Thursday, August 28, 2008

Just Another Face in the Crowd

How often do you feel like "just another face in the crowd"--as if the vast majority of humanity couldn't care less about your hopes, dreams, and worries? Have you ever been tempted to stand on a corner and scream, "Can't anybody see that I matter?"

One of the most beautiful elements of Jesus's ministry was the way He singled out those "faces in the crowd" to assure them they did matter. Often they themselves were so convinced otherwise that the most they expected was some token benefit. The woman who touched His cloak never expected that He would not only heal her, but stop to give her His full attention and His blessing--and that while He was being hurried on the way to heal someone from a more "important" family. Zacchaeus hoped only for a passing glimpse of Jesus; he got a full day's worth of personal attention and a promise of salvation.

It's the same for all of us. No matter what others think of us--no matter what we have done or not done--God finds us worthy of His attention.

Just another face,
She was just another face in the crowd,
A face alone and rejected,
Suffering and neglected,
Until the day
She saw the Lord was coming--
Oh, the crowd was humming--
Coming her way.
She only meant to touch Him quickly--
She, so poor and sickly--
And fade back into the crowd.
But He stopped: "Who did it?"
Though at first she hid it,
Yet His eyes kept seeking,
Till He saw her peeking,
Peeking out through the crowd.
She stepped forth, confessing,
And He smiled that day,
And with words of blessing,
He sent her on her way,
No longer just another face in the crowd.

Just another face,
He was just another face in the crowd,
A face scorned and hated,
Rich and yet frustrated,
Until the day
He heard the Lord was coming--
Oh, the crowd was humming--
Coming his way.
He only meant to snatch a quick peek--
He, so small and so weak--
When he climbed above the crowd.
Jesus stopped: "Come down, friend";
Others gaped to no end,
But the Lord said, "This day,
I will show you the Way,"
And they walked through the crowd.
That day they shared dinner,
And salvation came
To a former sinner,
Now washed clean from all blame,
No longer just another face in the crowd.

Just another face,
I was just another face in the crowd,
A face lost and lonely,
And despairing only,
Until the day
I heard the Lord came for me--
That He could adore me--
He Who was the Way.
I only asked for one thing--
Me, so close to nothing--
To be a part of Heaven's crowd.
But He gazed upon me,
His whole view full on me,
And He told me, "Listen"--
How my eyes did glisten--
"I know each of 'the crowd,'
Each a special person.
I have work for you--
A task strong and certain
None but you can do;
You are not just another face in the crowd."

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

His Ways Are Not Our Ways

"'My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts'" (Is. 55:8-9, NIV). This passage is fairly well-known, but those who use the verses-stand-alone approach to memorizing Scripture may not realize that the full context of Isaiah 55 focuses on abundant blessings, prosperity, and hope. "God's purposes are higher than ours" is not a truth to be used solely in attempts (which are rarely all that successful anyway) to comfort those who are reeling from tragedy. Even more should we remember it when tempted to wonder why God accepts the undeserving, keeps after the stubborn, blesses the repentant-but-still-ragged, and thinks in terms of restoration before restitution. We should be glad He doesn't work on the merit system, since none of us "deserves" anything good from Him!

Of course, when disaster has struck, when it seems we have plenty to worry about, or even when we're just tempted to curse our "bad luck" over some everyday annoyance, we do need to remind ourselves that "God knows best and we don't." But even that is better handled with a focus on abundant blessings. A resigned "I guess I'll have to trust God" attitude tends to lead to glum stoicism.

But focusing on the positive--all we still have, and all God has yet promised--is the key to true joy.

God does not condone disorder--
Neither is He neat and tidy.
Though He lets us make our messes,
Do not doubt that He is mighty.

God is never in a hustle--
Never late, yet never early.
Though your soul may grow impatient,
Do not nag at Him to hurry.

We are foolish, as mere mortals,
To believe that we know better;
Though our Lord made all Creation,
We would keep Him on a fetter.

Even time is His creation:
He sees all the days of history
All as part of one great picture:
Future holds no trace of mystery.

Trust your Lord; allow no worry
To distract you, nor life's testing.
You need never feel abandoned;
God is working a great blessing!

Monday, August 25, 2008

God's Faithfulness Spans the Horizons

There are no "missing persons" as far as God is concerned; He knows where every one of us is at every moment. That's good news when we feel totally alone and as if no one cares.

