March 29, 2015

Yet a little while…

cloak and palm branchIt's Palm Sunday today. We walked into church late this morning to the sound of:

Hosanna, hosanna
You are the God Who saves us, worthy of all our praises.
Hosanna, hosanna
Come have Your way among us;
We welcome You here, Lord Jesus

'Cause when we see You, we find strength to face the day.
In Your Presence all our fears are washed away
'Cause when we see You, we find strength to face the day.
In Your Presence all our fears are washed away, washed away.

[You can have a listen here if you like:]

We sing Hosannas from a different perspective than the hopeful crowds that lined the streets of Jerusalem that day Jesus rode in humbly on a donkey. We know what they didn't. It would not be a quick political victory that Jesus came to accomplish. The overthrow of their enemies would not come for a little while yet. Between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday there would be a turning of the tables. Not only would Jesus overthrow tables in the temple that very day, denouncing the practices of those who had found a way to make a profit for themselves from religion. Not only would he rouse the religious leaders’ indignation by accepting the praise of children: "Hosanna to the Son of David".  But the tables would turn to such an extent that the very crowd hoping to crown Him King would clamor for his crucifixion by the week's end. He had disappointed them. Instead of taking steps to overthrow the Romans he had spoken of the overthrow of their own temple (Mt.24:2), of the rightful duty of paying taxes to Caesar (Mk.12:17) and of war and troubled times to come (Mt. 24). They saw no relief in sight. They crucified their King.

His closest followers though were given a glimpse of hope. Jesus had carefully briefed them on what was to come--yes trouble, persecution, death, but also peace. Yes, He would leave them, but not without a Helper to be with them. His death would not be final. It would be but the beginning of a whole new way of living. But they too would have to wait 'yet a little while'.

"Little children, yet a little while I am with you...where I am going you cannot come." John 13:33

"Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live." John 14:19

He spoke to them of the Spirit that the Father would send to be with them forever, the Spirit of truth. His role would be to teach them all they would need to live in this world and prepare for the next. He would bring to their remembrance all that Jesus had already said to them but that they had not really heard. Did they really understand what He was saying? Did they realize He was about to be crucified? Were they able to make sense of Jesus' long talk and prayer for them that we now read as chapters of red letters preceding the account of his arrest and crucifixion? (John 13-17) It is not likely that they did; but the Spirit would bring His words again to their hearts and they would see Him by faith and live.

But it would be 'yet a little while'.

We live on the other side of this little while. The Holy Spirit given in token of Jesus' ascension on the Day of Pentecost is given to all those who turn their lives over in faith to His rightful Lordship. All down through history, those who look back to the Cross acknowledging their sin and their need for this Saviour are given the same Spirit those first disciples received. He is our guarantee of all the good things to come.

But still we wait 'yet a little while' for our King to come and put things right.

Still we sing, "Hosanna" which means "God, save us". How many times lately have I whispered under my breath: "God, I need you; I always need you." Sin's power has been broken by Jesus' death and resurrection, but we live still in a world ravaged by it and in bodies prone to yield to it and suffer its consequences. It's not all good, as the popular adage goes. We are eager for a good King to come and reign and overthrow the ruler of this world once and for all. And I am eager for my new sin-free body--one that will have no weaknesses, no worries, no pity-parties! This it the 'yet a little while' that we live in, this waiting for: 'Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven'.

We live in the 'yet a little while' between the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven and His return to rule the world with justice and establish a reign of peace.

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

And we're in for a world of trouble until then, for as long as this life shall last. But with it we are promised peace. The world still lies under the influence of the Prince of darkness, still believes his lies and falls into his snares, still settles for a false sense of peace. All around us what God hates is valued, even celebrated. If we live to do God's will we will face trouble. Jesus did. But He promises us His peace. It's not the sort we expect though; His reign is not an external one in this present 'little while'. We sing "Hosanna, God save us" and are disappointed when life hurts and sin seems to win out. Where do we find this peace He promised and exemplified?

