Saturday, December 11, 2010

Lord, You Brought My Life to Being

This will be my last post of 2010, as I prepare for Christmas break. In early 2011 I hope to announce a new website where readers can purchase my book based on this blog, Where Light Dawns: Christian Poems of Hope for Hurting Hearts. In the meantime, please e-mail all inquiries to


We all know that Advent is ideally a time of worshipful contemplation and of thanks to God for sending Jesus into the world and for all the Second Coming promises. And probably 90% of us continue to bog down each year in the swamp of "love it in theory but can't make it work in practice." Too much shopping, too much food, too many invitations, too many mailings--all of which we feel obligated to go through with even as the sum total leaves us exhausted and feeling guilty. Ultimately, we all have to face it: unless we're among the few for whom it's practical to move to a retreat center for three weeks, our special Advent time has to be carefully scheduled and usually comes out smaller than we'd hoped for.

Part of the problem may well be that our hopes are unreasonable. If you're anything like me, one thing you'd love to get for Christmas--or any time of the year--is a spiritual discipline program that works like piano lessons: clearly defined exercises, set hours, obvious signs of progress, and ultimately a mastery that ensures you never again have to struggle to learn more or do the right thing. I can now hear the real musicians chiding me for my overly idealized description of mastering the piano: "Obviously, she doesn't know about the monotony of practicing the same exercise over and over, the frustration of fearing you'll never master a difficult movement, the temptations to skip practice, the image of perfection that only recedes as you advance!" Okay, I admit that the "reach the peak and rest" dream is always an illusion, whether we're talking about the fine arts, education, or spiritual growth.

Ironic how quickly our noblest goals are tainted by laziness and the selfish desire for expediency. And ironic how quickly, after being saved, we forget all God gives us and start whining about what we still want. Most of us should have little trouble identifying with the Israelites in the wilderness, whose theme song quickly became, "How do we know God will continue providing for our needs--especially when what He provides isn't that great anyway?" We not only want what we want when we want it, we want it before we want it, as though even having to ask were more work than should be expected of us.

The real purpose of Advent is the same purpose that lay behind all the ancient Jewish festivals commanded by God, and that still lies behind their Christian counterparts today. That purpose is to take time to remember how great God is, how small we are, and how good He is to give us anything at all--let alone as much as He does. Especially since we constantly seem bent on doing everything possible to prove we deserve nothing but scolding and punishment.

That God still loves us and will do anything to supply our true needs, is the real gift.

Lord, You brought my life to being,
Gave me all the power I need
To perform Your works with purpose,
Praising You in every deed.
Still I greet each dawning morning
With a groan of inward dread:
“Only pain and stress await me;
Why should I desert my bed?”

Lord, through all that life has brought me
You have fed me by Your hand,
Led me safe through fiery struggles,
Silenced storms by Your command.
Still I test Your power and goodness:
Oh, how quickly I forget
All the wonders You have shown me,
All the needs that You have met!

Lord, You discipline Your children
With a Father’s love and care:
In each trial or pain that strikes me,
Your controlling hand is there.
Still I have despised Your chastening,
And my fleshly, selfish lust
Turns my thoughts to fretful pouting:
“What I want is always just!”

Lord, You know my human weakness;
I am but a fleeting wind
With a life that soon will perish,
Not to walk this earth again.
You, the One Who lives forever,
Weak and sinful though I be,
Share that endless life in mercy:
Lord, forgive, and set me free!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Looking Ahead

In 1994, B. J. Oropeza published the book 99 Reasons Why No One Knows When Christ Will Return. Some seventeen years later, most of the current-events references are out of date, nearly all the world leaders referred to are out of power, and the majority of dates that various groups predicted for the end of the world have passed. Which, of course, only supports Oropeza's point: the idea that "this is surely the generation of Christ's return because times can't get much worse" was never intended to be a central doctrine of the Christian faith.

Still, the "date-setter" crowd never seems to learn. An search for "end times prophecy" revealed over 750 currently available books on the topic; a Google search, 636,000 results. My own home town (Houston, TX), hosted a major "end times" conference earlier this year, at which time at least one prominent Christian radio station suspended a day of regular programming to discuss the topic. Never mind how many times believers have wrongly predicted the Second Coming (or how ridiculous they made the Church look in the process); this time things are different.

And, admittedly, the claim that "human technology now, for the first time, has power to destroy the whole world" has some validity. Still, that doesn't prove we will destroy the world in this decade, this generation, or this century. How many sociologists predicted that a nuclear war would take place before the year 2000?

I'm no sociologist, but I suspect many "end times" adherents are motivated less by love of Jesus than by love of their own comfort; they want God to end the world so they won't have to put up with it any longer, won't have to suffer directly if things do reach the point of catastrophe, won't have to consider that they may personally be supposed to put some effort (complete with inconveniences and dangers) into bringing about reform on a major scale. If God won't promise them long lives free of want and frustration, they want to at least trade their lives for Heaven as painlessly as possible.

John Ankerberg and John Weldon, referencing Oropeza in "Why Is It Wrong for Christians to Predict When Christ Will Return to Earth?," note that "We are living in the last days [defined as the whole time period between Pentecost and the Parousia] but... we cannot know how long these days will last.... the question is not so much whether we should be ready to meet God at such and such a date in the future, but are we ready to meet Him now?" And are we also ready to accept that, if Christ does not return in our lifetimes, things may well reach the point where we have to endure homelessness and persecution--even the complete collapse of the comfortable, safe, stable world Westerners have long taken for granted? Do we really appreciate the greater blessings God has for His people who suffer?

More than that, do we have the right attitude in looking forward to the eternal order that will come eventually: seeing it not simply as the end of our hardships, but as the ultimate consummation of the greatest good--the glory of God?

Looking forward to eternity in that spirit is the secret of joy in all circumstances. 

Whatever may come to discourage me,
There are two great truths I know:
I am nearer to Heaven than yesterday;
And, in Christ I am free to grow.
Let me not look too hard at how far I am
From perfection, as Christ compares,
Except insofar as it makes me meek,
And keeps humble my thoughts and prayers.

But, lest I decide that the walk's too long,
And thus lose the will to try,
Let me also look at the Heavenly crown
That is waiting for me on high.
Keep my eyes raised up from the rocky path
That I may have to climb between,
And fixed firm on God and the joys of Christ:
Keep my heart set on things unseen.

Since my Lord looks not on great earthly deeds,
But on who I am in Him,
Let me trust His grace for my daily walk:
He Who fills my cup to the brim
And Who walks with me all my earthly days.
He alone, when those days are done,
Will reveal what always He held in store
To make me what I shall become!