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.