Monday, January 19, 2015

Parable of the Bell Sheep

A mentor introduced me to the following idea almost two decades ago. W. Phillip Keller's classic book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 provided her source material. The image has reemerged in my thinking in multiple circumstances recently, so the time seemed right to share my storification of it with you.
Once upon a time, a good, wise, loving Shepherd bought a foolish and bedraggled little sheep to save her from the slaughterhouse her wicked former owner intended for her. Finding her in dangerous woods, He drew her to Himself, quickly winning her love and obedience by His tender care.

After a while, though, she grew tired of simply following the Shepherd and enjoying His presence and began to wander about in search of opportunities to help and serve her Master. Eagerly, she would trot off in search of imperiled sheep who had gotten lost or hurt. Unfortunately, she often ended up lost, too, in the attempt to bring them back. She never minded her trials, since through them He found other lost sheep, as well. More than once, she herself was wounded by wolves or bears (or her own foolhardiness) attempting to rescue other wounded woolies. Never complaining, she wore her war-wounds proudly as emblems of her dedicated service.

Without fail, the Shepherd rescued her and brought her back, but the wayward, well-intentioned little lamb grieved Him. His desire was for her more than her wearing herself out in effort to please Him, and His greatest delight was in having her follow close by His side. Since she had never taken the time truly to know Him, she remained ignorant of His sorrow, until He finally stopped her wandering by breaking one of her legs.

Bleating in pain and astonishment, she kicked and bit and refused His kind overtures of comfort. Eventually, however, she grew too exhausted from the struggle to fight anymore. In her silent, helpless weariness, He bound up her wounds and cradled her tenderly, carrying her in His arms until her leg healed and she could walk again.

As she recovered, she learned to know the Shepherd’s heartbeat. She grew to love the mere pleasure of His nearness. Far greater than the superficial adrenaline rush of her former labors, her greatest joy became simply that of belonging to Him.

When her leg healed, and the Shepherd set her down to walk again, she no longer desired to wander from His side. In recognition of the change and as a reminder of her own brokenness, her Shepherd placed a bell around her neck. This way as she followed close by Him, the bell continually testified to the presence of her Good Shepherd. Wandering sheep often heard the bell and followed its ring back to His side. Wounded or cast sheep heard His approach and bleated for help, and the bell sheep would trot along beside Him, ringing the good news that help was on its way, as He went to their rescue.

This “service” proved far more satisfying, as the glory all went to the goodness of her Shepherd. Moreover, He used her to accomplish His work without her ever leaving His side. While she never wanted to repeat the brokenness, she would never have traded the lessons learned through it. She finally discovered her Shepherd was all she needed when He was all she had, and the pain of the process paled beside the beauty of His preciousness.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Hang on Until You See His Glory

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—
Jesus the Son of God—
let us hold fast to the confession.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but One who has been tested in every way as we are,
yet without sin.
Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness,
so that we may receive mercy
and find grace to help us
at the proper time
(Hebrews 4:14-16, HCSB).

"I don't know what you are suffering right now, but he does. He is not capricious, picking petals off a daisy: 'I think I'll help them, I think I won't.' He's bearing your suffering and has entered into every bit of it, but he is waiting. Perhaps your deliverance will come before you take your next breath; perhaps it will come as you take your last. I don't know. But I do know that he has made a promise to you: if you believe you will see the glory of God (John 11:40). Just imagine that. Hang on to him in faith and imagine that you will see the glory of God! Your eyes will be opened to see how truly wise, powerful, and good he is. Somehow, in some way hidden to your weak eyes, your suffering is making a way for that to happen. I don't know when your 'Lazarus' will rise, but when he does, you will see him as he is, and then you will understand....

