My Big Brother

My Big Brother

I always wanted a big brother.  In the perfect family there is an elder brother, I thought.  My mother is probably responsible for this deeply held ideal.  She adored her six big brothers.  They were the heroes of her childhood, the models of true manhood.  I heard the stories of their adolescent pranks, their achievements, their successes, their courage and, yes, even some of their failures.  The accounts of the latter, though, paled in light of their glory, and her love for them.  Yes, everyone, but especially a girl, should have a big brother.

It’s no wonder then that I hoped my first-born would be a boy.  It didn’t matter who came next as long as a boy came first.  I didn’t dare actually ask God for this, however, thinking it would be presumptuous and childish of me.  Ultra-sounds weren’t routine 40 years ago.  I didn’t know who I nourished in my womb for those nine months and already loved the small person within me.  I mentally prepared myself for a girl.  Since I secretly longed for a boy, I figured it wouldn’t be.  Can you imagine my delight when I met our baby boy and elder brother to all who would follow?  I was speechless —and humbled.

I am the eldest in my family.  I have two younger brothers.  One of them is already with our Father in heaven.  He was born one year and 11 days after me and from the time I became aware that a big brother is a desirable thing, I began to pretend that our ages were switched.  In my heart, I made him my “big brother”.  (Just to set the record straight, both brothers would laugh me to scorn at the idea that I played a “little sister” role.)

The good news, the gospel, is that God has done what he promised he would do by raising Jesus from the dead.  About that historical event, God the Father proclaimed to Christ, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.”  This means that “as the God-man, the ‘man for others’, he took the first steps of man on the ground of the world to come.”  Jesus opened the womb from mortality to immortality.  He is the first-born of this new forever family.  His “birth” from grave to glory, from death to life, paves the way for us to follow.  He is our Elder Brother who makes our regeneration and fellowship with the Father a reality in the here and now.  That resurrection day, when Jesus was born into a “world to come”, guarantees that what took place in the Elder Brother will one day take place in the lives of all the children, all who receive and believe this good news.  I do have an elder brother after all!  This one will never fail, will never disappoint.  He is the ultimate Hero, my Forever Protector – but not only for me.  He is the perfect big brother for my little brothers, too. 

We are taking care of granddaughters while their parents are away.  As we strolled along the pier our granddaughter, and eldest in her family, noticed the family groupings we passed.  “They just have one boy. He doesn’t have any sister.”  Then, “they have only girls and no brother!  That’s like my family!”  After a short exchange with the mother of the girls about brothers and sisters, our little one confidently asserted, “But my mommy might bring back a baby brother for us!”  We swallowed our outburst of laughter, while I mused on the precious truth the she already does, indeed, have a Brother – and an Elder One at that.  

“My Father, your provision amazes me.  Not only have you adopted me and made a way that I, by faith, can call you my own Father – but you have provided for me an Elder Brother.  Jesus.  I pray that all my granddaughters who don’t have a big brother will trust you as their own perfect champion, their hero, the One they look to to save them from all dark things, the one they adore.  And for those who do have a big brother, may they put their hopes and expectations in the Elder Brother who will never disappoint, who will never fail them and whose glory will not fade.  Strengthen them, cause them to be rooted and grounded in the endless expanse of the love of their Elder Brother for them.

Acts 13:32, 33; I Corinthians 15:20; Eph. 3:14-19

Sources:  the Bible and Children of the Living God by Sinclair B. Ferguson

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Two Hands

Two Hands

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

“When you are receiving a gift, make sure you take it with both hands.  When you give someone a gift, don’t pass it to them in an ‘off hand’ manner.  Take it with both hands and put it into the receivers two, extended hands.”  These were our instructions on gift giving and receiving in the African context.  

Who are “those who are in Christ Jesus”?  They are the ones who take Jesus Christ with both hands.  They are those who wrap both their arms around the cross, embracing Christ’s blood sacrifice on their behalf.  They are those who open both hands and receive the righteousness of Christ, not hooking even their little finger onto a bit of their own goodness.  

We just returned from the Thursday Lord’s Supper celebration.  The broken bread is passed to me with two hands and the words,  “The body of Christ given for you.”  I receive it with two hands and eat.  The cup, brimming and heavy is passed to me with two hands.  “The blood of Christ shed for the remission of sins.”  I receive it with two hands.  And drink it in.notfikkwrxge54d6ujc3yw.jpg

God gave completely, with two hands.  He gave His own Self.  Condemned in our place.  We who are in Christ receive Him, receive His righteousness in exchange for the death we deserve, with two hands. We receive Him completely and with a whole heart, just as He gave.  

