The Creator became the heart of creationwhen in Christ Jesus He took on our flesh. This is no small thing. He who is one hundred percent divine became also one hundred percent man: true God, true man. What but the love that existed in the Trinitarian God frometernity could cause Him who created all that exists and all that has being to take on the rescue of His creatures in this humbling fashion, enduring the darkness of our world and enduring our death in order to free us from evil and death eternally! So great is His love for us that He came down at Christmas to raise us up with Christ and give us Himself for all eternity.
So we rejoice! We rejoice at such a love, such a Creator, such a God who gave Himself for usand to us when He who is “Love came down at Christmas.”And we thank Him, and praise Him, and glorify and worship Him who through this life has promised to never leave us nor forsake us for He has made us His children in Christ Jesus! Hallelujah! For the Lord God eternal reigns! Hallelujah!
Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love Divine, Love was born at Christmas, Star and Angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead, Love Incarnate, Love Divine, Worship we our Jesus, But wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token, Love be yours and love be mine, Love to God and all men, Love for plea and gift and sign.
Christina Rossetti (1885)
A note to my readers and blogger friends: I will be taking a blogging break for a while and look to reconnect in the New Year. Merry Christmas to all and to all, best wishes for a Happy New Year!
This is not a show Don’t let it fool you This baby escaped a tyrant’s slaughter Not a carpet of flowers
Jesus knew hummus before kosher At Egyptian tables to eat (Rimbaud yawns!) These wise visitors bore gifts for an exile Oh glorious! for the King of kings
We beg/steal/borrow tv Santa’s wigs Play jolly, play Marley’s ghost Turn engines of Christmas to erupt Merry, when Jesus was born for sorrow.
Count His bones on the tree, no beauty This mother will see, only a sword piercing From cross to myrrh-anointed shroud
An ocean, an ocean of darkness to bear A birthday for a Man whose death will be the death of Death Erupt in hallelujah! Turn nuns into acrobats!
This is not a show Don’t let it fool you This baby escaped a tyrant’s slaughter Not spring weather on a tapestry
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'” Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Shay/Fireblossom's "Word Garden Word List #5 (Gregory Corso)"
"What we do here is this: write a poem using at least 3 of the twenty words on the following list. Your poem need not have anything to do with Corso except for the three (or more) words. The list is a springboard."
King Ahaz was a jackass And a murderous one at that The faithless shepherd of Israel Who roasted children before his gods.
But before his Assyrian enemies he shook and cowered, and the prophet Isaiah came with a strong word from God: “If you don’t stand firm in faith, you will not stand at all.”1
The LORD had determined to protect His people from the Assyrian wolves; He told wicked Ahaz to ask for a sign And false-hearted Ahaz refused.
Yet the LORD was committed to His purpose of peace And gave Ahaz a sign foretelling a birth then and hence A maiden would give birth to a child, Emmanuel, “God with us”2: “If you don’t stand firm in faith, you will not stand at all.”
Now as we celebrate our Savior God’s birth We light a second purple candle to remember A virgin’s journey to Bethlehem to bear Jesus, Our Emmanuel.
You, compassion-clad, mudlark scavengers of world-weary souls
You, yourselves poor, despised, nobodies scorned3
Beloved of God, glory-bound
catch the light in golden cups of faith catch it, taste it, see how good His Word catch it freely with a living hope
catch sun-filled manna, multiplied grace peace as it settles like a priceless crown upon your head in splendor untarnished
catch the light with your open heart newborn soul with ears to hear Song of songs from Your Father’s throne
catch it as a prayer upon your tongue sounding the depths of Love unknown but for the babe in a manger born
catch the light and let faith loose kindled incense upward bound sent like sparks to heaven’s court
catch joy unspeakable, unbounded love the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost come in power to dwell with you
1 Peter 1:9 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
1The Beatitudes are characteristics and blessings listed in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:1-12
2Romans 8:16-17 “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
31 Corinthians 1:26-29 “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”
section in bolditalics: Sammi's weekend writing prompt: 52 words, "Mudlarks" Eugi's weekly prompt: "Compassion" Have a blessed First Sunday of Advent everyone!
I want to give thanks today for all those who inspire us daily to live in faith, hope, and love.
Thank you for those who inspire us, as do Lewis and Madden, from very different generations, cultures, classes, life experiences, gender, color, and yet, one faith.
Two communicators in two different mediums.