"Lord, help me believe that your glory is worth this suffering, just as you knew that my seeing it was worth yours. AMEN."
~Elyse Fitzpatrick, Comforts from the Cross

Monday, January 5, 2015

Hope for the First Monday of a New Year

The steadfast love of Yahweh never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“Yahweh is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

Lamentations 3:22-24, ESV

Full moon, 5 January 2015

Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.
~Thomas Chisholm, "Great Is Thy Faithfulness"

Our hope today lies not in our circumstances,
Not in our emotions,
Not in the faithfulness of our discipleship,
But in the unceasing lovingkindness of Yahweh our covenant-keeping God;
In His unending mercies;
In the greatness of His faithfulness;
In His sufficiency as our portion.
He will not fail you, dear crumble.
Therefore may you hope in Him.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Refuge from God in God

This is Ebony's "again with the camera?" face. 
So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf....
Hebrews 6:17-20a, ESV

The duties and delights of the week do not permit a longer farewell to "refuge," my word for 2014. Perhaps later I may come back and remedy that, but for now, please allow me to bid the year adieu with two "refuge" quotes from a favorite little book on the attributes and character of God.

"And to us who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope that is set before us in the gospel, how unutterably sweet is the knowledge that our Heavenly Father knows us completely. No talebearer can inform on us, no enemy can make an accusation stick; no forgotten skeleton can come tumbling out of some hidden closet to abash us and expose our past; no unsuspected weakness in our characters can come to light to turn God away from us, since He knew us utterly before we knew Him and called us to Himself in the full knowledge of everything that was against us" (88-89).


"Since God's first concern for His universe is its moral health, that is, its holiness, whatever is contrary to this is necessarily under His eternal displeasure. To preserve His creation God must destroy whatever would destroy it. When He arises to put down iniquity and save the world from irreparable moral collapse, He is said to be angry. Every wrathful judgment in the history of the world has been a holy act of preservation. The holiness of God, the wrath of God, and the health of creation are inseparably united. God's wrath is His utter intolerance of whatever degrades and destroys. He hates iniquity as a mother hates the polio that takes the life of her child....

"No honest man can say, 'I am holy,' but neither is any honest man willing to ignore the solemn words of the inspired writer, 'Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.'

"Caught in this dilemma, what are we Christians to do? We must like Moses cover ourselves with faith and humility while we steal a quick look at the God whom no man can see and live. The broken and contrite heart He will not despise. We must hide our unholiness in the wounds of Christ as Moses hid himself in the cleft of the rock while the glory of God passed by. We must take refuge from God in God. Above all we must believe that God sees us perfect in His Son while He disciplines and chastens and purges us that we may be partakers of His holiness" (166-167).

A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

In our storms and in our celebrations, dear friends, our God is a sure refuge to those who belong to Him through Jesus. Our Savior has dropped anchor for us in the Holy of Holies that we might always hold fast to hope, knowing He holds fast to us. Wherever this juncture of years may find you, crumble, may you hide yourself under the wings of El Shaddai, our Almighty, All-Sufficient God, and find peace and rest in Him.

Until 2015,

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Hope for the Burdened at Christmas

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet-bards foretold,
When with the ever circling years
Comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.
~from "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" by Edmund Sears

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee....

By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.
~from "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus" by Charles Wesley

However this finds your heart, dear Crumble,
may the Lord bless you with incomprehensible joy,
the joy only possible because Christ was born,
Christ has died,
Christ is risen,
and Christ will come again.
Come soon, Lord Jesus!

With prayers of blessing and much affection,
Amore, tinuviel, and the Ebony Dog

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Let Us Sing the Redeemer! (Cantique de Noel)

Once upon a time in a public-school high school French class we sang "O Holy Night" with its original French text. Several years ago I remembered this as Amore and I rehearsed the English translation for a church Christmas concert.

The thing is, I couldn't remember a word of the French lyrics.  So the chase began.

When I eventually found the words, delayed by my failure to recall the French title, I discovered a beautiful, much stronger gospel message than in the English lyrics we Americans usually sing. The origin story explained why yet added to the mystique of the beautiful words.

