Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Lily {A Poem and a Repost}

In unseen Saturday silence
Petals unfurl,
Mute trumpets crying out
With rolled-away stone:

"Take hope!  Take heart!
Why do you seek the living among the dead?
He is not here; He is risen!

"Your trust, your toil, the promise are not vain.
Death will be swallowed up in victory.
This body of death,
This broken life,
This night of tears are not the end.

"At last trumpet's fanfare
Dead shall be raised,

White heralds soundless sound:
"Christ has died;
Christ is risen;
Christ will come again."

  When [Jesus] came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
  “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
  “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
  Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
  “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
(Luke 19:37-40, NIV

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Silent Saturday

In silent Sabbath after Cross,
Disciples hid themselves away
For fear they’d share their Rabbi’s fate.
How little did they dream the hush
Was prelude to defeat of death
And their salvation by His life,
Just as He promised: Christ would rise,
Defying unbelief—locked doors,
Blocked tomb, locked hearts no obstacle
To Resurrection, Life, and Light.

N.B. That the disciples had already hidden behind locked doors on the Saturday immediately following the Crucifixion is an extrapolation. The Scriptures say clearly that they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment and that by Sunday they were sequestered behind locked doors for fear of the Jews (Luke 23:56 and John 20:19). The suggestion in the poem seems at least plausible, but in truth the Scriptures are silent about that Saturday, so take the idea with a grain or two of salt.

That said, dear crumble, if you await resurrection in some grave sorrow (groan.. pun not intended) in your life, take heart. God's apparent silence does not denote His inactivity or His intention not to bring about eucatastrophe in your dire need. If we learn anything from the silence of Holy Saturday, let it be that. May you and I find strength to persevere in trusting God in the waiting.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Trampling down Death by Death {Guest Post}

The following meditation on Hebrews 2:10-18 was written by my husband Allen for a church Lenten devotional in 2010. With his permission, I share it here in honor of his birthday. God grant you many years of good health and growth in knowing and loving Him, my Amore!

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.
Psalm 23:4, ESV

O Lord, what is a shadow but the obscuring of what is real? It has no power other than to hide from my eyes the light of Your Truth. What is the valley but the place of my tomb, steep sides with no way of escape?

But You, out of love for me, entered into that valley. You, the True Light, entered into my darkness and have suffered through the valley before me lighting my way. You wept in darkness and so gave us joy. You felt hunger and nakedness and so tell us, "Do not worry about the body, what you will eat or wear" (Mt. 6:25). You were tempted in every way and yet said, "Satan, be gone..." (Mt. 4:10). You were spat upon and abused but said, "Father, forgive them..." (Luke 23:34). You suffered humiliation and so were glorified because "God gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). You entered into the very heart of death, but it could not hold You.

If only I would follow the path that You have illumined, then I would find the way to freedom and peace. Too often I want deliverance from the valley, but You have a greater vision. That path through the valley is my glory. The tears, weakness, temptations, humiliations, . . . You desire not so much to deliver me from them as to transform me through them. Going down to death You wait for me to follow that You might raise me up in glory. "Death, where is thy sting?" (1 Cor. 15:55).

Teach me, O Lord, to sing that ancient Easter hymn,*
 "Christ has risen from the grave
Trampling down death by death
And upon those in the tomb bestowing life."

*The Paschal Troparion (Easter hymn) is used widely in Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. Its origin is unknown, but it may have been based on the Paschal Canon of St. John of Damascus in the 8th century.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Hosanna to the King

This week we arrive at the time when the church calendar wraps and twists around itself; like a child tracing the single line of an apparently dual-sided Moebius strip, we find ourselves at the end and the beginning at once.

Yesterday the Western church celebrated Palm Sunday, the beginning of the end of Jesus’ earthly life. Today the global church, at least in the more liturgical congregations, celebrates the Feast of the Annunciation, the beginning of the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life. This feast day, 9 months before Christmas, remembers Gabriel’s appearance to Mary to “announce” her miraculous conception of the Christ Child.

This juxtaposition intrigues me. On the one hand, we have this angelic pronouncement:

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:30-33, ESV).

