The Table

Sitting across the table from you
Wonder what you’re thinking
Is it just the food? Something more?
You look up. The sweetness in your eyes
Dispels all doubts in wedded bliss
All conversations merge into one
There’s no one for me but you.

Sitting down at Your table with You
Dark the vagrant thoughts in my head
Not on the bread, nor on the wine
Your living Presence hid to my eyes
Your tender, humbling gaze on me, I look up:
Enthroned majesty cloaked in a naked Lamb
Slain for the love of a sinner like me
There’s no one for me but You.

Image by Bouf16 from Pixabay

What God Has Done

Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked?
— Ecclesiastes 7:13



what God has done
a crook in your lot
can’t be set right
by human device
bent to a degree
sorely injudicious
by reason’s measure
imperfect yardsticks
we hold up to judge
what God has done

what God has done
humility to bear
a stony field
unleveled path
that curved back
that strained heart
the roof that caved
vanquished plans
deathless grief
if we dare decry
what folly to fight
when we can’t change
what God has done

what God has done
he sent his Son
to bear our sins
to pay the price
to win our peace
to lead the crooked
down a narrow way
to carry the weak
to strengthen the tired
to lead them home
on eagle’s wings
of faith and love
of hope and joy
to open blind eyes
to see, my soul,
what God has done


Job 12: 13-16
[Job speaks] “With God are wisdom and might;
he has counsel and understanding.
If he tears down, none can rebuild;
if he shuts a man in, none can open.
If he withholds the waters, they dry up;
if he sends them out, they overwhelm the land.
With him are strength and sound wisdom;
the deceived and the deceiver are his.”

Jude 24-25
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling
and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,
to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord,
be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority,
before all time and now and forever.
Amen.

Romans 11: 33-36
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be glory forever.
Amen.

 

 

Last Year’s Snow

When last year’s snow is slow to go
The chill hanging on, no mellow glow
Arrives, freeing wintry branches and briers
Beneath the ice like frozen desires.

So may our hearts harden, slow to thaw
When too long we don’t withdraw
Our gaze from yesterday’s wrong
Mistrusting forgiveness for which we long.

Then what loss we bear to gain instead
A bitter disbelief in what had once been shed
Where warm blood flowed from pierced side
Christ’s sacrifice unheeded and despised.

Look up, dear soul, see who’s risen above
Healing in his wings to bear your judgment in love
He enthroned in power, has power to melt
Your shame-hardened heart, set free from guilt.

Leaves in Light

Eden’s light long since faded
we no longer look to know or see
as we once saw but question
the light we possess, frugal,
appalled at universal decay:
but now You have come.

Contained within the palms of Your hands,
not a leaf, not a flower, not a rock,
not the universe in a grain of sand,
but nails driven into You in whom
we have our being.

You did not suffer apart from me
as a celestial leaf in glory fallen
shorn from root, tree, limb,
but You in me, now dead, buried,
risen to new life.

In this crucible of exile do not deny me
now the fire of your Spirit along darkened veins,
a reckoning, their pride of life burnt dry
into joyous rivers of light.


Romans 6:22
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.


Lenten Days

 

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Herodian Oil Lamp, 1st c. AD

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Cor. 7-11, ESV)

Father, before you I kneel in dismay
Ashamed I’ve grieved you again today
Aware that this handful of dust and clay
Rescued from darkness to eternal day
Betrayed your love, from You turned away:
O forgive me, I pray!

Driven by discontent and greed
All I could see was my own selfish need
Taking me swiftly where You do not lead
Enticing in thought, and word, and deed
Faithless to endure and your word to heed:
O Spirit of God, help me!

Nothing I do will right my wrong
Against You I have sinned and oh how I long
To be set free from guilt so strong
Blinding me to whom in love I belong
Who over death my victory won:
My hope rests in Jesus alone!

For His is the blood that washed me clean
His death on the cross covered all my sin
His is the power that sets me free to begin
Humbly to walk with You again
Trusting the word of my sovereign King
For life abundant united to Him!

Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!


Ash Wednesday was originally the day in the church year when people who were ordered to show public penitence for their sins began forty days of penance—outward displays of inward repentance. Sometime around the end of the first millennium the practice became more general. The symbol of this was marking the forehead with ashes. It was the sign that a person had begun a multi-week fast, with forty weekdays included. They were now setting out on an internal journey of the spirit that would end only with the celebration of Christ’s resurrection at Easter. The message was visible on their faces” (Sinclair Ferguson, To Seek and To Save).