But we don’t just receive.  Tonight we were reminded that Jesus didn’t break the bread then lay it back onto the table.  He commanded us to eat.  We receive, giving His sacrifice all of our attention; but we don’t stop there.  We apply his sacrifice to our life, every day, every moment.  His broken body and shed blood become the context in which we live our lives and where we find our very identity; therefore we are IN Christ; therefore we have been pronounced “Not Guilty”!

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Romans 8:1

Devoted

Devoted

He came into the house, shirtless and barefoot, wearing only shorts.  This was his usual attire.  I never could get him to wear shoes, and very rarely a shirt.  During the day he was either “doing school” or outside playing with his dogs, digging a hole the size of a house, and climbing trees.  And he didn’t just climb.  Ropes of various lengths hung from numerous limbs all throughout our enormous cashew tree.  Chad spent hours everyday climbing and swinging for the sheer thrill of it.  Just like Tarzan, he’d perch himself on a high limb, rope clutched in his hands, feet pressed together against the rope — and then he’d give himself a mighty heave and soar through the air, right up to the next limb where there dangled another rope.  He grabbed, clenched, pushed, pulled and swung himself over and over again, his adolescent muscles working hard and relishing every moment.  I would watch, then turn my head so as not to see the risks he was taking.  He climbed and swung before lessons, during his breaks and in the afternoon.  No one told him to.  It was his activity of choice with his friends, and alone.  It’s what he did when he had one minute to spare – or an hour. 

On this day, he came in to take a break and with urgency in his voice he said, “Mom, I just have to figure out a work-out program.  I should be doing something to build my strength.  How can I get stronger?”  He’d observed his older siblings doing push-ups, chin ups and various other strenuous exercise routines in preparation for their physical fitness tests.  “Shouldn’t I be on a program like that, Mom?”

“My soul breaks with longing for Your judgments at all times.”  Ps. 119:20 

At all times.  David’s soul was totally occupied with a longing to know God.  And so should ours be.

But it seems such an effort.  We don’t think we have time to commit to a program of knowing God.  “Wouldn’t I need at least an hour every day to do the required Bible reading, pray certain prayers and then, on top of that, journal about what I’m ‘learning’? I don’t have time for that!”  But, might you find time to read one verse? – a verse like the one above, for example.  Take that verse into your thoughts.  Write it down on a little card and poke it into your pocket and weave it into your day.  This is your tree to climb and your rope to swing on today – when you have 30 seconds, one minute, or ten!  Your morning devotions may just consist of finding that verse you heard on Sunday and writing it down, quick, before the baby wakes up.  

Daily, perpetual devotions.  Repeat the verse throughout the day.  Try putting the emphasis on a different word each time.  This exercises your thoughts, directing them to grab onto real strength for the soul found only in God’s word:  “My soul breaks with longing for your judgements at all times.”  Does it?  Do I long to know God and his ways when I’m doing fine, as well as when I’m not?  Ponder.

Pray it in confession while filling the dishwasher: 

 “Lord, my heart and soul are not occupied with longing for you.  Part of me doubts that your decrees and judgements are truly worth longing for with that kind of intensity.  I long for so many other things.  Forgive me.  Plant a deep longing in my soul to know You.”

Or:  “My soul breaks with longing for your judgments at all times.”  We need to ask ourselves, “Am I longing after the things God says, or am I more interested in what my friend or therapist, or inner desire tell me?”

Pray it in thanksgiving, aloud, while changing the baby: 

“My Lord and my God, thank you for your judgments, your decrees.  Thank you that they are all I need, and totally sufficient for all matters of the heart.  Thank you for making it possible for me to know you.” and  [“Sweetheart, your Heavenly Father wants you to know him!  Imagine that!”]

Devotion: to pay homage to; to show by our actions that we are devoted to someone.  

To whom or what do you pay homage?  Our thoughts, meditations, words and actions throughout the day reveal the true object of our homage.  That nice block of time that we call “daily devotions” is an important exercise of our homage.  However, that scheduled spiritual work-out is meaningless unless our devotion moves out of our comfy corner and into the car, the classroom and the kitchen, and beyond.   Our thoughts about and attitudes towards God throughout the day are the genuine devotion. 

Take that rope and soar with it!

Torn To Heal

Come, let us return to the LORD. 

He has torn us to pieces; 

now he will heal us.  

He has injured us;

now he will bandage our wounds.

In just a short time he will restore us so that we may live in his presence.