It doesn't seem so good when we're dealing with guilt or wanting to do things our own way. It's impossible to hide from God, however much we'd like to. Adam learned that after he ate the forbidden fruit. Jonah learned it when he tried to dodge his duty. David had it brought home when confronted with a sin he'd tried to cover up.

I wonder if it was before or after that incident that David penned Psalm 139: "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.... If I say, 'Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,' even the darkness will not be dark to you" (verses 7-8, 11-12, NIV). I'd like to think David wrote those words after his repentance, that the experience brought home to him in a new way that God's knowing everything we do--even our sins--is really a blessing. If God were weak enough for us to hoodwink, He likely would also be too weak to catch us before one sin led to another and another, or to help us resist temptation (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13). If He didn't really care what we did, He would be like the weak parent who doesn't love her child enough to teach him self-discipline. Because God is always watching us--and because He cares enough to forgive us, though He would be fully justified in writing us off--He is always ready to help us on a moment's notice.

All we have to do is ask.

God's faithfulness spans the horizons:
If I could run to the dawn,
Even to the far side of the moon,
God's caring eye would look on.

God's love is as high as the heavens:
If I could soar to the sky,
Even fly beyond the Milky Way,
God's love would remain close by.

God's justice is grand as the mountains:
If I could climb to a star,
Or rest on top of Olympus Mons,
God's love never would be far.

God's truth is as deep as the ocean:
If I swam to some far shore,
Faithful Love and True would hold my hand--
How could I dare ask for more!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Every Piece Is Part of the Puzzle

I enjoy jigsaw puzzles, though a big one can give you occasional moments of wondering whether the picture will ever be recognizable--or if all the pieces are really there. Nearly always, on a puzzle of 1,000 pieces or more, I have at least one moment where a section is finished except for a single missing piece; all unfitted pieces are laid out in plain sight with not one seeming the right shape and color for the hole; and I become firmly convinced that whoever packaged the puzzle must have left that one piece out.

Almost invariably, one of the odd pieces turns out to fit after all, which is always a relief. Uglier far than a half-finished puzzle is a "finished" one that has lost one or two of its pieces. There's something about that tiny hole that draws the eye, that shouts, "Something vital is missing.... Something vital is missing!"

If missing pieces are rare, at least in new puzzles, almost unheard of (except with a few novelty manufacturers whose customers like things really challenging) is a puzzle with extra pieces. I have, of course, on occasion found myself staring at a piece that, by itself, doesn't seem to remotely match any section of the picture on the box; but I have never finished a puzzle and found I had pieces left over. Ninety-nine out of a hundred jigsaw puzzles come out of their boxes with exactly the right number of pieces: not too few, not too many.

If we can trust human, fallible manufacturers to give us the right number of pieces for perishable toys, isn't it foolish when we treat human beings--the creations of an infallible God Who uses everything to accomplish His ultimate purpose (cf. Rom. 8:28)--as though they were superficial or dispensable?

Every piece is part of the puzzle,
Though mere blotches when seen alone:
When the picture is put together,
Any gap is a cause to groan.

Every thread is part of the garment:
Any missing strand leaves a hole
That exposes a fatal weakness
And can soon the whole thing unroll.

Every brick is part of the building:
Every part gives strength to all;
Every rivet helps hold up the structure
And ensure that it will not fall.

Every act is part of a lifetime
Made of small works false or true,
And the God Who gives us all our talents
Will judge all by the good they do.

Each saved soul is part of God's family--
Old and young, black, white, rich, poor--
All have places to fill in His service,
All will enter in Christ's own door.

You are only part of God's picture,
Though vital--so hear His call,
And despise not a one of your brothers,
Nor yourself: Christ has place for all.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Each Human Heart Holds a Candle

"There is a candle in every soul," begins the popular Christian song Go Light Your World. "God is light; in him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5); and humans, made in His image, each carry a bit of that light within us. Those of us who know Him personally have the added privilege of being the light to others (cf. Mt. 5:14-16), though, like the full moon, we only shine because we're reflecting a greater Light Source.

Many people--including not a few who call themselves Christians--have built up walls of darkness around their own hearts. The bricks that make up those walls may be past grudges, present worries, future ambitions, or any number of things; what they all have in common is that they take our minds off God and convince us that our earthly concerns are more important. Once we get in the habit of thinking negative thoughts, they start to feel like old friends. We think they're protecting our hearts from pain, when in reality they're hiding God's image in us even from ourselves.