Awakened to a New Creation

They shall awake as Jacob did, and say as Jacob said, Surely the Lord is in this place, and this is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven, And into that gate they shall enter, and in that house they shall dwell, where there shall be no Cloud nor Sun, no darknesse nor dazling, but one equall light, no noyse nor silence, but one equall musick, no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession, no foes nor friends, but an equall communion and Identity, no ends nor beginnings; but one equall eternity. Keepe us Lord so awake in the duties of our Callings, that we may thus sleepe in thy Peace, and wake in thy glory, and change that infallibility which thou affordest us here, to an Actuall and undeterminable possession of that Kingdome which thy Sonne our Saviour Christ Jesus hath purchased for us, with the inestimable price of his incorruptible Blood. Amen.

John Donne, 1627

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.

Continue reading “Sanctification Hurts, or When Lent is Life”

Belief (2)

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What holds you back, O my soul,
that you stand in the shadows
wavering in the crossroads of doubt
then in the outer courts of unbelief
now in the halls of mistrust?
Why cower in shame when you are robed
in the righteousness of the King?
You have the seal of the Spirit
deposited in your bosom,
the first-fruits of your riches,
that you may approach boldly
the throne of grace,
the throne of your Father
to whom you have been reconciled
forever and ever more.

What troubles you, my soul?
Why hide in defeat when the victory is won?
The Savior King has come into His kingdom
and brought you in with songs of delight.
Because of Him, you are no longer an outcast
but a child of God, His Father and yours
as the Spirit testifies.

So come, my soul, take heart and enter
the chamber of the eternal holy God
and say, “Father.”

Come, my soul, with faith to light the way
His word the lamp to your feet
and say, “Father”
and believe.


Romans 8:14-17
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 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.
Galatians 4:6
And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Image credit: MinnieBaker.weebly.com
DailyPostPrompt: crossroads

Jesus in the Day of Small Things

For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice ….”

– Zechariah 4: 10

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Constitutional Convention Assembly Room, Independence Hall, Philadelphia

Anyone who hasn’t turned on the news and come away disheartened isn’t paying attention. The years that saw men and women strive for noble ideals in the interest of their countrymen, when the Constitutional Convention assembled to debate the great truths that should be enshrined as the foundational principles of a nation, those days are long past. The leaders that strode across the canvas of time – George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson – seem shrouded in the distant past replaced by the frontrunners of our current presidential primaries, a morally and intellectually bankrupt buffoon and an equally corrupt power-hungry crony capitalist.

Continue reading “Jesus in the Day of Small Things”

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.

Selkies, Us All: The Curse and the Cure

There she stood, in a pool of light on the stage, and in the silence between songs she told a story from her native land in the western isles of Scotland, of children born to the king and queen of Norway, born only to be cursed to dwell in the ocean as seals, “always on the shore, never able to go home.”

800px-Small_waves_grinding_the_rocky_shore_of_the_Bengtskar_island

I didn’t at once think of the selkie-folk, stories of whom abound in the northern climes, including the Orkney isles where they are believed to be fallen angels that fell into the sea rather than on land like the faery-folk.

I thought of the damned around us, immortal like us who are Christian believers, but for whom eternity will be in the “lake of fire” (Rev. 21:8), the “fiery furnace” that Jesus warns us of in Matthew 13:50 and Mark 9:43.

Once I too was damned, cursed like the selkie children of folklore, cursed for my sins, born of a sinful nature which I had inherited from my parents, from the race of Adam. As a sinner I too had been banished from Eden, always on her shore – longing for perfection from myself, longing for a perfect world free of hatred, violence, war, famine, disease, pain, and suffering – never able to “go home” to that garden where God descends to walk “in the cool of the evening” (Gen. 3:8) as a Father with His child, made in His own image.

But He didn’t abandon us, sinful creatures though we had become, His image defaced in us by our sins. He took on our flesh. He came down to the shore and walked with us, teaching us, healing us, and reminding us of His love. And He allowed Himself to be spat upon, beaten, torn and nailed to a cross so that “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind” (Is. 52:14).

He allowed the atrocity of His crucifixion out of love for us who were damned. He bore upon Himself the judgment that was ours. All the wrath that was due to us for ours sins was poured out on Him.

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  (Isaiah 53:5).

What, then, are we healed of? What peace do we have?

We are healed of the curse of sin. We can shed our “selkie” skin and be clothed with His perfect righteousness. We have the peace of eternal reconciliation to God our Father.

Dear Reader, are you healed? Do you have this peace? Or will you be doomed to the shores until that day when you will be judged for your sins and suffer the eternal punishment of the damned in hell?

Believe now in the Lord Jesus, and by faith receive the salvation He offers you, and you will be saved (Acts 16:31). He is waiting for you, as a loving father waits longingly for his wayward child (Luke 15: 11-32).

You don’t have to remain a “selkie,” trapped in the coming flames of judgement you richly deserve for your sins. You can go home.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).

 

 

Death’s Shadow

A friend told me once that she was most afraid of failing to die well. It was a glorious warm and sunny day and in the middle of it, just out of the blue, she says she’s worried about death.