Oh, that we might know the LORD!

Let us press on to know him.

He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn

or the coming of rains in early spring.

Hosea 6:1-3

We are grieved by various trials.  Peter acknowledges this reality of our lives.  We are torn, injured and wounded in our souls and our bodies.  Our pain and sorrow is real.  Death is real.  And here’s something else that is real:  Hosea states plainly that the Lord is behind these trials.  He has ordained them for us.  Peter says the trials are necessary! and that they result in praise and glory and honor at the [future] revelation of Jesus Christ. *

As I write this, my friend is digesting the news that her cancer is malignant; friends of mine in central Mozambique are dealing with hunger, destruction and death all around them and are past the breaking point; there are broken relationships that tear at our hearts; I continue to navigate my grieving process after the death of a dear loved one.  I cry out, we cry out, “Will this ever end?”

It will. 

“For a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials…”*

and

“In just a short time …” or, a more literal translation reads 

“In two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.”

How does our faith respond to the trial?  Our trial that God foresaw and didn’t prevent?  That He ordained?!  We are aghast!  What God is this?  Clearly, we don’t know him very well.  We don’t know God as well as we thought we did.  

“Oh, that we might know the LORD! Let us press on to know him.”

Press on to know Him.  Consider all that he says about himself, his ways, his laws, his mercy, and all his characteristics. He astounds us.  He brings us to our knees.  This God is truly a fearsome One.  A God with all the power to divert a given course of events, but who chooses not to in order to do something eternally merciful and gracious is a God who makes us tremble.  Such holy masterfulness boggles our minds.  And we can only respond in worship of Him.  Through our tears, may we cry out to God to help us know him better.  And may we worship him while we hurt.

Finally, the reality that will make this present pain but a bad dream: the power of God to heal that which is gruesomely torn, and his mercy to do it.  Let us press on to know Him, the God who loves us so much that He’s willing to wound us now in order to restore and refresh us in His presence eternally.  It won’t be long.  

“The same providence of God that afflicts his people relieves them.”          

Matthew Henry

*I Peter 1:6-7

Perspectives from First Peter One (2)

In our first devotional study, Peter led us in praise.  I hope your soul has gained a right perspective by returning your mind often to praise. We pondered God’s person.  All other reasons for praising him are built upon the foundation of his holy person.  He is worthy to be praised simply because of who he is.   But now, see how eager Peter is for us to go on and ponder God’s actions.

His next sentence is  l  o  n  g  .  It seems to me that Peter is so eager to get the words out that he won’t even stop for a breath!  However, we’ll be stopping often along the way to catch our breath!  We’ll sit and rest, taste and savor – my New Testament version of the “Selah” found in the Psalms.

According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. First Peter 1:3-5

If you haven’t already, add these next verses to your folded 3×5 card. See Perspectives from First Peter One

According to his great mercy,

Mercy.  Great mercy.  This is something God has. Mercy, by definition, is the withholding of a punishment that is deserved.  What we read next is all possible because, and only because, of God’s mercy, not any merit in the receiver.  We are about to hear how God applies his mercy.

Let’s fly over the sentence to pick out the nouns and their modifiers (easy grammar, right?).  Your list might look something like this:

great mercy, living hope, resurrection, Jesus Christ, inheritance imperishable undefiled unfading, kept, heaven, God’s power, faith, salvation.  

Don’t these words fairly sparkle?  They are like diamonds, flashing in the light is we glide over them.  They draw our attention to the One responsible for these happy, dancing, superlative words.  The One responsible.  That would be the One doing the action.

he has caused us to be born again to a living hope…

God does it all. The resources from which God draws his generous mercy all belong to him.  He is the source of the resources!

birthday boyHe would soon turn six.  Our monthly check had already arrived and there was just enough for the daily basics.  But the money didn’t stretch far enough for extras, like cocoa, for his favorite chocolate cake.  And, there was no way to buy him a birthday present, either.  I was exceedingly concerned (worried is probably more like it.)  The day came.  No cocoa, no present.  So, we got really creative.  I had been on a carob kick and had a bit left.  Ta-da!  Chocolate cake.  Grandparents (bless their wonderful hearts) sent presents.  We had a little family party.  Maybe he never noticed, but I felt keenly the lack of a present from me and his daddy.  How could his own parents not get him anything?  We bought time.  “Instead of just a one-day celebration, we’ll celebrate you every day for a week!  It will be birthday week!”,  I explained, in hopes that a few extra dollars would show up before the week was over and we could present him with our gift to open.  Each day he got some little special treatment – choosing the story to read, alone time with Daddy, going to bed a bit later — you get the idea.  Nothing superlative.  A bit here, a bit there.