If that sounds like you, it's time to start feeding the flames of your inner light so they can grow strong enough to pierce the darkness. And the place to go for more fire is the True Light, through His earthly manifestations: prayer, the Scriptures, and the spiritual support of fellow believers. Don't expect to go from spark to blaze in five minutes; rekindling holy zeal tends to be more like the old friction method of starting a fire than like flipping an electric switch. It can be exhausting and painful.

But not as painful as continuing to sit in darkness.

Each human heart holds a candle
Lit up by God's holy fire;
Some people burn bright and steady,
Their flames climbing ever higher.
But some are desperately sputtering,
And some a faint ashy glow,
And some seem blown out completely--
The darkness is all that they know.

True fire alone lights a candle
And makes it burn bright once more,
And few are kindled by lightning
That strikes with a thundrous roar:
The fire from a match is more likely,
Or another lit candle's flame;
Friend, share your fire with your brothers,
And those who know not the Lord's name.

Each Christian heart holds a candle
God kindled to light the way
Of wandering souls to His Kingdom,
The world of the endless Day.
So dip your own flame to the candle
Your neighbor holds, seeking light;
Pass flame from candle to candle
Until the whole world burns bright!

Thursday, August 21, 2008


In the nineteenth century, Thomas Bailey Aldrich wrote a short verse entitled "Maple Leaves":

October turned my maple's leaves to gold;
The most are gone now; here and there one lingers:
Soon these will slip from out the twigs' weak hold,
Like coins between a dying miser's fingers.

We can't take any of our possessions with us when our bodies finally give up the ghost. But even while we remain very much alive physically, we kill a bit of our spiritual effectiveness every time we balk at God's directing us to let go of something earthly. And that can happen to very mature Christians as well as to "baby believers."

One reason few of us are immune is that only occasionally does Jesus ask a new or potential convert to throw aside a vast accumulation of earthly attachments immediately and all at once. Occasionally, He does tell someone to "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor" (Mk. 10:21, NIV, emphasis added). But more often He guides us along the path to spiritual maturity like a coach training someone for a marathon with longer and longer runs. First, He directs us to give up the more obvious sins: sexual immorality, dishonesty, bitterness, taking advantage of others. Once we're in fairly good shape there, He shows us the little areas where we didn't really think we needed improvement: that old grudge we almost forgot but never let go of completely; that annoying person we don't particularly want to love; opportunities to serve where we were always too proud or too busy. Many a Christian's spiritual growth stalls right there.

If we keep on, we find ourselves being hit in the really deep, painful areas. Almost everyone who seriously wants to become the most effective Christian possible will sooner or later be called to "take a break" from some much-loved activity, harmless and wholesome in itself, and use that time to concentrate more fully on God. Our Lord's purpose there is not, as some people think, to forever keep us from the "sin" of having fun. Rather, He wants us to fully appreciate that He will tolerate no rivals for first place in our lives--that only by wholly cutting the emotional bonds that tell us there are still a few earthly things we can't live without, can we come to appreciate that God is all we need, and more than sufficient for our needs.

If we absolutely refuse to let go of the things we count on, He may forcibly remove them for our own good. Sometimes in nature, a few leaves hang on all winter and are only dislodged by new growth literally pushing them off. The human counterpart to that process can be extremely painful.

But when we see the beauty of fresh new leaves replacing dead brown ones, few can doubt that God knows best.

The leaves of our tree turned brown last fall,
And most fell free as the cold grew sharp,
To cover the earth in a blanket of brown,
And feed the soil till the spring's first spark.

A few of the leaves clung to their twigs;
Though dead and shriveled, they held their grip,
Mere pale reminders of the green days now past,
Pathetically rustling as months did slip.

Then came the bright warmth of spring's first rays,
And fresh new buds pushed out from beneath,
And the dead winter leaves dropped away at last,
Like baby teeth clearing for grown-up teeth.

We all cling tight to some things long dead,
Regrets of what can bring joy no more:
But when death is swallowed in our Lord's new life,
All old bonds are left outside Heaven's door.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Glorious Light

Last week, my dentist introduced me to a new form of oral cancer screening that utilizes ultraviolet light. Apparently the process notes facial skin cancers as well, because I was advised to use more sunscreen on my chin.