From the moment of His conception, He is proclaimed as the Son of David, the promised seed who would reign over the “house of Jacob,” the family of Israel, forever. From the moment of His conception, He is hailed as a king, the King in fact, the long-awaited descendant of the beloved King David, the King who would fulfill the covenant God had made a millennium earlier with the man after His own heart (see 2 Sam. 7). Despite the national nature of these promises and Messianic hopes, this coronation occurs privately in a conversation between an angel and the young virgin who would graciously, miraculously, bear and birth the King of kings for whom the world longs.

This year, this private pronouncement, into which we eavesdrop in the Gospel according to Luke, rubs shoulders on the church calendar with Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem in the midst of the hordes of pilgrims gathering to celebrate the Passover in the place God had appointed, as the Torah required (Deuteronomy 16:1-8). At His word, Jesus’ disciples bring Him a colt at the Mount of Olives as He approaches the city. As He rides this unbroken foal, He is welcomed with jubilation by those who have heard tell of His miracles and especially of the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:12-13, ESV).

And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 1:9-10, ESV).

At the Triumphal Entry of Palm Sunday, Jesus is again hailed as King. This time, however, great crowds proclaim Him publicly as the King of Israel. These who would turn on Him in less than a week’s time and cry out, “His blood be upon us and on our children!” now cry, “Hosanna!” or in English, “Save us!” In hailing him as the King of Israel they recognize His connection with the promised Davidic king. They cry out for Jesus to save them, but it appears in context that they desire Him to deliver them from Roman oppression just as David delivered earlier generations from Philistine domination.

In another curious juxtaposition, the crowd’s excited shouts quote part of Psalm 118, the last of the Hallel group of Psalms sung every year at Passover. The Passover pilgrims apply to Jesus a Passover Psalm. They hail Jesus as King of Israel and heir to David’s coming kingdom using words from the Jewish feast which looks back to the time when the death angel passed over the houses of the people of Israel because of the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. Little do they know how appropriate those words will be. Little do they know that the King they celebrate will soon give His own life as the true Passover Lamb who takes away the sins of the world and redeems His people not from political oppression and enslavement but from the oppression of sin, death, and Satan.

Such juxtapositions keep the Scriptures always new to me:

“Hosanna!” “Save us!” Save us, Lord Jesus.

Annunciation and Passion.

Kingship and Passover.

The Lamb with the crown.

The King crowned with thorns.

Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

Thanks be to God for His many good gifts in the last two weeks:
::Jesus the King, first, last, and always
::an excellent recital performance for Mezzo, who has now fulfilled the singing portion of her degree requirements
::new shoes and orthotics which are slowly improving my ankle pain
::slow improvement of cough and allergy symptoms
::more cough medicine in the mean time
::all Bach, all day Thursday on the classical radio station in honor of his birthday
::Soli Deo Gloria, all his work to the glory of God
::reminder of the many blessed opportunities my sisters and I have received to learn and perform great music
::a long-awaited specialized eye test going well
::pain afterward resolving in less than a day
::conclusion of this cycle of physical therapy appointments
::the first week since January 9 with less than 2 medical appointments :)
::a joyful, humbling letter of thanks from our Congolese sponsored child
::good news on home refinance proceedings
::fears that don't come to pass
::celebrating Allen's birthday early with family
::cupcakes turning out well
::extra-sweet times in God's Word during an extra-challenging week
::the ongoing adventure of learning the Scriptures
::beholding the living Word in the written Word
(counting gifts #9766-9785)

Kingdom {A Repost}

The Kingdom of God came,
eternal King of endless realm
an embryo in a virgin's womb,
a baby laid in an animal's crib,
angel-announced Savior
adored by shepherds,
worshiped by wise men seeking the King of the Jews,
hunted by a wicked king fearing a coup.

The King came
preaching the good news of His Kingdom,
healing broken bodies and souls,
breaking bread to feed multitudes,
blessing, breaking, giving Himself for our sins.

Pilate asked Him, was He a king?
He said without saying, He was.

The King came
on a cross,
thieves His courtiers,
a placard bearing His only crime:
"Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews."

The Kingdom of God comes
in the risen, ascended Jesus
sitting at the right hand of the Father;
pouring His Spirit into those who trust Him,
worship Him, follow Him;
in His power in their weakness;
in His light radiant in their brokenness;
in healing some wounds, redeeming all.