See what God has caused, what he has put into action for your sake!  His work is complete, perfect and permanent and satisfies every need we have for mercy.  He pours it on his own redeemed people abundantly, without holding back, from his bottomless resources.  He’s not limited by any lack of resources to apply his mercy to anyone who asks for it.  The effects of his mercy are reality and apply to your every day past, present and future.

Don’t forget to keep your card with you and glance at it often!  In between ins and outs of your daily schedule, ponder those nouns and their modifiers.  Take each one in turn.  Rehearse the definition of each word.  Resist the urge to rush on.  Let your heart sit awhile to ponder the list of things God’s mercy has made available to you.  This is reality that makes a difference – eternally.

What To Wear

What To Wear

“You look like you’re ready to lead worship”, said my husband as I stood before him in leggings and a long sweater.

“Mom, do you think I could choose a wife on the basis of the swimsuit she wears?” asked my son, in all seriousness.

“All ordained clergy are invited to join in the procession … [and] should wear attire appropriate to their tradition.” – a footnote on the invitation we received to an ordination service.

What do the above accounts have in common? They all show that we attribute meaning to what people wear. I’m not going to speculate, in this space, what women are saying by what they wear on the platform or at the pool. On the other hand, a clergyman’s robe and stole absolutely identify him with a certain tradition. His statement is obvious.

God understands more than we do that the thing we put on identifies us with a tradition, a culture, a belief. God, right from the beginning, used the garment motif to communicate redemption. He did not accept the green, leafy clothes Adam and Eve made to cover their nakedness. These clothes offended God and said to Him: “We did exactly what You told us not to do and now we’re trying to cover up and to hide our sin against You. We are full of shame. Our new clothes should make us feel better about ourselves and keep the truth from You.” But God saw through their flimsy leaves, right into their souls. Their workmanship did not cover their sin, nor their guilt, nor their shame.

Don’t we still try to cover ourselves in our own workmanship? Don’t we think of ourselves as basically lovable, good and deserving of God’s good will? Do we believe we can make our own plan and “get to God” on our own?

She was barely three years old. Perching on the curb, I told her to take my hand to cross. “I don’t want to hold your hand”, she stated. “Very well. If not my hand, you must at least hold someone’s hand to cross this street”, I insisted. She pondered for hardly an instant. Then she clasped her left hand in her right hand, held them out in front of her and announced: “I will hold my own hand.” And so doing, she marched across the street alone. Fortunately, she arrived safely on the other side. However, we will not arrive safely on the other side of death, nor be welcomed to eternity in God’s kingdom if our view has been: “I’ll do it myself. I have a plan.”

God’s gospel work began in Genesis 3:21 when He Himself covered the rebels with garments of His own making, having rejected their efforts. And then, Christ * shed His blood as our cover. So those who bow before Him, denying their own goodness in order to receive Christ’s covering, will be robed in His righteousness. If we aren’t wearing this, we aren’t wearing anything.

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.” Isaiah 61:10

Will God recognize the robe you’re wearing as you stand before Him on that final day? Or will you appear before Him in garments of your own making, flimsy wisps of nothingness? Will the Righteous Judge look at you or me and say what the truth-speaking child cried out when their Emperor marched past the crowd in his new clothes: “But he doesn’t have anything on!”

A well-known theologian puts it like this: The question is not “Do you know Jesus?”, but rather, “Does He know you?” Are you clothing yourself with garments made from your own pattern? A custom-fit life of your own invention? If so, He won’t recognize you as His. He only receives those who are wearing His perfect robe of righteousness thrown over them solely and explicitly because of what Christ has done! God will recognize me because, no question, He knows that robe! Hallelujah!

There is a song I love about this robe:

I am covered over with the robe of righteousness that Jesus gives to me, gives to me,
I am covered over with the precious blood of Jesus and He lives in me, lives in me.
What a joy it is to know my heavenly Father loves me so,
He gives to me, my Jesus.
When He looks at me He sees not what I used to be, but He sees — Jesus.

Does Jesus know you? What clothes do you trust in to cover you, to identify you as God’s child? What are you wearing?