I can vaguely remember when a suntan was considered high fashion. Today, the fear of long-term damage has become so pervasive that some commentators are starting to worry about people not getting enough sun. Our local star is a perfect example of the "happy medium" being essential: no life would endure long on this planet without the sun's warmth and photosynthesis; daylight carries a sense of security and cheerfulness usually absent at night; the sun even helps human bodies get a healthy supply of vitamin D--yet too much direct exposure causes serious burns and worse. A few unfortunate people are so sensitive to the sun that they need full protective suits to step outside even momentarily in daylight.

Our relationship with the sun isn't a bad metaphor for our relationship with God, Who "is light; in him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5, NIV). Like the suntan crowd of the mid-twentieth century, many people casually announce they want to absorb "spiritual experiences" like accessories, to dress life up a bit. "God is a consuming fire" (Dt. 4:24, Heb. 12:29) is not frequently-quoted Scripture these days; the tendency is to regard Him as an indulgent Father who just shrugs off "little" sins. In truth, direct contact with His absolute holiness is as deadly as a flame to dry tinder for any soul tainted with the slightest trace of selfishness. If we entered His presence in our natural condition, we'd be instantly fried.

Were the matter any less serious, Christ, our Atonement, would have suffered for nothing.

The sun,
The brightest light we know,
Brings warmth and health and life
To all earth's creatures.
Should it go out,
The world around would freeze; no plants would grow;
All living things would die
With frozen features.

The sun,
Essential to all life,
Can also be a source
Of deadly danger.
Too much of it,
And skin will blister, tumors become rife
And often even kill--
And, even stranger,

The sun,
Our source of much-loved light,
Will give us far too much
For straight-on staring.
Its brilliant fire,
So dazzling, unequivocally bright,
Destroys the human eye
Within its glaring.

Our God,
The Source of life and light--
He Whose own loving care
Gives all its essence--
His purity,
If it should touch on sin, however slight,
Would burn with deadly flame
Souls in His presence.

But Christ,
The Son of Man Who came
To bring us all God's Light--
A wondrous story--
Bore Justice-Wrath
To wash us mortals clean of all our shame,
So we could walk within
God's perfect glory.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Quick: who knows what the traditional prayer ending, "Amen," really means?

The answer in a moment, but first a bit of scholarship: The Jews prayed "Amen" centuries before Jesus's day (see, for example, Deuteronomy 27); and Muslims use a nearly identical Arabic word, "Amin," in worship. The New International Version of the Bible uses "Amen" in twenty-three verses of the Old Testament and twenty-nine of the Epistles and Revelation. Some translations use it in the Gospels as well, usually for words of Jesus that are rendered in other Bible versions as "I tell you the truth" or "Truly I say to you."

So does "Amen" mean "truthfully"? Keeping in mind that completely perfect translations from one language to another--at least any that can be fully expressed in less than a page--are virtually impossible for any word, "so be it" or "so be it, truly" is usually considered the closest English equivalent. But not "so be it" as in "my will be done" (as it might imply when used to close"gimme" lists disguised as prayers), nor "truly" as in "I know I am right." Jesus has the right to begin His pronouncements with "Amen" because He is all-knowing and all powerful; the best we can hope for is that our desires are in line with His.

Judging from the full list of NIV usages, the Scriptural precedent indicates we should say "Amen" mostly to express agreement with the will of God, or to acknowledge His justice, power, or some other divine quality. As such, the word should be spoken with a certain amount of awe and humility. Too often, we tack it mindlessly to the ends of prayers like a casual "see ya later."

The next time you pray, plan to say "Amen" like you mean it. It might make you more careful what you put in the rest of the prayer!

"Amen," let us pray: "So be it."
Your will, not our will, be done.
We trust You, Lord, and Your judgment;
We pledge our lives to Your Son.

"Amen," let us pray, "in Christ's Name."
Our Lord, Who knows what is best,
Works all things out for our blessing,
As we stand firm through each test.

"Amen," let us pray. Lord Jesus,
Keep us from flippancy when
We close our prayers to Your glory
With a great resounding Amen!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Always Learning

Sometimes I think public places should provide "non-television" sections, as they did "non-smoking" sections in the days before cigarettes were banished outdoors. Since the first generation to grow up eating in front of the television came of age, it's gotten harder and harder to find a restaurant where you can enjoy a leisurely meal without having CNN shoved in your face.

