Sunday, December 10, 2017

Already-Not Yet Peace

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
a light has dawned
on those living in the land of darkness.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased its joy.
The people have rejoiced before you
as they rejoice at harvest time
and as they rejoice when dividing spoils.
For you have shattered their oppressive yoke
and the rod on their shoulders,
the staff of their oppressor,
just as you did on the day of Midian.
For every trampling boot of battle
and the bloodied garments of war
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child will be born for us,
a son will be given to us,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
He will be named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
The dominion will be vast,
and its prosperity will never end.
He will reign on the throne of David
and over his kingdom,
to establish and sustain it
with justice and righteousness from now on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord of Armies will accomplish this.
Isaiah 9:2-6, CSB

The suffering saints cried out, "How long, O Lord?
How long until You come to reign and judge?
Your covenant with Abraham, is it
Forgotten? Grace depleted? Favor spent?"

Then cried a Babe, God's answer in the flesh:
The Prince of Peace who came to reign and save;
The promises, so many, realized
At last as Yahweh whispers, "I am here."

~crlm, December 2011

Monday, December 4, 2017

Why the Hard Years May Be the Best Time to Celebrate Advent

Behold, as the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
till he has mercy upon us.

Psalm 123:2, ESV

Yaupon Holly
The Lord has liberally sprinkled this year with blessings: a lovely new home closer to my parents and church, a pool that brought much more time with family during the summer and seemed to soothe my hips, a new home for Amore's mother, a great-nephew on the way, two gatherings of Amore's whole family, a new job Amore is excited about, an online photography class for me, and restoration of small amounts of yarncraft. As consistent readers know, we have also been walking through a number of painful blessings: the loss of Amore's father and eldest sister (which brought about the two family gatherings); the loss of a skilled, close-knit work community when Amore's employer was acquired and his team dispersed; the change of community and routines that even a short-distance move brings; the new challenges and pain of bursitis in both my hips; the departure of more friends from my church community; and the pain of other long-term family burdens which aren't my stories to tell here.

As I have sought to reconcile the hard things with this Advent season, it has occurred to me that the hard years may be the best ones for observing Advent. Advent is the season most characterized by waiting, by longing, by hope. Indeed, in the church of my childhood, the first candle on the Advent wreath was the candle of hope.

What does Paul say about hope?
Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:24-25, ESV).
By definition, hope implies lack. If we have all we need or want, hope is superfluous. Impossible, even. Similarly, when we walk through loss, through trials, through the longing for the not yet, we are most aware of the unfulfilled. When we know our lack and God's promises, we are perfectly prepared to learn hope.

Advent hope gleams with the eagerness of the child of loving parents on Christmas morning. But Advent hope is also tinged with melancholy; it is a homesick virtue that recognizes we are strangers and exiles on the earth.

At Advent we look back to the hope of the promised Messiah, placing ourselves in Israel's sandals as she waited with longing for the prophet Moses foretold; for the suffering servant of Isaiah, both priest and sacrifice; for the King in David's line in whom every facet of the covenant would be realized. That retrospective hope prepares us to celebrate the full impact of the birth of Jesus Christ the God-Man, remembered at Christmas.

We look forward to the second Advent of that same Messiah: to the redemption of this groaning creation; to the day we enter the Lord's presence and know fully, as we are fully known; to the redemption of our broken and fading bodies; to our reunion with loved ones who have preceded us into the Lord's presence; to our reception and theirs of our resurrection bodies free of lupus, arthritis, Parkinson's, cancer, mental illness, MS, dysautonomia, heart disease, diabetes, Lyme disease, malnutrition, or anything else that afflicts God's people now.

In hope we look forward out of all this "slight, momentary affliction" to the "eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Cor. 4:17). We recognize our poverty of spirit, soul, and body. We lean into that longing during Advent instead of trying to numb or distract from it. We lean forward with arms outstretched to the new heavens and earth where the Lion-Lamb reigns in glory (Rev. 21). We allow the sorrows and emptiness to grow our longing for God's kingdom to come, for His name to be hallowed.

With Simeon, we wait for the consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25). With Anna, we speak of God with thanksgiving to all who wait for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:38).

We wait.
We watch.
We groan.
We hope.

If you are grieving this December, may you not grieve without hope. If your now is a season of joy and fruitfulness, may the Lord enlarge your hope to a longing for the not yet. Amen.

Friday, November 24, 2017

A Psalm of Thanksgiving

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords.
His faithful love endures forever
(Psalm 136:1-3, CSB).

He remembers His covenant with patriarchs of old;
His faithful love endures forever;
with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
His faithful love endures forever.
Not one word of His promises falls to the ground;
His faithful love endures forever.

He is good and does good;
His faithful love endures forever.
He causes all things to work together for good;
His faithful love endures forever;
For those who love Him and are called according to His purpose;
His faithful love endures forever.

Through flood and fire, He stays with His redeemed ones;
His faithful love endures forever.
Nothing can separate us from His love.
His faithful love endures forever.