*link to Statement of Christology in Portuguese

 

Feasting in the Wilderness

Feasting in the Wilderness

“What keeps you going?”, he asked. It’s a canned question, but meant to give veterans the chance to encourage young missionaries, I suppose. How do I answer that? What remarkable, memorable statement could I utter that would make a lasting impression, maybe even change him forever? My genuine answer, the one my heart immediately trumpeted, was just one very loud word: “Jesus!”. But that’s so expected. I’m a missionary after all, and that’s what you’d expect me to say. How boring. “Jesus, literally, truly, absolutely, keeps me going.” I told him that, not because he expected me to (he didn’t), but because this is one, true thing I know for sure-without-a-doubt.

The sun has set on our Namibia assignment. There was a day, or a week here and there, where I was able to exercise my gifts to teach and encourage others to follow Jesus Christ and know His word. Mostly though, it has been twenty-one months of isolation, of a life un-peopled, of being invisible. So, during our end-of-term review, I had to answer another question posed by my leadership: How has your emotional health been this term? I wrote one word: fragile.

The multiplied hardships that characterize a missionary life, and this assignment in particular, look like a recipe for emotional meltdown. Too often we respond to such a recipe by fighting back, demanding attention, and becoming self-focused. Our soul grows bitter, depressed and rebellious. And I could see it coming. I wasn’t immune.  But meltdown didn’t happen. My soul is healthy!

Most of my needs for friendship, companionship and to be useful (other than within my precious marriage) went unmet month after long month. But my heart danced!  How is that? I am not hardier of character or a “stronger Christian” than other people. A friend once marveled at how I could “just leave my family” for years on end and live far over the ocean. She comforted herself by telling me she supposes I don’t have the same emotions she has so being a missionary comes easy for me. I wanted to punch her, (which is proof that I’m not a “stronger Christian”). It is precisely because of my weakness that Jesus, and only Jesus, is “what keeps me going”. He is my satisfaction, my joy, my salvation, my peace, my Redeemer, my everything.

Jesus. The Holy Spirit took me deeper into the knowledge of Christ through His word. Oh! The depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! [All of the riches of his grace are mine, now, in this situation!] How unsearchable are His judgements. [He, in all His bottomless wisdom, has put me here.] How inscrutable His ways! [Who do I think I am to question His way with me?]

Jesus. God revealed. God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. [I am humbled before such a matchless Master.]

Jesus. He has loved me with an everlasting love. I am not my own. [I don’t belong to me.] I was bought with a price. [He paid the price for my sin with his own life, his own blood. He bought me back from my old master, sin. So of course He will protect my wobbly faith.] “Therefore, my soul, glorify God!”

Jesus. The Great I AM. He has come to me, seeing me in my rocking boat, and has passed by, in order that I might gaze on His glory. Oh, listen my soul! It’s not that Jesus gets in the boat with me, takes my storm away and says, “It’s ok, we’re good.” He did not get in my boat but has desired to show me his glory. He beckoned me to look long at Him, at His person and identity. And then I was not afraid, or angry, or demanding to be useful. After all, why would I be?

Jesus. The one who I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. [I have committed the salvation and the preservation of my soul to him. He will keep it. I can stay in my right mind and not give myself up to an attack of doubt or panic.]

Jesus. The one the prophets foretold. The one about whom the Scriptures were written that I might know God and have eternal life. His word is written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. [The hope and comfort I need each day is to be found in Christ as I learn about Him in the Bible.]

Jesus. According to His mercy [not my usefulness] He saved me, through the washing of regeneration [I am baptized into Christ, He claims me as His own!] and renewing of the Holy Spirit [every day, he is continually renewing my soul, helping me change my mind and think rightly about him and others, and myself.]

Jesus. He daily blessed me with his presence and spooned into me the knowledge of Him. He fed me with Himself through reading His word, meditating, accepting his correction and repenting.

And so, one by one, the days passed in pondering Christ rather than myself. My fragility became my strength and my joy. I learned not to recoil from the ache in my heart, but let Jesus use it to make me more like Him, that He would be shown as glorious.

Having learned more about the measure of faith I’ve been assigned, I won’t put God to the test by seeking a second assignment that entails such isolation, though! I won’t court trouble. Trials will come without my looking for them.

Back in my home culture, where life is comfortable, I let down my guard. I know from experience that I eventually lose the fragility and my sense of utter dependence on Jesus Christ. This frightens me. I have feasted too much on Him in this wilderness to be satisfied with any less of Him in the “land of plenty”.

Romans 11:33-36; I Corinthians 7:23; II Timothy 1:12; Hebrews 1; Titus 3:5

Resources that help me to bring God’s word to bear on my soul: Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Unabridged; John Calvin’s Commentary on Psalms; sermons by Aaron Messner  and daily devotion guide .