Friday, October 31, 2008

Like a Roaring Lion

Since its origins as a pagan religious festival in ancient Britain, Halloween has undergone more than one shift in its general reputation. The name itself comes from "All Hallow's Evening," a term which originated in the ninth century when--as happened with many ancient pagan celebrations--the old customs were Christianized. October 31 then changed from a night when the spirits of the dead were believed to walk the earth, into a holiday to honor the saints, or "hallowed ones."

By the mid-twentieth century, Halloween had lost most of its religious trimmings and--ghosts and witches being generally classified with fairies as things no one took seriously but which were fun to pretend to believe in--was considered mostly a night of harmless fun for children. In recent decades, as the real dangers implicit in occult activities have become more widely known, many Christians have opted to avoid the holiday altogether or to celebrate "All Saints' Evening" or "Harvest Festival" in non-spooky ways.

Whatever one's personal feelings about Halloween, no one who takes the Bible seriously can deny that evil spirits are real. 1 Peter 5:8 (NIV) says, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." The chapter from which this verse comes warns us also to beware of greed, pride, anxiety, and discouragement--all of which the devil will encourage in us to tempt us away from God's path. Whether our external circumstances are good or bad, Satan is constantly looking for any hint of wrong attitude within us--and if we fail to remain "self-controlled and alert," he may establish beachheads in our hearts before we know it.

No solidier in a war--especially a spiritual war--can afford to let his guard down.

When all life is a crush of frustration,
When success seems to give you the boot,
Beware of the tempter who lies in wait
To water each bitter root!

When all life is a string of successes,
When it seems everything's going well,
Beware of the tempter who lies in wait
To urge lazy heads to swell!

When all life is continual struggle,
When the challenge is getting you down,
Beware of the tempter who lies in wait
To lure you to Give-Up Ground!

When you sit down to rest from the battle,
As we all must at times now and then,
Beware of the tempter who lies in wait
And urges, "Don't go back in!"

All your life, through the sad times and happy,
He will stalk you to make you his prey;
But fear not: just trust in your mighty Lord
Who drives the tempter away!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Glimpses of Glory

Yesterday's entry touched on the concept of "be faithful with little things and God will trust you with bigger and bigger things." We understand how that principle works in connection with responsibilities, abilities, and property; but how many of us consider that it also applies to what God shows us of Himself? Most believers have, at one time or another, felt cheated because they didn't get to live in the times--rare as such times were even in Biblical history--when spectacular miracles and visions of God's glory apparently happened every day. (I'm not talking here about the skeptics who say they'd believe in God if they actually saw Him perform a miracle--and remain smugly satisfied that they never will--but about sincere Christians who struggle with doubts and uncertainties.)

Not that, if we did see obvious miracles, it would necessarily prove a permanent cure for doubts and complaining--anyone who thinks it would should read the book of Exodus again. Too many of us are so busy whining that God never breaks into our lives in spectacular ways, that we're blind to the little glimpses of Himself He provides every day. When was the last time most of us contemplated God's craftmanship in a wildflower, or thanked Him for giving us air to breathe, or realized that He inspires the small kindnesses others show us?

If we can't worship God in the little things, we have no right to demand He show us big things.

Does God still work His wonders?
Lift up your eyes and see:
Observe the sky at sunrise,
The branches of a tree,
The might of wind and thunder,
And you will know: each hour,
Each aspect of Creation,
Gives glimpses of God's power.

Does God still care for mortals?
Take heart and look around:
Count every tiny blessing
That in each life is found;
Observe how rain and sunshine
Flow freely from above:
Each aspect of Provision
Gives glimpses of God's love.

Can there be hope for mortals
When all the world seems dark?
Look deep within your being,
And feel the Spirit's spark:
We all still bear God's image,
The breath of life He's given;
And every heartfelt longing
Gives glimpses of His Heaven.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Life That Counts

The program title and topic are long lost to my memory, but I clearly remember the "two key questions" the speaker asked:

1. If you knew you would die in a year, how would you invest your available time?
2. Why aren't you investing it that way now?

