June 29, 2013

A Hope Worth Waiting for

It’s been a very rainy week.  The grad party squeaked by with just a bit of drizzle, but not enough to keep the kids inside. Thank-you, Lord!

But Monday, it rained.  And Tuesday.  And Wednesday.  Thursday afternoon we jumped on the tandem when the road had dried between showers and got a hundred yards up the street before it started spitting again… Today I picked strawberries and weeded, in the rain.

This has been not only anti-climactic but a tad bit depressing.  You see, I feel I deserve sunshine once ‘summer’ has officially come.  Fall and Winter and Spring are opportunity enough for rain. We put up with the wet chill and overcast skies then.  But when summer comes it ought to be sunny, right?  And warm.  Not still hovering under 70 degrees, forcing me to dig out an old turtleneck not yet stowed away with the other ‘winter’ things…

Earlier this week I was quite an unhappy camper.  My dismay began with a misunderstanding.  You see, we are planning a bike trip.  Hotels are booked. Rides planned.  Then Jim pulled out the week’s weather forecast Monday morning at breakfast—rain, rain, rain, clearing at week’s end.  This was too much for me.  I thought he was reading next week’s forecast—and I could only imagine pedaling long hours in rain with no option to go home and get warm and dry… If there’s one thing worse than rain, it’s not being able to get out of it when you’ve had enough!

So I spent the next day (or was it two?) under the mistaken notion (and its attendant gloom) that we were doomed to ride in the rain.  Silly, I know.  Since when are weather forecasts reliable anyway?  But then something happened that changed my perspective.  It was something Jim said when I was bemoaning things as I saw them.  He said, what if you knew it was going to clear up and be sunny after three days of rain?  Would it be easier to bear it? (Those weren’t his exact words, but that was the gist of it).

Of course, that’s when the truth came out about the actual weather forecast and the very real potential that our trip would take place under sunny skies and warm temperatures!  And of course, just having that hope completely changed my disposition! And it set me thinking about the power of hope-- this thing that can make misery bearable, that can prompt a smile when there’s no visible reason to be smiling, that can infuse joy into bleak surroundings.

My illustration is rather pathetic, I know. For one thing, I’m far too easily discouraged by weather. And for another, there is no guarantee that we won’t indeed ride in the rain. Mine is a flimsy hope, based on nothing but hope itself, and a projected weather forecast! Who dares put hope in those?  Nevertheless it got me thinking about the nature of hope and the sure hope that we as believers have. 

We use this word ‘hope’ so loosely.  It can refer to short-term wishes (‘I hope there’s a cookie left in the tin’) and life-long desires ( ‘I hope I will grow old gracefully’).  Ironically, its use often implies a degree of doubt that a thing will really happen.  (“I hope so.  We can only hope.”)

There is even such a thing as a false hope—a confidence built on a faulty premise. It energizes like the real thing at first. It holds out promise of good things to come but they never do.  Though it take a lifetime to reveal its true nature, eventually it will be seen to be a lie.  It will fall with crushing disappointment.

Often such false hopes are  based on what we want to be true more than on what God has said to be true.  Words are twisted.  Promises claimed. Hard and fast conclusions reached.  Meanwhile life (and death) happen.  God overrides our best judgments.  He is not bound by our false hopes.  Things don’t go just as we predicted.  Disappointments come. We are clearly not in control.  Our hopes are fallible.

But there is a hope that is sure.  And believers, of all people, should be people marked with an indelible optimism because of the hope of the Gospel. We have reason to wear joy on our sleeve no matter what the weather. We have no need to cling to idle hopes that may or may not deliver, hopes based in this lifetime, in these bodies, in short-term comforts and pleasures.  These are the world’s domain. They will prove to be false hopes, all destined to end with life itself.   The hope of the Gospel is not bound by the limitations of these bodies and their short lifespans.  True hope reaches beyond these to an assurance that the best is yet to come.  Bucket lists, and even hopes for healing and happiness, fade in relevance in the face of eternity.  The hope of eternal life spent in the presence of our heart’s greatest Desire is the hope that’s  meant to buoy up our hearts in the time-being, when it does ‘rain’ on our parade, when we do face endless troubles here, when life isn’t a bed of roses and things don’t turn out all ‘peachy keen’. 

We were never intended to compete with the world for all its comforts. We don’t have to.   We have an internal Comfort not dependent on health or money or toys.    The Spirit of the living God resides in us strengthening, equipping and directing us, God’s treasured possessions, in ways that will proclaim His excellence to a world in dire need of true hope. 

