Friday, December 28, 2007

Out with the Old and in with the New

While many people past a "certain age" dread their birthdays, everyone greets the new year with positive anticipation. There's something in the turning of the calendar that seems to promise a clean slate. New chances. New opportunities. The hope that this time we'll get things right.

A good bit of this is psychological, of course; we could make resolutions for improvement on March 1, or on the Fourth of July, and they would work just as well--or not, depending on how consistently we stuck to the program. The trouble with resolutions is we tend to let them die of neglect once it becomes clear how much hard work is involved.

Living a Christian life is hard work as well. Many people who accept salvation with great enthusiasm, lose their fire once they realize God has plenty of work for His followers (cf. Eph. 2:8-10). They want to go to heaven without changing, or at least to become better people without personal effort. God does re-create us in Him (2 Cor. 5:17); but He expects us to cooperate through serious effort to "put off" sinful habits and "put on" godly ones (Eph. 4:22-24). We also need to remember, though, Who is really in charge of the process. We never can change through our own strength (the mistake most people make in trying to keep their New Year's resolutions); the resources we need are found only in God.

He is, after all (Rev. 21:5) the One Who makes everything new.

Out with the old and in with the new!
God has already forgiven you;
Your sin-stained self is crucified,
Nailed to the cross where the Savior died.

In with the new and out with the old!
Let God remove your heart stone-cold,
Put in its place a warm-flesh heart,
Filled with His love, ever set apart.

Off with the old and on with the new!
Put off the self that would evil do;
Put on the new self strong and pure,
Righteous in Christ, ever true and sure.

On with the new and off with the old!
Sin's shackles on you have lost their hold;
God's Holy Spirit now lives within;
Christ has freed all who were slaves to sin.

Out with the old and in with the new!
Righteousness no more depends on you;
Christ put aside the law that bound,
Set your feet firmly on grace's ground.

In with the new and out with the old!
Look to the vision with streets of gold;
The time is near--yes, God's Word is true--
When Christ will come to make all things new.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The End Is in Sight

Another year is coming to an end. Some people will remember 2007 as a happy and successful time; others are all too glad to tell it goodbye. And there are always those who look back on last January's long-broken resolutions, and moan, "I've wasted another year. I didn't accomplish a thing!"

Regarding my own 2007 resolutions, I did well on two out of five (limit evening business events; don't join any new groups) and so-so on two others (do a good deed every day; stop treating leisure activities "as if they had quotas to be filled and time clocks to be punched"). Number five--"do at least 1,000 words' worth of writing every work day"--I consistently stuck to at first; but output fell off somewhere around late May.

That's the story of many Christian lives: started well, finished poorly. Brimmed with enthusiasm at the beginning, then slipped back into worldly living. Allowed "the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth [to] choke [the Word], making it unfruitful" (Mt. 13:22, NIV). While such people may not lose their salvation, they are unlikely to enter heaven in unmitigated triumph (cf. 1 Cor. 3:10-15).

Other Christians, sincere and fervent in their faith, would gladly take the lowest spot in heaven in exchange for any kind of end to their present troubles. They may be coping with exceptionally heavy and long-lasting responsibility or pain; or they may just be tired of living in feeble or worn-out bodies. They are the ones who groan loudest with the longing to exchange their earthly "tents" for something permanent and perfect (cf. 2 Cor. 5:1-4).

The good news is that our struggles will not last forever. God will, in His own time, receive us all into His eternal Kingdom. Then we will never again be troubled by pain, futility, or loneliness.

A happy ending is coming!

Does the weight of your task press upon you
Until you no longer can stand?
Does even the strength to crawl onward
Seem something beyond your command?
Remember your task was assigned you
By He Whose own burden is light,
And He is the One Who works in you:
Take courage, the end is in sight!

Does the pain of your life seem unending
And all hope seem lost in the gloom?
Does all you can see of the future
Seem clouded by shadows of doom?
Remember that God holds the future,
And He gives a song in the night;
In Him is all hope and all comfort:
Take courage, the end is in sight!

Has your body grown weary and feeble?
Has strength passed away with the years?
Have eyes bright with hope for the future
Grown dim and beclouded with tears?
Remember God's Kingdom is coming,
Where all will forever be bright,
And life on this earth as a shadow:
Take courage, the end is in sight!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


The following is one of my older poems (an early version won a contest sponsored by local group Inspirational Writers Alive in April 1996). As we celebrate at Christmas the coming of Jesus to us, let us not forget that we must also come to Him. And not only at the manger, nor even only at the cross or empty tomb, but every day of our lives. We can never function with full effectiveness until we are willing to kneel before Christ each day: pondering all He did for us, setting aside our own wills, and rededicating ourselves to His service.

Oh, come to the manger where Jesus is sleeping:
Come look at the light in this Baby's sweet face.
The angels are singing, the shepherds are kneeling:
Come gaze on the Infant of Glory and Grace.

Oh, come to the mountain where Jesus is teaching:
Come listen to words filled with beauty and life.
Come hear His voice telling the Gospel of mercy,
The joy in the pain and the peace in the strife.

Oh, come to the seaside where Jesus is preaching,
Where people have gathered from miles round to hear.
Come listen to Him speak the words of God's Kingdom,
The Kingdom He tells us is now drawing near.

Oh, come to the cross where this Jesus is hanging,
Who prays for the ones who condemned Him to death.
Come see the sky darken and feel the earth shaking,
As He cries out, "Finished!" and draws His last breath.

Oh, come to the tomb where this Jesus was buried:
Come share in the joy as they find the stone gone.
The Savior is risen, the power of death broken:
Come greet the first light of a glorious new dawn.

Oh, come to Him now, for our Jesus is calling,
Is calling you to Him with welcome today.
Find joy in His love; take the hand of the Savior:
Be sure that He never will turn you away.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Waiting for Results

Children everywhere are counting the days until Christmas. If you're a parent, you may be exhausted by now from "I can't wait" questions: "When does Rudolph come on TV?" "When can we open the presents?" "How much farther to Grandma's?"

Children do not wait patiently for things they look forward to. Nor do many adults. We watch the office clock all Friday afternoon. We squirm as we wait outside for stores to open.

Nor do we wait patiently for things we anticipate without unmitigated pleasure. Sweaty palms, churning stomachs, and an inability to concentrate on anything else are common to the patient waiting for a cancer screening and the student waiting for exam grades. Waiting to learn how we did, or how we are, is an inevitable part of life--one many of us would like to do away with. Who needs the stress and suspense?

What we really need is a godly patience based in quiet trust that we can leave the results to God and that He knows best. Many of us fall short because we pay too much attention to immediate concerns and not enough to the things He tells us to wait for--the coming of Christ and the full establishment of the eternal Kingdom. We're like children who are so tired of travelling that we've half convinced ourselves we'll never reach the destination.

Fortunately, no matter how many times the kids whine, "Are we there yet?" most parents keep driving without giving up the trip or tossing anyone out of the car. God is like that. He doesn't disown us when we get impatient. And if we stop moaning, "Will this ever end?" long enough to listen for an answer, we just might hear Him whisper, "Be patient. The end is worth waiting for."

Whether you're travelling this year or at home trying to keep up with the bustle, take a little time each evening to think about the first Christmas and about the eternal celebration God has planned for us.

Since the days we start as children,
At the doctor Mom consults,
We spend countless hours in waiting,
Always waiting for results.

Through the days we spend as students,
With exams the weekly way,
We chew nails as grades draw nearer,
Waiting for results each day.

When we're grown and jobs we're seeking,
When employed and near reviews,
When it's time to pay our taxes,
When high tension fills the news,

In old age when bodies weaken,
Or when illness strikes the young,
All our thoughts are "What will happen?"
Till the day results are sung.

Every day we spend in living,
Till the one we breathe our last,
Every day brings things uncertain,
And new waits replace those past.

But the end of time is coming,
When dim vision will grow bright,
When all doubts at last will vanish,
And our faith give way to sight,

In a world where all is glory,
In a place where all is pure:
Know, through all you find uncertain,
One result at least is sure!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

More Than Just Positive Thinking

Optimist-pessimist jokes are always good for a chuckle. Usually it's the pessimist who comes off looking bad: "The optimist sees the doughnut, the pessimist the hole." "If it weren't for the optimist, the pessimist would never know how happy he isn't." But sometimes the optimist gets a turn at being foolish:

An optimist and a pessimist both fell off the roof of a thirty-story building. As they plummeted past the fifteenth floor, the pessimist was heard to yell, "Help!"

The optimist yelled, "All right so far."

Which is the more Christian worldview: optimism or pessimism? One would think we should be optimists: after all, we have God's own Word that we can count on eternal life and all things working out for good! Indeed, some Christians talk so much about God's blessings that one wonders if they've read the whole Bible (or all of today's missions news), which also notes the inevitability of problems. But to hear some other Christians, one would think optimism was pure foolishness--as far as this life is concerned, at least. Someone always seems to be pointing to wars, sexual immorality, or "above all offend no one" attitudes as evidence that this world has reached the point where the only thing to do is wait for Christ to come back and burn it.