In mid-nineteenth-century France, an obscure parish priest requested that a marginally involved poet-wine merchant in his congregation compose a poem for the midnight Mass dividing Christmas Eve from Christmas proper. The poet, Placide Cappeau, obliged and uncharacteristically felt moved to find music for his piece. For the tune he turned to Adolphe Adam, a French composer of Jewish heritage.

The song quickly became popular among the people. When the poet renounced faith in God and joined the socialist party and church leaders learned the composer was of Jewish lineage, they decried the song as unbecoming to Christian worship (from "Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas" as reprinted at BeliefNet). So much did the people love this Christmas carol that their efforts availed little.

In the next decade or so, "Cantique de Noël" came to the attention of American abolitionist John Sullivan Dwight, who translated the poem for American carolers, but with the addition of an abolitionist spin not present in the original.

For reasons I do not know, Dwight softened the first verse's lyrics about the God-man erasing original sin and stopping His Father's anger. Instead he offered a validation of the soul's worth. In the second verse, he replaced a line about God in the manger preaching to our pride with the true but very different sentiment, "In all our trials born to be our friend."

The greatest change, however, occurs in the third stanza. The original speaks of a mighty Redeemer who has broken shackles, set earth free, and opened heaven. This Redeemer now regards the slaves as brothers, uniting them in love.

Then Cappeau challenges the singers and hearers to respond to so great a redemption:
Who will tell him our gratitude?
It is for us all that He suffered and died:
People, stand!  Sing your deliverance,
Christmas! Christmas!  Let us sing the Redeemer!
Christmas! Christmas!  Let us sing the Redeemer!
In its place, Dwight seized upon the original slavery imagery and anticipated an end to all human oppression. The end of slavery in the United States was unequivocally a good thing; by no means do I intend to argue against it.

That said, it grieves me that English-speaking Christians have lost the sense of the original French lyric which reminds me that I myself, regardless of race or ethnicity, am a slave set free, that my Redeemer rent heaven to break my shackles, our shackles, that the "King of kings born in a humble manger" suffered and died for me. This deliverance and nothing else unites us former slaves in love. Will I tell Him my gratitude? Will I, this Christmas, sing of my deliverance?

Translation, especially of poetry, is notoriously tricky business. Eugene Peterson, in Eat This Book, cites an Italian proverb to the effect that "the translator is a traitor." That said, since I can't teach you enough French to read the original "Cantique de Noël" for yourselves, I offer for your Christmas blessing my best attempt at a literal (not rhymed or singable) translation of the original text. Those of you proficient in reading French would do better to follow the link below (and correct me where I've erred).

Midnight! Christians, it is the solemn hour
When the man God descended unto us,
To erase original sin
And to stop His Father’s anger:
The whole world trembles with hope
At this night which gives us a Savior.
People, to your knees! Await* your deliverance,
Christmas! Christmas! Here is the Redeemer!
Christmas! Christmas! Here is the Redeemer!

Let the burning light of our faith
Guide us all to the cradle of the Child,
As formerly, when a bright star
Led the chiefs of the East there.
The King of kings is born in a humble manger,
Powerful men of the day, proud of your grandeur—
It is from there [the manger] that a God preaches to your pride,
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!

The Redeemer has broken all shackles,
The earth is free and heaven is opened.
He [the Redeemer] sees a brother where was only a slave;
Love unites those whom iron had chained,
Who will tell him our gratitude?
It is for us all that He suffered and died:
People, stand! Sing your deliverance,
Christmas! Christmas! Let us sing the Redeemer!
Christmas! Christmas! Let us sing the Redeemer!
(French text, Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure; trans., C. Moore)
*alternately "Expect" or "Be ready for"

May the Redeemer grant you a heart full of worship this Christmas with time to kneel before the manger and adore our Lord and Savior.

Below you may view a contemporary French-Canadian arrangement with lyrics displayed:

And here is a tenor's rendition in classical style:

P.S.  For the inquisitive, here are the best websites I found: story behind the song – English English lyrics as we sing them

Monday, December 15, 2014

Grieving with Hope

Our funeral rose

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.  For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thess 4:13-18, ESV).