With the approach of Easter I've been getting a set of 'eggs' ready for my grandkids. Each will encapsulate a symbol to accompany the stories we will read of the days leading up to Jesus' resurrection. There will be a tiny clay goblet and some silver coins, a perfumed cloth and praying hands... As I've prepared these object lessons I've been reminded that this peace that Jesus gives is nothing like what the world calls 'peace'. This peace that Jesus had right up to His last breath is not the peace we'd hoped for. It doesn't preclude anguish (If it be possible let this cup pass from me!), desperate loneliness (My God, why have you forsaken me?), painful opposition, betrayal, misunderstanding, mockery (If you're the King of the Jews, save yourself!) and even death! What kind of peace is this anyway?!

Jesus' peace resides in the heart set on God’s glory, not our own, on doing His will, not ours. From the beginning Jesus declared that He lived to do His Father's will. "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work" (Jn.4:34). He set His face like flint for Jerusalem, knowing full well what was coming that weekend. And He died wholly resigned to the Father's care, crying out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit," before breathing His last.

Here was His source of peace. He had come to do the Father's will in the body given to Him, no matter what was required. (Hebrews 10:5-7) And He calls us to follow Him--to take up the cross given us (Mark 8:34), to present our bodies a living sacrifice and to live out the worship we profess. In so doing we are transformed from conformity to the world to conformity to Christ as per the Father's will (Rom.12:1,2).

It will be 'yet a little while' but a Day is drawing near (Heb.10:25) when this King we laud on Palm Sunday will come again from Heaven to reign with those who are eagerly waiting for him (Heb.9:28). His Kingdom will at last come, His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. We're even given a sneak preview of what that will be like. Stand here by the open door and look--

A throne surrounded by indescribable brilliance and color, flashes of lightning and peals of thunder, fiery torches and a sea of glass... all are backdrops for the incessant proclamation by day and by night of the living creatures: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!" as they give glory, honor and thanks to the One seated on the throne. Meanwhile the twenty-four elders bow in worship, casting down their crowns before the One who alone is worthy to receive glory, honor and power, for He created all things, and by His will they existed and were created. (Rev.4)

As I came to this passage this week I was transported from my little world of woes and worries to the world that carries on unseen around the throne of God. How petty are my greatest concerns in light of this King and this Kingdom. And I am saved from my little pities and fears by turning my heart to the One who is always worthy of praise and for whose purposes I exist. As I fill my heart with the songs of his throne room, there is no room for my murmurings. This Kingdom is not about me. I exist for His glory and honor.

Thanks to the friend who pointed me to this song:

Worthy, You are Worthy!

Have a listen and see if your day isn’t realigned to a fresh perspective.
Its repetitive theme is the stuff of heaven and a good starting point for welcoming God’s Kingdom rule in my own heart while I wait 'yet a little while' for the rest of the world to come under His sway.


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

"But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet." Heb.10:12,13

" that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Phil.2:10,11

"Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised."

"For, yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him." But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
Hebrews 10: 35-39

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 1:6,7

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. –Jesus

March 21, 2015

My stone collection


I have stones all about the house—stones that remind me of other places and times.  Some are pretty and glinting with fool’s gold or the sparkle of quartz.  Others have names and dates penciled on their bases.  But must are smooth and plain and their origins have been long forgotten.  But I do like to have a cool smooth stone within reach.

I like it that God is likened to a rock, an everlasting rock.  He is not affected by winds of change. He’s steady and trustworthy, always true to His character, always loving, always just, and always there.

Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock. Is.26:4

Lately I have been rather flaky, not very rock-like.  I have needed steadying words.  We are in a waiting time.  Waiting this week for eye muscles to heal and for the surgeon’s ok to return to our life of waiting for other next things.  Waiting for the house to sell.  Waiting to figure out where, when and how we will live.  Waiting to see what God’s purposes for our middle years are…Steady routines have given place to open-ended unknowns. My heart is prone to quivering these day; anxieties rise unbidden. 

“Be anxious for nothing” seems an impossibility, especially in the night. So I have been collecting stones, solid  words that remind me there are certainties underlying all the shifting sands of present circumstances. 

