When All Is Not As It Should Be…

When All Is Not As It Should Be…

Celebrate!

Second Chronicles records events in the lives of the exiles recently returned from Babylon to their homeland, Israel.  Amidst the physical hardships of rebuilding and the heartache of lost glory, we read that God still wanted them to celebrate the Passover.  This is where you might stop and take a closer look at II Chronicles 35. 

Following God’s instructions, the people celebrated, and lavishly.  They pulled out all the stops as King Josiah ordered the biggest Passover celebration ever.  

“No Passover like it had been kept in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet.  None of the kings of Israel had kept such a Passover as was kept by Josiah, and the priests and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel who were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”

This must have been because they’d had a good year, things were going well for the nation, prosperity abounded, the people had been honoring the Lord God with all their hearts and obeying him in all things, therefore God had blessed them.  Right?  They were so happy about their successes that they decided to sacrifice more animals than ever before, prepare a bigger feast than ever before, dance more joyously and sing more songs.  All was as it should be.  Life was good and everyone was happy.  Right? 

Wrong.   Let’s look at the circumstances and historical context.  Not only were they suffering physical hardship, but they suffered the consequences of their unfaithfulness to God.  God speaks to them through his prophet, Isaiah.  In chapter 30 he declares that they are a people ashamed, humiliated.  Once mighty and proud, they are now disgraced.  They live in fear, at the mercy of their enemies.  They were an idolatrous, wicked and disobedient people.  Their nation was a lost cause.  The “people of God” languished in captivity and shame. 

Life was not good and neither were they.  They suffered every possible consequence of abandoning the Lord their God and living their own way.  Happiness was not the overriding emotion of the day.  So, what was there to celebrate?  Not themselves, not each other, that’s for certain.  Not their situation either.  What then?  The Passover was observed in the midst of sin and sorrow in order to remember that God had saved them out of slavery in the past, that he was their Savior and God and no other. Real celebrations find their meaning in who God is and in what he has done, not in who we are and what we have done.

The Passover looked back to what God had done, and also gave a future hope.  It is no different for us today.

Read Eph.1:7, 8. 

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses,  according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight …” 

What words and phrases indicate things we have to celebrate?  What has God lavished on us?  God wants us to “eagerly and lavishly celebrate the great redemption we enjoy in Christ”.  And just like the Passover of Josiah’s day, it requires (as means allow) feasting, enjoying the sights, smells and taste of good food.  It begs song and dance to the glory of the Savior.  Our celebrating declares itself in visiting, praising and praying with others of the redeemed company.  

What is the next Red Letter Day on your calendar?  Are you a little anxious about the celebration?  Do you wonder if so-and-so will say something mean?  Or maybe your gift will fall flat, or you will be working too hard to enjoy it … Prepare yourself ahead of time.  Write down Ephesians 1:7, 8 (and even 9!).  Take this with you to the party.  When your thoughts take an unlovely turn, step away to repent and then to ponder the grace God has lavished on you through Christ.  Open your heart to receive these lavish, eternal, spiritual gifts.  Turn away from your brooding over gifts that are not offered; pining for what our fallen world can never produce.  Then, even if all is not as it should be, return to the party with a heart that celebrates the riches of his grace lavished upon you.

Even So, Celebrate!

Even So, Celebrate!

Even though Christmas is over, we can still talk about fruit cake, right?  That’s because genuine fruit cake, the kind created and enjoyed by subjects of Her Majesty the Queen, is made to last.  If it’s real it only improves as the winter carries on through January, into February, and beyond.  Real fruit cake is often just called “cake”.  To many in the world, cake, by definition, includes dried fruit.  For instance, if you go to the grocery store in southern Africa for “cake mix”, you might well come home with a bag of nothing more or less than “mixed fruit”.  Period.  This bag of dried fruit bits (not glazed or candied) became one item I regularly kept in the pantry.  I couldn’t bake without it and sorely miss it here in the U.S.  

Back in my “home” country, I long for “real cake”.  I resolved to make one this year.  I wanted to eat, and offer to anyone with a similar palate (which means I’m eating most of it myself), British fruit cake.  So of course I went online and found “Christmas Cake”.   Ah!  The real deal!  With my list of ingredients, I headed to the store, determined to practice self control and avoid “creative” substitutions.  Alas, though I searched various places, I couldn’t find currants that cost less than their weight in gold.  (Where, oh where, is my “cake mix”?)  Hence, my first substitution:  more raisins, sultanas and diced apricots, plus a load of dried, cherry flavored cranberries instead.  (I know my English friends are going “blaahhh” about now.)  I baked it in a tube pan instead of the normal round pan indicated.  Then came the long process new to me – feeding it weekly with sherry.  I baked it in early November, too late for the requisite three months feeding.  Two months would have to do.  

A section of the recipe was all about the “covering” applied at the end of the three month feeding period, before cutting into it.  Marzipan.  Royal icing.  Another costly and laborious addition.  And too sweet.  Nope, not doing it.  This is where I draw the line.  How many substitutions or changes have I now made to the recipe?  Will it still be Christmas Cake?