So should Christians be optimists or pessimists? The surprising answer is neither. Both optimism and pessimism are based on human expectations, expectations that (regardless of what some positive thinkers say) never can fully control what happens. Christianity is based on direct assurance from the One Who does control what happens--assurance that, while "in this world [we] will have trouble" (John 16:33, NIV), we can rejoice and be thankful (cf. 1 Thess. 5:16, 18), knowing that everything will end well. "Everything will end well" is not mere optimism any more than "we will have trouble" is mere pessimism. Either both are fact, or God is a liar.

The Christian ideal is a heart hurting for the pains of this world, longing for (and counting on) the return of Christ, yet joyful in every moment of earthly duty He calls us to.

The optimist says, "It's the best world there is";
The pessimist says, "Just our luck."
The Christian says, "God made all things good,
But they'll be even better above."

The optimist says, "That doughnut looks great";
The pessimist, "Look at that hole."
The Christian says, "God gives daily bread,
Whether doughnut or crust or roll."

The optimist says, "It's a half-full glass";
The pessimist says, "Drink's half gone."
The Christian says, "God has filled my cup,
And His blessings flow on and on."

The optimist, falling, thinks, "Fine so far";
The pessimist thinks, "I'll land hard."
The Christian thinks, "Whether live or die,
My hope is with Christ in God."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

My Name Is Written in Heaven

"Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20), said Jesus to His disciples as they returned from a highly productive missions assignment. They were naturally exhilarated and glowing with the sense of achievement. The danger was that, when the excitement wore off and they found that not all future assignments were as easy or as obviously successful, they would become discouraged and worry that God was no longer supporting them. Hence, Jesus's words were not intended to detract from their work or to scold them for being delighted with the results, but to remind them that their primary source of joy (and ours, too) should always be God's accepting them into His eternal family--a fact that could never be altered by earthly circumstances.

By all means, thank God with joy if your ministry is successful, or you are awarded a full scholarship to the graduate program of your choice, or you are blessed with a wonderful Christian family. But do not make these your sole reasons for rejoicing. And whether you are rich or poor, successful or struggling, healthy or sickly--never cease to rejoice, and rejoice above all else, that God loves you and has gone to tremendous lengths to give you an eternal place in His Kingdom.

My name is written in heaven--
Oh, what a delight to know
That God wants me in His Kingdom,
And walks with me here below.
My name is written in heaven--
I too belong to the King,
Who gives me all of His blessings
And also a song to sing.

My name is written in heaven--
The Lord has prepared a place
Where I will sit at His table
And feast on eternal grace,
And sit with saints of the ages,
Who all belong to the King,
Whose names are written in heaven,
The praises of God to sing!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Be Still

Amid the chaos of mid-December, "Be still, and know that I am God" (Ps. 46:10, NIV) is a piece of Scripture most of us should pay regular attention to. But we also should remember that the emphasis is on the second half.

The whole Psalm makes it clear that the authors were in even more chaotic surroundings than a crowded shopping mall--and were well aware that only through God's power could they find security. Psalm 46 is not about learning relaxation techniques. It is about trusting God at all times, knowing that He is in control.

It is also about letting him be in control. There is no room in God's Kingdom for attitudes of "I trust You to give me inner peace, Lord--but I expect You to deliver it on my own external terms!" We cannot experience true peace until we stop fighting our own little wars for our imagined rights to dictate life's circumstances.

The NASB translates the opening words of Psalm 46:10 as "Stop striving." Stop striving to get on top of things. Stop striving to organize your life. Stop striving to bully the surrounding world into giving you what you want. Surrender all this to God, and He will get things under control for you. And will throw in "peace... which transcends all understanding" (Phil. 4:7).

Even during the chaotic season.

"Be still, and know I Am"--
Hear the Lord's voice;
Will you give Him your ear?
It is your choice:
Will you incline your thoughts
To hear Him speak,
Humble yourself and bow,
Make yourself meek?

"Be still, and know I Am"--
Let striving cease;
Only within His hand
Can we know peace;
Only by pausing now,
Even today,
Can we receive His Word
And know His way.

"Be still, and know I Am"--
Cease from the rush;
Rest from life's frantic pace
For one hour's hush:
When you keep hurrying
As in a race,
Your dreams are crushed beneath
Life's frantic pace.

"Be still, and know I Am"--
God governs all;
Trust Him Who holds you up--
You will not fall:
God alone knows for sure
What you must do;
Be still, trust Him to lead;
He will be true.

Monday, December 17, 2007


One dictionary definition of "blessed" is "bringing happiness and contentment." But there's a lot more to being happy than getting what we want. Indeed, there is hardly a more chronically discontented soul than the spoiled brat.

Jesus defined in the Beatitudes what characterizes the truly "blessed" person: "the poor in spirit... those who mourn... the meek... those who hunger and thirst for righteousness... the merciful... the pure in heart... the peacemakers... those who are persecuted because of righteousness." Much of this runs counter to our human ideas of blessing. We can perhaps understand how having clear consciences and thinking of others could make us happy--but don't we have to attend to our own needs somewhere? And how can mourning and persecution possibly bring happiness?

The "blessedness" here lies not in the experience, but in knowing that, when we feel God's pain (for our own sin as well as for a suffering world) and take a stand for Him, we have His blessing and approval, that "great is [our] reward in heaven" (Mt. 5:12) and that the highest position on earth cannot begin to compare with the lowest spot in heaven. Or as the psalmists put it, "Better is one day in [God's] courts than a thousand elsewhere; [better to] be a doorkeeper in the house of... God than dwell in the tents of the wicked" (Ps. 84:10, NIV). A modern metaphor might be: I would rather be a waiter and eat in the kitchen, if chocolate cheesecake were part of the bargain, than sit at the head of a table that serves only sugar cookies.

Of course, God sees fit to grant most of us some earthly blessings as well. When we are doing exceptionally well even by human standards, let us not forget Who is responsible, nor that He deserves regular thanks. We are not "lucky," nor are we receiving our "due" for hard work; we are blessed by God with good things. He has every right to be displeased if we become so enthralled with material blessings that we forget to practice those attitudes that characterize all the blessed!

When the wealth of life surrounds you,
When your days in ease are dressed,
Do not say that you are happy:
Say instead that you are blessed.

When the pains of life assail you,
When you long for peace and rest,
Though your path be marked in sorrow,
Never doubt that you are blessed.

When you view the years behind you,
When regret may dog your past,
Know that God was in each moment,
Working toward your good at last.

When you strain to glimpse the future,
Whether sought in hope or fear,
Know God's blessing leads you always:
Know He has ordained each year.

He is in our times of plenty,
He is in our days of shame;
He alone is Peace and Wisdom--
Blessed be His mighty name!

Friday, December 14, 2007


The Bible has a lot to say about God's work in us, and much of the imagery is painful: refined by fire; pruned like deadwood; spun, poked, and prodded on the potter's wheel. Christians since have likened the process to being pounded into shape on an anvil. As was mentioned in an earlier blog, often our first impulse on realizing what's involved is to wonder if we really want to grow!

The youngest children are eager to learn new skills--walking, speaking, reading--because they look at their elders, who have mastered these skills, and see clearly the privileges at the end of the struggle. But often we adults neglect to keep our eyes on our Master and the goal He has achieved, and we look only at the struggle in between. No wonder we fail to see the better things He has planned for us. If we truly realized, even faintly, where the pain of the present was leading, we would never be so tempted to run back to the relative comfort of mediocrity.

Instead of focusing around us, on the negative aspects of the process, let us look up into the Potter's eyes. If we truly see the love and encouragement in them, we will be willing to undergo anything for His greater purpose.

Through my trials and through my struggles,
Through my aches and through my pains,
Through each day of difficulty,
Through the storms and hurricanes,
Through each hindrance and frustration,
Through the times I dread to face,
Even through the devil's nooses,
God will mold me by His grace.

Though my frame be mauled and pummeled,
Though my battles burn like fire,
Though the spinning leave me dizzy,
Though I struggle in the mire,
May my own plans be as nothing--
I am just a lump of clay,
Yet to form a splendid vessel,
God is molding me each day.

Let me not resist the pinching;
Let me not defy the blows;
Let me not crave explanations,
For I know the Potter knows
What will make me in His image:
Till I pure and holy be,
Through endurance and with patience,
God in love is molding me.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Clock Watcher

I have a time management problem--I manage it too thoroughly! In the interest of "not letting a moment go to waste," I always scheduled, down to the last quarter hour, everything from travel time to pleasure reading ("at 100 pages an hour, I'll finish this novel by bedtime"). If I intended to log off my e-mail at 5:00, and an unexpected message kept me on until 5:01, I gave myself a mental spanking.

It seemed to work when I was younger. But then the world began speeding up while I slowed down, and the "this much time you may spend, not one second longer" labels started to turn even pleasure activities into chores to be gotten out of the way. Like Martha, I was so "worried and upset" about the "many things" that "had to" be done that I couldn't hear the Lord inviting me let the doing wait so I could take time for being--being with Him.