I can’t forecast what  the weather will be next week. It may rain.  I can’t count on sunshine but I can count on grace that will see me through come rain or shine. I can count on God with us, in us, for us, and working through us as we go…

And I can count on God’s goodness and mercy following me all the days of my life till I get to go dwell in His house forever.  This is a hope that changes the way things look!  And it’s one we can count on, always.


But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; 
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

"The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him."

The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
—Lam.3:21-26   [Have a look at the context of Jeremiah’s words for a full appreciation of this hope he professes.  Incredible!]

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 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 Peter 1:3-7

And the LORD said to Aaron, "You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance… “ Numbers 18:20

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. I Pet.2:9

Oh. Almost forgot…this tune I met this week, to share with you…

Faithful Jesus, Cherished Treasure. Our portion. Wisdom. God’s great light.

June 21, 2013

We’ve only just begun

Graduation celebration weekend has finally come at our house.  I suppose most of the country is done with it but we, being homeschoolers, delayed a few weeks to arrange it around family schedules…Tonight’s the family dinner, the giving of the diploma and the grad gifts.  Sunday’s the reception with friends.  It’s an eagerly anticipated set of days for us all, especially the graduate.

How appropriate then to stand at the beach last night while a visiting student orchestra played Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance.  Triumphant and nostalgic at the same time, it made my eyes tear and my spine straighten to stand proudly remembering all the years, now with this last graduate at my side, for whom this weekend will mark the end and the beginning.

I remember when I was young thinking it strange to here Graduation time  called “Commencement”.  Weren’t we in fact finishing something.  This is what the ceremony is acknowledging right? I couldn’t see then that of more importance was what still lay ahead, and this cap and gown moment was only a blip in relation to the future.

Life is like that.  All of life on this side of heaven is but a blip. C.S. Lewis puts it in these words that I have treasured ever since I first read them to my kids as we concluded the Narnia series.  It is an unusual ending.  The main characters all die.  But this is only the beginning, the commencement really.

“The term is over: the holidays have begun.  The dream is ended: this is the morning…the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after.  But for them it was only the beginning of the real story.  All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page; now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before. "The Last Battle, p.173

So I’m sitting here this morning drawing on a bigger perspective before I throw myself into the minutia of preparations. We are made for greater things.  All this, is but a preparation, a practice, a drill at pouring out our energies for His glory, which will be our occupation for all eternity.  It’s not the ‘stuff’ of earth that matters but how we handle it, how we value it, and for whom. Each day matters because He’s made it.  May He be glorified in how we use it too, as we keep our eyes on Jesus and our hearts set on eternity!

These are the verses I’m pondering today:

[Click here to listen to some “Pomp and Circumstance” while you read!]

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed…

but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?

But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 

And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”  


Rev.22: 1-6
And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb…

And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.

Then he said to me, "These words are faithful and true."

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Blessed are those who wash their robes,  so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.

I Jn.2:15-17
Do not love the world or the things in the world….

For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life--is not from the Father but is from the world.  And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen!


June 14, 2013

A pointed parable


It’s one we’re all very familiar with.  It’s the best of its kind for motivating random acts of kindness and/or inducing random fits of guilt!  But I would suggest, it’s misused for these purposes.  And mostly, we’ve missed the point.

The story I refer to is of course, The Good Samaritan (Luke 10). This parable is held over the heads of Christian and non-Christian alike as an example of ultimate good neighborliness.   As if this is how we ought to act, so let’s get at it--find someone in need and help them!  Countless ministries have adopted this Samaritan as their mascot, at least in name. But have we missed the actual point of this well-known parable? 

Of course, the title we give it is entirely tradition. Nowhere in the text is this roadside rescuer called a ‘Good Samaritan’.   In his day (had he existed) I suppose many a Jew would have sat up and taken notice at the oxymoron of the thing.  Was there such a thing as a good Samaritan?  They were the hated half-breeds, shunned by every ‘good’ Jew…  Ironic that Jesus specifies that this angel of mercy was in fact a Samaritan,  while the Jewish actors in the story were the ‘bad guys’.  His audience must have squirmed. 