C. S. Lewis (“Jack”) through his words on a broad canvas of scholarship, Christian apologetics, and science fiction and fantasy works. Tamara Natalie Madden through the portraits she lovingly brushed on a painter’s canvas, where people emerged from their ordinary guises to reveal the immortal souls they bore.
Jack died on this day in November 1963 at the age of 64 in Oxford. Tamara died on November 4, 2017 at the age of 42 in Atlanta, succumbing to cancer after suffering from illness much of her life.
Jack lost his mother at the age of nine and, having married late in life, his wife Joy after only four years of marriage. Tamara received a kidney transplant by “the grace of God”1 that enabled her to live another seventeen years painting and writing, counting “survival from illness, and my willingness to listen to God and pursue my art”2 her greatest achievement.
Both artists remind us not to take ourselves too seriously, or others too lightly. Tamara clothed her subjects in the colorful African and Indian fabrics of royalty. Jack read every one of the hundreds of letters he received from the Christian and non-Christian readers of his books, and replied to each one by his own hand with unfailing kindness and courtesy.
What a blazing legacy they have left us, to live brightly, however briefly, whatever our challenges, heightening our vision to see we are all royalty, bearing the image of God. We are all immortal and destined for immortal ends.
2 Timothy 4:21-22 Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers. The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.
Grace at dVerse challenges us with the "wayra," a popular poetic form
in Peru and Bolivia written in five unrhymed lines of 5-7-7-6-8 syllables.
Click on Mr. Linky to join in.
Image credit: Autumn Leaves, Wallpaper Safari
“Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16) “But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’” (Matt. 15:25)
Two women: Queen Esther. The Canaanite/Syrophoenician woman.
One was a Jewish concubine in a Persian king’s harem. The other was a Gentile kneeling before the Messiah.
Both women were pleading for the lives of people they loved, one for the Jews in the Persian Empire, the other for her daughter possessed by an unclean spirit.
One pleaded for community. The other for family.
One came before an earthly king. The other before the Kings of kings.
Both came trusting in a God who “had prepared a table before them” in the presence of their enemies, came in the power of His Shepherding grace and love through the valley of the shadow of death. (Psalm 23)
They came as sheep before their Shepherd, believing in His power to rescue and save.
Two women. Two needs.
Having prayed to the sovereign God, Esther came before the earthly king knowing the fate of the Jews in the land was in the hand of God, as was her fate: “If I perish, I perish.”
Having heard of Jesus, the Canaanite woman came before the Jewish Messiah, knowing He was Lord and her daughter’s fate was in His hand: “Lord, help me.”
They were tried. Haman worked actively against all that Esther would do.
They were tested. The Canaanite woman was asked the reason for her hope.
In both cases, God worked behind the scenes, though in the book of Esther He is never mentioned, not once. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus seemed to be indifferent to the Canaanite woman’s plight, though in her heart He had already laid the groundwork that made her bold and persistent.
They knew what God could do. They didn’t know what God would do.
“Let my life be granted for my wish, and my people for my request.” (Esther 7:3) “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (Mark 7:28)
They hadn’t known what God would do, but they knew who He was: He was a God who cared enough to listen.
Two women who had no rights but what were granted as crumbs in the society in which they lived, went away as daughters of the living God, granted more than crumbs, granted their heart’s desire.
A community of Jews was saved. A daughter released from demonic possession.
A tale of two women alone? No. The story is really about God, and how his daughters (and sons) are never alone.
Pray now, and “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
Isaiah 49:15-16 “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me.”
Round and round the kwestions go Where they stop knowbody knose.
“Mr. Knowbody, tell us please! When will our suffering cease?”
“It will end in God’s own time,” Knowbody answers with a rhyme.
“Knose you, knose I knose we by and by when on our knees we make our pleas to Him who does know more than we can know does all things well more than we can tell.”
Knowing this by faith I offer praise To God alone who with me stays.
Yet knowbody’s cries can turn into wails It’s a whale of a tale rehearsed to cat’s tails.
Then round and round the kwestions go When they stop knowbody knose
Cause everybody whales and nobody tales.
Mark 7:37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
Psalm 28:1 To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit.
Philippians 3:20 (KJV) For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.
I find this to be remarkable: that God is in constant conversation with us who are His own, even when language fails, as it often does. Especially when we feel as if we’re talking in circles around the same things, and it feels like nonsense to our own ears, as we wait on God.
