Tuesday, August 25, 2009


More than a week after returning from vacation (see last entry), I still haven't gotten completely back into the flow of regular work (if the way I approach self-employment can be said to be all that regular). Probably having four doctors' appointments last week (and one more to get through this Thursday) contributed to that. Even more significant, perhaps, is the onus of the mere phrase "work days." By all rights I should love my work: after all, I am a professional writer and the written word has been my great passion at least since I learned to read--which was at a far younger age than average, earlier than my conscious memory can reach. And my work offers flexible hours, a variety of projects and events, and the opportunity for learning--all of which I thrive on.

But I don't thrive on stress. And self-employment also brings the fear of failure, the agony of hoping the budget will stretch until the latest slow-paying client comes through, and the uncertainty of constantly looking for new work.

I shouldn't complain too much, though. There are plenty of people whose work is nothing but stress--who have never truly enjoyed a work day in their lives, who hate every aspect of their jobs. Some have ample reason to: their daily commutes take an hour each way through poky, honking, pollution-spewing traffic; their supervisors are bullies and their coworkers are schemers; and they are in the wrong professional fields altogether, having taken work totally contrary to their natural talents and interests simply because it was available or paid well. Many job-haters would be better off elsewhere, but human nature prefers being miserable in familiar surroundings to staking everything on a plunge into the unknown. So people grouse about their work all week and live only to escape into weekends and vacations.

Such "escape" thinking is one reason many of us don't really find our "days of rest" very restful--at least not to the point where we wake up the next day refreshed and eager to get back to work. "I wish I could make this last forever and never have to go back to my stupid job" probably wasn't exactly the attitude God wanted to cultivate in His people by giving them every seventh day off (Ex. 20:8-11). The Sabbath was meant to keep us from wearing ourselves out with constant motion, yes; but it was also intended as a time of reduced distractions so we could have the opportunity of getting to know God better. And that includes coming to understand the individual purposes and work He has planned for each of us. (See Eph. 2:10.)

It's hard to enjoy rest to the fullest if we refuse to enjoy the "rest" of life at all.

God gave six days a week for work, and one in which to rest;
And He gave equal hours to each, but only one was blessed--
That seventh day He set aside to cut life's throbbing swell:
So work for Jesus, certainly; but rest for Him as well.

God gave the seventh day for rest, for worship, and for play
(Be careful not to work at fun, or that could spoil the day)--
True rest to soothe the heart and mind, to stop and feed the soul:
But, work or rest, do all for God; and trust Him with the whole.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Having recently returned from a week-and-a-half trip to North America's Pacific Northwest, I now have a week of medical appointments before I can seriously consider resuming a regular work schedule. Once we in the industrialized world pass age forty, it sometimes seems that we spend as much time in doctors' offices when healthy as when sick. The price tag of increased maturity is the need to actually start taking care of ourselves.

And not only in matters of physical well-being. One rite of passage escaped by few is the day when we can no longer take life for granted. Most of us have our first experiences in that area long before officially growing up. The three-year-old wails with disappointment on being told that Mom or Dad, who always seemed able to "take care of everything," cannot reverse the cancellation of a favorite television program; the eight-year-old broods in despair when a thunderstorm breaks just before a much-anticipated picnic. Other youngsters suffer far more shattering shocks: a friend dies of a rare illness; a parent announces "I won't be living here anymore" and disappears forever; or, worse, parents are divorcing and no one wants the kid. And though many people survive childhood and adolescence without experiencing such severe pain, for anyone who lives more than a decade or two the day almost inevitably comes when job loss, severe illness, betrayal, or the death of a loved one makes the emotional foundations of life tremble.

For other people, the shakeup comes so insidiously that it's hardly felt until it's over; the definition of "mid-life crisis" is waking up one morning and realizing that one has passed the age when a long-cherished dream has much chance of ever becoming reality. William Herbert Carruth (1859-1924) described in poetry the path of disillusionment that eats many lives bit by bit (the full text is under "Ghosts of Dreams" at http://theotherpages.org/poems/carruth1.html):

The heart of a child is unhaunted, it seems,
By ghosts of dreams that are dead....
The youth is no longer a youth, but a man,
When the first of his dreams is dead....
There's not much to do but to bury a man,
When the last of his dreams is dead.

Thank God that for His people the latter years of life need not be sacrificed in mourning what will never come to be. Not only does God have plans for us far greater than we ever imagined, but He will accept even those who wait until their physical lives are all but over to come to Him--and He will make something unfathomably beautiful out of what seemed the total waste of their lives. As Joel 2:25a (NIV) puts it, He "will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten."

The results won't always be obvious in this world. But with God, the real world is still to come.

To most children this life seems boundless
And real change is a distant dream,
And an innocence rules that endures until
The first loss cuts through joy's bright gleam.

When we're young, those we love surround us,
And we trust them us to guide us on;
And life's first sharp pain stabs into the heart
When someone whom we loved is gone.

As we grow into men and women,
Youth's bright hope makes the world seem grand,
Yet the joy still is marred as from time to time
Loved ones pass to an unseen land.

As the years of our lives move onward,
Muscles weaken and hairs grow gray,
And we grieve for more loss, and we know for sure
That we also must go some day.

When the innocent gleam of childhood
Has been dulled in our aging eyes,
Even in our joy lives a hint of pain
And the knowledge each earth-thing dies.

Once our much-loved elders have left us
And few friends of our youth remain,
We look in our own children's trusting eyes
And we weep for their coming pain.

Yet as we mourn our earth-days' passing,
A new light burns more bright within,
As our love of this life slowly moves aside
For a vision beyond its end.

