Monthly Archives: May 2014

Apricot Jam and Hope

We are a proud bunch.  I remember my youth.  I thought that any problem that came along I could fix.  I was pretty clever, healthy, able to hold down a job.  I was catechized when I was young so I knew my theology.  I figured that I had the answers to whatever life threw my way.

But I didn’t understand this: to believe the gospel is to declare war on the devil.  And the devil doesn’t let go of his kingdom easily.

I always knew that there was a devil and that he was our enemy.  Our catechism said so.  But he seemed far away and not really relevant to anything in my life.  I guess that I had the same view of God.  When it came right down to it, I got in trouble because I was foolish and if I would just be wiser, I could get myself out of trouble.

This is our human condition, isn’t it?  The Bible calls it pride.  We’ll take care of ourselves, thank you.  We can protect our families. We can save people if we just explain it right.  Just a little more love, a little more forgiveness, a little more hard work and everything will be fine.

But what do you do when the curtain of your life is pulled back a little and you see just how weak, helpless, poor, powerless and  blind you really are?

What do you do when God brings about something in your life that you can’t do anything about?  What do you do when God allows Satan to attack your family, your health – or even your faith?

You can gnash your teeth against God; you can shake your fist at the heavens; you can rage against the dying of the light.  Or you can mourn, cast your cares upon God and wait.

Jesus said, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

We tend to think the opposite.  A happy man is one who has a full pantry, a full bank account, health and youth, and an untroubled life.  Isn’t that the American Dream.  Isn’t that what we pay our politician to achieve for us?

But life doesn’t work that way.  God has something far, far greater for us than the baubles of this world.  He has reserved for us something far greater than wealth and health and friends and security on this earth.  What each of us really long for is to be in His glorious presence forever.  That is how we were made, and we will never have purpose and meaning in our lives until we are with our Maker, reconciled at last, standing as priests before Him.  And God would teach us to lift our eyes out of this earthly trough and learn to long for heaven.

This is why Jesus came in to the world, to take away our sin and reconcile us to God.  He came so that our eyes might be opened and our tongues loosened to worship someone far greater than our bellies and our health and our own desires.  And He will indeed bring us finally into the presence of the living God. But first our pride has to go.  What stands in our way so often is that we still like to think that we’ve got this life thing under control.  But as long as we think we are in control, we will never fully learn to trust God and lean on Him for all good things.

And the way we learn to put our trust in Him completely is when everything else is taken away.  First, we take up our cross.  We lose our lives so that we might find them.

What do you do when you think you have this life thing under control and then the rug is pulled away?  What do you do when wicked men have he upper hand?  When the righteous are ridiculed and persecuted and the wicked man is exalted?  What do you do when Satan runs amok and is too powerful? When he attacks your children through abuse?  When God takes away the health of a loved one?  When everywhere you turn there is no help, no earthly hope, no justice, no light?

All we can do is mourn and wait.  Sure, there are things that you are commanded by God to do.  Confront sin.  Alert authority when crimes are committed. Rely on the assistance of the church officers.  We can obey, but often we can’t fix anything.  That’s because it is only God who can fix what is wrong in this world.  We can’t fix it.  I can’t fix the world.

I can’t find the words to say in the face of tremendous evil.  I can’t wish you healthy.  I can’t make your pain go away.  I can’t wipe away your tears.
How I wish I could!  How I weep with you.

I mourn for the millions of babies slaughtered at the altar of Molech.  I weep for Meriam, about to be lashed and executed for her faith.  I weep for the hundreds of girls stolen and sold as wives to children of the devil.  I mourn for those who are persecuted and ridiculed for their faith.
I mourn for those who are chronically ill that cannot find help with the doctors.  I mourn for all those in constant pain.  I mourn for those who have been slandered and abandoned by their friends and families.

I mourn for our little ones.  I mourn for the hundreds of thousands of children in our country sexually assaulted each year – with no help, no way out.  Often, not even the church believes them, and when they do they don’t want to deal with it.  I can mourn for them.  I can help wherever I can. I can preach and teach against it. I can give a glass of cold water.  I can make meals.  I can offer a shoulder, and I do it gladly and without reproach.