We live in the shadow of death. Like winter, we know it is coming. We must be ready. An ominous chill, the harbinger of death, the first frost settles on the green leaves of summer, stealing life, sapping strength, leaves turning, withering, falling in the autumn rain. No power on earth can turn back the hands of time. A casket stands by an open grave.

It’s not simply that life has an end, that death has the last word. It’s not simply that death brings us to the end of ourselves as well.

Continue reading “Death’s Shadow”

The Valley

hills-of-tuscany-400x252

Everybody wants it:
An eternal summer and a villa—
Carefree life in a hamlet
A larder chock full
Fruit ripe for the picking
Bread rising in the oven
The aroma of sweet comfort
Cut cheese for the sharing
Busy, happy work on the table
Butterflies in the garden
Fresh ocean breezes
Open doors and sun-drenched windows
Neighbors with friendly gossip
to share a bottle of wine with—

Continue reading “The Valley”

The Lost Coin & the Znekb

Parable_of_the_Lost_Coin

Remember Christ’s parable of the lost coin in Luke 15?

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Lk. 15: 8-10)

I love the happy ending, but I never quite connected with the bit about calling the friends and neighbors in to celebrate over a lost coin. After all, a silver coin was a drachma, “comparatively but of small value” as Matthew Henry puts it in his Commentary; it wasn’t even a day’s wages like, say, a denarius of the time.

But if the silver coin had a sentimental value far outweighing its monetary worth, this would surely explain the rejoicing that followed its discovery.

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H. V. Morton’s “In the Steps of the Master” (1932) puts the story in the context of a tradition that dates back to Biblical times and continued up until the middle 20th century if it doesn’t still continue to this day. In Bethlehem, five miles south of Jerusalem, he tells of meeting a poor field-worker’s family whose daughter showed him her wedding dress, a heavily embroidered garment worn with a high headdress and its flowing white veil. The headdress is like something out of a medieval picture book or a fairy tale except that “the little tower from which [the veil] hangs is a small red fez held upright on the head by two cords which tie beneath the chin. All around this little fez are sewn row upon row of coins. The znekb [chain] hangs from the headdress and contains ten coins with a central pendant.”

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Lost_Drachma_(La_drachme_perdue)_-_James_Tissot_-_overall

All the coins would compose the bride’s dowry but the znekb with its pendant would be cherished by the bride all her life as a gold wedding necklace or ring would be today. For her, the ten coins on her wedding chain would be worth more than money. And the loss of even one of the coins would be disastrous. If I lost my wedding ring today, I would turn the house over, searching into the night until I found it, and my friends and family would know how distraught I was. They would also be the first to “rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.”

Every woman in the crowd hearing these words of Jesus would have known exactly what he meant. What would have surprised them is that Jesus was portraying God’s pursuit of every lost sinner and His overflowing joy over every sinner’s repentance and salvation as a uniquely personal love and joy.

This parable follows that of the lost sheep and is the second of three in Luke 15. You won’t be surprised that the next parable is that of the prodigal son. We who are Christians have this inexpressible comfort, that we belong to Christ Jesus who when we were dead in sin gave us new life. As He has said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10: 28-30)

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

What Then Shall We Do?

It’s the question the people who were flocking to hear John the Baptist wanted answered in the third chapter of the Gospel of Luke. In our rush to get past the account of John’s ministry to read about Jesus, we can sometimes overlook some important and practical truths that John – “the voice crying in the wilderness” of the world – has to say to us.

As the forerunner of the Christ and one called to “prepare the way of the Lord,” John was going around the region of the Jordan River baptizing and preaching “repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” He warned those who came to listen of the coming judgment of God and he cautioned them that God demanded more than just lip service to His laws but rather they must “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Continue reading “What Then Shall We Do?”

Thoughts from John Bunyan

Maybe you’re like me and have no New Year’s resolutions given our past record on such resolutions have been rather abysmal. So, knowing myself, these thoughts from John Bunyan, written while he was in prison suffering for his faith, are ones I take into the New Year, so that I may be humble, vigilant, and faithful to my Savior Jesus Christ, through whose suffering and death, I have been made a new creation.

From John Bunyan’s Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666):

Continue reading “Thoughts from John Bunyan”

… and on Earth, SHALOM!

angels-announcing-the-birth-of-our-savior-1790.jpg!Blog

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” …. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:13-14, 20)

Shalom!

Well. Here it is: the day after Christmas. I don’t know about you but the day after Christmas is when you get back to “real life” and its mundane details and there’s the news as usual, mostly bad as usual, and the afterglow of celebration fades into the incessant strife and violence borne of hatred between peoples, and sickness and warfare and want continue unimpeded.

Continue reading “… and on Earth, SHALOM!”