The Kingdom of God is coming
when the restoration of all things arrives,
the King on a white horse in salvation-soaked robes:
Faithful and True,
Word of God,
King of kings and Lord of lords;
death, last enemy, defeated;
His palace a forever, tearless, deathless, darkless tabernacle:
no brokenness there,
no loneliness,
only light, life, healing, glory.

Come to the King, O broken one.
Enter His Kingdom through the cruciform gate.
There is yet time.

Let the people of the Kingdom pray,
"Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done."
Come, Lord Jesus.
We wait for You.

Although this poem originally began an Advent series, it has been on my mind today in light of the calendar's juxtaposition of Palm Sunday and the Feast of the Annunciation. May the Lord bless it to your encouragement as He has to mine.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Author of All Blessings

9575. One gift read:
Thou great Three-One,
Author of all blessings I enjoy, of all I hope for....

Thou hast shown me
that the sensible effusions of divine love in the soul
are superior to and distinct from bodily health,
and that oft-times spiritual comforts are at their highest
when physical well-being is at its lowest.

Thou hast given me the ordinance of song as a means of grace;
Fit me to bear my part in that music ever new,
which elect angels and saints made perfect
now sing before thy throne and before the Lamb.

I bless thee for tempering every distress with joy;
too much of the former might weigh me down,
too much of the latter might puff me up;
Thou art wise to give me a taste of both.

I love thee
for giving me clusters of grapes in the wilderness,
and drops of heavenly wine
that set me longing to have my fill.

Apart from thee I quickly die,
bereft of thee I starve,
far from thee I thirst and droop;

But thou art all I need.
Let me continually grasp the promise,
'I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.'

~The Valley of Vision, "Blessings," p. 159~

9576. Two gifts read: still paging through The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment and finding challenges there. (It's not a long book, but it goes slowly at two Kindle screens per night at bedtime.)
9577. (More than) Three gifts read: kind, prayerful e-mails from friends this week
9578. Two blessed inches of rain Saturday night
9579. Bathtub faucets that no longer drip
9580. An honest electrician giving me the straight information about a repair even though it meant taking care of the matter ourselves this time
9581. Husband's clever solution to that repair (a motion-activated light in the closet!)
9582. Laughing at myself every time I walk in that space and reach for a non-existent pull chain
9583. Better sleep 4 of the last 5 nights
9584. New prescription cough medicine without side effects
9585. Halfway through the second course of antibiotics for upper respiratory infection
9586. Inexplicable ankle pain flare keeping me from temptation to go for walks despite cough
9587. My little wren friend Luciano coming to visit the kitchen window while my parents were here for lunch
9588. Two weeks to complete Bible study homework because of Spring Break here
9589. A meal with new acquaintances last night
9590. Good listeners
9591. Three chapters of Ephesians memorized, by God's grace
9592. The prayers of friends
9593. and of strangers
9594. A positive job change for a friend's family
9595. One hour of listening left on Les Miserables audiobook
9596. "Him who is able to do immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us" (Eph. 3:20, NIV1984)