But I can’t wipe away the tears.  I can’t stop the evil.  Only Jesus can comfort the mourners.  Only God can wipe away the tears.  Only God can bring justice and salvation.

So I’m making apricot jam.  I can’t find the right words.  My heart sinks within me.  But in this vale of tears, God brings what first seem like very small blessings – but they are tokens of Eden, foretastes of heaven.

The apricot, for example.  Such delight, such charm.  An apricot in season off of a northern California tree is something to be marveled at.  That we can preserve them in little jars to have all year is a wonderful thing.

God could have justly cast us all into hell.  God could have begrudgingly given us black bread and water and it would have been far more than we deserve.  But he gave us the apricot!  A token of hope.
This world is not all that there is.  We were created for something far greater and God has promised us that he will wipe away all tears and comfort all who mourn.
And as a token, he gave us the apricot.  Of course, not just an apricot, but all good things – wine to gladden the heart, oil to make the face shine, as the Psalmist says.

Life is very often not found where we look for it.  We look for something smashing; we look for those special moments that come along sporadically.  We look for that which is grand, exciting, magnificent.

And we miss apricot season.  God’s goodness abounds to us and we look the other way and say, “What else?”

The devil has declared war on God’s people.  He seeks to destroy and devour.  You will suffer tremendous pain and heartache on this earth, for Jesus promised that every Christian will have trials and persecution.

But He has also promised to comfort those who mourn.  To wipe away the tears.  He points us to something far greater than this valley of the shadow of death.

So I got up, closed my book, lifted my eyes to heaven in thanksgiving.

And now I’m making apricot jam.  God is so good to us.  Wait for Him.  He is coming again and all this will pass away.

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What the husband of a chronically ill wife wants her to know.

My dear wife recently sent me a list of three things that a chronically ill person wants her loved ones to know.  You can access that article here

It is very well done, and puts to words all that you are feeling.

My darling, I know.  I’ve heard you.  I understand.

I also want you to know that there are three things that a husband of a chronically ill wife wants her to know:

  1. I want you to know that your value to me is not connected to how many chores you can accomplish.

I don’t love you because you do stuff.  I don’t value you because of your efficient shopping and laundry skills.  I know you have them; I brag about them.  I know that you long with your whole heart to be healthy enough to do chores; and I admire you for that.

But I don’t love you for what you do; I love you because of who you are.  I love you because God has joined us together and my life would be black and white without you in it.  I love you because you are a daughter of God and with your whole life you point me to the beautiful Savior.  I love you because we have something quite special: in our union we picture Christ and the church!  In our relationship, we are something far greater than simply two people who share chores.  We are one flesh, linked together by covenant as Christ is forever united to His church.

I love you because you are my half of the orange; my flesh and my bones.  When you hurt, I hurt.  When you grieve, I grieve with you.

When all you can do is reach out when we are sitting together and touch my hand, the universe moves.  It may seem small, but worlds pass between us.  You aren’t a maid, a laundress, a schoolmarm – you are my wife.  Your touch moves my world.

  1. I want you to know that life consists of more than activity.

I don’t dream of the next party, the next activity, the next thing.  All of that is nothing if you are not there.  My life is already full of too much activity.  What I dream of is simply sitting with you; talking, watching, praying, thinking.

My life is not full because I do a lot of stuff.  I know that you apologize for not being able to be there, but I’d rather bring a meal to you in your chair than dine without you in the banquet hall of the great ones.

I want you to know that when you are here, I’m not missing out on anything.  You may feel useless and a drain on us all, but you have no idea how much we all lean on you.  You are our stability, our home, our comfort.

  1. I want you to know that I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I say this – even though I grieve with you; even though I pray and long for your health and strength; even though I do get weary and overwhelmed sometimes.  But what it all comes down to is this: When I vowed “in sickness and in health” I wasn’t just saying words.  I know that health and sickness only come from the hand of God, and that He is good.