These are not questions for which most people should be satisfied with the first answers that come to mind. To illustrate why not, my personal "first answers" were: 1) I would try to cram in every book, trip, and activity I ever wanted to experience; 2) I am doing it that way already--and probably shortening my available time with the self-inflicted stress that comes from constantly thinking in terms of "when will I finish this so I can start on the next item?" But behind the cynicism and frustration that haunts so many of us in this area, lies the fact that most people spend their lives neglecting their dreams for more "practical"--and boring--matters.

It's strange how afraid we are of the deeply significant and the breathtakingly beautiful. One can understand why people procrastinate on starting boring or unpleasant tasks; but why do the majority behave the same way when it comes to the things they should want most? "I'd like to use the wedding china for dinner, but I suppose I should wait for a special occasion." "I really feel called to this ministry, but I should wait until I have more in savings." "I could write a great book, but I just don't have the time now." "I really should give my life to God, but there's plenty of time for that."

The "plenty of time" excuse is heard so often that one wonders if most human beings expect their earthly lives to last forever. Some apparently do; there are people who take seriously the idea of scientifically extending life spans to several hundred years, perhaps prolonging life indefinitely. But what would they do with those extra centuries? Anything more significant than the working-at-a-dull-job, just-surviving-day-to-day existence of today's typical American?

The Bible says (e. g. Luke 16:11) that few people are trusted with big things until they have proven themselves able to handle little things. It's safe to assume that those "things" include not only money and abilities, but hours and years as well.

And it's also safe to assume that God doesn't give us our dreams to be wasted.

There are those who dream of an endless youth
That their science may soon create,
Those who wish to live for a thousand years
Or forever evade death's gate.
But it's not a question of when you die
That tells what to your life amounts;
And it's not the time that you have to use,
But the way it is used, that counts.

God allots to each every hour of life,
And He knows just how much you need;
And ten selfless years have more life in them
Than ten decades of idle greed.
So take all your time and then use it well;
Live each day like you had but one
On this earth--but look to eternity,
And pray, "Lord, may Your Kingdom come!"

Friday, October 24, 2008


The New Testament repeatedly commands us to be "witnesses" for Jesus and the Gospel. Perhaps the best-known passage on this matter is Acts 1:8b, where the risen Christ tells His disciples, "you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (NIV).

It's been noted that there is a difference between witnesses and lawyers! Lawyers are the subject of many bad jokes because too many of them rush into court on the slightest excuse; hamper direct communication between the parties most involved; paint opponents in the worst possible colors; try to goad people into looking stupid; and overall seem to thrive on picking fights. Some so-called Christian evangelists behave similarly--and likewise draw down ridicule by association on more humble and compassionate preachers.

When called to court as a witness, how is the average citizen advised to behave? Go in looking respectable and intelligent; be polite even to people who try to annoy or confuse you; never lose your temper; answer all questions truthfully and concisely; and tell only what you know, without making unwarranted assumptions, volunteering irrelevant information, or pretending expertise you don't have. Those aren't bad principles for the Christian witness to follow in everyday evangelism.

Remember the healed blind man in John 9? Faced with a hostile crowd demanding to know what he thought of Jesus--about Whom he really knew relatively little--he didn't hurl insults back at them. He didn't knuckle under to their pressure. He didn't pretend he was capable of arguing complicated theological points. He simply held firmly to what he knew--and that was enough to enable him to bear up under any abuse:

"One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!" (v. 25).

We all of us are witnesses
To what our hearts believe;
It shows in all we do and say
And pass out and receive.
We all of us are witnesses
Through all our earthly days,
And everyone whose life we touch
Soon knows what "god" we praise.

Our tongues can serve as witnesses,
But even more our deeds;
For how we act when pressure strikes
Speaks louder than our creeds.
Our actions are our witnesses
To all our thoughts within;
They show the world our inner hearts
And bring out secret sin.

We, called to be Christ's witnesses,
Must walk along His way,
And trust His Word to be our Guide
For all we do and say.
His Spirit leads His witnesses
And strengthens them to be
Ambassadors of Kingdom love
For His eternity!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Stars above Sing the Might of the Lord

The following poem is a pantoum, which means that its basic structure is built on the repetition of lines. In poetry and song, a surprising amount of variety and beauty can be generated by using certain elements over and over.

Perhaps that's an example of how human creativity reflects God's image. Much of Creation's beauty is surprising in its consistency. Have you ever wondered what it would be like if the sky showed a totally different number and layout of stars every night? What if the sun rose in a different part of the sky each morning, birds changed their feathers and songs from day to day, and rainbows regularly shuffled and intermixed their colors? Would we appreciate the variety? Or get bored quickly, as do many spoiled children showered with endless toys?

