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.

Friday, November 2, 2007

You Who Have Ears

Fifteen times in the Gospels and Revelation, Jesus is recorded as saying, "Let anyone who has ears listen" or something similar. The world is full of people--including, unfortunately, some serious Christians--who have perfect physical hearing but are spiritually deaf because they refuse to listen to what God is saying to them. Likewise, many people with 20/20 vision are willfully blind to the obvious. Until we fully humble ourselves and give everything we have to the goal of knowing God, we will accomplish very little significant to His ultimate goal--the building of His Kingdom and the saving of souls for His eternal glory.

You who have ears, open them and listen:
Turn to the Lord and turn from sin;
Sure as the stars in the heavens glisten,
He will revive you from within.

You who have eyes, look to what God shows you:
Watch for His guidance all your days;
Trust in the One Who most truly knows you;
He is the One Whom all will praise.

You who have lips, make them worship's portals:
Lift up your songs in praise of He
Who formed the earth and the souls of mortals;
Only His servants are truly free.

You who have souls, trust them to the Father:
And when the days of earth are past,
And the last chapter closed by the Author,
All shall be well for all time at last.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Blessed Burden

The burden God would have His followers carry is light in weight (Mt. 11:30), yet many of us are struggling under impossibly heavy loads of "duty." We look at the total volume of needs in the church, the Christian family, and the world; and we feel guilty about every cause we neglect to give to, every problem we fail to pray for, and every church committee we decline to join. There is only one Savior of the whole world, so doesn't it make more sense to ask Him how much of the total load we should carry?

Lord, give me a burden;
Lord, speak to my heart.
Show me where I'm needed;
Show me where to start.
For the world is so full of problems,
The world is so full of needs;
To pray for each of them daily
Would leave no time for good deeds.

Lord, give me a burden;
Lord, work in my soul.
Help me find a focus,
Tuned in to Your control.
For I feel so much compassion
For every cry that I hear,
I may burn out from the pressure,
No power left to interfere.

Lord, give me a burden;
Lord, order my days.
Point me where You want me,
A tool for Your praise.
For to do all is disaster,
And to do none is a sin;
So place me now where You want me,
Some part of Your world to win.