We would be less than honest if we stated glibly that we can be articulate when in pain. That is a luxury most of us are denied. Pain drives us insane. It unmoors us from all that we know. Language becomes meaningless. We become a series of moans and groans and outright wails.
For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
2 Corinthians 5:4
Yet the Word who became flesh to tabernacle among us knows each of us, reads us like a book of which He is the Author. And whatever our wordlessness, our communion with Him continues.
It continues in the language of faith. Of which He is the Giver.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
It continues in the language of love. He is love.
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
1 John 4:16
It continues in the language of hope. He is the God of hope.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
It continues in the language of peace. He is our peace.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:18-19
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility
It continues in the language of life. He is the Author of life.
. . . the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.
Jesus, the Word of God, is in constant communion with us. Everything we do, say, think, is in the context of conversation with Him.
Prayer is more than words for believers. It is trust. We live in an attitude of trust even when we are bereft of all else, including words. Because we know who He is, the One who first loved us and gave Himself for us.
Our wordlessness, in suffering or in pain, is not an impediment to Him. It is a grace.
Dig deep in communion with Him who never leaves us nor forsakes us. Dig deep in His word. He is not silent.
The one who gave us mouths to speak, speaks to us. The One who gave us ears to hear, hears us.
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. (Luke 12:27)
There is no nonsense about them These increments of light Sun-warmed stalks and petals, Reducing to ornate shabbiness, palaces and temples, Gaudy shacks of industry, mirrors of acquisition While these Easter-birthed seeds burst otherworldly All-gathering the vindicating Light The Being uncanny borne by fragile forms, mortal all, Sometimes dowdy, bent, dreary, Sometimes bold, speckled, flashy, Zealous, winsome, or hard-pressed Between cracks of broken pavements Yet there all the same: Seven thousands of unbowed knees Introduced by design, awakened, sent out As an offense to be discarded or tolerated, Eliciting smile, laughter, scorn, booted heel, These refugees offering refuge immortal These exiles rushing homeward This desire of sun: These lilies of the field.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness. (Psalm 26:3)
[And the LORD said to Elijah:] “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:18)
Jesus said:“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
I’d been talking with her on the phone for quite a while. Now I had come to the end of myself, not simply physically weary, but spiritually. She was still anxious, overwrought, doubtful of her salvation, overrun with the voice of the Accuser undercutting the gospel she had known and believed for most of her life. Painful circumstances had brought her to the end of her rope. And I was at the end of mine, spiritual weapons blunted and defeat looming.
I was, in effect, poor in spirit. Impoverished, like the woman who said to Elisha: “Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil” (2 Kings 4:2). Destitute.
But Jesus had said this was a characteristic of those in the kingdom. So I was good, right?
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5: 3)
Blessed/Happy: μακάριος “makarios” mak-ar’-ee-os (Gk.) – “blessed,” “happy,” “possessed of peace (shalom), well-being” — in the Amplified Bible: “happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous–with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions”
This is the very first beatitude, a statement of blessing. Jesus’ eight beatitudes are the dramatic opening to his teaching in Matthew 5, 6 & 7. The beatitudes are the tour de force of the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, consummate prophet, priest, king, knows how to grab the attention of his listeners by describing the happy, fulfilled life, the desire of every human being. He describes “the makarios life,” that is, the “blessed/happy life,” of those who follow Him. This life is available to every believer. The kingdom of heaven had already come with His appearance, even as it will come fully on the day He returns. As believers, we are citizens in His kingdom, and as kingdom-dwellers, we should possess all the qualities that the beatitudes describe.
The makarios life is the life of someone described in Psalm 11, and in Christ Jesus, we possess its qualities. So, as Jesus says, happy are we! And this first beatitude gives the foundational characteristic that leads to all the other attributes listed of the blessed life. Living the makarios life means we are first and foremost “poor in spirit.”
Well, I was certainly feeling my spiritual poverty on the phone with my desperately anxious friend.So why didn’t I feel blessed?
Simple. The kingdom of God is not a matter of feeling. It is knowing and believing and trusting that God’s word and promises are true. It is a matter of taking with both hands God’s revealed truth and turning around continually to Him, looking to Him, and relying on Him to provide for all that we need to apply that truth in our lives and our relationships. That is kingdom-living. That is happiness-producing. That is blessedness. That is the makarios life!