Maybe our reaction would be uneasiness; it might be hard to believe that "the Father of the heavenly lights... does not change like shifting shadows" (James 1:17, NIV) if He kept rearranging those "heavenly lights" drastically and obviously. If He regularly changed His mind about how His firmament should look, who's to say He might not change His mind about more complicated matters, such as whether to keep His promises to us? Even on the human-to-human relational level, it's a lot easier to trust someone who is basically consistent than someone who has a history of unpredictable reactions.

Granted, people who always tell the same stories or keep harping on the same theme are boring. But even more than with poetry, human beings display a surprising amount of variety within their consistency. And a surprising amount of depth within the basics.

God is even more like that. Maybe that's why it's a lot harder to get bored exploring nature than watching television.

You don't hear many people complaining about "having to look at the same old stars tonight."

The stars above sing the might of the Lord:
Though they have no voice at all to give sound,
They speak of His power without a word,
For their beauty is seen the world around.

Though they have no voice at all to give sound,
Their praise shines out plain to all eyes that will see,
For their beauty is seen the world around,
And they speak of great wonders still yet to be.

Their praise shines out plain to all eyes that will see,
Through the mark of the Power on which they depend;
And they speak of great wonders still yet to be,
On the day when the world that we know will end.

Through the mark of the Power on which they depend,
Human hearts can dream of a world to be;
On the day when the world that we know will end,
Greater joys await than our eyes now see.

Human hearts can dream of a world to be,
Yet without God's Word we would never know;
Greater joys await than our eyes now see,
For He Who prepares them has told us so.

Yet without God's Word we would never know;
Only through His love do we dare to dream,
For He Who prepares them has told us so,
Of a world beyond where pure joy will gleam.

Only through His love do we dare to dream,
And the light of His love outshines the stars;
Of a world beyond where pure joy will gleam,
We all have His Word of what will be ours.

And the light of His love outshines the stars--
They speak of His power without a word--
We all have His Word of what will be ours.
The stars above sing the might of the Lord.

Monday, October 20, 2008

We Are Children of God

How many of us can honestly claim to follow, with any consistency, Paul's admonition in Phil. 2:3: "in humility consider others better than yourselves" (NIV)?

The era of oppressive colonialism may be over. Literal slavery may be history in most of the world. And officially sanctioned segregation may be rare. But bigotry is still far from dead--and it's not confined to extremists who spew hatred and advocate brutality. Nor is it always a matter of one ethnic group or social class considering itself too good to associate with another; the "I'm better than they are" attitude can manifest itself in a thousand ways. When someone is trying to maneuver a wheelchair through a narrow door ahead of us, and we fume because our time is being wasted; when we look at the homeless person on the street, or the arrogant teenager in the store, and see an annoyance rather than a human being; even when we're tempted to push past a dozen people "just like us" and grab the first place in line--we are in effect declaring ourselves a superior breed. One doesn't have to show consideration and compassion to one's inferiors!

If Christ had harbored that attitude, He never would have left Heaven for earth. Indeed, He spent most of His earthly ministry in conflict with people who did harbor that attitude and who "muttered, 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them'" (Luke 15:2). It wasn't the "bad apples" and the "rejects," but the pious, and "respectable" types--the "good" people--who most hated the Epitome of true moral perfection. The puncturing of their superiority bubbles was more than their pride could take.

The Crucifixion is the ultimate proof that "little" attitudes of superiority can grow into monstrous evils.

We are children of God, whether black or white,
All of us equal in His sight.

We are children of God, whether rich or poor,
All of us standing at His door.

We are children of God, whether young or old,
All who are gathered into His fold.

We are children of God; we must not despise
Other souls precious in His eyes.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Storms and Rainbows

It's rained quite a bit in Houston the last couple of days--not an entirely unwelcome turn in the weather, considering that the area has dried out a little too much for comfort since last month's hurricane and that the whole of 2008 has been shorter than average on rain. The modern tendency to use "rain" as a metaphor for hard times and misery tends to forget how essential rain really is--and that in the Bible, "rain" is a good thing at least as often as not. Jesus's famous words from Mt. 5:45--"your Father in heaven... causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (NIV)--probably refers not to a blessing versus a curse, but to two complementary blessings.