Change has not come easily. Even when my body is still, my mind tries to distract me with constant whispers of what I'm missing out on, telling me not to waste my time.... Praying is a waste of time? Even Christians often live as if it were. Sitting at God's feet feels so passive. We should be up accomplishing things. Isn't it up to us to save the world?

Actually, God already did that. When we think we "have to" do everything, that's our pride talking--and we know what goes before a fall (cf. Prov. 16:18). For those of us who never take our eyes off the clock, that fall frequently comes in the form of a collapse into depression, if not a complete breakdown. The only way to avoid that path is to keep our primary focus on God and avoid giving too much of our attention to anything else.

Especially the clock.

Every slot of my day is scheduled,
Every hour of my time is planned.
Work and play time alike are pedaled
To the beat of a schedule grand.
Every moment my brain runs forward;
Every tick of the hand of time,
As the hours of each week march onward,
Draws a glance from my conscious mind.

I've no mind to give full attention
To the task of the moment here,
Always drawn toward the next's rendition,
Ever nagged by a lingering fear
I will never do all I long to,
Never finish life's endless store:
And even the God I belong to
Gets "this prayer time, and nothing more!"

Lord, from You come the interruptions;
Lord, You only know every task
That was meant for my own life's functions,
Yet I rarely take time to ask.
I serve gods labeled Plan and Order,
Brutal tyrants who wield the whip
Should I step out of schedule's border,
Should one minute unnoted slip.

Lord, forgive me my pride so stubborn,
Ever yearning for life's controls.
Set me free from this crushing burden;
Save me from my own self-made goals.
Turn my heart to the Master's pathways:
Make me willing to set aside
Earthly glitter and lures attractive,
Taking You as my One True Guide!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Open Skies

Even with "prosperity gospel" televangelism past its gilded age, the idea that "becoming a Christian will solve all your problems" still surfaces frequently, thanks largely to believers who "have it good" in the worldly sense but are usually shallow in their spiritual development. There are still many communities where going to church is a mark of the prominent and respectable--but are these really the strongest Christians? It takes plenty of resistance to build muscle. And a serious reading of the Bible and history reveals that the greatest saints faced the most opposition and struggle.

If you're anything like me, your first reaction to that may be, "If it takes hard times to make a strong Christian, I'd as soon stay weak!" But virtually no one who has accepted the struggle has later regretted it. And believers who are "content" to stay weak often find their lives sadly lacking in contentment.

Not that this is a one-time decision where we say, "Okay, God, make me strong!," take one tough test, and can relax from then on. Often, our only immediate reward for coming through a struggle, is harder struggles--and even seemingly unshakable Christians have given up and backslid into worldly living. If we truly want to be the best Christians we can be, we have to renew our commitment, and tap into the Source, virtually every day.

We must trust God to show us the tasks of each moment--and to give us strength for each task. Our hardest times are often the times we eventually most thank Him for.

When torrents of pain pour upon you,
And mists from the rain blur your sight,
When even to breathe is a struggle,
And even the noon dark as night,
Remember that even in blackness,
God still makes a pathway ahead:
What seems like the flood that would drown you
May be showers of blessing instead.

When each onward step is a struggle
Through waters as deep as your chest,
When currents keep pushing against you,
With never a moment for rest,
Remember that strength comes from striving,
And go where your Savior has led:
What seems like the flood that would drown you
May be showers of blessing instead.

As sure as the flood-days of Noah
Let mankind get started again,
As sure as the Cross made a pathway
For all who were slaves to their sin,
As sure as salvation of thousands
Has sprung where the martyrs have bled,
What seems like the flood that would drown you
May be showers of blessing instead.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Rejoice in the Days God Gives Us

The Bible tells us well over a hundred times to "rejoice," even in our sufferings; yet many of us have difficulty summoning up much enthusiasm for life. Perhaps we have medical excuses such as clinical depression; perhaps our temperaments seem naturally inclined to melancholy and pessimism; or perhaps we've just developed childish habits of equating joy with pleasure and of refusing to rejoice unless things go our way. (I plead guilty to all three!)

"Refuse" is the right word. The Bible frequently uses "rejoice" as an active verb, a command, and God would not command us to do anything He gave us no power to do. To say that we have to be miserable because "that's just the way I naturally think" or "these circumstances would make anyone unhappy" is akin to saying God is either too cruel or too weak to help.

However--before anyone starts feeling like a failure as a Christian because he or she is not a consistently bubbly optimist--we need to remember that part of the problem is our misunderstanding of joy's nature. Some believers consider it a lack of faith to cry when someone goes to heaven, or when a crippling injury destroys one's plans for the future. There is actually nothing un-Christian about feeling pain or sorrow--indeed, it may be impossible to experience true Christian joy without first having suffered deeply, for only so can we feel God's compassion for a hurting world and truly appreciate what He suffered to redeem it--and us. Jesus Himself, Who wept over the death of a friend and the sins of His people, and Who was called a Man of Sorrows, said, "Blessed are those who mourn" (Mt. 5:4).

No, the opposite of Christian joy is not unhappiness but selfishness--mixing anger with our unhappiness because our plans have been spoiled, without giving a thought to the others touched by the situation or to how God is working even this out for good. Such an attitude can infiltrate legitimate grief if we dwell too long on our losses, or can assert itself repeatedly through the common frustrations of everyday life until we convince ourselves that "nothing ever goes right" and even that God must hate us. That is likely why we are commanded to rejoice--to actively remember and appreciate the goodness of God, lest we forget it altogether.

When we regularly review all we have to be thankful for--and remember that salvation alone is infinitely more than we deserve--then we can truly rejoice in the Lord, however miserable our circumstances seem.

Rejoice in the day God gave us,
When the blue sky is cool and clear:
Be not like the ones who look downward,
With no eyes and no hearts for cheer.

Rejoice in the day God gave us,
Though the sky may be clouded gray,
For each day of life is a blessing,
And much joy lies along the way.

Rejoice in the days God gives us:
Let not one pass devoid of praise;
Let your heart be filled with thanksgiving,
And let joy guide you all your days.

Rejoice in each day God gives you,
Till the day from this world you part,
For that land where the days are endless,
And pure joy shines in every heart!

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Prayer Away

I took a 24-hour prayer retreat this weekend, so this seems a good time to say something about the significance of prayer. Too often, we treat prayer as a last resort, or as the task to be saved for when "important" things (read: all we can do in our own power) are finished. We fail to truly realize that we are utterly helpless to accomplish anything apart from God (cf. John 15:4-6), or to appreciate the privilege--and the potential--in being allowed direct access to the Power behind the universe.

How much time do you spend in prayer? How does it compare to the amount of time you spend worrying--or the amount of time you spend "doing"?

Do you take seriously Paul's reminder (Phil. 4:6-7) that the only way to find peace is to pray about everything?

Are you overwhelmed with tension?
Does despairing rule your day?
Do not sit in inward churning--
Help is just a prayer away!

Is your heart crushed under sorrow?
Does your world seem bleak and gray?
Are you wracked with pain and anguish?
Seek relief a prayer away!

Is your future dim, uncertain?
Can you scarcely see your way?
It is God Who gives assurance--
Find it just a prayer away!

Does your calling seem a burden?
Do you dread to face the fray?
Do your efforts all seem hopeless?
Strength is just a prayer away!

Do your pleadings seem unheeded?
Doubt you God hears what you say?
Never cease to seek His answer--
It may be a prayer away!

In our joys and in our struggles,
Through each hope and each dismay,
God is waiting to be called on--
He is just a prayer away!

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Glory Forever

"Glory to God in the highest," sang the angels on the first Christmas. There is no higher purpose than God's glory. Even Job forgot his problems when confronted with the full picture of divine majesty (Job 38:1-42:6); so who are we to say we have other concerns to think about?

Today's poem owes something of its theme to the hymn "Come, Thou Almighty King"; both focus on worshiping God in His Trinitarian aspects. The Trinity has always been a stumbling block to non-Christian monotheists; even Christians have never truly explained it adequately. But then, I have never meant anyone who claims full ability to understand even human beings, so far beneath the One Who controls the universe. It is the height of arrogance to insist God can exist only if He can be defined by our limited reason.

Unless we are willing to occasionally step aside from earthly concerns and theological debate, and take time simply to praise God, we can never know the full joy of His glory.

Glory to the Father, Whose word shaped the earth;
Glory to the Son, Whom a virgin gave birth;
Glory to the Spirit, Who makes souls fly free;
All glory forever to the Trinity.

Glory to the Father, Who the heavens unfurled;
Glory to the Son, Who was sent to this world;
Glory to the Spirit, sent forth from the Son;
All glory forever to the Three in One.

Glory to the Father, with Whom love begins;
Glory to the Son, Who was killed for our sins;
Glory to the Spirit, Who holy strength brings;
All glory forever to the King of Kings.

