In speaking of the passing of a fellow man of God, R.C. Sproul, theologian, teacher, and founder of Ligonier Ministries, said at the time,“A mighty general has fallen on the field, in valiant service to his Lord.”¹ Yesterday, R.C., as he was known to many, passed away and the same tribute can be paid to him. He labored to preserve the purity & simplicity of the gospel, and he was a great communicator of gospel truths. I am personally indebted in my spiritual growth to his many lectures on video (at ligonier.org) and his books (Knowing Scripture, The Holiness of God, The Consequences of Ideas, etc.). In the final line from his final sermon (11/26) on Hebrews 2:1-4, he said: “I pray with all my heart that God will awaken each one of us today to the sweetness, the loveliness, the glory of the gospel declared by Christ.”
The thirsty drink from Thy waters
Which from Thy temple still flows
The waters of Thy glorious Spirit
That sweet faith in Thee bestows.
O may I drink forever deeply
Of this fount of love and life
Look to Thee when I am thirsty
For Thou alone can satisfy.
We all search for heroes and heroines, and some even find them, only to discover their clay feet. When we see faults of different proportions in our Christian brothers and sisters, we tend to be less forgiving with them than we are with those who aren’t of our faith. Yet the same God who works in you to transform you into the likeness of Christ, works in me to do the same. And as we disappoint one another, even betray one another, we must love each other, hating the sin all the while.
Such sin we can see so clearly in others. But our own we so often fail to see until we are forced to. On some sin-encrusted surfaces of our lives, the grace of God melts and molds us easily to conform to His image. On others which are more obdurate, our stony footholds of sin must be hammered away by the heavy blows of suffering until we are transformed.
This is a first in my “Two Quote” series, since it sets side by side not only a written quotation but a musical one.
It’s rare when music is mentioned in literature that I feel inclined to dwell much on it but when the writer is Dickens and the composer is Handel, well, naturally I took the bait. Needless to say, the comic nature of poor Bella’s father’s grimly melodious characterization of his marriage took flight. But then Dickens always did have a way of making you literally laugh through your tears, perhaps even his own as he was at the time estranged from his wife.
Our Mutual Friend was his last completed work and, as if in a farewell gesture, Dickens throws into it the unrestrained comic genius and dramatic flair of his first novel (The Pickwick Papers, 1837) which brought him the acclaim he richly deserved. In the excerpt below, the “Dead March” from Handel’s dramatic oratorio, Saul, is made to dance to the sorrowful notes of Reginald Wilfer’s portrait of married life.
Mrs. Wilfer, writes Dickens, “is a tall woman, and angular,” necessarily so according to the matrimonial law of contrasts, her husband being “cherubic.” “It is as you think, R. W.; not as I do,” comprised a part of her deceptively submissive repertoire of aphorisms with which she managed him. Only to Bella, his eldest daughter, is Reginald Wilfer able to relax his guard and venture into unfettered conversation.
“I never had a mother,” Emily Dickinson wrote. “I suppose a mother is one to whom you hurry when you are troubled.” But where mothers fail, God never fails. His is a mother’s touch that is always ready to receive, ready to lift and comfort, ready to provide what is needed. “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” (Is. 49:15).
I wonder, have you reached the point in your Christian walk where weakness is strength? Where your weakness becomes a source of joy? If you have, then you have found true humility and more: you have found wisdom. And wisdom is a Person. Jesus Christ.
As C. S. Lewis puts it,
It is easy to acknowledge, but almost impossible to realize for long, that we are mirrors whose brightness, if we are bright, is wholly derived from the sun that shines upon us.…Grace substitutes [for hubris] a full, childlike and delighted acceptance of our Need, a joy in total dependence. We become “jolly beggars.” (The Four Loves)
Joy in total dependence? It goes against the grain of our tendency towards self-reliance. In our pride, complete dependence is anathema.
Sharing this modified Irish blessing from my daughter, Asha ….
☘️”May you always have…
Walls for the winds
A roof for the rain
Tea beside your laptop
Those you love near you
And a little yellow dog at your feet.“☘️
Also love this Irish blessing:
“May you always walk in sunshine. May you never want for more.
May Irish angels rest their wings right beside your door.” (h/t Linda)
☘️ Happy St. Patrick’s Day! ☘️ The luck of the Irish be with all my merry readers!
More than two thousand seven hundred years ago, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, saying, “And I … am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory” (66:18). And He did come just as He promised, in the incarnate Savior, Jesus Christ. Now many peoples of all manner and kind, from every nation, gather to proclaim His glory and praise His name.
Once when he was very young, I remember my son looking at me through the very real pain of getting a shot at the doctor’s and saying in surprise and accusation, “It hurts!” I was his mother. I wasn’t supposed to allow such pain, much less engineer it. In his dependance on me, it must have seemed like a betrayal. “It hurts me more than it hurts you,” I’d have liked to have said, but I don’t think he would have believed me, that I would have spared him if not for the ultimate good the injections promised.