It isn’t as it should be, exactly.  Yet I’m not disappointed.  It’s quite tasty after all.  It’s a little celebration each time I indulge in a slice.  It was pure joy to gift a hunk of it to friends who also appreciate “real cake”.

That fruit cake is the story of my own celebrations, and the circumstances I’m in when the calendar tells me a Special Day approaches.  I want it to be perfect.  Can you relate to this?  The day should include the right ingredients of venue, menu, activity and, most of all, people.  There should be facial expressions and words spoken that settle well in our heart.  Most of all, the aftertaste, when it’s all over, should be satisfying in every way.  

Yet we find that nothing is just as it should be.  The Special Day would have been perfect except for the weather; except for the one who didn’t come; except for my lack of resources to do it up right …  And then there is our own sin that fidgets in everything we do.  Our lust to be loved, honored or treated in a particular way will cast a long shadow over any day, and particularly those Special Days.  Our brokenness, the brokenness of others, is a thorn in every relationship.  The let-down, the disappointment at the end isn’t worth the effort.  Our lives, our attitudes, our relationships aren’t in the right place to celebrate.  So do we just skip out?  Let me suggest a lesson from king Josiah found in II Chronicles 35, in the Bible.  Like my fruitcake, God’s chosen nation of Israel lacked the ingredients necessary to identify them as worshipers of the One True God.  His people were a mess, inside and out.  Even so, they were to prepare for and engage in a historic celebration.  I  hope you’re curious enough to check it out.  

I’ve written enough, and you’ve been patient enough to read this far.  I’ll test your attention no further – but, a sequel is coming!  There is a lot more goodness to lick off this spoon!

Livin’ the Dream

Livin’ the Dream

How could I have missed it?  I must have turned right at this intersection a hundred times and never saw this sign across the street.  “Coffee shop”.  It was worth checking out.

I turned in.  There, on a small plot, lingers a couple little buildings that refuse to relinquish their roots sunk in the tiny cow town of yesteryear to this growing city .  I ventured into the shop, which is an add-on to the main building and set back a few feet, making it hard to spot from the street.  A white haired lady stood behind the counter, chatting with a customer, the barber from next door.  One of those ubiquitous pump coffee thermoses was at hand.  “Oh no”, I cringed inwardly.  Can I make a gracious escape?  However, I put on a happy face and asked brightly, “Do you make espresso?”  She answered in the affirmative so I took the plunge.  “Give me one shot with a shot of half and half, please.”  She didn’t bat an eye.  “And would you like the half and half frothed?  It really brings out the sweetness in the coffee”, encouraged the elderly barista.  Well, naturally, yes please!

She labored attentively over her preparations then brought my order to me where I waited, seated at the end of a row of tables that had been pushed together.  As I sipped, pleasantly surprised by the quality of my mid-morning drink, I studied my surroundings.  This room had obviously never been subjected to the rigors of an interior decorator – and seemed happily content to remain as is.  I sighed deeply, took off my coat and relaxed.  I was in Grandma’s kitchen.  My line of sight stopped briefly at a set of recessed shelves that displayed paper Thanksgiving decorations like some my mom used in her classroom “way back when”.   A few more feet along the same wall, a nautical display beckoned to be inspected more closely.  Pictures of ships and little shelves of sea-themed ornaments were tastefully arranged.  Higher up, where there was till room, maps hung: one huge Burlington railroad map along with others.  On a high, narrow shelf, dozens of tea pots squeezed into their places like passengers in a Mozambican minivan.  Everything, to my eye, seemed pure vintage.  But for the 80 year old barista, they are each simply ordinary things she had used throughout her life.

Friendly and down-to-earth, she easily feel into conversation with me.  She’s a local – born and raised here.  This land, these buildings, are part of her inheritance.  The coffee shop was added to give her something to do in her later years, the years she now enjoys.  I heard about her family, who all live in the area.  The room where I sat and drank her tasty “cap” houses a thousand stories, and I would have liked to hear every one of them.  But she did share one thing with me that I will never forget:

“See this table right here?”, she pointed to a round, wood table.   “Every morning my brothers and I meet right here for coffee together.”  Her face glowed.  “Yes, this is the life.  I’m living the dream.”  And she is most grateful.

As I drove away, my heart was happy for her.  She is living the dream, my dream.  After having spent most of my adult life across the ocean from my brothers, I cherished a vision in my minds eye of growing old alongside my brothers.  When we reached 80, the three of us would be sitting at a table just like that, cradling mugs of strong cappuccinos, unhurried, sharing stories and loving on each other.  Though realizing that dream is not possible for me, that dream has indeed come true.  I got to see it today in the face of the sweet barista.  And my heart knows hope.

Let us all set our hope fully on the grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 

Our earthly dreams offer no guarantee of fulfillment.  Even when these fail us, there is grace that never will.  All who know the Savior, the true source of true hope, Jesus Christ, have a hope for light and life for their soul now, and forever.  This is certain.

Check it out.  I Peter 1:13, (but really, all five chapters!)

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

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