Glory to the Father, Who evermore reigns;
Glory to the Son, Whose blood washed clean our stains;
Glory to the Spirit, Who warms hearts of sod;
All glory forever to the One True God.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The March of Time

I hate jokes about women who guard their exact ages like matters of national security, and I never intend to join that crowd. However, now that my body is sending subtle reminders the big 4-0 is only fifteen months away, there are a few items from the youth package I would rather like to have back: the endless stamina; the freedom to ignore "watch what you eat" and "exercise daily" warnings without obvious consequence; and most of all, the semiconscious delusion that this will continue forever, that your body will somehow be exempt from wearing out.

Some people refuse outright to let go of that hope--often to their own detriment. We've all heard of--or known personally--the forty-five-year-old who tries to recapture his youth by dressing in the latest teenage fashions or by deciding that "till death do us part" can make an exception for a new relationship that makes him feel twenty again. Less spectacular, but equally as sad in eventual retrospect, is the person who decides that the best way to deal with the passing of years is simply to ignore either the future ("there's plenty of time to do something significant") or the present ("I was dying to finish school.... I was dying to get married.... I was dying for a promotion.... I was dying to retire.... And now, I am dying--without ever having lived").

Such attitudes are certainly typical of immature youth. It's a rare person under thirty who gives serious attention to Paul's admonition, "Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil" (Eph. 5:15-16, NIV). Many of us never learn that lesson--none of us ever master it completely. How many opportunities to do good do we squander, because "I can do it later" or "I want to enjoy myself first" or "there are more important things to worry about right now"? But lost opportunities, like lost years, never return.

Not that we should waste the present grieving over the mistakes of the past--Christ's blood is sufficient for sins of omission as well. Nor, if we have passed our physical prime living for ourselves, should we conclude we are now useless for the Lord's work. If He had nothing left for us to do on earth, we would already be in heaven.

However old or young, frail or vigorous, you are at the moment--are you ready to start "making the most of every opportunity" now?

Ever forward moves the clock.
Minutes lost are gone forever;
Hours slide by, returning never.
Ever forward moves the clock.

Days slip by with little warning.
Wasted weeks stretch into decades,
Leave life's chances strewn in wreckage.
Days slip by with little warning.

Take heed,
Turn your ear to God and listen.
"Use the time I give you wisely:
Squander it and you despise Me."
Take heed,
Turn your ear to God and listen.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


I set my personal goal for Advent 2007 at devoting my prayer time to worship instead of requests. I hoped for three or four weeks without material concerns, free for unbroken quiet time.

What I've gotten, so far, has been three unexpected new projects; two others dragging on considerably longer than planned; and what seems like no end of mechanical breakdowns, delays, and "do this over" requests--all of which tempt constant wavering of my resolve to praise God continually and ask nothing for myself except spiritual growth. I should have expected it. I've heard the same story from other Christians; you make up your mind to work hard toward maturing, and suddenly half your world seems to be controlled by an intelligent force dedicated to making things difficult for you.

Maybe it is. Satan hates to see believers develop into the image of Christ, and many of our difficulties therein are attributable to his dirty work. But this raises another question: why does God, Who has the final word on whatever happens, let Satan get away with it? You would think, especially since our intention is to serve God's glory, He'd at least give us a few weeks to develop new habits before letting us be hit full force with the need to use them. No wonder we are tempted to echo St. Teresa of Avila, who is credited with having said, "Lord, no wonder You have so few friends, considering the way You treat them!"

Perhaps Peter was tempted by a similar thought as, in John 6:25-69, he heard Jesus say that the true saints of the Kingdom would not find life all free meals and smooth sailing, but would be called to total commitment and sacrifice. Perhaps he briefly considered joining those who found it easier to walk away from the whole thing. Perhaps his final decision, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life," was voiced with a hint of despair, as in: "This is the best offer we've ever gotten, but it doesn't look all that great at the moment!" Every believer feels that way on occasion. Why does God seem to reward our genuine steps of commitment with hardship and struggle, without even giving us a chance to warm up first?

The question has no easy answer. But perhaps 2 Corinthians 12 sheds some light on the subject. Paul's "thorn in the flesh," a "messenger of Satan" and a source of presumably constant "torment," was sent "to keep [him] from becoming conceited" (v. 7, NIV) in the aftermath of a powerful spiritual experience. Perhaps God allows so many "growing pains" in our lives for the same reason--if it was easy to make significant progress, we might forget we couldn't do it alone (cf. John 15:4-6); begin to think ourselves as wise and capable as God; and start a prideful backslide that would undo everything that had been accomplished.

One thing is certain. However frustrating life gets, we can never use it as evidence that God doesn't love us.

The whole Incarnation--from the Nativity to the Crucifixion--is proof He does.

Sometimes I feel like Martha,
And the words I mean for prayer
Come out, "Lord, look at all I've done,
And You don't even seem to care!"

I feel like St. Teresa
On a day of pure dead ends,
And moan, "Oh, Lord, I'll never know
Why You are so hard on Your friends!"

Job sitting on the ash heap,
The thorn in the flesh of Paul,
Jeremiah ruing his day of birth--
I can sympathize with them all!

Should I rant and scream at heaven?
Should I list each gripe I know?
Should I stomp away in anger--
But where else could I ever go?

Our God is the Lord of mystery;
His ways are beyond our thought;
We never learn all His reasons--
It is not ours to say, "He ought."

Not ours to be the masters,
To look down on God above:
If you insist on knowing--know
That His scars ever say, "I love."

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Your Own Gift

Do you ever wish you had the talent and influence of your favorite Christian singer or author, or even the head pastor of the local megachurch? Do you feel guilty because Martin Luther began the day with three hours of prayer, while you can hardly find an unbroken fifteen minutes? Do you wonder how the Lord can ever do anything through someone as ordinary as you?

Perhaps some of the early Christians, observing the great works and sermons of the apostles, wondered the same thing. "I can't perform miracles like John. I can't convert thousands with one sermon like Peter. What can God ever do through me?"

For one thing, He could start the church at Antioch, the first congregation to win significant numbers of non-Jewish converts and the one that gave the world the word "Christian." No names of the original founders are on record; they were simply "those who had been scattered by the persecution in [Jerusalem and were] telling... the good news about the Lord Jesus" (Acts 11:19:20, NIV). The result of what these "very ordinary" people did? "A great number of people believed and turned to the Lord" (v. 21).

We tend to discount anything that doesn't obviously shake the world. But Jesus Himself said our small acts of kindness are remembered in heaven (Mt. 10:40-42; 25:31-40). God is in the business of building not dazzling careers and earthly empires, but a spiritual Kingdom of pure souls. Our "little deeds," done in obedience to Him and for His glory, may make great leaps toward that end.

Provided we are wise enough not to pass opportunities by as "unimportant."

If you can't pray from morning to evening,
As you've heard some great saints would do,
You can work with one ear to God's calling,
Well alert to His leading for you.

If you can't write a Pauline Epistle,
If you can't equal Lewis or Stott,
You can send notes of hope to your neighbor,
Or show love to a soul life forgot.

If you can't hope to walk on the water,
If you can't speak like Billy Graham,
Be assured God has work for your talents:
So don't study another's exam!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Song of the Seasons

"Heaven must be a wonderful place," said the child, "because even the wrong side is so pretty." Anyone who has ever counted stars on a clear country night; or seen a brilliant rainbow, sunrise, or sunset; or drunk in a cloudless day of just the right temperature (especially at the end of a sweltering summer or frigid winter), would agree.

Since Advent began yesterday, today's poem is in the style of a traditional Christmas carol. Therefore, it starts the four seasons with winter and a snow-filled sky. Now, I'm well aware that the holidays don't mean snow for everyone. As a Houstonian, I can even after living thirty-eight Christmases count the white ones I have seen and have fingers left over; but so what? Bible scholars agree that it probably wasn't snowing, or even winter, on the night Jesus was actually born either. Yet, taken as a metaphor, a snow-covered landscape seems such a fitting backdrop for the Christmas story: stark, bare, virtually lifeless, yet strangely pure and beautiful--inviting and forbidding at the same time. What better setting for the coming of the One Who takes cold, lifeless hearts and makes them fresh and pristine?

The winter sky shines silver when the snow starts to fall,
And God sent forth a Savior to die for us all.

And God sent forth a Savior to show us His love,
Who still pours forth His blessing from the sky up above.

The springtime sky shines bluer than the waves of the sea,
And God sent forth a Savior to set us all free.

And God sent forth a Savior to show us His love,
Who still pours forth His blessing from the sky up above.

The summer sky shines golden at the dawning of day,
And God sent forth a Savior to show us the Way.

And God sent forth a Savior to show us His love,
Who still pours forth His blessing from the sky up above.

The autumn sky shines crimson when the sun starts to set,
And God gave us His Scriptures that we might not forget.

And God sent forth a Savior to show us His love,
Who still pours forth His blessing from the sky up above.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Give Him Your All

In honor of my mother's birthday, today's poem is her choice.

"Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength," says Deuteronomy 6:5. The New Testament adds, "with all your mind." That pretty much covers everything that makes up the human will.

