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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God’s Silence and “Silence”

Shūsaku Endō’s Silence (1966) is the novel about 17th-century Jesuit missionaries to Japan on which Martin Scorsese’s movie Silence (2016)  is based.  The book’s central concerns are primarily theological, zeroing in on what true Christian faith looks like,  so I was intrigued to see the film’s overall favorable reception by some Christian as well as secular reviewers. Scorsese was quoted as saying that his movie was the culmination of a twenty-eight-year-old journey to bring the novel to life, and I expected some ponderous ruminations, albeit Hollywood-style, as a result. (Spoiler: After reading the book, I had no desire to see the movie.)

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Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

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.)

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Note to Self: Just for Today

This_is_the_Day__4f204f1d5e8a4Have you ever wanted to write a letter to your younger self? Not anything complicated. Just a simple note because here you are on the other side of darkness and the sun’s out and there’s so much to look forward to and so much to be grateful for.

I looked back at my younger self today and wished I had lived my life more fully, that is, conscious of God’s presence, as one who is living coram Deo, before the face of God.

I would like to tell her to commit each day to Him, because He’s the author; to give each moment to Him, because His hand is in it; to take each task however trivial and do it as for Him, because He assigned it to me; and to see in the darkness the same glory that I see in the light, because He never leaves or forsakes me.

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The Agony of Weakness

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Augustine of Hippo

The words slipped out of my mouth before I could stop them. They were ugly and they came from the very gates of hell as I spit them out at the one I loved most in the world.

They had all the backing of my frustration, my feeling that I had been pushed to the limits of my endurance in an untenable situation. And after they leapt out into the open, I cringed in shame and despair at the pain I had caused, loathing myself, and most of all, feeling crushed by the weakness and frailty of my flesh, my corrupt human nature.

I was unworthy of the beloved standing before me, hurt and disappointed, unworthy of the love that I knew would forgive me the next moment. Worse still, I was unworthy of the Holy Spirit who dwelt in me, having been born again by that same Spirit through God-given faith in Christ Jesus, to whom I had been united.

I knew better. I was committed to a life of holiness through union with Christ. I knew I had been called to

“walk by the Spirit, and . . . not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (Galatians 5:16-17)

As part of the body of Christ, the church, had not Christ Himself proclaimed that the very “gates of hell shall not prevail against it”? (Matthew 16:18)

It wasn’t the first time I had failed that day to “walk by the Spirit” and I knew it would not be the last. But each time I did, I was bitterly aware that I cut myself off from the joy and strength of my salvation. My life became brittle and dry without the well-spring of the Holy Spirit’s felt presence, as I had once again grieved Him.

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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).