Can I share some of  this week’s collection with you?  They come from New and Old Testaments and from contexts far different than those I face. Not all are promises directed to me, still they reflect the strong and steady character of our unchanging God. They bear witness to those who have found Him true to His Word.  They are strong and steady rock-like words that steady my quivering heart.

If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all. Is.7:9

“Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, an do not let your hear be faint because of___________because [he] has devised evil against you…” Is.7:4,5

I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Ps.23:4

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Rom.8:37

The Lord spoke to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people…”Do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.  But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy.  Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.’' Is.8:12,13

You are my witnesses, declares the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he…Before me no god was formed, nor shall here be any after me.  I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. Is.43:10,11

The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Ps.27:1

“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” Ps.27:13,14

Behold, this is our God’ we have waited for him, that he might save us. Is.25:9

“…we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us…a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul…”Heb.6:8,9

“so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.’ Heb.6:12

O LORD, you will ordain peace for us, for you have indeed done for us all our works. Is.26:12

He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. Heb.7:25

It comes to mind that stones are a sort of arsenal too.  David collected a handful of smooth ones and used them with undaunted faith in God to fell Goliath. It’s good to have a stone in hand.  And it’s good to have a Rock to run to!

--LS       P3210319

The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped. The LORD is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed.  Oh, save your people and bless your heritage!  Be their shepherd and carry them forever. Ps.28:8,9

March 13, 2015

The God who is greater than all my fears

Once again my worst fears have not been realized. The long deliberated, long awaited, long dreaded surgery is history. I did not die from the anesthesia. I am not blind. I am not even in pain. The sun is shining and I am home with orders to put in antibiotic eye drops 3x a day and not to do anything strenuous. That's it. Meanwhile I wait for my brain to adjust to this new set of eyes and this new set of glasses that no longer make adjustments for faulty eye muscles. I am alive and well. My Shepherd has carried me through my doubts and fears so tenderly. I am grateful.

He carries me where I cannot go alone.  I am not strong enough, or brave enough, or resolute of mind enough to quell anxiety.  But when my fears threaten to engulf me He gives me peace and confidence... "Before the throne of God above, I have a strong and perfect peace...a great high priest whose name is love who ever lives and pleads for me. My name is graven on His hands. My name is written on his heart. I know that while in Heaven He stands, no tongue can bid me thence me depart." These words streamed through my mind as I lay all decked out in hospital gown, tucked in under a heated blanket, IV hooked up, waiting for my turn in the Operating Room. The peace that had eluded me the previous day now came to sit with me and all was well.

Did everything go without a hitch? Did I simply wake, rise and go home seeing clearly? Not exactly. I was one of the last out of the outpatient ward. I don't recover well from anaesthesia. My eyes were loathe to adjust to this new normal, making me unsteady on my feet. But once I'd committed to go through with surgery, come what may, and rested my case with the One who knows me, the rest was just a matter of time...and enduring nausea, and needles, and waiting. But there was peace.

As the O.R. nurse had wheeled me through the doors of the Operating Room, she introduced herself and her partner assuring me, "We'll take care of you." It was a comforting gesture but I smiled to myself reassured simultaneously that ultimately I am being taken care of by stronger Hands. So I scooted onto the table, put my head on the 'donut', and took a few slow breaths of oxygen. A flutter of sensation in my head, a wrinkled brow, and I was out, out of control but in Good Hands. Is there a safer place to be?

I would live all of life this way: at peace, yielded completely to the Hands of the One who works all things for His good purposes, trusting, dead to my own flawed nature, alive to His Spirit, breathing with the breath He supplies, living ever for His glory.

P.S. If you were among those who knew and prayed while this was going on, I thank you.  God heard.

I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy....Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful....Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. Ps.116:1,5,7

Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together!
I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Ps.34:3,4

March 7, 2015

What’s the Gospel worth to you?

