Grace in Wretches Like Me: Two Quotes

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.

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Selah (2)

A feast of rest, a feast of praise
Fills my heart, my mouth, my days;
A Sabbath feast of prayer and love
A shout of “Hallelujah!” to God above.

O let me never from this feast descend
But ever by Your Spirit ascend;
Hold me, Father, with Your right hand
As by faith on holy ground I stand.

Ushered in by Your Son’s call
To the festal celebration hall
Joy abundant and peace unfettered
From Your table I am fed.

Should I stray from Your dear presence
Let me quickly feel Your absence
And in Your grace, rejoicing always,
Before Your table find my place.


Hebrews 12: 22-24
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Fauré’s “Sanctus”

“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).

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Unforsaken


On a sunny day to feel so cold
or to be joyless in the moonlight
alone with demons that circulate in the air
like dust motes no one else can see
but the prisoner engulfed by placid Hades—”of suffering
the Old Masters were never wrong”—
agape in excess, empty of hope.

I cannot feel the sunlight’s burst or the moon’s
pale rays but this I know in my darkness:
enthroned on high in the heavens
my King reigns in whose power lie the visible
and invisible, Who holds sway over all,
yet undertakes to dwell with me
to deliver me from hell.


¹line from W. H. Auden’s Musée des Beaux Arts (poem)

John 1:5
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The Way and the Roadmap

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.

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Nectar

The butterfly sings with finely painted wings
her prayer of faith in nectar of needs
catches the fire of Your glorious throne
as from Your hand gaining flight
over meadows she streams
silent praise.

I sing with rude feathers of thought
lines of prayer drawn in rough flight
till unseen wind of Your Spirit
send them winging in faith to receive
praise unbroken for my lips,
divine nectar of joy,
healing balm of Your touch,
and manna for all of my needs.


Matthew 15:28
“O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.”

Prayer for Ellen

Before You I fall, the blood of the slain Lamb
Like rubies lit across the spilt years,
Dispersing hungry darkness, preying fears
Dismayed faith, that my prayers in ceaseless
Torrent may wash through unbelief and doubt
And the inane repetitions of old words
Earth-bound and worn, ill-used in faith, weary
But that fright has flung them on my tongue
Again to plead mercied miracle for a friend.

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“Ransom. Ransom. Ransom. Ransom. Ransom.” (Perelandra)

Matthew 16:26/Mark 8:36/Luke 9:25 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

Of C. S. Lewis’s The Space Trilogy, my favorite for mostly personal reasons is Perelandra. The plot unfolds around a newly formed planet, loosely modeled after Venus, undergoing an Edenic beginning with a man and a woman and a multitude of new creations. Into this is sent Elwin Ransom, the protagonist from earth, charged by God (Maledil) with the mission of thwarting the attempts of Satan (Black Archon) to tempt the newly created Queen to rebel against Maledil and bring about a Fall, the agent of which is another man from earth, the staunch materialist Professor Weston who becomes a demoniac.

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Sanctification Hurts, or When Lent is Life

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.

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The Two Witnesses, Olive Trees, and Lampstands

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.

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A Patient’s Prayer

When sickly sorrow settles like grave-dust
Do You, O Lord, quicken me with light,
That septic darkness spreading its malodor
Can no longer bury me, cold and sightless
To Your presence as pain and grief alone
I see — O, hear my cry, attend to me,
An earth-bound sinner, Spirit-compelled
To shed mourner’s garments for robes of grace,
In faith to dwell by streams of gladness
And taste the riches of Your providence.

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Confessions in the Desert

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 …

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The Burlap Bag

One wintry Thursday morning, under a queer blurry sky, an old woman trekked down a bustling city street with an unsightly burlap bag hanging from her shoulder. The people that passed her noted her appearance which seemed awfully ordinary except for the bag, of course, which couldn’t possibly be a handbag.

Every once in a while she would stop and ask a passerby something, then shake her head and keep walking. This happened from early morning to evening so that the people who passed her while on their way to the office or store would pass her again on their way back. The ones she had already stopped and spoken with would give her a wide berth more often than not. She really did seem strange, but in a familiar sort of way.

