Overheard: The Coffee and the Bible

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(Setting: A shadowed room with the first rays of morning light breaking through the drawn curtains.)

Coffee to the Holy Bible (smirking): Hate to say this, pal, but she never skips me for youIt’s true love, dontcha know?

Holy Bible to Coffee: Love? “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 3:17). Love is what my pages are all about.

Continue reading “Overheard: The Coffee and the Bible”

The Time is Now: Daily Reflections for Advent

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 or family prayers and devotions. Each meditation begins with a passage of scripture read by David Suchet and then a five-minute exposition by Amy Orr-Ewing which places the scripture within the framework of God’s unfolding design of salvation. The reflections “dwell on God’s preparation of people and events in history, which made the incarnation possible,” with the focus being on how God works in chronos time to achieve his kairos purpose, the coming of the Messiah, Christ Jesus. The introductory video does a good job of explaining the Biblical use of the two Greek words for time, chronos/kairos, kairos being used by the New Testament writers to “communicate the idea of God’s time; it is eternal reality breaking into the now.”

Continue reading “The Time is Now: Daily Reflections for Advent”

A Compass, A Guide, the Revelation of God

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I’ve heard and read many sermons on why we should read God’s Word daily but I’ve never heard it put any better than this:

The Bible reveals the mind of God, the state of man,

the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers.

Its doctrines are holy,

its precepts binding,

its histories are true,

its decisions are immutable.

Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy.

It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you.

It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff,

the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword,

and the Christian’s charter.

Here, Heaven is opened and the gates of hell disclosed.

Christ is its grand subject, our good its design, the glory of God its end.

It should fill your memory, rule your heart, and guide the feet.

Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. It is given in life,

will be opened in the judgment, and will be remembered forever.

It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the greatest labor,

and will condemn all those who trifle with its sacred contents.

Owned, it is riches; studied, it is wisdom; trusted, it is salvation;

loved, it is character; and obeyed, it is power.

Author Unknown


 Deuteronomy 29:29  
The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

Photo: Gutenberg Bible (one of forty-nine Gutenberg Bibles; this is one of 21 that are complete with no missing pages), U.S. Library of Congress

You Are Not Alone

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I don’t think that anything separates us from others, even those closest to us, as much as illness, pain, or grief. There is a loneliness that sets in that builds a wall around us. It’s an invisible barrier. We can’t get out and they can’t get in. And it boils down to this. We are alone. Isolated. Cut off in some fundamental sense from where they are, because the space where we are is miles away, miles measured in pain and sorrow.

Here, in this space, only one Person can enter, can span that distance, and it is the man of sorrows, Christ Jesus. Still it is not his acquaintance with grief or pain that travels the distance to where we are. He has, in fact, never left us nor forsaken us, since neither “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” (Rom. 8:39). No distress. No sorrow. No pain. No illness. Nothing can separate us from him who loves us. Continue reading “You Are Not Alone”

Arise, arise!

Courtesy Earth Observatory, NASA

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)

It’s raining outside, which is fitting even in ordinary circumstances. Given my melancholic nature, the rain perversely cheers me, somehow exteriorizing a sadness, releasing her from her confinement, freeing me up for a temporary lightheartedness. This new guest is not unwelcome but strangely enough, she only increases my contemplation of the melancholic and sorrowful, the cloud and the rain, but with an optimism that settles into a sense of tranquility and peace.

It’s not that whatever unsettled me has been removed: the circumstance, the sin, the pain, the fear, whatever it may be. The storm has come. The blows have fallen. I am brought low. And there is only One who can raise me yet again from the dust, the man of heaven (1 Cor. 15:48), Christ Jesus.

But when you are in a place so far from heaven that Light seems a distant dream – the world, anyone? – and darkness seems the norm, you search only as a beggar in garments stained by a life of ugly words and deeds. You hardly dare approach the king of heaven. You’re ashamed to ask even for the crumbs that fall off his children’s tables. Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) in her poem “The Lowest Place” cries out,

Give me the lowest place: not that I dare
Ask for that lowest place, but Thou hast died
That I might live and share
Thy glory by Thy side.

Give me the lowest place: or if for me
That lowest place be too high, make one more low
Where I may sit and see
My God and love Thee so.

Though Scripture tells us to boldly approach the throne of grace, we know the dust and ashes of repentance are not scorned, indeed necessary, given our place as Christian pilgrims, simul justus et peccator, simultaneously righteous and sinner. Did not Jesus himself say that the man who dared not even raise his eyes to heaven but pleaded for mercy went home forgiven in contrast to the bold Pharisee?