Not for nothing are the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries called the Information Age. When TV news runs 24/7; when we can get detailed reports on anything, anytime, via the Internet; when we're continually urged to keep up to date or risk seeing our businesses fail, our health deteriorate, and our appliances and gadgets turn into dinosaurs--it's no surprise that the "civilized" world swarms with information addicts who seem convinced their lives will end if they spend three days in nature without cell phone, laptop, and mini-library.

Many such people are perfect examples of Paul's remark regarding sinnners in the last days: "always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth" (2 Tim. 3:7, NIV). They stuff in all the information they can--as long as it informs them how to make a profit or otherwise benefit. They read dozens of books a year--but carefully choose books written by people who think like them. They observe and recall even the most objective of information in ways that reinforce their personal prejudices, noticing only the good examples among their own "kind" and the bad examples among the "enemy."

This is hardly a purely secular phenomenon; plenty of Christians use "they're sinners and we're saints" as an excuse to avoid considering that even enemies--even atheists--are sometimes right about where we need to change. Sadder yet is that many Christians spend more time reading newspapers than reading their Bibles, more time watching world news than praying for the world, more time learning how to advance their businesses than how to advance God's Kingdom.

The best way to keep from falling prey to the wrong kind of information addiction is to inoculate ourselves thoroughly with God-given information.

Ever since we took first breaths as infants,
We were constantly learning to live:
How to crawl; how to walk; conversation;
And good manners--"Say 'thanks.'" "Now forgive."

A bit older, we learned math and reading;
Ten years later, we learned how to drive;
As time passed, we learned trades, taxes, contracts--
We must learn all the days we're alive.

Yet so many let learning grow stagnant,
Till convinced that they know all they can,
And then cling to their own biased mindsets,
Or hold firm to some old stubborn plan.

There are those who believe their own thinking
Is as certain as words straight from God;
And they never admit faulty logic,
But scorn others as "sinful" or "odd."

As the lawyers who stood against Jesus,
So are many today whom we see:
They are sure in their quotes of God's Scripture,
But as far from Him as they can be.

So let us, lest we be found among them,
With hard hearts and a "love" cold and stern,
Not forget only God has all knowledge--
Let us never be too proud to learn!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Blessed Are Those Whose Hearts Are Pure

If you grew up in a Sunday school that took Bible memorization seriously, the Beatitudes were probably among the verses you learned early. "Blessed are the poor in spirit... the meek... the merciful... the pure in heart... the peacemakers." It sounds beautiful, but how many people really believe it? Thousands of church members recite that passage on Sunday and then go out to live the next six days according to the world's principles, which seem to be the exact opposite: "Blessed are those who demand their rights, who grab what they can, and who consider themselves the most important people in the world; for only they will get ahead in life."

For that matter, how many of us really consider what "blessed" means? Most of us think of it as meaning "healthy and wealthy." We say we are "blessed" with loving families or "blessed" to get money when we need it; but who ever says, "God blessed us with cancer" or "with bankruptcy"? But Jesus could hardly have been promising a "health and wealth" blessing, since in verse 11 He says, "Blessed are you when people... persecute you," which presumably includes the inflicting of financial and physical damage. Another definition of "blessed"--"worthy of worship"--is even less likely to be what He meant, because the Bible repeatedly emphasizes that only God is worthy of worship; the rest of us don't even come remotely close!

So what does Jesus mean when He says we are "blessed" if we prove compassionate, patient, and willing to suffer for God's honor? Simply that those who live such lives are Christlike and especially close to God, and as such, enjoy His favor and goodwill. Where we usually get into trouble is in trying to dictate to Him precisely how we want to be favored, an attitude which in itself indicates we are slipping away from Beatitude living. If we aren't careful, we can quickly start behaving like the four-year-old who failed to get a motorbike for Christmas and railed against Santa Claus: "I paid for it! I was good for two whole weeks!!!"

If we really wanted to "pay for" God's blessing, we would have to live up to the Beatitudes perfectly and completely every moment of our lives. If you know yourself half as well as I know myself, your probable reaction to that was "then it's no use even trying." You're right; in our own strength, we wouldn't last fifteen minutes. Knowing that should make us appreciate how helpless we are without Christ, and how generous He is to give us His strength to help us "grow into" Beatitude living. Many, perhaps all, of the events we consider anything but "blessings" are His tools for perfecting us.

