usefulness. And discerning spokesmen for truth are scorned as ‘nay-sayers’.   What is happening? Is the pursuit of Biblical truth really so at odds with fervent discipleship? 

As believers, we long to see God at work in His Church and in our world.  Many sincere godly believers are praying for revival and watching for ‘breakthroughs’, for change, for new life! And it can be tempting to think we just need an action plan. But is this true?  Do we just need to get out and DO something, anything!  (As though our activity will force God’s hand to act.)  Is the malady of the institutionalized church of our day that we’re just not obeying?!  The analysis goes that instead of acting on the Word, believers are preoccupied with hearing, analyzing, affirming, memorizing and categorizing  God’s Word.  

An amusing illustration is made of the parent who instructs his child to clean up his room because company’s coming.  The child wanders off to contemplate those words, to memorize them, to translate them into Greek and to mull them over thoroughly, but fails to DO them.  This is said to be the problem of the modern church particularly with respect to the Great Commission.  We’re just not DOING it. The illustration can be made much of.  It can be told with great humor.  But I am not ultimately amused because I think that the premise is false and a hazard to the church.

Fun is obviously being poked at serious students of the Word but I don’t believe this zeal for Bible study characterizes the average believer in the pew. I  have not seen a  problematic epidemic of the reading and study of the Word of God in the modern church! Therefore, I don’t think this casting of blame is accurate. 

Now, one could argue that we have possessed the Bible in the West for many years and its influence has faded to a low ebb, failing to produce ardent followers in our times, while droves leave the institutional church in search of something more.  It is true that nominal religiosity has diluted much of western Christianity. But is this because we have been ardent students of the Word and just failed to put it into practice?  Is this your problem?  Is it mine?  I shudder at this mocking of Bible study as though it were a grave problem in the church.  Without knowing the Word of God how will we discern what pleases God?  What will be our yardstick of a ministry?  It looks good?  It sounds good?  It seems right… (Consider Pr.14:12) 

I would suggest there is a bigger picture we are missing.  As believers living in a non-Christian culture with an increasingly anti-Christian bent we may well gaze about with a rising sense of alarm.  When was the last new convert you saw? Where is the vital sense of community that characterized the New Testament church?  Are we missing something?  It does seem that the love of many is growing cold and that the church is failing to propagate itself to the rising generation…What are we to do?! Is this even up to us?

Into this vacuum step multiple para-church ministries with solutions that guarantee results.  If you’re looking for signs and wonders, they’re out there.  For a re-enactment of the healing ministry of Jesus? just do this. For increased enthusiasm in the pew, try this video course… But is the solution to get out and DO something?!  Must we formulate a method anyone can follow and then start promoting it with great enthusiasm and just a sprinkling of guilt-inducement?  A one-size-fits-all strategy, is this even Biblical? 

Methods of evangelism have come and gone throughout modern church history-- embraced, flogged, and laid aside with limited success. Each has its own twist.  Some have been more grounded in Scripture than others. But what seems to be missing so often, is true converts with an insatiable appetite for the Word of God AND a love for their Savior that compels them to obedience.  The two go hand-in-hand and are two of the most compelling evidences of true conversion--new appetites that lead to transformed actions! “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” II Cor.5:17  Only the Holy Spirit can produce these results.   Man can conjure imitations.  Jannes and Jambres, the magicians that opposed Moses, could do many of the things he did. II Tim.3:8  Scripture forewarns that miracles will be done in Jesus’ name without His sanction or favor and will deceive many Mt.7:22,23.  Paul’s letters are replete with cautions about teachers who will distort the gospel, preach another Christ, and offer another Spirit.  (eg II Cor.11)

How do we discern truth from error?  How do we avoid setting ourselves up for deception without becoming universal nay-sayers and perennial skeptics?  It is crucial that we must monitor our values and expectations.  They will  have a pre-disposing influence on us—whether for truth or for error.

What we most want to hear, to see happen, or to experience will be what we seek. In short, to the extent that our desires are rooted in the temporal, expecting satisfaction in our lifetime, to that extent we can expect to be lured by ‘this lifetime’ guarantees.

Think of it this way, if we are desperate to see God ‘do something’ (dramatic) in our day, if we are insistent that a great revival is just around the corner,  if we are eaten up with discontent over the quality of life we are experiencing and sure there is a quick fix out there for us…these expectations will pre-dispose us to  welcome whatever and whoever seems promising.  We will be more readily deceived by appearances and more open to pursuing unsound teachings when our expectations are rooted in discontent with our present situation and distrust in God’s sovereign purposes in everything.. It is imperative that we ground our expectations in the Word of God or they will lead us into temptation and deception.  Paul warns of times when people will want their ears tickled and seek out teachers who will tell them the things they most want to hear II Tim.4:3Our desires must be constantly in check, even our most ‘spiritual’ desires, to see if they really align with the Word of God. Are we demanding temporal relief that God has not promised?  Do we expect more to happen in our lifetimes than is warranted?  And have we learned the secret of contentment in Christ and what He chooses to provide? 

Well, as you can see, I don’t believe the diligent study of the Word of God is at all in conflict with  radical, intentional discipleship.  And I do believe strongly there is a place for critical Biblical analysis of any ministry that claims our attention and seeks to propel us to action, no matter how ardent and  well-intended its agenda.  This is not a role for the skeptic but for the lover of Truth. Love of the truth, even when it disrupts our most cherished values, will protect us from deception.

Could the ardent Bible scholar use some prompting to make sure his/her head knowledge translates into real live discipleship?  Absolutely.  Are there cautions for him/her in the Word of God as well?  Certainly.   More on that next time (hopefully).

We have much to learn from each other in the Body of Christ, lest in our haste to fulfill our individual callings we disparage another’s gifts and calling and miss out on what they have to offer us.  We are after all in this Body together. 


But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.…So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.  Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace,  comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.  (2Th 2:13-17 ESV)

Jesus: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given to them, 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.” John 17:20-23

There is one body and one Spirit…one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all…But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Eph.4:7 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. I Cor.12:4-7