Yet it was not the posture of the man per se, that is, the lowliness of his approach, that Christ was applauding, it was his raw honesty, untainted by excuses or crass self-righteousness. There is no hypocrisy here in this place of lowness. Just rank need. The need for God’s mercy.

That this mercy, and not just mercy, but love, is freely given into the hands of beseeching faith is what takes my breath away. That God through Jesus accepts my broken heart, forgives, mends, heals, comforts, and loves is pure unfettered grace. It’s like throwing open the doors of a palace to a destitute woman and saying, “It’s yours now. It’s yours forever.” George Herbert (17th c.) writes in “The Dawning”:

Arise sad heart; if thou dost not withstand,

Christ’s resurrection thine may be;

Do not by hanging down break from the hand,

Which as it riseth, raiseth thee;

Arise, arise!

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16)

Consider Jesus

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The Healing of the Blind Man of Jericho, central panel of triptych, 1531 (oil on canvas transferred from panel), Leyden, Lucas van (c.1494-1533) / Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia / The Bridgeman Art Library

Master, I want to see!” (Mark 10: 51)

How many times have I been in conversations with a beloved saint, desperate for relief from their pain or sorrow, who would cry out, “If only I could see His face!” How many times have I been in circumstances where I have pleaded with my Savior, “Only let me see You and I can bear even this, Lord!” And in each case the darkness simply seems to increase and our words seem only to echo back to us, mocking us from the black hole of our despair.

Why?

The request seems simple enough. Even praiseworthy. We’re not asking for mountains to be moved or miracles to be performed. Just a reassuring glimpse of the One who died to save us.

Master, I want to see!” Jesus healed the blind man who asked for his vision. But what if the blind man refused to see? What if he had gone back to acting as if he were still blind and sat begging for money from passersby once more? How foolish that would be! How truly blind!

Yet that’s how I am when, in the crucible of trial, I employ lightly the faith I have been given by my heavenly Father (Eph. 2:8).  I trade something “more precious than gold” (1 Pet. 1: 7) for what I have not yet been given but will be given on that day when Christ Jesus returns.

Twice in his letter the writer of Hebrews tells us to “consider Jesus” (3:1, 12:3). He wasn’t saying it mockingly as one who taunts the blind. He was saying it to the elect of the church, the body of Christ, who had once lived in “the domain of darkness” (Col. 1:13) but now were “children of light” (1 Thess. 5:5). Only these had the eyes of faith to see, to “consider Him . . . so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (12:3).

So then let us hold fast to this sight we have been given, look with faith at our Lord Jesus, and say with the Psalmist, “I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken” (16:8).

 

When I Look at Your Heavens . . .

A Bright Supernova in the Nearby Galaxy NGC 2403
Pinwheeel Galaxy (ESA/Hubble & NASA)

In Psalm 8, David can hardly contain his wonder at the beauty and glory of God’s creation, but it isn’t long before, like the rest of us, his eyes turn again to himself and he is humbled.

When I look at your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

(Psalm 8:3-4)

The God who set the heavens into motion not only deigns to be mindful of us, sinful creatures though we be, but in His grace through Jesus Christ cares for you, cares for me. This humbling reflection must be a part of our daily life, charging every thought and deed, else surely we will be bereft of the most glorious gift of all, the ability to worship Him wholeheartedly as the psalmist who begins and ends with this paean of  praise:

O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

(Psalm 8: 1, 9)

Non nobis, non nobis, Domine Sed nomini tuo da gloriam. Not to us, O Lord, not us! But to Thy name be the glory!

Mountains of Spices

I’ve been reading in the Song of Songs, a book that in my early years seemed utterly irrelevant to the rest of Scripture, but now has taken on a strange fascination. All the overpowering and extreme imagery (neck like a tower of David, hair like a flock of goats, incense and spices, skin like the Bedouin tents of Kedar, watchmen and the city night, gardens, mountains, valleys, fountains and streams), all this phantasmagorical imagery of love now suddenly makes sense in the context of how the Holy Spirit possesses us not just spiritually but in a manner that our senses are attuned to as we are to the smell of myrrh and wine and frankincense or the aromas of the garden and the vistas of the mountains and valleys, all sensations perceivable not just with our hearts but our minds and bodies.

The earthly imagery flooding the Song is, I think, to remind us that these vast and glorious things that we enjoy here on earth are but pale imitations of the wondrous beauty of our God. And ultimately the longing it engenders is almost unbearable especially during those “dark nights of the soul” as John of the Cross wrote in his poetry. I remember getting a book of sermons by Bernard of Clairvaux on the Song of Songs, but putting it aside. Now I want to dig it up and see what he had to say. But I imagine it all boils down to this: Oh Master, let me walk with Thee!