Still, rain (like sun) can quickly turn into a curse when it arrives in seemingly unlimited amounts. Just about everyone has heard of Noah's flood; and in the same Sermon on the Mount where Jesus mentioned the rain's falling on the just and the unjust, He told the parable of the wise and foolish builders, where rain causes rough times if not total catastrophe.

Incidentally, the famous quote "Into each life some rain must fall" is not from the Bible, but from the nineteenth-century poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow knew his share of "rain"; twice widowed, he carried for his last twenty years burn scars from the same fire that killed his second wife. Virtually everyone who lives a normal life span will experience at least one real tragedy at some time. For some, the agony is sudden, wrenching, and totally unexpected; for others, it is so long and drawn-out that the tragic end is almost a relief.

It's comforting to know that for Christians, tragedy is never the real ending. A happy final ending is waiting beyond this world.

As the rainbow that was created after Noah's flood symbolizes God's promise never again to send such total catastrophe, the rainbow surrounding God's Heavenly Throne is a sign that no "flood" will ever again reach His servants there.

It rained in the time of Noah
Forty days and as many nights,
Till the mountains were under water
As it rose to unheard-of heights,
And it washed away earth's corruption;
So God gave a fresh start to all:
And He set in the sky a rainbow,
To bring hope after each rainfall.

It rained in the time of Jesus
Over many a shore and coast,
Leaving many a house in shambles
To give lie to the builder's boast.
Jesus told us to choose foundations
Made of rock to withstand the storm:
Human spirits are filled with rainbows
When we trust Christ to save from harm.

It rains in each life that's human,
Through real weather and floods of pain,
Till some feel life is drowned forever,
Blown to shambles by hurricane.
But what first seems to be disaster
Can bring cleansing to start anew,
If we look to God's Heavenly Rainbow
And stand strong in His Light so true.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Song of Sevens

Not that I want to slip into superstition about "lucky" or "magic" numbers, but the recurrence of certain numbers in Scripture does suggest that God has some fondness for them. Take the number forty, for instance: it rained forty days in the time of Noah (Gen. 7:11-12); Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai (Ex. 24:18); the Israelites spent forty years in the wilderness (Ex. 16:35, among other passages); and Jesus fasted forty days before His temptation (Mt. 4:1-2). Or consider the twelve tribes of Israel; twelve apostles; and twelve foundations and twelve gates of the Heavenly Jerusalem.

One number that appears in several significant Bible passages is a number that has acquired a general reputation for being lucky: seven. To the class of super-logical mathematicians (where I admittedly hold no membership), seven might seem a strange number to honor: it is neither small enough to be a basic unit like a two or a three, nor evenly divisible into any smaller units besides ones; and few extensively used larger numbers can be divided evenly by seven (even the seventy years traditionally estimated for the human life span now seems lost to an era of greater longevity). Why does seven, rather than a rounder figure like six or ten, so often seem to represent perfection in Scripture: seven days in the week; seven years of work for Jacob to marry each of his wives; seven days (ending in seven circuits around the city, led by seven priests) to bring about the fall of Jericho; seven deacons in the early Church?

Maybe I'm being whimsical here--and I definitely don't presume to be reading God's mind on the matter--but I wonder if He chose an odd number, and one not divisible without leaving something out, partly because He places high value on the oddball, the nonconformist, the person who always seems to be left out?

Certainly He has used many such people in amazing ways.

Seven were the days which God set for the week,
One set aside so His face we would seek.

Seven are the hues in the rainbow's bright gleam,
Set in the sky once the world was washed clean.

Seven were the times the troops circled around
Till Jericho's walls came a-tumbling down.

Seven were the foods Jesus blessed with head bowed--
Five loaves, two fish, fed a whole hungry crowd.

Seven were the deacons when the Church yet was new,
Servants who all would work hard as it grew.

Seven were the churches Christ named from His throne:
He Who is holy, is holy alone.