Of course, none of us as imperfect humans can ever love God with everything in us--at least not for more than brief periods. Our sinful natures are too drawn to the many distractions in this world. But if we can only hope to fully realize the ideal in heaven, we can at least practice here on earth: by diligently studying God's Word with the goal of getting to know Him; by praying regularly (not forgetting to listen as well as talk); by singing hymns and praises; by faithfully attending worship services; and by showing love to other people, in God's name, whenever we have opportunity.

Most important is that we realize the Object of our love is also the Source of our power to love--that He is love itself. We can only love Him because He loved us first; and when we truly accept His love, we must love Him and the other people whom He also loves--not under orders, but because we absorb His own nature. A heart that cherishes hatred for others, however well hidden or seemingly justified, is a heart closed to the full extent of Christ's love (see 1 John 4:7-21).

We can only come close to loving God with everything we have if we are willing to let Him purge our hearts of any animosity or bitterness.

Our God, the Lord of Creation,
Made earth with its joys to find,
So we could live through discovery:
Love God with all of your mind!

Our God, the Lord once Incarnate,
Who bled that we need not part,
Brought us to live in His Kingdom:
Love God with all of your heart!

Our God, the Lord Who brings healing,
Will cure all disease at length,
And heals our souls in the present:
Love God with all of your strength!

Our God, the Lord Who brings freedom,
Who holds power to save or kill,
Would have us choose life eternal:
Love God with all of your will!

Our God, the End and Beginning,
Will make all creation whole
When the time has come for fulfillment:
Love God with all of your soul!

Our God, Lord now and forever,
Came down among us to save--
The choice is yours for the making:
Love God with all that you have!

Thursday, November 29, 2007


How often do you pray for guidance? When in a tight spot? When facing a big decision? During your quiet time every morning? The best advice I've come across is in Joanna Weaver's Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World: "As you go through your day, keep asking the Lord, 'What is the one thing I need to do next?'" (p. 58)--the principle being rooted in Jesus' words to Martha: "You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed" (Luke 10:41-42, NIV). Besides emphasizing the need to keep listening to God, the passage implies that He has one best thing--contemplative or active--for any given Christian to be doing in any given moment.

Now my first reaction to that idea was, "But what if He tells me to go back on a commitment I've already made [even if only to myself]?" And immediately following on that was the thought, "But He never speaks to me so unmistakably that I can definitely distinguish His voice from my own constantly chattering mind. What if I respond to the wrong leading? Or what if I wind up waiting hours or days for definite guidance, and never get around to doing anything?"

Unfortunately, none of us with our fallen natures are so in tune with God's will that we can be absolutely certain of never making a mistake. But even when we have difficulty with the specifics, we can be grateful that God has given us His universal principles. One thing that is never God's will is that those of us with free access to the Scriptures neglect to study them thoroughly. Many believers get into trouble because, too lazy to make a conscientious search for what God has already said definitely, they rely on secondhand interpretations of the Bible, or on unwarranted universal application of God's actions in certain situations, or on such ideas as "God wants us to be happy [so He won't mind if we seek out happiness in our own selfish ways]" or "the spiritually mature never sin."

No, the mark of the spiritually mature is living with a constant, conscious ear to God's leading. But the only way to reach maturity is through the stages of infancy and childhood--and that means nourishing ourselves well on the "milk" of the Scriptures before we expect to feed regularly on the "solid food" of direct guidance. (See 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 and Hebrews 5:11-14.)

Or to use another metaphor: when lost in the wilderness at night, the smart navigator doesn't rely entirely on a compass to get back on track, for compasses are things of earth and are subject both to erroneous settings and to being led astray by earthly forces. But the navigator who knows the stars will not be fooled by an erratic compass needle; he will look to the heavens for consistent, reliable guidance.

So it is with the Christian who learns the Word of God.

We each have a misaligned compass
Anchored firm in the heart within:
Like a needle deflected by iron,
Are our thoughts drawn aside to sin.

God's law is the North we are set for
And the goal our deep selves can see,
But desire swings to chase many magnets
And no one is completely free.

As the earth's magnet field ever wanders
And will end at the wrong North Pole,
To rely solely on your own compass
Means you end at your own false goal.

There is only one way to hold steady
And walk straight though your path lead far:
Fix your eyes on the Lord in the heavens
And keep following His North Star!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Good Old Days

If many modern commentators are to be believed, the world was a model Christian society until liberals ruined everything in the 1960s. The following quote, from Charles Swindoll's book Rise and Shine, is fairly typical: "Times are worse today than they have ever been," wrote the founder of Insight for Living. "Spiritually, morally, ethically, and domestically, times have never been worse. Only the blind optimist would say otherwise."

I'm no blind optimist--one of my most incessant spiritual battles is against worry and fretting--but still, I have doubts. Is today's society really to be unfavorably compared to the ancient ones that practiced child sacrifice? To the decadence and violence of the late Roman Empire? To Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia? Even if Swindoll was thinking only of U. S. history, we still have to deal with the seventeenth-century torture of suspected "witches"; with over a hundred years of slavery; and with numerous forms of institutionalized bigotry. I suspect that nearly everyone who talks about how wonderful things used to be, comes from White Anglo-Saxon Protestant stock. (People whose ancestors never had the privilege of dictating society's norms complain all the time, too, but rarely express the wish to live 150 years ago.)

I don't mean to demean Dr. Swindoll or any of the others working to encourage Christians amid the very real evils of our society. But I do think we need to realize that evil has been, and will remain, firmly entrenched in every society--because it is equally firmly entrenched in the hearts of the people who build those societies. To base one's view of the past on an assumption that things once were nearly perfect, comes dangerously close to idolatry--and badly hurts our ability to learn from the virtues and mistakes of the past.

Paul wrote that "everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3:12, NIV). Not "everyone except those living in societies run by committed Christians." Everyone. Even where government allows prayer in schools and Bible displays on courthouse lawns, ordinary citizens--including many nominal Christians--will hate the person who takes a stand against everyone's favorite sins: self-centeredness, materialism, and the sense of superiority. If anyone thinks that all we need do to build a perfect society is to get everyone going to church weekly and to reinstate universal disapproval of sex outside marriage, a serious reading of history--or of Charles Sheldon's late-nineteenth-century novel In His Steps--can do a lot to disabuse that notion.

Better yet is a serious reading of the Bible, especially the passages on the universality of sin and of how quickly it invaded each society founded on the true principles of God. Then ponder Ecclesiastes 7:10, written perhaps thirty centuries ago: "Do not say, 'Why were the old days better than these?' For it is not wise to ask such questions." Apparently, the habit of looking back to presumed "better times" has been around almost since the earliest civilization.

As Christians, we should instead be looking ahead to better times--to the coming of Christ and the consummation of God's Kingdom. After that, no believer will ever talk about the "good old days" again!

We drink our toasts to the "good old days,"
When we "lived in a Christian land,"
When the world went to church each Sunday twice,
With its morals from God's own hand.

We heave our sighs for the "good old days,"
When "no love was considered free,"
When the right was right and the wrong was wrong,
And a Christian the thing to be.

When the way of the WASP was the way of our world,
No one ever to think had need
If our ways were truly the ways of Christ:
We all knew He approved each deed.

In those times now past, in those "good old days,"
When we followed "in Christ's own lights,"
We could rest in ease as the lords of those
Who now dare to demand their "rights."

A wise man said it's not smart to ask
Why the "old days" were always best,
For it's easy to feel that the old should stay
Without putting it to the test.

Our Lord's way was never the way of the world,
Nor the pious the purest one:
Take your eyes off the past; fix your gaze on Christ
And the best that is yet to come!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Plunge Ahead

Many people seem to live by the slogan, "Why pray when you can panic?" The Israelites at the Red Sea epitomized that attitude. Cornered by the enemy with no evident escape, they "cried out to the Lord" (Ex. 14: 10)--not, judging from the next two verses, to ask for help out of their situation, but to tell Him it was His fault they were in that situation. Rather than humbly asking Him what to do, they arrogantly demanded to know what He thought He was doing. And even after He provided a miraculous way out, they never gave up the habit of whining "God doesn't love us; if He did, He never would have let things get this tough" in response to every difficulty.

Contrast this with the attitude of their immediate descendants forty years later. In Joshua 3, the nation of Israel was finally ready to enter the Promised Land. But first--children, livestock, and all--they had to cross the flooded Jordan River. It couldn't have seemed an easy task, but there's no record anyone complained or protested. They simply "broke camp to cross" (v. 14, NIV). And "as soon as the priests [leading the procession] reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water's edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing" (vs. 15-16). Notice that, unlike the Red Sea, the water here didn't open a dry path until the people were already moving forward! The bank of the Jordan is steep, so this was no gradual wading in; it was a step directly into the thick of things, in confidence God would make a way. Hard battles lay ahead; but these Israelites had the faith to be ready for anything.