The reason the process is so rough is that we're a lot further from perfect than we suspect. Just as most teenagers want to "grow up" just enough to drive and set their own curfews--but not so much as to cook their own meals and work for a living--most Christians just wanted to get rid of the habits that initially made us feel guilty, and we balk when we get past the obvious and God keeps calling our attention to additional imperfections. We think that "honest and hardworking and loving those who love you" is good enough for Heaven.

He loves us too much to leave us half-finished.

Blessed are those whose hearts are pure,
Who allow no wrong thought in the mind;
It is they whose faith will prove strong and sure,
And their God they will surely find.

Blessed are those whose faith is strong,
Who look doubt in the eye and who say,
"Though my flesh so easily steers me wrong,
By God's grace I will find His way."

Blessed are those whose hope is set
On the One Who for love gave His all:
When the world is dark, His own light shines yet;
He will not let His children fall.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Lord, Take the Work I Do

What do you think of your job? Are you among the lucky few who can hardly wait to get up Monday morning and who would keep their jobs even if they had no further need of income? Are you among the desperate masses who hate everything about their work and see it only as a necessary evil that must be endured to pay the bills?

Or are you one of the confused crowd who are doing what they thought they always wanted to do, whose work seems a perfect fit for their interests and talents--and yet are finding no real joy in it?

I fit into the third category much of the time. My greatest passions are for stories, information, and the written word, so "full-time writer" seemed the ideal choice of careers. (No, I'm not living in a dirty rooming house cranking out novels and scraping for food money; my kind of writing includes ads and newsletters for business concerns, plus journalism, and the income level is mostly lower-middle-class.) What I didn't count on was the stress of trying to accurately budget a freelancer's feast-or-famine income, nor of juggling eight or nine near-deadline projects. Plus--true-confession time--a good bit of me would rather read than write, would rather constantly evolve daydream-stories than put them in final forms vulnerable to outside editing and criticism.

I imagine that most people who dislike their work have the same problem; whatever they think of the job itself, they consider it less important than some "fun thing" that comes without financial reimbursement. The worst part is, many people who turn the "fun things" into profitable businesses end up not having much fun anymore--somehow, many things become less enjoyable as they start to take up half one's waking time and entwine themselves with others' expectations.

Expectations--now there's something worth noting. Whose expectations are you primarily working to fulfill? Your own? Your parents'? Your spouse's? Your clients'?

Or--God's? How many of us, as Christians, really follow the admonitition to "work... with all your heart... for the Lord, not for men" (Col. 3:23, NIV)? How many of us can honestly claim that our greatest ambition is to someday hear Christ say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!... Come and share your master's happiness!" (Mt. 25:21)? How many of us have ever even asked God for guidance in choosing or doing our work--or thanked Him for the privilege of doing it to serve Him? (The nature of the work has nothing to do with whether it serves God. A custodian dedicated to glorifying God through the work is far more pleasing to Him than a career missionary interested primarily in personal glory.)

The first step toward enjoying our work--or anything else in life--is to dedicate it to the true Source of all joy.

Lord, take the work I do,
A pittance though it be,
And use each task toward Your renown--
And turn my eyes from me.

Lord, take the path I walk,
Though slow and weak my knees,
And let it ever move toward You,
Although the whole world flees.

Lord, take the life I live,
And point toward Heaven's bright shore
Not just myself, but all I touch--
And I need ask no more.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Great War

People become Christians for different reasons. Some are raised in the church and simply "grow into" personal faith. Some are attracted by the peace and joy they see in Christian acquaintances. Some people come to Christ out of desperation, having found everything else empty.

And some, sadly, convert in the hope that life will become all prosperity and ease. True, there is plenty "in it for us": forgiveness of sins; eternal salvation; increased strength to do right and to meet life's challenges. But the new believer whose primary motive is to see an end to those challenges is a likely candidate to fall away when God fails to "deliver." Often, well-meaning but not particularly well-informed believers are responsible for spreading the idea that "if you have faith, God will heal every illness, solve every financial problem, and remove every frustration." Some Christians are such zealots for this way of thinking that one wonders if they've ever really read the New Testament. How can they overlook the references to discipline, the hardships suffered by the apostles, and such verses as "everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim. 3:12)?