I know that all things must work together for our salvation.  I know that He has linked my life to yours, and we are in this together.  We will grieve together; we will pray together.  And if you NEVER recover strength, we will lean on our God together.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s you and me.  I’m with you.  That’s where I belong.  Let’s do this thing together.

“Set me as a seal upon your heart, As a seal upon your arm; For love is as strong as death, Jealousy as cruel as the grave; Its flames are flames of fire, A most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, Nor can the floods drown it. If a man would give for love All the wealth of his house, It would be utterly despised” (Sol 8:6-7 NKJ).

 

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Please don’t love on me.

There’s a disturbing new trend in churches.  I see it frequently.

I know that many have no respect for the English language, and perhaps use this phrase without thinking about it.  But I would like for you to think about it.

While you are thinking about it, I beg you – please don’t “love on me”.  I know that your pastor has perhaps told you that “we just want to love on ya!”  But I beg you to stop.
Treat me with kindness.  Listen to me.  Don’t gossip or slander me.  But please don’t love on me.

Respect my family.  Say a kind word.  Listen to me; I will listen to you.

Don’t jump to conclusions about me; don’t be quick to speak or hear of evil about me.  But please don’t love on me.
Don’t join in condemning me; don’t hate me and speak all matter of evil against me falsely.  Don’t lie about me.  Tell me the truth.  But please don’t love on me.
Bear with me; tell me if I’ve offended you and give me an opportunity to reconcile.  Untangle me from sins that you may see me tangled in.  Point me to Christ.
Be kind to my children.  Pray for us. Smile at me; I am smiling back.
But please don’t love on me.

The problem is that pesky preposition “on”.  Someone thought it was folksy and clever, and it has spread like a virus.  But it spoils everything.  It makes love an act of aggression with me as the victim and you as the perpetrator.
It also takes away from a very beautiful concept.
Love is a powerful word filled with powerful content.

God loved us and gave us His only begotten son.
Love one another, even as Christ loved His church.  Jesus washes us with His blood; cleanses us with His Spirit, releases us from bondage; defeated death and sin and misery on the cross – because He loved us.  He has sent His spirit to work love in our hearts – love for God and for our neighbor.

Loving ON someone, however, is an entirely different concept.  If what you mean is what the Bible means by love – then please just say “love” and leave it at that.  Better yet, just show your love by your works.  Love is a bit like fame.  If you have to tell someone you are, then you aren’t.  Love, like fame, is easy to spot and doesn’t need to be announced.
I don’t even know what “loving on you” means.  But I tend to think that if I catch you loving on my wife, I might react strongly against it.  If I find you loving on my kids, I may just call the police.
Please don’t make me a victim of your love.  That somewhat defeats the purpose, does it not?

 

 

 

 

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God deals with those who afflict the weak

Behold, at that time I will undo all that afflict thee: and I will save her that halteth, and gather her that was driven out; and I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame. (Zep 3:19 KJV)

Zephaniah prophesied to those in Israel who were about to be carried into exile by the Babylonians.  Because of Israel’s sins and idolatry, they were about to be completely destroyed and carried away captive.

But God makes a tremendous promise to them – at least to those who had the ears to hear.  For there were still a few left in Israel who would also suffer along with the wicked.  God says to them that the time will come when He will gather them back together and save them.  Therefore they were to sing aloud with joy, for God rejoices over them with singing (3:17).

The time would come very soon when the people of God would be chained together behind the horses of Babylon and forced into a long march to a strange nation.

But God tells them: I will deal with those who afflict you.  The affliction to come is not the final word.  It may appear as if the Babylonians are blessed by God.  They will appear to be invincible and you will appear to be weak and good for nothing except to be used as slaves until you are dead.

But for some, it would be even worse.  What about those who were lame, or who did not have the strength to walk the long distance to Babylon?  What about those who fell?  To the Babylonians it didn’t matter.  They would be left to die where they fell or dragged by the horses until they were dead and someone noticed.