Anyone who truly wants to live the Christian life can count on sooner or later being called to an impossible-looking task. The instinctive response is either to whine and argue, or to procrastinate in the hope God will first remove all obstacles. But only when we are willing to trust (without demanding unmistakable evidence) that God never assigns without empowering, are we prepared to do His work effectively.

Are you ready to cross the "Jordan" in your life?

So you feel you're standing before the sea
With an angry army behind,
No way to retreat, no way to advance,
No way out that you can find?
Lift your eyes to the Lord, put your trust in Him,
Step forward at His command,
And the sea will part as you plunge ahead,
And your crossing be on dry land.

So you feel you're standing upon the bank
Of a river that's in full flood,
No way to advance, not a boat in sight,
For a bridge not a plank of wood?
Lift your eyes to the Lord, put your trust in Him,
Step forward at His command,
And the flow will stop as you plunge ahead,
And your crossing be on dry land.

So you feel you're standing before a task
That's beyond any mortal power,
Afraid to advance, but afraid to run,
All your dreams for yourself gone sour?
Lift your eyes to the Lord, put your trust in Him,
Step forward with Him as Guide:
He will hold your hand as you plunge ahead,
In the strength of the Crucified.

Monday, November 26, 2007


At my church, yesterday's sermon text was Philippians 2:5-11--the perfect passage to bridge the transition from Thanksgiving to Advent. For what, after all, do we have greater cause to give thanks than the Incarnation and all that came with it?

Many Christians, though, fail to appreciate the full value of God's Christmas gift. Instead of rejoicing that we are saved by His grace alone, we live as if He had said, "You're free to go to heaven--but you'd better prove yourself worthy of the gift!!" We feel obligated to attend every church event and volunteer for every ministry opportunity.

As though a sense of obligation and a sense of opportunity could co-exist. Obligation is a drudgery; opportunity is a joy. Only those who delight in each new opportunity to serve God and others--and who fully appreciate how unworthy they are of the honor--can truly rejoice in the great things God is doing. Those who serve out of "obligation" become slaves to their own pride; it's only a short step from "I have to do the Lord's work" to "I am indispensable to the Lord's work." It's a short step from there to feeling entitled to appreciation, and becoming resentful when it fails to materialize. And the next step down is grumbling, like the prodigal's brother, "All these years I've slaved for You and You never gave me a thing in return!"--followed by becoming "weary in doing good" (Galatians 6:9) and burning out completely.

Burning out is no fun; take it from someone's who's been there more than once. The self-inflicted pressure to leave no book unread, no event unattended, no opportunity neglected, has stolen a good deal of my joy--not least because it's hard to concentrate on the project of the moment when you're obsessed with finishing on schedule and with what you have to do next. Thank God for His reminders that cultivating my Christian life is ultimately His job--as when yesterday's sermon brought a fresh perspective on "opportunity not obligation." (If anyone would like to hear the sermon for yourself, it should be posted on the church's Web site sometime this week.)

When a neighbor calls with problems
While you're trying to watch TV,
Do you see an interruption?
Or God's opportunity?

When you're asked to Mom's for dinner,
And you'd planned to keep things free,
Do you see dread obligation?
Or God's opportunity?

When you're cornered by a babbler
At a party or at tea,
Do you see a mere annoyance?
Or God's opportunity?

When someone thwarts your ambition
Or competes successfully,
Are they obstacles to level?
Or God's opportunity?

God's best gift is not your pleasure,
Nor a life that's trouble-free,
Nor great wealth or high position,
Fame or lasting dynasty:

But His purpose is your growing
To Christ's own maturity,
Which He forges through your struggles:
Seize each opportunity!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thank You, Lord

I've promised an occasional "song without music" for this blog, and today's is in full verse-chorus format. Again, interested composers are welcome to apply.

As mentioned yesterday, when times are hard it can be very difficult for human nature to follow Paul's admonition to "give thanks [to God] in all circumstances" (1 Thess. 5:18, NIV). But many of us are even more likely to neglect regular thanks when life is pleasant--not necessarily because we're ungrateful or dissatisfied, but often because the "good things" have become so regular that we take them for granted. How many of us remember each morning that our homes, our jobs, our families--even each new day of life--are as much God's gifts as are the financial windfalls and miraculous healings?

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. When you first wake up, why not spend fifteen minutes listing all the blessings you have to be thankful for? Try keeping it up for a week or a month!

For the beauty of the world around us,
For the gift of our daily bread,
For the Word of eternal Scripture
By which power all our souls are fed:

Thank You, Lord,
For Your endless blessings;
Thank You, Lord,
For Your perfect love;
Thank You, Lord,
For Your rain and sunshine
Flowing down on us from above.

For Your giving us our homes and clothing,
For the ways that You meet our needs,
For the small things we rarely notice,
All the sum of Your loving deeds:

Thank You, Lord,
For Your endless blessings;
Thank You, Lord,
For Your perfect love;
Thank You, Lord,
For Your rain and sunshine
Flowing down on us from above.

Lord, forgive us for our selfish longings:
Lord, forgive when we whine for more;
Help us see we deserve no portion
Of the treasures that on us pour:

Thank You, Lord,
For Your endless blessings;
Thank You, Lord,
For Your perfect love;
Thank You, Lord,
For Your rain and sunshine
Flowing down on us from above.

Thank You, Lord,
For Your endless blessings;
Thank You, Lord,
For Your perfect love;
Thank You, Lord,
For Your rain and sunshine
Flowing down on us from above.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thank You for the Pain

Once we mature enough to accept (most of the time!) that God doesn't owe us instant gratification, we find it easier to thank Him for the "good things" in life: food, clothing, health, home, family, productive work, and the occasional moment of sudden and extravagant blessing. But suppose the "sudden and extravagant" happening isn't an obvious blessing at all, but seeming catastrophe, as happened to Job? Or suppose we have to live without some of the basic blessings of life? Can an ordinary Christian maintain faith in the face of chronic and painful illness, months of unemployment, or continuing singleness among happily married friends? Job may have been able to say, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised" (Job 1:21, NIV) after being informed his family and fortune had been wiped out; and Paul may have "delighted" in his suffering "for Christ's sake" (2 Cor. 12:7-10); but is it really fair to expect us "only human" types to react like the supersaints?

Actually, Job and Paul were "only human" men (indeed, reading the 2 Corinthians passage in context makes it clear that one purpose of Paul's suffering was to remind him he was only human) who had learned--and through a fair amount of complaining and begging for things to get "better"--that God always knows best. God doesn't deprive His children of the obvious "good" because He enjoys seeing them suffer, nor even always to punish them for doing wrong. His desired best for each of us is not that we would live out our lives in shallow "happiness" unmarred by pain, but that we would find the deeper happiness which can only be attained through the Christlikeness found in total submission to God. Even when we can see no possible way that what is happening to us could serve any good purpose, we can trust that God, Who knows everything, sees it as ultimately the best thing for our lives.

Life has often seemed hard to bear:
How often have I longed for sunshine,
While it continued to rain?
How often have I screamed at heaven,
"Lord, don't You even care?"
Yet as I grow, the time has come
When I can say: Lord, thank You for the pain.

Life has often been a struggle:
How often have I longed for riches,
Yet seen poverty remain?
How often have I screamed at heaven,
"Lord, why all this trouble?"
Yet as I increase in wisdom,
I can even say: Lord, thank You for the pain.

Thank You, Lord, for Your denials;
Thank You even for the hardest times,
Even for the stress and strain.
My Lord, great God of earth and heaven,
Who shines forth through trials,
From Whom come all growth and wisdom,
I can know Your greatest blessings through the pain.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Thanksgiving's coming this Thursday means at least two things--counting blessings and a three-day work week. With that in mind, this week's blogs will consist of three poems on the subject of thankfulness.

Or unthankfulness. There's an epidemic of the latter going around. If you're a parent, you've seen it firsthand:

"You don't really love me," wails the preschooler given only two cookies.

"You never pay attention to what I want," grumbles the ten-year-old served a healthy home-cooked meal instead of carry-out pizza.

"I have to do all the work around here," storms the middle schooler asked to personally put away the clothes Mom spent two hours washing.

"You treat me like a baby," growls the sixteen-year-old informed he is not going to join his friend on a two-month adventure hitchhiking across the country.

We "adults" roll our eyes at such childish selfishness--but we're not all that much more mature. We grumble because we can't dine on filet mignon every night, instead of being thankful we have more than enough to eat. We complain about computer hassles and forget to appreciate all the benefits of having computers at all. However much we earn, we want more money. If our plans hit the tiniest delay, we fume and sulk. Even among Christians, it's the rare exception who can adopt Paul's attitude of being content at all times and considering food and clothing adequate for life's needs (Philippians 4:11-12; 1 Timothy 6:8).

And it rarely occurs to us, as we nurture our dreams of having everything we want with never a problem, that our complaining is in effect a claim to know better than God.

Human nature is never ever satisfied:
The one forbidden fruit is the one we eat.
If God gives us water then we ask for wine;
If He gives us manna then we just want meat.