Seven are the verses in this song I have sung:
Let us give praise for the things God has done.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Rebuilding Piece by Peace

No, that isn't a typo in the title. It's a deliberate play on words--God rebuilds "peace" in our lives by reassembling the "pieces" of shattered dreams. The following poem (first published in Sol Magazine in September 2002, and reprinted in New Covenant Connections in November/December 2002) was originally written to commemorate the first anniversary of 9/11/01; but the message is relevant to anyone whose life has been effectively smashed to pieces--whether by a natural disaster like Hurricane Ike, or a private storm such as the loss of a career or the sudden death of a loved one.

God rarely heals such injuries instantly. We may wish that such miracles as in the New Testament were routine today: wouldn't it be wonderful if a tumor shriveled up overnight; if damaged muscles regained full function in a second; if the victims of sudden disaster were restored to life? Such things do still occasionally happen; in a few circles they even seem to happen on a regular basis. But most of us, however sincere our devotion and strong our faith, heal slowly. And why is it that many injuries never heal completely in this life, but leave us with permanent scars (physical or otherwise)?

No one has ever come up with a completely satisfactory answer as to why God allows so many of His children to suffer long and terrible pain. But perhaps we would ask the question less often--or at least with less bitterness and despair--if we remembered that God's highest purpose for us is not a constant state of pleasure and comfort. It is that we become fit citizens for His eternal Kingdom: patient; compassionate; trusting; and content, even joyful, to receive whatever He gives us. To remake natural, selfish human nature so thoroughly, He has to dig down deep, sometimes even pull us inside out.

It often hurts quite a bit--and all the more when we haven't done anything obvious to "deserve" suffering. Few of us really appreciate that God doesn't just want "decent" or "nice guy" followers; as far as He's concerned, we aren't finished works until we become unreservedly loyal and totally unselfish. That is the greatest miracle of healing--and like all healing, it usually happens bit by bit. Why is it so slow? Maybe for the same reason that the human author goes through a half dozen drafts before publication; there's just something about the "rush job" approach that makes most final products seem sloppy, inferior, not quite finished. To make something the best it can be requires time and attention to detail.

We all remain in the rough-draft phase throughout our earthly lives. But it should be some comfort to know that God regards us not as problems to be fixed, but as beautiful works of art to be lovingly perfected. And the Christ in Whose image we are being made over does understand when we feel sick of the whole process.

Remember that He Himself carries permanent scars.

When disaster's dust has settled,
When light dawns on a brand new day,
Life cannot be rebuilt in an instant:
Piece by piece is the only way.

When a human heart is shattered,
With no hint of a chance to mend,
The deep wounds will not heal in a second,
But a seed is planted within.

It may not mature for a season;
It will not reach full flower in a night;
But the final result's worth the waiting:
Inch by inch is the path toward light.

As the winter warms to springtime,
As the sun lights the world each dawn,
So the soul comes to life as time passes,
And, with strength fresh and new, goes on.

If a soul knows only pleasure,
Beauty soon proves shallow at best.
Scars can shine with a glorious splendor
When adorning a soul at rest.

When life seems to become a dungeon,
When there seems no hope of release,
That's the time to start gathering pieces:
Piece by piece is the path to peace!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Our God Is in Every Flower

From my window, the weather forecast for today looks cool, clear, and bright. The prospect of stepping out into fresh air and sunshine is especially attractive after spending a few days working inside.

For many, a few hours in nature is a cure for doubt as to the existence and goodness of God. It's probably more than coincidence that atheism began gaining popularity in the same era that urban areas began to drastically expand. We absorb what surrounds us; if ninety percent of that is human-made, it's easy to start seeing humans as the supreme makers.

But it's not a particularly attractive vision in the long run. Medical science now appreciates that too much time in purely artificial surroundings can be shattering to emotional health. Many a prescription for heading off a nervous breakdown includes such instructions as "Expose yourself to more natural light," "Bring a few plants into your house," "Take a long walk in the park," or "Get a pet." Taking daily time to look closely at things God made without human help, can relieve quite a bit of pressure by reminding us that we don't have to take full responsibility for the world.

Even a tiny touch of nature--a wildflower poking through the sidewalk, a patch of sky overhead, a pigeon on a ledge--can do the job if we let ourselves open our eyes and see.

Our God is in every flower
That blooms with the coming of spring;
His miracles show in each petal;
Each leaf is a marvelous thing.

Our God is in every raindrop
That falls to give water to earth,
With tears for each sorrow we suffer,
And joy for each growth that is birthed.

