Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Monday, April 27, 2015

Got To Go Through the Door

And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.  1 John 2:17

I woke early this morning, and I was praying.  That’s what I called it.  What I was really doing was worrying over balances in various monetary accounts while bringing to the Lord’s attention that I had been pretty faithful and generous lately in giving to His work.  It was as though my words were written on a screen in my head.  The word ‘I’ stood out and, though I didn’t see it, I knew there was a question mark by it. 

I’ve heard time and again that I am merely a steward.  Everything I have, the Lord has given me.  I am giving back only that which is His.  What do you give the God who has everything?  That was part of God’s response, but it went beyond that.  Who is this ‘I’?  Is it not written that ‘I’ have been crucified with Christ, that ‘I’ no longer live but it is Christ who lives in me? 

It’s not just, What have I got to give?  But WHO is doing the giving?  I’m not giving to God; God wants to give through me.  And money or whatever is the least of it.  It is being available and yielded to do His will. 

Mostly, in my case, I think it is getting my arguments, reasonings, rationalizations, and desires out of the way to clear the channel for God’s blessings to flow.  Why should I worry and stress about things when it is clear that God is the One moving and working and doing all this?  I know already from experience, some of which I know I have related, that the Lord has never put me in hole He didn’t already have a plan to get me out of.  He has put me in some tight spots.  They seemed that way to me going in.  In reality they were simply narrow doorways opening into new broader vistas. 

There is a narrow way we have to pass through.  The will of God can be an extremely strait, restrictive passage, but it is a passage to something.  It’s not a place where we will have to live.  We are going to live where this tight, constraining corridor takes us.  We’ll have plenty of room there -- until we come to the next doorway, and there will be another.  

What we learn in passing through the strait gates of God’s will is how worldly accretions have built up on us, like barnacles on a ship’s hull.  It all has to be scraped off now and then.  There are some things we have to leave behind when passing through the narrow way, and we are better for it. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Wait

Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.  For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. -- Isaiah 30:18

I am waiting this morning, and I expect that, soon, I will be somewhat busy.  Meanwhile, I continue on with what has become my theme for the week.  I am sure I have read this verse dozens of times -- as many times as I have read through Isaiah 30 and pulled verses from it.  Stopping to look at it and consider it, it is, as my old friend Herb might say, a powerful verse. 

God waits.  For what?  To be gracious to us.  In an overarching sense, in light of God’s work in human history, we can understand that the prophet is looking forward to the Cross where grace it brought to all in Christ.  While God’s goodness, love, and mercy fall like rain upon all of humanity, everywhere and at all times, He waits, as well, to be gracious to each of us individually.

Why does He wait?  There is seed time, and there is harvest time.  There are seasons in our lives that are appropriate for divine intervention.  There are other times, winter seasons, when God draws away, goes out of sight and underground.  As a tree is not dead because it has lost its leaves and stands waiting for spring, so, even in our seasons of dormancy, the Lord, though silent and unseen, sustains us. 

At other times, however, the Lord waits for us.  Yesterday’s post referenced Isaiah 30:15 calling us to rest and to quietness.  So long as we are trying by our own human, fleshly efforts to achieve success, to create our own security, and initialize our own versions of happiness, God waits.  He waits for us to see the futility and the vanity in our fruitless exertions and to turn to Him in hope and faith. 

I want to say that it should always be us waiting patiently, being long-suffering as we remain in a state of serene anticipation looking for the justice and judgment, the mercy and favor and blessings of the Lord.  He should not have to wait on us to wear the old self out in toil and turmoil.  But maybe that’s one way we put the old man down – work him to death.  After all, the Lord told Adam how it was going to be:  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground (Genesis 3:19).  It could be that the old man isn’t a bad field hand, so long as you beat him like a rented mule, keep him in his place, and don’t let him think he can run anything.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

When Popeye Met Jesus

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.  -- 1 Corinthians 15:10

This will brief, a kind of continuation or riff on yesterday’s post.  If what Paul says is true – and it is, then the error of self and the world system in general is trying to be something other than what we are by the grace of God.  We fall when we resist God’s grace.  It is as the drowning man who is so panicked that he fights his rescuer.  We can get on the train and ride, or, we can stand in front of it and try to stop it. 