Monday, March 4, 2013

Contentment as Worship

Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised that the following passage from The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs took my fancy:
By contentment we come to give God the worship that is due to him. It is a special part of the divine worship that we owe to God, to be content in a Christian way, as has been shown to you. I say it is a special part of the divine worship that the creature owes to the infinite Creator, in that I tender the respect that is due from me to the Creator. The word that the Greeks have that signifies, 'to worship' is the same as to come and crouch before someone, as if a dog should come crouching to you, and be willing to lie down at your feet.
So the creature in the apprehension of its own baseness, and the infinite excellence that is in God above it, when it comes to worship God, comes and crouches to this God, and lies down at the feet of God: then the creature worships God. When you see a dog come crouching to you, and by holding your hand over him, you can make him lie down at your feet, then consider, thus should you do before the Lord: you should come crouching to him, and lie down at his feet, even on your backs or bellies, to lie down in the dust before him so as to be willing that he should do with you what he will. Just as sometimes you may turn a dog this way or that way, up and down, with your hand, and there he lies before you, according to your showing him with your hand; so when the creature shall come and lie down thus before the Lord, then a creature worships God and tenders the worship that is due to him.
Modesty is, well, not his middle name.
 Now in what disposition of heart do we thus crouch to God more than when we have this state of contentment in all the conditions that God disposes us to? This is the crouching to God's disposal, to be like the poor woman of Canaan, who when Christ said, 'It is not fit to give children's meat to dogs', said 'The dogs have crumbs', I am a dog I confess, but let me have only a crumb. And so when the soul shall be in such a disposition as to lie down and say, 'Lord, I am but as a dog, yet let me have a crumb', then it highly honors God. It may be that some of you have not your table spread as others have, but God gives you crumbs; now, says the poor woman, dogs have crumbs, and when you can find your hearts thus submitting to God, to be but as a dog, and can be contented and bless God for any crumb, I say this is a great worship of God (Kindle location 1540).
Ebony supplies plentiful living illustrations to accompany these words, but for some reason most of them are in my mind, not the computer. I see him live this out many times a day, every day. What strikes me about the posture described is that, at least for Ebony, it reflects not only submission, but even more notably affection and trust.

Frequently he stretches himself out in this manner, in a straight line from his muzzle to the tip of his tail, body pressed flat into the carpet, across the threshold of the bathroom door while I get ready to leave the house for an appointment. He loves the treats I carry in my pocket at all times his mama, and he tends to follow me around the house, just to be where I am. If a soft chair is available, he prefers that, but if not, he is very likely at my feet.

When he feels most safe and secure, and only with those he trusts implicitly, he not only lies down but lies down on his back, which seems the most vulnerable posture a dog could adapt. If we move too quickly or move from rubbing his belly into anything approaching grooming, the moment is lost and he turns right side up again. He held so much fear when he first came to us nearly 5 years ago; when he exposes his belly now in trust that we will not do him harm, it blesses me. It shows his faith in me.

Last night, or rather this morning, at 3:30 when sleep fled again, I remembered these thoughts and, in my spirit, lay down at my Master's feet. I am weary. My family is weary. Physical therapy continues on for at least 2 more weeks, along with other appointments and home and family responsibilities. My back and ankle have improved somewhat, but neither is at full strength or pain-free yet. Last week's cold lingers on in a nighttime cough. There are at least two significant other issues besides health concerns which weigh on my heart but are not mine to share here. Sleep entices as a brief forgetfulness, recovery time to face the next day's challenges, but for more than a month now, consistent sleep has proved even more elusive than usual. And I'm all too prone to whine about it.

So last night when I woke and could not sleep again, I remembered this passage from my bedtime reading and decided to lie at my Lord's feet and expose these vulnerable places to Him. I told Him that I was doing everything in my knowledge and responsibility to obey Him and steward my body with rest, and it wasn't working. If He had some other agenda for those night watches, so be it. He'd just better show up with His power that much more to enable me to do what He gives me to do the next day.

Friends, I still pray that perhaps tonight would be the night restorative sleep returns, but if not, may the Lord grant me the grace of a contented, trusting, devoted heart even in long, wakeful nights. May He unfold to you as well more of the worship of a contented heart.

::Blessing Him for the crumbs He gives, the bitter and the sweet::
the Lord who never slumbers or sleeps::His presence with me in the dark::weary days and nights::improvement in upper respiratory infection::nurses' phone lines for questions::a shift in focus from ankle to upper body in physical therapy::the decompression machine still helping::short walks some days::a happy, unexpected change of plans::celebrating Mezzo's birthday Friday night at an excellent restaurant new to us::naps Sunday afternoon::seeing and hearing Mezzo shine at a private recital she gave Sunday evening::Steinway Hall::sisters (and Allen) sharing supper afterward::brother-in-law taking full responsibility for the nephews so youngest sister could come::my parents' car again for yet another tricky scheduling week::leisurely phone visit with Nonni yesterday::reading about the life of Van Cliburn, who died last week, and remembering the joy of seeing him perform live *twice*::breaking news: Mezzo passed her pre-recital "hearing" in front of the voice faculty!
(gratitude journal #9501-9519)