Human nature is cursed with a deep discontent:
If it lives in a house then it wants to have a castle.
If it lives in a castle it complains about the rent,
And the fact that all the cleaning and the drafts are a hassle.

Human nature never lets well enough alone:
If it has food and clothing then it wants to have a car.
If it does have a car then it's sure to moan and groan
About gasoline prices and how high they always are.

Human nature never sees itself as rich, just poor:
If it has ten thousand dollars then it wants to have a million.
If it has a hundred million then it still wants more,
And it moans because its assets fall short of a billion.

Human nature thinks that it could do better than God does
At choosing when the sun shines and when it should be raining.
We should be very grateful that He doesn't trade with us,
Or we'd be stuck with listening to all the complaining!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Sometimes God Speaks in the Thunder

Many of us complain "God never speaks to me" because we're hoping for burning bushes, or audible words from heaven, or at least inner voices so clear we couldn't possibly mistake them. Perhaps I should say we're half hoping for something unmistakable--most of us also hope that anything God does say will be something we want to hear. If He wants to assure us we'll be healthy and wealthy all our lives, fine; but if we suspect He's telling us to walk away from ungodly habits or destructive relationships we nonetheless love, we tend to avoid listening too carefully lest we actually have to make the choice.

Regardless, God does speak to us in various ways. The natural world testifies to His power and love of beauty. Our own consciences warn us when we're wandering from His path. And the Bible--not to mention the advice of discerning Christian friends--gives us His definite and unmistakable principles for living. If we ignore His voice in these basic things, we have no right to complain when He declines to shout in our faces (not that we'd likely enjoy it so much if He did). One has to learn a language before holding a conversation in it!

The important question is not, "Is God speaking to me?" but "Am I listening to God?"

Sometimes God speaks in the thunder,
Sometimes in the roar of the sea,
Sometimes in the wail of the wolf or the loon,
For a mighty God is He.

Sometimes God speaks in a whisper,
In the buzz of the hummingbird,
In a breeze whose breath barely rustles the grass,
When His still small voice is heard.

Whether He speaks loud or softly,
He has something to say to all:
So through all your days and with all of your heart,
Keep your ear tuned to His call!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Here Am I

I wonder exactly what emotions went through Isaiah's head as he said, "Here am I. Send me" (Is. 6:8). Awe and humility, certainly; after all, he had seen a vision of God's glory that made clear his own insignificance and sinfulness. Gratitude, likely; God had told him that, unworthy as he was, his sin was atoned for (vs. 5-7). Fear, even reluctance, perhaps? He knew a big and probably dangerous job lay ahead of him in prophesying to a sinful nation; and it could have done little to boost his confidence when God warned him that his work would accomplish little in the immediate sense (vs. 9-13). And who knows what plans and dreams of his own Isaiah had to put aside to follow God's leading?

All of us face similar mixed feelings when God shows us His mission for our lives. We are honored, even thrilled, that the Maker of the Universe wants to use such insignificant people as ourselves to do His work. But we are also tempted to panic and run away, as we realize what full submission will mean. Do we really want to surrender all rights to plan our own lives? What if God asks us to give up our hopes of wealth, our favorite earthly blessings, the support of those we love? What if He wants us to give all our possessions to charity, to become missionaries in alien cultures, to suffer imprisonment or martyrdom? Total commitment is never an easy thing.

Some 25 centuries after Isaiah, Fanny Crosby used his words in the chorus to one of her gospel hymns (click here for one sample of the lyrics). I have done the same in this poem, which attempts to capture the emotions involved in the struggle for full surrender.

"Lord, here am I"--let me answer Your call,
Willing and ready to give You my all,
Ready to give You possessions and time,
Set to surrender all things I called mine.

"Lord, here am I"--although trembling with fear,
Longing, yet dreading, to have You draw near,
Weak and still tempted by things of this life:
Show what needs cutting, and bring forth the knife.

"Lord, here am I"--take control of my will,
Lift up my vision, and help me be still;
Speak, for Your servant is longing to hear:
Open my eyes, Lord, and sharpen my ear.

"Lord, here am I"--tear all else from my grasp,
All that would bind me, and all I would clasp,
All that might hinder devotion to You,
All that would keep me from what I must do.

"Lord, here am I"--let me yield to Your way;
Take me, and send me, and use me, I pray:
Use even one as unworthy as I,
Willing to suffer, and even to die.

"Lord, here am I"--guide me all of my days,
Working in all things to win You the praise;
Keep me from pride, till I stand in Your light
In that last morning when faith turns to sight.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I woke up this morning with what feels like the start of a bad cold: stuffy head, queasy stomach, fatigue, scratchy throat. I probably had advance warning in that my gums and teeth were sensitive for a couple of days previous, which I had attributed to an early surge of monthly hormones. Though, being a natural paranoiac, I tend to imagine far worse causes for every discomfort--and to compensate by ignoring any impulse for off-schedule medical visits. I can only pray that should something ever go seriously wrong, the pain will be bad enough to make the problem obvious, preferably before any real damage is done. Especially now that I'm approaching 40 and will probably have to adjust to some increase in everyday aches and pains.

Certainly I have little to complain about compared with what some people endure on a regular basis. There are many for whom physical agony is an hourly companion and the best medical treatment can do little. Others suffer emotional pain that is no less severe and chronic: loneliness; abandonment; guilt; deep depression. Then there are those who live under the constant pain of discouragement from daily circumstances that seem dedicated to making them miserable. Paul was well experienced with this kind of pain when he wrote, "We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life" (2 Corinthians 1:8, NIV).

Pain is among the things from which God has promised to free us in heaven (Revelation 21:4). But until then, suffering remains a part of life. The good news is we don't have to cope with it on our own; the God Who will eventually eliminate all pain will also stand by us now to walk us through it.

Pain can wrack
The mortal body
Till it seems
More than one can bear:
Till to move
Itself seems hopeless,
No strength left
To breathe a prayer:
Put your trust
In the Great Physician
At Whose word
All fevers fled:
For relief
Or strength to bear it,
Look to Him
Who can raise the dead.

Pain can wrack
An aching spirit
Till the heart
Has no will to fight:
Till the tears
Leave all sight blinded,
No strength left
To search for light:
Put your trust
In the Man of Sorrows
Who shed tears
For earthly pain:
Cry to Him,
He will support you;
Look to Him
Whose words stopped the rain.

Pain of guilt
Can wrack the conscience
Till the soul
Has no strength to hope,
Till our sin
And all its burdens
Bind us down
Like thickest rope:
Put your trust
In the One Who suffered,
Paid the price
For you and me:
Trust in Him;
He will forgive you;
Look to Him
Who sets sinners free.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

How Many Times?

If today's entry reminds you of the 1960s song "Blowin' in the Wind," it's because the song provided the first stirrings of inspiration for the poem. I like folk music (along with plenty of similar styles, from hymns to contemporary praise), and would be writing songs as well as poetry except that my musical talent stops at the ability to hear melodies in my head! So from time to time, this blog will feature "songs without music"--and if anyone wants to volunteer for the job of composer, please write me.

We all are confronted daily with the sad state of the world--yet few of us truly "let our hearts be broken with the things that break the heart of God," as the founder of World Vision put it. More often we moan about how hard it is to be a Christian today and how we wish God would do something about all the pain and heartache; and often our own complaints drown out the sound of His voice telling us to go and be part of the solution. If we are not doing the Lord's work in some way, however small--or if we are harboring bitter attitudes toward those whose sin interferes with our desire to live in peace and comfort--we are contributing far more to the problem.

How many times must the world turn around
Before people learn to do right?
How many wars must be fought on this earth
Before we stop worshiping might?
How many tears must be shed for the dead
Before we all tire of the pain?
And how many times,
Yes, how many times,
Oh, Lord, how many times
Must we see what hate does
Before we realize,
Realize once and for all,
That nothing is there to be gained?

How many lives must be lost to the rage
That claims to be fighting for good?
How many souls must this world sacrifice
In the name of each "ism" and "should"?
How many faces must swell from the blows
Of people protecting each cheek?
And how many more,
Yes, how many more,
Oh, Lord, how many more,
How many more years,
How many long years,
Must the world bear such pain
Before it is passed to the meek?

How many times can a person ask "Why?"
And never say, "Lord, please send me"?
How many times can a heart nearly break,
Yet never renounce apathy?
How many years have I mourned for this world,
Yet which of its tears have I dried?
Lord, pardon my sin,
Yes, pardon my sin,
Oh, Lord, pardon my sin,
And give legs to my heart,
That my feet may step out,
That my feet and my hands
Reach out to those for whom You died.

Monday, November 12, 2007


Yesterday--November 11--the United States observed Veterans' Day, honoring former members of the Armed Forces. November 11 is also Armistice Day, the anniversary of the end of World War I. People throughout history have celebrated the ends of wars; few have ever celebrated a war's beginning. While some soldiers enjoy battle for battle's sake, the vast majority--certainly those on the winning side--are happiest when the war is finally over.