Our God is in every planet
And star in the cosmos so vast;
Each light, though our eyes see it faintly,
Is held in His hand's mighty grasp.

Our God is in every atom
That builds the Creation we see;
He watches the largest, the smallest,
And all that has been or will be.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Orchard of the Spirit

In several places the Bible uses "fruit" as a metaphor for the outer works that reflect our inner hearts. Perhaps the best-known such passage is Galatians 5:22-23: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."

Weeds grow without any human assistance; but most healthy, delicious fruits are carefully cultivated, tended, and fertilized. With some fruits, such as apples, planting a seed will not even ensure the resulting tree will bear fruit that tastes like the parent; gardeners have to graft already fruitful twigs onto existing trees to ensure the right variety of apple. Grafting was already widely used in New Testament times (see Romans 11).

Just as we are grafted into God's tree of life from which we receive spiritual nourishment, He grafts the nature of His Spirit into us so we can bear godly fruit.

The orchard of the Spirit bears a fruit that's called Love,
And those in whom it's growing are blessed from above.

The orchard of the Spirit bears a fruit that's called Joy,
And those in whom it's growing no pain can destroy.

The orchard of the Spirit bears a fruit that's called Peace,
And those in whom it's growing see all fretting cease.

The orchard of the Spirit bears a Patience as fruit,
And those in whom it's growing take strong, sturdy root.

The orchard of the Spirit bears a fruit that's called Kind,
And those in whom it's growing put hard hearts behind.

The orchard of the Spirit bears a fruit that's called Good,
And those in whom it's growing will live as they should.

The orchard of the Spirit bears a fruit that's called Faith,
And those in whom it's growing will live in God's grace.

The orchard of the Spirit bears a fruit that's called Meek,
And those in whom it's growing the Father will seek.

The orchard of the Spirit bears a fruit, Self-Control,
And those in whom it's growing our Lord will make whole.

We are trees of the Spirit, whom He calls to bear fruit;
Though blossoms may seem fragile, yet deep is the root.

Monday, October 6, 2008

As It Is in Heaven

"Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Mt. 6:10, NIV).

How is God's will done in Heaven? We can be sure it's done without complaint or procrastination. Can you picture an angel whining, "Aw, do I have to?" when asked to run an errand for God, or a glorified saint grumbling that he or she didn't get the best seat in the eternal choir?

Our first reaction to such an idea may be that it sounds almost blasphemous. But what does that make us when we say to God, through our attitudes and actions if not with our words, "My will, not Yours, be done"? Every time we deliberately put off doing what we know is the right thing, every time we sulk because God didn't give us something we wanted, we rate the pleasures of the flesh as more important than the blessings of Heaven. And we make a mockery of the Lord's Prayer.

"Your will be done" should be more than a casual assent to God's overall providence. It should mean:

"Your will be done not simply for me, Lord, but through me."

The angels above all serve in love
And respond as God's will is spoken;
But we "saints" below all bemoan our woe
If He moves to withhold one token.
We cling to pleasure and worship leisure
And regard it as rightful due:
Oh, Lord, forgive, and teach us to live
With our sole joy in pleasing You.

The saints in glory proclaim God's story
And they sing His praise day and night;
But we, here on earth, find our time not worth
One brief hour to bask in His light.
We live for "doing" and keep pursuing
The things of this world that lure:
Oh, Lord, forgive, and teach us to live
With a craving for all that's pure.

The day will come when, our crowns all won,
We have hearts for the Lord alone,
So it seems but fair that we should prepare,
While on earth, for our Heavenly home.
If our daily lot tends to please us not,
Then recall: we're but pilgrims here.
Lord, teach us now all Your ways, and how
We can serve You upon this sphere!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Firm on the Rock

With all the recent talk about storms it seems only right, before moving on to other topics, to say a bit about Jesus's famous analogy in Mt. 7:24-27:

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash" (NIV).

After every major hurricane, people who built lovely seaside homes are left staring at the foundations (if even that much is left), wondering what ever made them think this was the perfect location. Such is the portrait of many a wrecked soul: his whole life was centered on achieving money, success, or that one special someone--then a storm of hardship blew in; the foundation he was depending on for security couldn't stand the strain; and he was left with nothing.