There was an intriguing quote given in Sunday’s sermon, the tongue-in -cheek musings of a now-retired pastor.  It’s my guess it was born out of a certain amount of frustration with the work of pastoring:

Three Dollars Worth of God

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk
or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man
or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth.
I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

— Wilbur Rees

I couldn’t help thinking what a contrast Paul’s testimony is:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. 

Once his heart had been captivated by who Jesus was and what He had done for him, there was no sacrifice or discomfort too great to make for the love of Christ.  

In the face of death itself he was unmoved: But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. [Acts 20:24 KJV]

Paul had been an extremely zealous Pharisee, worthy of accolades among the who’s who of religious persons.  But His zeal and self-righteous certainty was completely turned around by his encounter with Christ.  Now he saw Christ alone as worthy of praise.  All that Paul had done so far in life he likened to dung.  Phil.3:7-12  

He came to refer to himself as the chief of sinners rather than the most elite of holier-than-thou’s.  His life was no longer about attaining and proving his own worth.  It was all about Christ—knowing Him more deeply and making Him known more widely.  Rather than persecuting the followers of Christ, now he devoted himself to their encouragement, to cheering them on to live lives worthy of the gospel.

D.A. Carson has done an apt re-write of Wilbur Rees’ poem in terms of the Gospel; it challenges me to consider my understanding of the gospel.  What does it take to live a life worthy of the gospel?

“I would like to buy about three dollars worth of gospel, please. Not too much– just enough to make me happy, but not so much that I get addicted. I don’t want so much gospel that I learn to really hate covetousness and lust.

I certainly don’t want so much that I start to love my enemies, cherish self-denial, and contemplate missionary service in some alien culture. I want ecstasy, not repentance; I want transcendence, not transformation.

I would like to be cherished by some nice, forgiving, broad-minded people, but I myself don’t want to love those from different races– especially if they smell.

I would like enough gospel to make my family secure and my children well behaved, but not so much that I find my ambitions redirected or my giving too greatly enlarged. I would like about three dollars worth of gospel, please.”

–D.A. Carson, Basics For Believers: An Exposition of Philippians
(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996/2005), pp. 12-13.

It would seem the gospel has been turned on its head in our  comfort-loving times, as though it were there to serve our needs, make us successful, boost our worthiness, make us better people and then ensure our eternal bliss. It’s become an aid to living happily now and hereafter, not a radical piece of news meant to transform the way we see everyone and everything. 

But what does it take to live a life worthy of the Gospel? 

Jesus said:  Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Matt. 10:37-38 ESV

For starters, it takes the love of Christ, His for me and mine for Him.  No amount of zealous effort to live righteously will take the place of this.  Paul’s life proved this out.  It was the love of Christ that compelled him.

For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. II Cor.5:14,15

To live in a manner worthy of the gospel starts with being liberated by the love of Christ from my compulsions to prove my own worthiness. The Good News assumes man’s helpless, hopeless estate.  Until I recognize this to be my condition I will not appreciate the worth of the Gospel. 

When we scrounge to take courage in ourselves that we are worthy persons because of some inherent goodness, we are destined to forever thirst for approval, recognition and affirmation of the good things that we do.  And likewise we are destined to be forever shifting blame and covering up our weaknesses and faults, minimizing our sin in order to bolster our ‘worthiness’.  This may lead to a conscientious and orderly attempt at right living but it will not lead to a life worthy of the gospel.  Only a life of love for Jesus and faith in Him as my Righteousness will lead to worthy living.  As I trust Him to live His life in me my compulsive efforts to do the right thing will give way to His love-driven ways.  As I am consumed with His great worth, my own will seem irrelevant.

As a believer in Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection on my behalf I am called to walk in a manner worthy of the Gospel,  worthy of this wonder that I should be called a child of God though by nature his arch-enemy.  I have been made heir to the  righteousness of Christ.  This is a walk requiring utter dependence with gratitude for all that He is and all that He has done in me… It has nothing to do with my worth and everything to do with His!  He had compassion.  He made me His own.  Now I  live to bless Him not to prove my worth.


For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of GodCol.1:9,10

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created." Rev.4:11 ESV