So I acknowledge my spiritual lack and gather the riches of the kingdom in Christ Jesus. And I give my friend what Christ gives me: His love.
Do you remember the song we grew up with as children, the one we taught our children? I ask her. We used to sing “Jesus Loves Me”?
Yes, she says.
Can we sing it together?
Jesus . . . loves . . . .
Her voice fades pitifully. I can feel her anguish, hear her cries of panic and uncertainty, powerless to hope, powerless to believe. She can’t bring herself to say “me.” Jesus loves ME.
She hardly has the breath to sing through her cries, so I sing it for the most part alone. She is silent while I sing. Listening. Then I ask her:
Can you, dear one, say “Jesus loves me”?
Patiently we repeat the words of the song. Simple words. Words at the heart of the gospel.
She stumbles many times, as if in unbelief at the immensity of the statement, that Jesus could love her, even her.
Yes, I remind her, Yes! Jesus loves you. Yes! Jesus loves me. This I know. For the Bible tells me so. Little ones — us, you and me – to Him belong. You are weak and I am weak but He is strong. Say it, dear one: say, “Jesus loves me.”
And when at last she does say it, substituting her name for the “me,” it is as if another gate of hell had been broken through, and the Accuser driven back in defeat.
It is a moment of great victory. You see, the kingdom of God is ours, the poor in spirit, in the person of Jesus Christ who loved us and gave Himself on the cross for us. And He gives us the kingdom He won for us.
I am weak but He is strong. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Sister! Brother! Preach it to yourself, to each other. We are living the makarios life. Hallelujah!
1Psalm 1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
A good and timely reminder from Rev. Shane Lems of Reformed Reader: “To Christians Who Are Suffering“. May our Lord use it to touch the hearts of the suffering with his unceasing mercy and grace.
For it is written, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1: 2-4).
Psalm 115:1 — Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!
In his acclaimed novel, The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro immerses us in the first-person narrator’s severely circumscribed life and worldview. His is a life of self-imposed limitations, aided and abetted by a strict adherence to the British class system, indeed his overweening pride in his “Englishness.” You might think he’s a member of the upper-crust. You would be wrong. Mr. Stevens is a butler who has bought into the quasi-heroic and mythical dimensions of his role as a dignified appendage to the high and mighty.
He takes pride in his clockwork management, attaining renown among butlers and employers alike. He spends a good bit of time telling us his definition of dignity and its value. He’s most careful regarding the proprieties of conversation, the attire of distinction, the observance of the caste system, and he unwittingly reveals the fictions necessary to support such a system.
The casual negligence of these mores shocks him. He lives and dies by the clock and the way things are. The future escapes him.
Stevens is also very conscious that his dignity is a borrowed dignity, a dignity conferred by his relationship to a peer of the realm, his employer Lord Darlington.
In this novel of manners, Ishiguro gives us something more than mere voyeurism. His butler, Stevens, is on an unwitting voyage of self-discovery. He’s shocked into it by the revelation that his erstwhile employer, Lord Darlington, like many of the aristocrats of his day, had been a Nazi sympathizer.
Stevens predictably retreats into self-deception; as Salman Rushdie points out in a review:
At least Lord Darlington chose his own path. “I cannot even claim that,” Stevens mourns. “You see, I trusted … I can’t even say I made my own mistakes. Really, one has to ask oneself, what dignity is there in that?” His whole life has been a foolish mistake, and his only defense against the horror of this knowledge is the same capacity for self-deception which proved his undoing. It’s a cruel and beautiful conclusion to a story both beautiful and cruel.
— “Salman Rushdie: Rereading The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro,” The Guardian, 2012
Ishiguro’s more recent novel, The Buried Giant (2015) has more of the same pathos, blindness, self-deception, in the face of life’s extremities. If there’s any consolation in life for Ishiguro or Rushdie, it must be that it has its cruelties, but it has beauty as well, inviting a sanguine resignation that is far from satisfying. Beauty. Cruelty. They are more than mere aesthetics. They are a part of life, occupying categorical spaces in our hearts and minds. It’s what one puts into those categories that makes all the difference. Especially with regard to suffering.
Let’s face it. Most of us prefer to maintain the status quo. It’s painless, well-established, safe. Anything disruptive spells danger, so we go along with those who maintain the status quo. They prey on our sheep-like need for a communal feeling of security even if it leaves us shorn of our freedoms. We want to be included, not excluded from the social norm, so we compromise, even when “inclusion” means branding others in Orwellian terms (see Animal Farm).