Like our childhood dreams returning,
But now brighter and far more pure,
We can see at last, with a wiser gaze,
The true world where joy will endure--

That great world that is truly boundless,
Where this life is a distant dream,
Where all live on forever young and strong
In the light of God's Heavenly gleam.

Those we love will once more surround us
When "goodbye" is a long-dead word,
When we regain more than we ever lost,
Where no sob of despair is heard.

When at last we are called to that Kingdom,
Those we leave will mourn as we part;
But they too will follow and join us all
In the place closest to God's heart!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Our Father God, the Lord of All

Another "lyrics for a traditional hymn tune" poem (see entry for July 28), this one inspired by the tune "Mit Freud­en Zart," to which is set the hymn "Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above." Discerning readers will notice that my poem also follows the "Trinity" pattern used in another famous hymn, "Come, Thou Almighty King." That is, each of the first three verses praises one Person of the Holy Trinity, while the final verse praises the "Three in One" ("One in Three" in the "Almighty King" hymn).

Our God is a highly multifaceted God, which is one reason we writers never run out of new ways to talk about Him. All-powerful yet gentle and compassionate; the Bringer of avenging justice yet the Pardoner who willingly took the punishment for human wrongdoing; the One Who brings thunder and earthquake and yet (Is. 42:3 and Mt. 12:20) will not break a bruised reed. Many people think that the Old Testament God is "all justice" and the New Testament God is "all mercy." Anyone who reads the entire Bible will quickly see the fallacy in this idea.

Let's not be too quick, however, to criticize those who assert it. A one-sided view of God is a temptation any of us can fall prey to. Some Christians emphasize persecution to an extent that can leave us wondering if it's a sin to get through a day without being spat on; other Christians torment the suffering by insisting that God wants every believer to be healthy and wealthy and that those who aren't have only their own sin or lack of faith to blame. Some Christians assert "God hates the sexually impure" to an extent that not only makes enemies of those who don't wish to reform but discourages those who do from seeking God's help; other Christians lay such emphasis on God's grace that they tempt us to think He doesn't really care if we sin (cf. Rom. 6:1-2). With all of us, the temptation abounds to focus on those verses of Scripture we personally find "convenient" and to ignore the rest.

What we should be ignoring is any suggestion that God is either easy to figure out or in automatic support of our every opinion.

Our Father God, the Lord of All, reigns high above Creation,
The Lord of time, the Lord of space, the God of every nation;
His power and might no human mind can ever probe, nor see behind
The ways of our Foundation.

Our Savior God, the Son of Man, is Lord of all things living,
The Lord of love, the Lord of peace, His mercy freely giving;
His heart is warm, His heart is kind; He urges us to seek and find,
And sing to Him thanksgiving.

Our Leader God, the Comforter, is Heaven’s own strength within us,
The Lord of strength, the Lord of hope, the Lord Who woos to win us;
His power comes forth like burning fire; and in His strength we never tire,
For He is living in us.

The Lord of Lords, the Three in One, deserves all awe and wonder:
He lit the stars that brighten space; His voice speaks in the thunder;
Yet still He stooped to raise us high; and we, in Him, will never die,
We whom His love live under.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Spot of Beauty

I don't follow the news much these days. I find it depressing and worrisome to be constantly reminded of what's going wrong in the world, and worse, of what else might go wrong. Perhaps those of you who pray for the world daily and specifically will criticize me, but I don't think every believer is emotionally equipped to be constantly on the front lines of that battle. Even in physical war, armies need quartermasters to handle the supplies, and chaplains to tend to spiritual needs, as well as fighting soldiers.

In or outside God's army, I know of many people who are positively addicted to the news. Few who spend much time in airports, restaurants, and similar venues will disagree that CNN is the most popular channel on televisions in public places. I doubt that many of the people staring at these screens are really praying about the tragedies depicted. More likely, the majority of viewers are feeding their fascination with disaster, or an addiction to information-gathering, or even a desperate search for reassurance that nothing awful will happen. I used to follow that last approach myself, but mostly I just found new excuses to worry.

Still, the news does have its bright spots: the sweepstakes winner who was living on a scanty Social Security check and yet gave every penny of her prize to those needier than herself; the youth counseling program credited with increasing high school graduation in its inner-city neighborhood by ten percent; the discovery of a new treatment for a long-feared disease. People aren't fascinated only by disaster and pain. They need regular doses of compassion and beauty as well.

As Christians we should be providing them with many of those doses. Jesus calls His followers to be lights displaying God's beauty to the world (see Mt. 5:14-16). And, just as stars are brightest on the darkest nights, often those spiritual lights shine the most beautifully where the world seems the most hopeless.

You may feel that your capabilities are small and that your light will never get brighter than a barely visible magnitude 6 star. But even the faintest star is a blazing sun at close range.

In a garden filled with weeds,
In a garden long untended,
One green shoot stood out alone,
In the days when winter ended.

In a spot sown by the wind,
In a spot so long neglected,
That one shoot grew straight and tall,
Like life’s beauty resurrected.

In a patch of tangled thorns,
Which no human hand had molded,
One white bud sprang from that shoot,
One white flower its bloom unfolded.

In that corner of neglect,
In that corner long forgotten,
Where it seemed all life was bleak,
Where it seemed all growth was rotten,

Sprang one pure and lovely bloom:
Though no human eye observed it,
Yet its beauty shone the more—
No competing rose obscured it.

So may we, within a world
Where love’s strength seems often feeble,
Be the lights that shine for hope,
Candles in our Lord's cathedral.