The Christian life is a constant spiritual war against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Everything we do, from our daily work to the thoughts we think, is a battle to overcome our own self-centeredness and mold us in the image of Christ. Even with the encouraging certainty of being on the winning side, sometimes we feel the overwhelming need to rest from the fighting. There's nothing lazy or sinful about this, unless our definition of "rest" is "take a break from God and be selfish for a while." Sometimes we are so afraid of this attitude--or of leaving something vital undone--that we stick to work as if we doubted God could run the universe for five minutes without our help.

If we instead stop to refresh ourselves spiritually, putting aside everyday doing and concentrating on getting to know God better, that kind of rest is not only permissible; it's commanded. God knows that, until the battle of life is over and we enter into the perfect rest where work and worship are the same, we need regular short rests to stay effective. Besides being Veterans' Day and Armistice Day, yesterday was Sunday, the traditional "day of rest" for Christians. Did you take time to refresh yourself for the next battle?

As the Lord rested from His labor
On the seventh day of time,
He calls us to rest from our duties
For a day of worship sublime.
He gives us each day that we spend here:
Is it so very much to ask
That we give Him back one out of seven,
When we set aside every task?

As the Lord gave rest to His people
When they entered the Promised Land,
He offers us rest from our struggles
When we yield our wills to His hand.
However exhausting the journey,
Whatever the bumps in the road,
He gives us the strength for our marches
And He helps us to bear the load.

As the Lord sat down by His Father
When His work on this earth was done,
He welcomes us home to His Kingdom
When our earthly battles are won.
The rest that He gives is eternal,
The peace that He brings never dies:
Let us give all our days to His service
That we may find where true rest lies.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Deadly Weapons

I'm hardly the first to observe that the playground chant, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me," is only true insofar as it refers to direct physical injury. If words were completely harmless, there'd be no need for the verse! Not only does it take exceptional self-confidence to remain truly unfazed by vicious mockery or angry accusations, but words can cause real physical harm indirectly, when they damage a person's reputation or incite listeners to hatred.

It's particularly sad when those who claim to represent nonviolence fling brutal invectives at their opponents. Even Christians ignore the "hate sin but love the sinner" principle and freely label others as "perverts," "heretics," "baby killers," "corrupters of our children and nation." Perhaps we deserve it when those on the receiving end of such talk retaliate by calling us "hypocrites."

The Bible has a good deal to say about the power of words, but particularly relevant here is Peter's admonition that we should speak even to our enemies "with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). Victory through nonviolence is the unique mark of the Christlike soul.

Sharper than the knife that slashes,
Tearing flesh and joint apart,
Is the tongue that sneers and slanders,
Cutting through a breaking heart.

Harder than the fastest bullet,
Speeding toward the point of death,
Is the insult flung in anger,
Fiery as a dragon's breath.

Stronger than a hundred lashes,
When it comes to causing pain,
Stronger than a club or hammer,
Is the jeering taunt's refrain.

You who march to end all warfare,
You, who gas and guns oppose,
Do you think to watch the weapon
That is fixed beneath your nose?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Pure and Holy in His Sight

Are you a good person? Most of us are inclined to say "yes" at first impulse, but--if encouraged to stop and think--we become considerably less certain. Chances are you love your family, have never murdered anyone or even picked a pocket, and do "good deeds" on a fairly regular basis. That's the world's basic definition of a "good person"--someone who never does anything obviously evil and who has a fair amount of compassion for others.

Still, when we look closely at ourselves, we have to admit we aren't as "good" as we want to be. We get angry without cause; we ignore others' needs for the sake of our own selfish desires; we turn immature and petty when we don't get our own way. And ironically, those people who are "best" by human standards are usually most aware of their failings, while the most blatantly evil rarely feel guilt or shame.

The bad news is that even the slightest taint--a single sinful attitude or thoughtless act--is sufficient evil to bar us from the presence of a holy God, Whose very nature can tolerate the presence of no impurity. But that fact is what makes the good news so good--not only in that we no longer have to worry about "qualifying" for heaven, but in that Christ loved us enough to meet the qualifications on our behalf and to take the full punishment we deserved. That was no casual "glad to do my pals a favor" love--it was akin to a person's willingly becoming a cockroach, joining the other insects for months of crawling through dirt and eating garbage, and finally taking the exterminator's poison on their behalf. It was an act of compassion and courage deeper than any human mind can fully conceive--and it was all so we might be reconciled to God forever.

Loved while we were lost in sin,
Saved by blood of sinless Man,
Changed from enemies to friends,
Chose before the world began,
We are cleansed and pure in Christ,
Crimson sins bleached snowy white,
Made the apple of God's eyes,
Pure and holy in His sight.

We are stones that build His home,
We are priests within His care;
None of us can stand alone;
All of us are welcome there.
Servants joyful in His tasks,
Called into His glorious light,
To accomplish all He asks,
Pure and holy in His sight.

All of earth shall one day end,
Sun and stars shall cease to be:
By our gracious heavenly Friend,
We shall live forever free,
Crowned with greatest of rewards,
In a world forever bright
With the glory of our Lord,
Pure and holy in His sight.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Never Doubt in the Darkness

"Never doubt in the darkness what God has shown you in the light," said Dr. V. Raymond Edman, former Chancellor of Wheaton College (IL). Christians are not immune from discouragement, depression, or even despair. Nor are such feelings necessarily confined to brief periods; many serious believers have been mired in emotional darkness for months or years. During such a "dark night of the soul" (the term used by sixteenth-century mystic St. John of the Cross), the Christian can only cling to faith with the will, for the emotions have already given up the fight. Usually, however, the feelings eventually return, and faith is left stronger than ever.

Those currently walking "in full light" should stay constantly in touch with God and learn to know Him well, lest when the darkness strikes they be caught unarmed and unprepared.

When the world grows dark around you,
When your faith is besieged from each side,
When your life drowns in trouble and sorrow
And there's no place on earth you can hide,
You may weep till your eyes are empty,
You may feel true despair for the right:
But you must not doubt in the darkness
What God told you when it was light.

When your soul grows dark inside you,
When the sunshine seems blacker than death,
When your joy flees without any reason
And you see no point taking a breath,
You may not feel God beside you,
You may mourn for the days that were bright:
But you must not doubt in the darkness
What God told you when it was light.

For we all have times of trouble,
We all have our dark nights of the soul,
The saintliest life knows keen sorrow,
And the joys of earth never are whole.
But stand firm till your days are ended,
Till your soul to the heavens takes flight,
To a place ever free from darkness,
To the place of eternal Light!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Graven Image

Isaiah 44:9-20, among other Bible passages, mocks the foolishness of people who build statues they call "gods" and imagine that the creation has the power to save its creator. While few of us today are tempted to literally bow before wooden images, we still worship idols of human making when we expect financial security, health and beauty, or our own careful plans for the future to solve all our problems.

My own prize false gods are called Completion and According to Plan. They assert themselves every time I grumble at an interruption, tense up at a Page Not Found message, turn frantic at the idea of scrapping a project, or rate a lunch meeting as "awful" because it failed to serve dessert. And these idols are particularly hard to get rid of because I can't burn them in the fire or throw them in the garbage--they're attitudes, without physical substance, solidly rooted in the heart.

Of course, all idolatry, even that which takes worldly form as a wooden statue, has its roots in the heart. And usually the first step in uprooting false gods is realizing how ridiculous they are.

My To Do list's an idol;
I graved it with my hand.
I set it in a sacred book
And put it on a stand.
I looked to it to save me
From smallest waste of time:
So much was written careless,
But all of it is mine.

My god demands obedience;
All tasks must be complete,
With no room for exceptions
Or technical defeat.
The phone may ring with Maydays,
Computer blow a fuse,
The house burn down around me--
My list brooks no excuse.

I scheduled every second;
I left no moment free.
I thought this thing my servant,
But now it's ruling me!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Up Above

When circumstances are uniformly discouraging--whether in the brief disappointment of seeing it rain on a Saturday picnic, the temporary but heavy pain of having to cancel a much-anticipated trip, or the long-term stress of trying to find an elusive job before the savings run out--it's easy to convince ourselves that the pain is the sum of our lives. We expand minor frustrations into proof that nothing ever goes right, and hard times into the firm conviction that things will never get better. And we forget that God works all things together for our good; or we tell Him flat out that we prefer the temporary and obvious good which we could at least enjoy right away. It's hard to appreciate the character that hard times will eventually build, when we're stuck slogging through those hard times minute by minute. Still, complaining doesn't do anything except add to the misery.

As the old saying goes, "When the outlook is bad, try the uplook." Better yet, ask God to give you some of His "up above" perspective and teach you to look down on circumstances.

When the air is dark and the rain pours down,
Still the sky is not truly gray,
For it still shines blue high above the clouds:
Up above is a sunny day.

When the air hangs hot on the valley floor,
The humidity high and cruel,
On the mountain peak you can see afar,
Up above all is fresh and cool.

When the pain of life is a two-ton load
And the weight seems too much to bear,
Raise your cry to God and He'll lift your soul
Up above on the wings of prayer.