One of the many unsettling characteristics of our time, though, is the unreliability of what is status quo: beliefs and assumptions that once took several decades to change, now can change in a matter of years, even weeks as we’re seeing when it comes to scientific opinion on biological gender, psychology, epidemiology. A lot of this change has to do with the political hurricanes blowing around us. They pressure us into jumping onto the currents of zeitgeist so we’re not left out of the “loop,” because who wants to be on the outside looking in on the popular fads or dictates of the moment.
But it has become increasingly difficult to ride the waves of popular sentiment and opinion. We could find ourselves being outsiders in the twinkling of an eye, the mob raging after us, “outed” for unpopular beliefs by our own families, friends, colleagues, and employers. Playing it safe has never been more dangerous than when sociopolitical tides shift rapidly.
“Choose the hill you want to die on carefully,” a wise man once told me. The problem? A terrain of equally worthy hills to make my stand.
No. That’s wrong. There’s only one hill to die on: Calvary’s rise where the greatest battle ever fought raged and one Man died the victor, defeating death once and for all to rise again in glory, and reign over heaven as one day he will over all the earth. In the meantime, he is sovereign over individual moments of history, personally and collectively.
As a Christian, that puts me on the wrong side of history according to the prevailing status quo. But as the Bible tells me, I’ve always been an outsider in this world, a stranger and a pilgrim. I should be ill at ease in a society that tells me that my security and comfort come first. And one day I may have to die on this hill, as an outsider, as Christ Jesus did outside the city walls.
Truth is, with my rebirth and new life in Christ, my status quo changed from the world’s to the kingdom of God’s.
And that makes me an outsider no more, but included in the most secure and eternal kingdom of all, peopled by sinners of every nation, ethnicity, and language, each washed in the blood of the Lamb, knowing a freedom from guilt and sin’s hold.
More than that, I am a child of God, known and loved, surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, united with Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit. And on this hill may I die a worthy death to be raised on that day when Christ returns.
Hebrews 11:13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
Ephesians 2:19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God . . . .
1 Peter 2:7-12, 21-25 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. … For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
“Poetry makes nothing happen: it survives”¹ unlike young Icarus² who would fly to freedom under the belly of a giant whale ascending but he plummeting, free-falling, down to his death while a world watched, still watches in horror through that silver screen of the mind’s eye as of an oracle that survives in the folds of memory forecasting doom, like the poetry his heart sang of a better life, a New World of winging hopes now a land in chaos helmed by venal fools where yet survive as in the Ark the few whose hope shies not away in whom Life supplants death to whom Bread is provided and thirst quenched whose city is built not with human hands whose cornerstone is the Lamb that was slain.
2On Monday, August 16, 2021, seventeen-year-old Zaki Anwari fell to his death after clinging to a US military plane taking off from Kabul as he tried to flee the Taliban takeover. He was one of several Afghans who rushed onto the tarmac of the capital’s airport and desperately held onto to the side of the C-17 aircraft before takeoff, captured in a widely-shared video that encapsulated the chaos of America’s exit from Afghanistan. A member of Afghanistan’s National Youth Football Team, Anwari was described by a spokesman for the sports federation as “kind and patient.He had no hope and wanted a better life.”3
Right now while I’m writing this, there are around 15,000 Americans in Afghanistan with no way out. Taliban insurgents have cut off access to the airport while our “woke” military leaders and diplomats are in effect begging “non-inclusive” terrorists to allow safe evacuation. Meanwhile, dictatorial domestic policies on the vaccine front don’t reflect either the data or the science, with the emergency vaccines themselves proving more and more ineffective (even harmfully ADE), except in satisfying greedy pharmaceutical companies that have never seen so much money in their lives (not to mention their political benefactors). The Biden administration has proved itself to be more of an incompetent, greedy, dangerous morass of idiocy than what they and their allies in the media and big tech daily branded the previous administration’s domestic and foreign policies.
I think we can spot a narrative failure when we see one. And we’re seeing more than one.