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We Are All Beggars

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)
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Romans 12 & the Sermon on the Mount

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.

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Walking On Water With You

LORD, you want me to live upside down defying gravity
I can’t unless you hold me to the ceiling and that’s insanity
I want to keep lurching back to my feet or I’ll be dead
Floating on air with you and most of the time my head
Keeps exploding because everything is turned around
But You tell me I’m right side up and not to frown
When I can walk on water like You.

You’ve rearranged my living not to put myself first,
To love my enemy and do good to all who thirst
To turn the other cheek and walk the extra mile
To let go of the bling the world prizes with a smile
And enjoy the freedom of a brand new life in You
To let my self die so You can live and I in You
Because when I lose my life I gain it for free
In your kingdom eternally though I can’t see
But by faith which is fantasy to most people minus one
Who look out for sensible ways to get the job done
While living in the world like me.

But I trust You, Lord, and what you say is right
The Way to live my life is by faith and not by sight
I’ll walk in the Spirit and obey and not retreat
And forget the world says that it seems to spell defeat
To see the first is the last and the last is the first
When the devil fights like there’s no end to the curse
Though we’re in the last days, You still haven’t come back
And not to criticize but that seems out of whack
But it’s true because You said it so I’ll live upside down
And with You holding me I believe I’ll get my crown
And I can walk on water like You.

(Based on Matt. 5, 1 John 2: 15-16, John 16:33, & 1 John 5: 4-15)


Rap poetry is an energetic, raw, and unpretentious genre which is not always put to its best use as an instrument for good. But sometimes it is. If you’re not familiar with its use in the church, popular Christian rapper Shai Linne’s “Justified” is a great example of lyrical theology at its finest in contemporary culture and I encourage you to read it here

reach_for_the_stars_by_amongstotherthings

Advent

IcySnowTree
The Urals, photography by Sergey Makurin

She was dead she thought
The leaves gone gray with frostbite
Fullness of life pinched like the last rays
Of twilight and the seed rotten
In the grave of her heart where it lay
Thick corpse unlooked for, unhoped for.

Then the recrudescence of the unseen cloaked –
Birth pains preceded by incredulous laughter
Behind three visitors, welcome yet sorely
Testing her faith that after all these years
The barren belly and breasts hanging loose
Like the flaps of Abraham’s tent would swell
With child and milk and passion flailing
In her arms in cries of longing.

Still yet would the muted prayers of her heart
Confuse a blind priest and escape like drunken speech
From a spirit overburdened with years of enduring
Whispers interspersed with “poor Hannah”
And taunts hastily stifled between pursed lips
Escape the earth to a listener in the heavens
Beneath the frozen stare of endless reeling stars.

Oh, birth that fell upon the girl betrothed twice:
First to the gallant, plainspoken carpenter by trade
Then to the shame that lay as heavy upon her as the child
Ripening within, immortal Savior, promised to a broken remnant
Who had almost ceased to believe their barren vineyard –
Stripped, plundered, bruised under heel of pharisee and emperor –
Would find its fruit at last in the promised seed of God
Eternal hid here in the virgin’s bespoken womb!

Now to ready the still beating heart beneath the flesh
That spawns decay, loss, grief, hate, pain and misery
Unbroken by relentless time, but that time itself stoops
To enter into a stable wherein lies a gurgling babe,
The hope of every longing heart
The joy of bright expectant eyes
The peace of life newborn where once there was none
Now in this advent of his return.


Isaiah 9:6-7
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Exorcising the Zombie

Sometimes when you “express yourself,” you’re just exorcising the zombie you’ve become – or attempting to. It’s a rare moment of self-awareness when you want to break free of the accumulated dead cells of all that stifles life. Writing is one way for me, especially if it begins and ends with a deeper awareness not just of myself but also of my Maker and my God! The following verse was written in a burst of frustration as thoughts began intruding into my quiet time:

images

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