Which brings me to my point—the lawyer-- the one for whom this story was composed.  We will miss the real point of it without starting at the beginning, before the story unfolded, with the conversation that preceded it.  This lawyer stood up to challenge Jesus with a tough question. “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus answered with this man’s profession in mind:  “What is written in the Law?  How do you read it?”  And this expert answers perfectly (though I paraphrase): Love God with all that you are…and Love your neighbor like you do yourself.  He got an A+ for that one!  Good answer.  So Jesus proceeds to answer his question.  What must he do to inherit eternal life? You know the law, now “do this, and you will live.”  (Lk.10:28)

Sounds simple, but…who has ever lived up to this kind of love? It was, of course, an impossible bit of doing. “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight.” Rom.3:20 If the lawyer were honest, or at least humble, he would have admitted he was ‘toast’, not eligible for eternal life.  But no, he goes on ‘desiring to justify himself’ pursuing a legal loophole to sneak through, and asks: “Who is my neighbor?”

And this is the context for the parable that Jesus unpacks.  This is not a story about how we should live, or how to be a good neighbor.  It’s a story exposing the impossibility of ever meriting eternal life!  And it is custom-made for the lawyer.  For though this lawyer may know the law-- what is fair, what is deserved, what is required.  He is about to come up short in another department.  Religious training and dedication may make a person ‘pretty good’ but not good enough to qualify in the good neighbor category Jesus sets out here. Nope, the priest and the Levite weren’t even up to it. 

Possibly, the lawyer figured he’d be able to extend some sort of token ‘love’ to a finite set of persons who reside in his vicinity, but Jesus opens the category of ‘neighbors’ to include life-long enemies, underserving scoundrels, helpless victims who will never be able to pay back anything, and he shows love to be costly, over-and-above what is minimally required.  Interruption, expense, inconvenience, and all of these in a  prolonged way, this is the character of the neighborly love called for.  This is mercy, and it’s exactly what the lawyer’s good training had not prepared him for.

And once again Jesus has taken a trick question and gone right to the heart of the interrogator, showing him what he is lacking, and what he is in need of.  What do lawyers specialize in? [No, this is not a joke] The law, right? They are sticklers for justice—meting out what is deserved. But loving one’s neighbor requires something more—it demands mercy.

And when it comes to mercy, this lawyer may as well be the roadside victim himself.  Despite appearances, he is in fact beaten, helpless, and bound to die unless Someone stops to show compassion.  No amount of self-justification will do, this man is in need of mercy.

And of course, this is exactly what Jesus has done, for all of us. He is the truly good Samaritan.  While we were yet enemies, He came upon us in our trouble and gave of Himself to save our lives.  And it’s only going to be through Him living out His life in us that we will ever qualify as ‘good neighbors’.  I am not naturally merciful, nor generous, nor gracious.  I tend to carry guilt for all the possible kind things I could do but don’t.  I am not a great neighbor in many respects. But this is where I stake my claim on the Gospel. It is for sinners that Jesus died and it is for such as I that He lives to infuse His kind of life through me.  And little by little God’s making of me all he intends.  I’m His project and the results are guaranteed:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,  for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Rom.8:29

Or as Spurgeon has put it:
“Let it never be forgotten that what the law demands of us the gospel really produces in us.”

He’s not  asking me to go out and determine to do ‘good’. But he is wanting me to see how much mercy I’ve been shown.  And I suspect that reflecting on how good He’s been to me will produce a more merciful heart in me.  And that beats any amount of motivation guilt can ever muster!  Mercy begets mercy. 


For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Rom.5:8

“…yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” Gal.2:16

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Rom.5:10


P.S. I must add one more thing!  Have you read the Old Testament equivalent of the Good Samaritan parable?  I came upon it this morning in my Ezekiel reading.  God is the Good Samaritan. The people of Israel the helpless ones in the ditch:

“And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’  I made you flourish like a plant of the field…” Ez.16:6

Nowhere will you find a more poignant story of the love of God for the helpless than here.  It is beautiful, and heartbreaking, a reminder never to forget from whence we’ve come, and to whom we owe all that we are.  Don’t miss it.

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. Rom.11:36

June 7, 2013

A New and Living Way

I have started reading Ezekiel this week. It does not exactly lend itself to ‘devotional’ blogging.  After reading the first six or so chapters I was depressed for the rest of the day.  Hormones maybe, but disturbing reading to be sure. 