We can trust God and believe that He is actively involved in and with us, or we can become bitter and resentful.  There’s a difference that the world often misses – I’ve missed it as a Christian – between resistance and resentment.  I can resist evil without becoming resentful. 

I recall a line in True Grit where Tom Chaney laments, “Everything happens to me, and now I'm shot by a child!  It is a powerful insight into the weakness in Chaney’s character.  There are many times when I have not done much better.  If we allow ourselves to always be aggrieved and offended by the troubles that come our way, we are never going to become the people God wants us to be.  We overcome not by umbrage and anger, or even excess spinach consumption,  but by faith and trust, by resting in Him.  As Isaiah 30:15 says:  For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Working Man Blues

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:  Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. -- Isaiah 43:1

It’s not an earworm.  Brain Jig, maybe – it’s a recurring thought that I have or keep recognizing in what someone else says or some experience that I have.  The reason I call it a jig is that things fit together in it. 

Did you ever know a person who made everything more complicated and harder than it needed to be?  Have you ever been that person?  I can answer both questions in the affirmative.  In a way, following Christ is challenging.  It can be a serious struggle, day after day, and so it is described as a battle and race.  Yet, Jesus calls to those who are “weary and heavy-laden” – some of us, as we talked about yesterday – and offers us rest and a lighter load to bear. 

In fact, our battle is to step aside and let the battle be the Lord’s.  We work hard to overcome the mindset of the world and enter the rest of Christ.  For years, beginning long before I surrendered to that Holy Hunter who dogged my steps, my typical way of saying good-bye was to say, “Take it easy”.  I still say it a lot.  I might have originally picked it up from the Jackson Browne/Eagles song that played about once an hour on the AM radio in my orange Chevy back in ’72.  It’s still good advice, but the paradox of fighting for peace remains true. 

We are stuck working out our “own salvation with fear and trembling” while God is “working in [us], both to will and to act for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).  Every time I read that, I feel like saying, Make up your mind.  Is it me, or is it God?  And the answer is – Yes, that’s right.  We will never enter Christ’s rest unless we work, and we will never work our way into His love and His grace.

We belong to the Lord.  He calls us by name, and we bear His name.  If I look at my inadequacy and my failures, I am afraid, and I feel that I need to try harder.  Yet even I, as flawed and foolish as I am, I am accepted in Christ.  Here is my Rock.  Here I may stand, and the battle is to believe it.            

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Last Standing

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.  Philippians 4:1

I don’t know what happened to me.  Maybe it was being away from home for week.  I was near the grandkids and saw them every night.  That might have sharpened and accentuated the absence of my wife.  I had a dream last night.  I was somewhere, working, I think, and the phone rang.  When I answered it, I heard Vickie talking.  I said, “Hey, Boss, when did you wake up?  You’ve been out of it for weeks, you know.”  I don’t remember what she said, just the sound of her voice.  I woke up because I had to go wherever she was. 

That’s the way I was over the weekend, and I couldn’t put it into words.  I felt like I need to be wherever she is because I need to take care of her.  I’ve always done that.  I know, consciously, she’s with the Lord, she is being taken care of, and all of her fears are gone.  But taking care of her is my default mode.  It’s automatic.  That’s what I do.  Through four decades that is what I have done.  How can it be that I just stop?

You might ask what that has to do with the verse above.  Sunday, especially, after church, I felt like I could not go on.  Everybody has probably reached a point of mental, emotional, or physical exhaustion and had the thought that it was impossible to keep going.  What do you do when you cannot “ …  press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” as Paul says just a few verses prior?  By the way, that verse, Philippians 3:14, is the one that is engraved on our headstone.   

Sometimes all we can do is stand, and that is enough, so Milton’s sonnet concludes:  They also serve who only stand and wait.  Or, as the prophet Isaiah says (with added emphasis):  

Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

And Paul again admonishes:  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.  Stand therefore … (Ephesians 6:13-14). 

Just because I can’t go forward, because I don’t know where to go or what to do, it doesn’t mean I should give up or quit or fall back.  When I don’t know what else to do, I can stand, and I can wait.  No matter how long it takes.