If only we could sit back in our armchairs and relax. But we can’t. Both on the domestic front, where liberties are daily being eroded, and the international front, where terrorists have been given a new lease on life thanks to Afghanistan, Americans are under attack. And though for the good of our children and our neighbors we must pray and strive to be vigilant at all cost, we cannot deny that we are under increasing threat, especially as Christians. We are living with moral erosion and Marxist hegemony in every major American institution. The political and socio-cultural agenda of the far-left has advanced far faster than they themselves could have foreseen, thanks to the money pouring in from big tech as well as its effective monopoly of social media platforms. Their unholy narrative advances.
There’s plenty of cause for fear. So why aren’t we afraid?
We aren’t afraid because all human narratives, the meta-text of civilizations and empires, fail. Any good history book tells you that. But more importantly, the Bible tells us that. Kingdoms come and go. But as chapter 2 of the Book of Daniel tells us so graphically through the vision of Nebuchadnezzar, only one kingdom overtakes them all and is eternal. God’s kingdom.
Don’t lose that plot in all the frenzy that surrounds us. God is sovereign. Jesus is King. His kingdom has come in the hearts of every believer and is coming as we proclaim it and will come when He returns.
Even as we long for Christ’s return, let’s not let any narrative of fear take control of us. In Christ we are already victorious. Hallelujah! All glory be to God our Savior!
I’m so pleased to have discovered a podcast that addresses issues of color, ethnicity, and diversity with a Christ-centered perspective. Prof. Janine Bolling and Rev. Dr. Gerard Bolling host The (Im)partial Churchpodcast for Lutheran Hour Ministries, a podcast exploring “how Christians embrace different cultures, celebrate diversity, and live out their faith.”
Entertaining as this brother-sister duo is, when addressing the issues of BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color), cancel culture, and cultural diversity, they follow the apostle Paul’s admonition to “let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:6). As they point out in “What Not to Say” (episode 3), salt preserves, and we must use our speech to preserve relationships between people, not destroy.
The Bollings are winsome and practical, providing with their podcast a place for Christians to look for ways in which to live out their faith midst cultural diversity. Bringing their personal and professional experiences into the conversation makes it that much more relatable, while grounding their discussion in frequent references to Scripture and what God calls us to be as His family bought and reconciled through the Cross of His Son provides the solid ground of love and hope and fresh motivation to build bridges between communities.
Repentance. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Love. For Christians these qualities are part of the very identity we have in Christ Jesus.
The (Im)partial Church engages and informs, inspires and connects, all in service to the God who calls us above the noise and fray of hostility to live to His glory in obedience and love and humility and sacrifice.
Listen to this podcast and be refreshed and energized to meet the challenges of a culture that would divide rather than unite us. As Christians we are called to this ministry of reconciliation by living missionally, reflecting the new life we have in Jesus.
If someone were to tell us that knowing God is Three Persons in One is an easy concept to understand, we would have to declare them either a simpleton or a liar. But if someone were to tell us that this concept of the Trinity makes all the difference to how we interact with him in adoration and joy, with his overflowing love as the driving engine of our evangelism, we may just stop and ask this rejoicing Christian to explain. And Michael Reeves, president and professor of theology at Union School of Theology in the UK, does just that in Overflow: How the Joy of the Trinity Inspires Our Mission.
There is a reason that Christ commanded, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19, bold italics mine), and Reeves does a great job spelling it out for us simply and convincingly in this short book that will leave a lasting impact.
Charles Spurgeon once said this: “The most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity. And, whilst humbling and expanding, this subject is eminently consolatory. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrows? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of grief and sorrow; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead.” (p. 11)
Reeves shows us that “the Trinity is not a weird puzzle for theological nerds but glorious good news for every Christian to enjoy”; that “the radiantly self-giving nature of God as the wellspring of all love, joy, goodness—and mission” is revealed from Genesis to Revelation; that when the Trinity is denied, love is denied; and “how, when Christians share God’s own outgoing fullness and radiance, we shine as lights in this current darkness.”
Reeves writes, “Mission is rooted in the Trinity, in the very being and nature and heart of God. And this is something deeply heart-winning and attractive in Him. If there is one thing I really want, above all, to communicate in this book, it is the great truth that God is mission. Wherever you’re at with God, particularly if you aren’t too thrilled with Him at the moment, I’d love for your eyes to be opened so you see just how stunningly beautiful and satisfying He is. I pray that your heart begins—maybe for the first time in a long time, maybe for the first time ever—to burn with a love for Him. Not just a duty that compels you and tells you what you ought to do, but rather, that you truly love Him! And then, out of this deep love, you will want to see the whole world come to know about Him too.” (p. 18)
“Mission is the outworking of God’s very nature. Before we ever did anything for Him, this God comes and gives His life away for us. So mission does not start with something we do, but with something done for us” (p. 48).