How do people react when that happens? Too many remain foolish: they rebuild on the exact same spot; they search for another worldly, equally flimsy foundation; or they just sink into permanent depression and give up trying. But a few let the experience "wise them up" and lead them to God, the only solid Foundation.

Incidentally, if you're tempted to get smug because you used the right Foundation from the beginning--you didn't. All of us start off building on sand; it's inherent in the human sin-nature. Some of us just grow up earlier than others, in which case it isn't our job to mock or scorn them.

Instead, we should be helping them find the better building site before a real storm comes.

(One version of the following poem was set to music years ago. I probably still have the only existing audiotape.)

A long time ago in a faraway land
A man built a house by the sea:
He anchored it firm on a high, solid rock
With a foundation strong as could be.
A great storm came and it shook the house,
And it seemed it would blow it away,
But that house held firm to its place on the rock
And it stood through the storm that day.

Firm on the Rock is the place to build;
Build it strong and you'll find you can't go wrong:
God is our Rock, and He holds our lives in hand--
Trust His strength even when the storm is long.

A long time ago in a faraway land
Another man built a home:
He couldn't be bothered to find a rock,
But built on the beach by the foam.
A great storm came and it shook the house,
Shook it hard to blow it away,
And that house was swept like a leaf from the sand
And the man lost it all that day.

Firm on the Rock is the place to build;
Build it strong and you'll find you can't go wrong:
God is our Rock, and He holds our lives in hand--
Trust His strength even when the storm is long.

In all days of time, in all lands on earth,
We all build our lives on our faith;
Some place all their trust in the only true Lord,
But many choose gods that are fake.
When the storms of pain come and shake our lives,
Cheap foundations will all blow away:
But the soul that anchors itself in Christ
Will hold firm to the final day!

Firm on the Rock is the place to build;
Build it strong and you'll find you can't go wrong:
God is our Rock, and He holds our lives in hand--
Trust His strength even when the storm is long.

Firm on the Rock is the place to build;
Build it strong and you'll find you can't go wrong:
God is our Rock, and He holds our lives in hand--
Trust His strength even when the storm is long.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


Nearly three weeks after Hurricane Ike, most of Houston has returned to some semblance of business-as-usual. The towns directly on the coast are another matter; many of them were left in shambles that will take months to rebuild. Or regrow--many natural areas were equally hard-hit. Even well inland, we suffered no shortage of broken branches and toppled trees.

On the other hand, we still have plenty of greenery left. Why will one tree stand through eighty-mile-an-hour winds while another tree snaps in two? Sometimes one tree is simply more flexible than the other. Sometimes one tree is surrounded by other trees and/or man-made structures that serve as windbreaks, while another tree stands exposed on all sides. And sometimes the unbroken tree is anchored by a firmer foundation--roots that go deep and spread wide.

All of which are good points for humans to remember when facing the emotional storms of life. Stubbornly refusing to accept either unchangeable circumstances or support from other people is a good way to increase our chances of snapping under strain. And we feed that attitude--and a host of other problems--if we sink our spiritual roots in the shallow promises of this world rather than in God. When we catch ourselves agreeing with such ideas as "You can do anything if you believe in yourself," "Financial security is the answer to everything," and "Think of yourself first and others second," it's a sure sign that our roots are pulling out of God's promises to creep into shallow, non-nourishing worldly soil. The only way back is to break out the "spade" of God's Word and prayer.

However, even a tree with its roots in the right place is likely to lose a few branches when the storm does come. The key difference between a merely battered tree and a completely uprooted one is that the first is "alive" and the second is "dead."

Once the worst is over, will your spirit be alive and ready to put out new growth--or dead and completely broken?

A hurricane blew through last night,
And when I rose today
I found a world of fallen trees
That blocked each path and way.
The shallow roots of younger trees
Had been the first to fail,
For only roots that sink down deep
Withstand the mighty gale.

When hurricanes blow through your life--
The storms of grief and pain--
How deeply rooted is your soul?
Can it endure the strain?
Will it still stand when storms are past,
Or will it broken lie,
A rotting and despairing trunk
Beneath a leaden sky?

Sink deep your roots into God's soil
Before the storm draws near,
And feed your life on faith and hope
And love that casts out fear,
And prayer and reading of God's Word:
Then, when a storm does land,
It still may pound and bruise your soul--
But, through the worst, you'll stand!