With our grief over my grandmother still fresh, my family is singing carols this year in a minor key. The yearning Advent hymns suit all the "firsts" we're walking through, all the milestones that make the loss real and raw and new again.

We've walked through receiving a box of cards and gifts we'd given her, including our wedding program and photos of the first year we set up the Nativity scene Nonni and Nonno had given us;

setting up that same nativity scene again this year;

moving her dining table and china cabinet, the site of countless Christmas Eve ravioli feasts, into my dining area;

letting their last legacy gift buy me a big-girl DSLR camera;

making the first trip back to Fort Worth since the funeral and realizing the exit for Nonni's and Terza's house now only belongs to Terza's family;

keeping Thanksgiving without a group speakerphone call to her in her absence from our table;

sorting the last of her personal effects by my dad and his siblings;

Dad's letting go of the car Nonni gave him when she moved out of her house and stopped driving. It's death was timely and untimely both. Certainly old enough to retire, but so close to the loss of its owner?

The winter birds have come. The juncoes flock to the patio to clean up the seed that falls from the feeder when the bigger birds come to dine. Papa cardinal, Nonni's favorite, makes a daily appearance. The scaups and gulls have arrived at the pond, but this year I won't be calling to tell her so.

Nor that I made the first batch of toffee and will send her some as soon as possible.

And so we grieve. We think the tears are subsiding, and then something prods the still-raw wound and we have a soggy day that seems to come out of nowhere.

Yet in the tears and in the firsts, I remember the words Nancy Leigh DeMoss quoted on the radio, words I didn't need at the time but squirreled away for the day I would:

"As Christians, we do not grieve without hope,
but neither do we hope without grief."
graphic and photo courtesy of

The key lies in the 1 Thessalonians passage which began this post, and in its cousin in 1 Corinthians 15. The apostle Paul acknowledges the Thessalonians' sorrow for their fellow believers who had died (or "fallen asleep"). He doesn't tell them to keep a stiff upper lip and dry their tears. At the same time, he exhorts them "not to grieve as others do who have no hope."

The Christian grieving the death of a Christian has hope, even in the loss, because the Christian has the sure and certain promise of a reunion with those who have died knowing and trusting Christ. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, all who know Christ will be "together with Him" and "always with the Lord" when He returns.

So we grieve, but we grieve with hope. Beth Moore captures the paradox in her recent study Children of the Day, which examines the Thessalonian epistles:

Grief is the sacred love seat where we fellowship acutely in the sufferings of Christ. We are not glad to be drawn to that seat, but there we find Him if we're willing. Oddly, we also find a faith beyond what we thought we'd lost.... 
To the degree we have loved, we often mourn; but we can be whole again piece by piece if we accept what 1 Thessalonians 4:13 holds in its other hand. 
If one hand of solace holds permission to grieve, the other hand contains insistence of hope.... 
Life can be painful here. Loss is inevitable. So let us grieve when we must, but God forbid that we grieve as the hopeless do. In His hands, we find solace. In His heart, we find rest. In His time, we find meaning. In His eyes, we are blessed. In His strength, we're made mighty. In His light, morning breaks. In His Word, He has promised. In His coming, sleepers wake" (Children of the Day, 104-105).
Advent, the present season of the church year, both completes and begins the circle of the liturgical calendar. It looks back in remembrance to the birth of Christ and leans forward to His coming again. This December my family is leaning forward more earnestly than we were 12 months ago. This is not a bad thing. An uncomfortable thing, surely, but not ultimately bad. We have confidence that someday, when we see Jesus face to face, we will also see and enjoy fellowship with not only Nonni but all our loved ones who have fallen asleep in Him. Even some loved ones we've never met save through paper and ink or pixels on a screen.

Even in loss, we can light the hope candle on the Advent wreath because for the Christian, death is not "good-bye" but "ta-ta for now." Our blessed hope draws nearer by the day, and then there will be no more death, no more tears. Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

And we will always, always be with the Lord.

Laura Boggess