“Mission is the overflow of love from the enjoyment of divine fellowship. As we partake in the Father’s pleasure in His Son, and the Son’s pleasure in His Father, and the Spirit’s enlivening of their mutual love, it causes us to share their love for the world. Thus we become like what we worship. It is then, friend, you will want to sing of Him: when you are basking in the sunshine of God’s love. Because, as Jesus said, the ‘mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart’” (Luke 6:45 HCSB) (p. 56).
Reeves reminds us of the Father’s eternal love, what Christ has done for us on the Cross, and the Spirit’s regeneration, and encourages us to live in the light of this gospel truth: “You can live by the flesh, which means living under a spirit of slavery, always propelled by an insatiable lack, by guilt, by greed, by the desire to justify yourself. Or you can live as a child of God, by the Spirit of adoption.” (p. 82) “The children of God live from a fullness of life, a fullness of blessing. We can’t help but overflow with it. Other people need it too.” (p. 89)
This book is full of encouragement for those who feel themselves spiritually weary or empty. It is Christ-centered, Gospel-proclaiming, and Trinitarian-affirming and celebrating. I heartily recommend it.
Whom the fire burned is under gauze. Was it once black or white or non-white? What the closed eyes? What myriad colors swirl beneath the bandages? Sins of color stain even a child. What absolution have we if we offer such sacrifices as the gods decree? And if it walks like blind Tiresias what will it prophesy but death which comes to all and judgment.
In keeping witht the theme of minimalism in art, Sanaa at dVerse writes: “I want you all to select one out of the twelve photographs shared … and write a poem. It can be an Ekphrastic poem, if you like. Go philosophical. Go dark or romantic or solemn. Share what you feel about Minimalist photography when you see it. The idea here is to provoke an emotion, and what better way to pour them out other than poetry?” Click on Mr. Linky and join in.
Inspired by the Georges de La Tour painting below, the following poem attempts to give an added voice to the eloquence of Tour’s work by “unmuting” Job’s wife. As a character in the Book of Job, a Gentile living during the time of the patriarchs, Job’s wife is not prominent. But, perhaps, she delivers the most bitter blow to Job. Through her, we hear the voice of Satan speaking most directly to Job when she asks, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die” (Job 2:9). In the midst of his sufferings, I believe Job’s greatest challenge was to withstand this voice and choose to trust God.
No, Job, I didn’t sign up for this. The ships lost at sea, drowning spices Camels marauded, flocks lit into carrion husks Children buried by an ill-wind where they danced And my jewels? Bartered for funeral meats
Shall I proclaim it for posterity, inscribe in stone Your endless complaints, the hollow sounds Of jagged grief and friends’ scorn? Look at me! Washing our rags, hiding my shame From the maids that I once kicked out of doors
Job, I didn’t sign up for this, my darling. Your boils how they stink where they fester Open wounds that run dry and break open again The prayers that you whisper late into the night While in the city they dance and they dine
Gentiles we are, not of Abraham’s tribe! The God you both serve has given you hell So leave it, I tell you; curse Him and die! Don’t live like a fool trusting Him with your life When a stillborn child has much better luck
I heard you this morning sing like a lark, Of your God who will come to intercede and save Who with your own eyes you will see at last So you’ll wait, diseased, though you’re slain. You’re mad!
The sacrifices you offered once smoked to the sky Yet you speak of a Redeemer as if he were a man But, husband, what broken body, what blood can make clean Hearts bitter with hate, hands wicked with lust? This God that you worship is too holy, too proud Do what I say! Curse Him and die!
I didn’t sign up for this! Do you hear? I didn’t sign up for this.
Job 19:19-27 All my intimate friends abhor me, and those whom I loved have turned against me. My bones stick to my skin and to my flesh, and I have escaped by the skin of my teeth. Have mercy on me, have mercy on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me! Why do you, like God, pursue me? Why are you not satisfied with my flesh? Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!
Roughly reworked from an earlier version for dVerse "Poetics: "Exploring the Narrative Voice," guest hosted by Ingrid. Thank you, Ingrid for a superb prompt.More dVerse poems, at Mr. Linky's.