Not all such persecution comes from the unbelieving world. Some comes from the devil (who often trains his guns especially hard on new Christians and others with imminent spiritual-growth potential) and takes the form of illness, professional or financial difficulties, or just one day after another when everything seems to go wrong. Some persecution, sadly, comes from fellow believers: there are Christians who become envious and spiteful when God does great things through others; there are Christians who love church tradition more than God and who consider every new approach heretical; and there are Christians who add to others' suffering with platitudes of "you must have done something to deserve it" and "you obviously don't have enough faith to be healed."

And some of us take the role of our own persecutors. We lampoon ourselves for not growing faster or doing better. We focus on the size of our problems rather than on the size of our God. We add to our miseries by convincing ourselves that nothing ever goes right and God doesn't really care. We refuse to grow in Christ because it seems like too much work.

It is work. God doesn't call us to sign up for the extended vacations of our choice, but to enlist in His army. And it's not a peacetime army where the greatest hardships are running through obstacle courses and cleaning mess halls; good and evil are at active war in this world, and all of us are combat soldiers on hostile foreign territory.

Our Commanding Officer never loses a fight. But that won't do us much good if we go AWOL, refuse to follow orders, or question His battle plan. Strangely enough, the greatest "peace in Christ" goes to His hardest-fighting soldiers.

Fiercer far than any mortal battle ever fought on earth,
Longer far than any war that ever came to humankind,
Is the war fought by each Christian from the moment of rebirth,
The great battle that is centered in the selfish, sinful mind.

More relentless than the fighting waged in any human war,
Most incessant of all battles, never stopping for a rest,
Is the fight of every Christian to subdue all thoughts impure,
On the battlefield of life--the constant ground for Satan's test.

We, mere mortals, are too weak to fight the war without support;
We have nothing we can draw on in the human world alone.
It is God Who works within us; it is He Who builds the fort
And Who forges through His Spirit weapons of a mightier tone.

Through our faith in Christ we find the Strength in which we overcome;
Through our trust in Him we know the Power that brings us sure release.
And one day, all fighting over, we will rest in Heaven's home;
But within the battle, even now, we feel God's perfect peace.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Eyes of Your Heart

Paul's admonition to "live by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7, NIV) seems especially appropriate when to all appearances the world is falling apart. But we often forget that it applies equally well when you're settled into a dream job, your bank account is full, and your family hasn't had a serious fight in months. When things are going well, it's easy to get comfortable and forget to thank God for His generosity: "You may say to yourself, 'My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me'" (Dt. 8:17).

And we also tend to live as if the way things are--good or bad--came with a guarantee of permanence. How many people went to their offices in the World Trade Center expecting September 11, 2001 to be a routine work day? How many New Orleans residents were going about business as usual on August 23, 2005, never suspecting that a hurricane forming over the Bahamas would wash away much of their city a week later? How many people will be caught with their lives planned out in all confidence for the next fifty years, on the day Christ returns? (See Luke 17:26-37.)

Sadder yet are the cases of people who themselves created the disasters they failed to see coming. There was the Christian businessman who seemingly "had it all"--wealth, position, respect, health, family--and then decided to sin "just a little." A little led to more and more, and he wound up in a counselor's office with his life in shambles, moaning, "I thought God's hand was on me forever and whatever I did would turn to gold." Just because God has filled your life with material blessings doesn't mean He likes you so much that He'll smile indulgently if you flirt with your secretary or pad your expense account.

Besides, prosperity comes with its own headaches and chaos--as many a workaholic recovering from a premature heart attack can attest. God is the only truly stable point in anyone's life.

When the whole world seems crazy and out of control,
Fix the eyes of your heart on the Lord.
When your mind won't stop racing and you can't see the goal,
Fix the eyes of your heart on the Lord.
The eyes in your head will deceive you;
The eyes of your mind wander far;
But when you can't seem to see straight anymore,
Look to God with the eyes of your heart.

When you've got so much duty that you wish you were twins,
Fix the eyes of your heart on the Lord.
When demands press upon you till the whole world just spins,
Fix the eyes of your heart on the Lord.
The eyes in your head may be pretty;
The eyes of your mind may be smart;
But when you can't focus on what you should do,
Look to God with the eyes of your heart.