But God’s promise in 3:19 is that He would deal with the cruelty of Babylon.  And that He Himself would save the lame and the outcast. Even though they would be forgotten by men, counted as rubble by the powerful of the world, used for the lusts of the rich – God would not forget.  He will save the lame and gather those who were driven out of the land.

God has a special care for the weak and helpless that put their trust in Him.  He has a purpose for all that He does, and much of it we can’t see – especially in times of oppression and pain.  But God calls us to look up from our chains to the One who is Seated in Heaven and sing with joy!

He will deal with the oppressors and He will gather together the lame and the outcast.
And those who were counted as nothing will be given a name.  They will be set for praise throughout the world.
He will use the weak to confound the wise.  The day will come when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God.

In that day, oppression will cease.  The weak will be strengthened, the poor made rich, and the afflicted will be lifted up, for we will be partakers in the one whose Name is above every name.

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So here I am

So here I am. I’ve become one of those guys. A blogger.

My resistance could only hold out for so long. I am astounded that anyone would find anything I have to say to be helpful, but as the proverbial straw and the hundredth monkey, I was asked to blog one time more than my defenses could hold.

So here is a blog. Another one. Don’t we have enough?

Why the name? I was thinking about our wonderful 16th century catechism – the Heidelberg Catechism. Question one asks, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”

The answer is this: “That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own but belong to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ; who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins and redeemed me from all the power of the devil, and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live unto Him.”

That’s what I plan on doing here. We as fallen men and women live in a world of pain, isolation, sickness, sorrow, doubt, confusion – sin. It isn’t how we were made. We were made to love God heartily. We were made to live with him, forever praising and glorifying him.

But man fell. Adam decided that he could be as God and decide for himself what was comforting, what was right, what was true and what was false.
And we all inherited that way of thinking.

Even after we became Christians, we still find ourselves looking for comfort in taking the forbidden fruit, if you will. One more girl at the bar. One more drink. One more night. One more kiss.

Maybe a different job, a different spouse, a different church, a different set of friends.

Maybe its all the other people in my life that make me miserable. Those jerks that I work with. The idiot in front of me. The madmen on the roads. And so we think we find comfort in fleeting dreams of murder and mayhem, all the while lying to ourselves. We try to convince ourselves that the creation exists in order to make us happy.

But we will never be happy as long as we worship ourselves, for this life apart from Jesus Christ is merely one faltering step after another leading to the grave. This life is merely carefully postponed dying apart from redemption.

There is only one comfort to be found. Jesus Christ has redeemed us from a life of futility, drunkenness and misery and restored our fallen humanity. We can now be fully human as God created us to be. When our sins are cleansed and we stand before God whole and forgiven and complete, we have all that we need and we long for the day when we finally put off this body of sin and death and live in His presence forever.

It’s what we were made for. It’s what we long for. It’s what it means to be fully human, fully alive.

My intention for this blog is to talk about what it means to be fully and completely human, in the image of God.

The devil seeks to drive us from that. The devil seeks to convince us, as he did our father Adam, that we can find peace and comfort in our own wisdom and power and strength.
And from there, we see the result. The weak are abused and violated; those who are different are driven out. We live in a world of crime and sin and all sorts of misery.
And we think that when we have finally done away with conscience, that voice that remains as a remnant of Eden, that we will finally be free.

What freedom is it to be no greater than an animal, serving the lusts of the belly, where the fittest destroy and drive out the weakest? What freedom is found when all creation only exists to serve your lusts and make you “happy”? Are you not then a slave to all?
This will never bring peace, for God is in heaven.

In Christ we have freedom. True freedom to live fully human. We squarely face our pain and our misery and long for the redemption of the body. We breathe the springtime bouquets and praise the God who made the jasmine. We break bread together, lingering over a meal – because food isn’t just fuel.

We caress our spouses, hold our children and grandchildren in our arms and rejoice in the God that made the heavens and the earth and us to dwell in them.
And most of all, we praise the God who redeemed us from our misery, body and soul, pointing our eyes to heaven where Christ is seated at His right hand.

Would you follow my journey?

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