And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”
These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.
Revelation 11: 3-4
I long for the Lord’s return as does every disciple of Christ in heaven and on earth. So in anticipation we labor to understand John’s visions in the book of Revelation, visions that are couched in poetic form, heavy with imagery, rife with symbolism, and characterized by repetition. Truly, the eyes of our mind have to be opened by the Spirit of Christ to understand the Scriptures as once He did for the disciples before His ascension to show, as He said, “that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 14: 44-45).
If we understand that Revelation was given to us so that we may see the end of all things as being Christ’s final victory over death, the devil, and the world, we will see it is as a joyful summons to “Lift up your hearts!” a sursum corda, to rejoice in what Jesus has achieved and will achieve in the coming of His kingdom, and the new heavens and the new earth.
The images from Revelation 11 appear random but are fraught with meaning and I have written about the entire passage in “The Two Witnesses.” What I left out was a closer look at how the imagery of the two olive trees and two lampstands complement the image of the two witnesses and how wonderfully rich they are.
When words that breathe in storied volumes
Stained by guilt become clanging cymbals
As loveless shepherds of the church be
Who trample over hearths, homeless leave
Their sons, their daughters, cold hearts unwarmed
By trophied honor, noxious fumes their legacy.
From the pulpit come your soundings,
O man of God and woman too, what will your
Words of sounding brass do but betray your Master
With false heart, a kiss from lips of self-love,
Self-glory, when a servant you proclaim to be?
1 Corinthians 13: 1-3
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
You’re restless. You can’t sit still. You have a nagging task you can’t identify. You’re looking for something unknown. But the land is arid and the country is a wilderness. Then after a while, unexpectedly, the first sign of relief appears. You run towards it like you would a spring in the desert. You drink deeply. And …
In the spring of 1521, a man stood alone before an inquisitorial council, summoned by the Pope and Emperor Charles V, to renounce his writings and his beliefs. Instead, he stood firm, saying,
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.
Just days prior to his death many years later, this same man, Martin Luther, wrote that before the Holy Scriptures, “Wir sind alle Bettler” (“We are all beggars”).
We are all beggars. Newly clad in the righteousness of Christ, having discarded our sin-soaked garments, we stand with hands empty before our holy God to receive each day our fill of nourishing food from the table of Christ our King, a table laden with all that comes to us by the Spirit of God in the Bible. “How sweet are Your words to my taste!” writes the psalmist. “Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (119:103). “O taste and see that the LORD is good!” (Ps. 34:8) Through His word, Christ Jesus teaches and guides us, and by His Spirit enables us, so we shout with confidence with the apostle Paul, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me!” (Phil. 4:13)
Continue reading “We Are All Beggars”
Reading Romans 12, I am struck by how it seems to compress the whole of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount while at the same time expanding on the Beatitudes. Basically, Romans 12 simultaneously provides a bird’s eye view and a X-ray magnification of Matthew 5-7. Both passages, of course, are specifically addressed to followers of Christ.
Ever get caught talking to yourself? It can be embarrassing! But what if someone tells you that you not only should talk to yourself, but you should do it for the kingdom of God and the glory of God?
I feel as if I’ve put it off long enough while going around in circles, thinking, thinking, thinking, feeling that it must be said, to myself and to you – if you are a Christian believer – that you and I are no different from the man on the stretcher whose sins were forgiven by the Son of God, or the woman who touched the hem of His garment and found the healing she had sought from her disease.
I’m not certain what Italian movie director Franco Zeffirelli was thinking when, in Jesus of Nazareth, he had Mary weaving on a loom in the moments just prior to her betrothal ceremony. No doubt he wanted to separate Mary from every other girl of her time, indeed all time, who would anxiously be checking every last detail of her appearance before presenting herself to her beloved, not to mention the entire village gathered together for the celebration. All eyes would be upon her, the center of attention.
I had never heard this 18th-century Christmas carol until very recently but it has since been playing in my mind, at once familiar & fresh. Penned by Richard Hutchins in 1761, it has inspired music by, among many others, Elizabeth Poston in the last century and another performed by Lee Nelson & the Wartburg Choir in 2013. (I’ve posted both versions below.)
December came with grim aplomb, and I in hiding
From screaming carts down shopping aisles, the alarming
Wreaths with fragrant graveside cheer, and Marley unchained,
Playing false, outdone by someone else’s fireside hearth
And ham and pudding and drinks strung out like cards
Upon a fraying thread and skewers of mercilessly toasted goodwill.
It’s been two days since the first Sunday in Advent, so it’s not too late to share once again a video series of short daily reflections that I found to be a cornerstone of family devotions one past Christmas season and whose benefits, I believe you will find, linger through the year.
The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics has put out a series of daily reflections for advent which provide a beautifully meditative context for our individual prayers and reflection. Each medit…