Through hard providences and happy ones,
His faithful love endures forever;
When He gives and when He takes away,
His faithful love endures forever.
Blessed be the name of the Lord;
His faithful love endures forever;

He treasures each tear in His bottle;
His faithful love endures forever;
He turns mourning into dancing;
His faithful love endures forever.

He is near the brokenhearted;
His faithful love endures forever;
And saves those crushed in spirit.
His faithful love endures forever.
He gives songs in the night;
His faithful love endures forever;
and restores hope to the helpless.
His faithful love endures forever.

We do not mourn as those who have no hope;
His faithful love endures forever;
With trumpet sound, Christ will return;
His faithful love endures forever;
Then we all shall be with the Lord.
His faithful love endures forever.

The God of all comfort comforts us;
His faithful love endures forever;
That we also may comfort others,
His faithful love endures forever;
With the comfort we have received from Him.
His faithful love endures forever.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
His faithful love endures forever.

Scripture references:
Psalm 119:68; Rom. 8:28; Isaiah 43:2; Rom 8:38-39; Job 1:21; Ps 56:8; Ps 30:11; 34:18; Job 35:10; Ps 10:12; 1 Thess 4:13-18; 2 Cor 1:3-4.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Gratitude Like Incense

"Give thanks to the Lord , for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of Lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever....

It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
and rescued us from our foes,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
he who gives food to all flesh,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of heaven,
for his steadfast love endures forever."
Psalms 136:1‭-‬3‭, ‬23‭-‬26 ESV

"A grateful spirit should ever be cultivated by the Christian; and especially after deliverances we should prepare a song for our God. Earth should be a temple filled with the songs of grateful saints, and every day should be a censor smoking with the sweet incense of thanksgiving."
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Faith's Checkbook for November 20

Monday, November 20, 2017

A Better Resurrection


I have no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numb'd too much for hopes or fears;
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimm'd with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.

My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall—the sap of Spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.

My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perish'd thing;
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
O Jesus, drink of me.

(My thanks go to Kristen Wetherell and Sarah Walton for bringing this poem to my attention in their book, Hope When It Hurts. In this Thanksgiving week, please remember Amore's extended family in your prayers. Today marks 3 months since his sister Cindy died, so this is her family's first holiday season without her.)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

All Thy Mercies

Fernando Ortega first introduced me to this hymn, which serves as a fitting guide in this (American) Thanksgiving month for our meditations on the Lord's blessings throughout our own lives, even from before birth. May our ever-grateful hearts adore His mercies!

When all Thy mercies, O my God,
My rising soul surveys,
Transported with the view, I’m lost
In wonder, love and praise.

O, how shall words with equal warmth
The gratitude declare,
That glows within my ravished heart!
But Thou canst read it there.

Thy providence my life sustained,
And all my wants redressed,
While in the silent womb I lay,
And hung upon the breast.

To all my weak complaints and cries
Thy mercy lent an ear,
Ere* yet my feeble thoughts had learned
To form themselves in prayer.

Unnumbered comforts to my soul
Thy tender care bestowed,
Before my infant heart conceived
From whom those comforts flowed.

When in the slippery paths of youth
With heedless steps I ran,
Thine arm unseen conveyed me safe,
And led me up to man.

Through hidden dangers, toils, and death,
It gently cleared my way;
And through the pleasing snares of vice,
More to be feared than they.

When worn with sickness, oft hast Thou
With health renewed my face;
And when in sins and sorrows sunk,
Revived my soul with grace.

Thy bounteous hand with worldly bliss
Hath made my cup run o’er;
And, in a kind and faithful friend,
Hath doubled all my store.

Ten thousand thousand precious gifts
My daily thanks employ;
Nor is the least a cheerful heart
That tastes those gifts with joy.

Through every period of my life
Thy goodness I’ll pursue
And after death, in distant worlds,
The glorious theme renew.

When nature fails, and day and night
Divide Thy works no more,
My ever grateful heart, O Lord,
Thy mercy shall adore.

Through all eternity to Thee
A joyful song I’ll raise;
For, oh, eternity’s too short
To utter all Thy praise!
~"When All Thy Mercies, O My God," Joseph Addison (1672-1719)


Fernando Ortega's interpretation of this hymn:

{If reading in RSS feed or e-mail, you may need to access this actual blog post to view the video.}

Monday, November 6, 2017

All My Good

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing.”
Psalm 16:2, NIV

Yaupon holly
"Thou art all my good in times of peace,
     my only support in days of trouble,
     my one sufficiency when life shall end.
Help me to see how good thy will is in all,
     and even when it crosses mine
     teach me to be pleased with it.
Grant me to feel thee in fire, and food and every providence,
     and to see that thy many gifts and creatures
     are but thy hands and fingers taking hold of me."

"Thou bottomless fountain of all good,
     I give myself to thee out of love,
          for all I have or own is thine,
          my goods, family, church, self,
     to do with as thou wilt,
     to honour thyself by me, and by all mine.
If it be consistent with thy eternal counsels,
                             the purpose of thy grace,
                             and the great ends of thy glory,
     then bestow upon me the blessings of thy comforts;
If not, let me resign myself to thy wiser determinations."

~The Valley of Vision, "The All-Good," p. 7