First there are all these bizarre ‘living creatures’ with wings that turn out to be cherubim, and levitating wheels full of eyes  that accompany them…Above this surreal imagery is an expanse ‘shining like awe-inspiring crystal’ (1:22) and above that a throne on which sits One with ‘the likeness of a human appearance’.  Ezekiel seems to be grasping for words to describe this glory—gleaming metal, fire, and brightness like a rainbow will have to suffice.  But this he says was ‘the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.’  And his response was to fall on his face awaiting instruction. 

His job assignment is a bleak one.  First he is to listen with heart and ears open to what God will say, then He is to go to the exiles, his own people, and speak to them: ‘Thus says the LORD God…’  whether they choose to hear or to ignore what he says.  And the implication is that they will in fact refuse to hear.  They are a rebellious people.  His job will be more than just words; his life will become an object lesson to show the people of Israel the judgments coming on them—the siege, the starvation, pestilence, war and exile. It will cost him personally to be God’s messenger.  But it is his calling. 

The next chapters (I’ve gotten to chapter 14 so far) are taken up with briefing Ezekiel on the nature of his audience and their coming judgment. Their guilt is ‘exceedingly great.’(9:9)  Injustice and bloodshed have become commonplace because the people assume that God has forsaken the land and does not see them. They are oblivious to the jealousy they have provoked in their greatest Lover. They are mindless of his broken heart over their whoring (Is.6:9).  His anger, His wrath, His unpitying resolve will unleash judgment on them till only a remnant remain.

This is not the character of God we prefer to think about.  Atheists and mockers love to run with passages like these and fault God as immoral and wicked to act so harshly.  Even believers sometimes steer away from these passages and make a differentiation between the God of the Old Testament, and that of the New.  We find this behavior irreconcilable with our concept of ‘love’.  It’s certainly more comfortable to read I Corinthians 13 or Psalm 23, for example, and talk about only the ‘nice’ aspects of God’s love.  It is believed that this is what people need to hear and they will gladly ‘believe’.

But the book of Ezekiel makes another point.  The infidelity of man cannot exist beside the glory of God.  While Ezekiel watches he sees the likeness of the  glory of God depart the temple (Ez.10).  His glory will not stay in their temple so long as they pursue other gods. God’s love has not failed.  But His people are unfaithful and have scorned His love. Something must be done.

To read Ezekiel and see only the severity of God’s judgment is to miss the heart of God.  The very purpose of His judgment is to recapture the hearts of His people to their true allegiance, for their own good and His glory.  Again and again the phrase recurs: ‘Then they will know that I am the LORD’. (Ez.6:7,10,13,14). This is the point.  As long as they follow the ‘rules of the nations that are around them’ (Ez.11:12) they will suffer the fates of these nations.  But they were created to be God’s own people, to know and reflect His glory!  Only this will satisfy them but they have lost their way. God will not let them go. 

The book of Ezekiel paints the stark contrast between the  glory of God and the nature of man.  And right when we least expect it comes grace, God reaching down to do the unexpected, the undeserved—“And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them.  I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them.  And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” This is God’s heart for His people.  He will stop at nothing less.

This is the beauty of the Gospel, but it has no meaning apart from first recognizing the glory of God’s holiness—His awesome unapproachable ‘other-ness’.  We were created to fellowship with and live for this holy God, to delight in His beauty.  But in our natural state we are powerless to attain to such a relationship or even exist in the presence of this Awesome God apart from a drastic remaking of who we are.

I tucked in last night with the evening reading from Daily Light. It was headed: “The new and living way” (Heb.10:20) The verses selected underline the message of Ezekiel and reminded me of the wonder of being granted access to the very throne room of God and given the undeserved  status of ‘holy and blameless’, only because this fiercely loving and jealous God, the God who called Ezekiel to preach, has made a way.

“But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you.” (Is.59:2)

“No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn.14:6)

“Our Savior Christ Jesus…abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”  (II Tim.1:10)

And my additions…

For what the Law was powerless to do, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.  And so he condemned sin in sinful man in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us  [! I love that!!] Rom.8:3,4 NIV

And the crowning jewels for today:

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. Heb.10:14

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds…

Hmm… maybe Ezekiel is more ‘devotional’ than first meets the eye?!  Thanks for listening in to my ruminations (  :


If you are unfamiliar with Daily Light, it is a classic of brief morning and evening readings composed entirely of Scripture verses compiled around common themes.  I love seeing Old and New Testament verses juxtaposed in this way.  I’m continually refreshed by these readings and highly recommend it.  The original compilations were done by Samuel Bagster and it is available in various translations and editions.  Here’s what mine looks like: