Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Confession

I. O come, o come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel…

People in need and blind to the truth,
They were “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
They cried for immediate freedom from political conquerors
But didn’t understand their spiritual slavish bonds were far worse
God’s Great Logos: infinite, powerful, just, untamable, and good
Attentive and broken-hearted by the plight of Adam’s children
Watched and waited for the time prophesied.
In that day, a single instant rendered Him fully human, yet still God
Sent by the Father, conceived by the Spirit, imbued with love, mercy and power.
Accepted by a willing girl, who was astonished and humbled by divine calling
Nine months later, she gave birth to Yahweh.
Angels heralded
Shepherds gloried
Anna and Simeon praised
Magi worshiped
Mary and Joseph marveled.
Nothing compares to this, nothing but one thing:
Thirty-three years later, that loving Soul gave up His life for me.

II. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose…
I sit by my window, longing for snow and comforts of home.
I close my eyes and imagine the tree decked with ornaments
Some store-bought, some made; all given by loving friends and family
The wafting fragrance of homemade cookies and wassail console my mind’s nose.
That old Christmas cd—the one we play every year—plays quietly
It is time for bed, but on this, Christmas Eve, we fulfill a special tradition
Sleeping bags are arranged by the Christmas tree for my brother, sister, and I.
Good night hugs all around, the three of us will snuggle down, lulled to sleep by the colored lights.

We wake around eight, make and eat breakfast, then open gifts
I hear a knock at the back door and we open it to see friends
We play games for hours; I grin smugly as I beat Caleb at Khet.
We eat lunch eventually, sharing stories of Christmases long and near past
Of course, we remain entertained by Daniel and Micah, who naturally keep us in stiches.
Then we’ll put food away and gather around the piano—I’ll sit there
Seth twangs his banjo
Daniel strums his guitar
Caleb plinks his mandolin
Micah fingers his upright bass
Hannah and Esther harmonize their violins
Our cacophony calms into order and we begin, our music drawing others near
Those who aren’t playing—and many who are— will sing carols and hymns and praises.

III. City sidewalks, busy sidewalks dressed in holiday style…
My eyes open; I sigh, wishing for this daydream to become reality.
I sip my cocoa and listen as Pandora plays Burl Ives.
I hope Steven Nelson’s “Carol of the Bells” is next,
Instead it’s “Rocking around the Christmas Tree” so I close my computer
In the other room, my roommate watches Elf; perhaps I’ll join.
Unnoticed, I enter and glance over her shoulder—a commercial
Santa in a shirt and tie sells a Chevrolet to a woman—she wants to know where his suit is
ABC announces the next show will be The Santa Clause
The next scene of Elf flashes to life: Buddy is saving Santa; Jovi is singing infectiously
Although I was raised on films like White Christmas, I find this movie cute.

My phone rings—it’s Erika: did I buy the candy canes for the party tonight?
Not yet.
I bundle up and trek to the store, my Christmas scarf around my neck
I hope they’re not out—candy canes are to be prizes for games we’ll play.
The Salvation Army volunteer ringing the bell
                Boy scouts in the parking lot selling trees
Shoppers with very full carts
                                                Children wanting to see Santa Claus
                                                                Two women behind me complain about Christmas bustle and bother
I buy the candy canes and leave. I smile to see snowflakes falling quietly outside
As my change falls in his bucket, the volunteer smiles broad and wishes me a merry Christmas

IV. Go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born
The commercialization of the holiday all around; the shift from sacred to mere tradition disturbs me
I am young, inexperience, voiceless—who would listen to a “radical” like me?
The antagonistic voice in my head reminds that my desire to influence is but a dream.
I stop at a red light and put in a CD, Focus’ Radio Theatre A Christmas Carol reaches my ears
Another block and a figure catches my eye
She stands, a shabby coat hanging on her frame, stringy grey hair whipping in the wind
Such a sight should not be, especially in December.
My question returns, overwhelming Scrooge and Cratchit’s conversation
An idea dawns.
I whip through the MacDonald’s drive-through
Burger, fries, pie, and coffee on the seat next to me, I return and give her the bag
“It’s not much, but it’s all hot. Would you like a ride somewhere?”
A tear slips down her cheek; she glances at me a moment but never makes eye contact
She mumbles that she lives nearby; “Are you sure?” Yes, she is sure.
I nod and give her a hug. “God bless you, ma’am.” She nods and turns away.
I return to my car and start the motor, my heart singing, yet mourning her lot
Perhaps this is my calling: follow my Savior
                Walk where He walked
                                Listen as He speaks
                                                Pray for His blessing
                                                                Trust Him to multiply my gift
I Remember the Nativity, look forward to all this holiday means, and reach out as God reached me
This is what Christmas means.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Quest for Ecnarelot: a Dr. Seuss Tale

Once upon a time, there was a bright land where so much was good
The birds sang in the trees and children played sweetly; yet not everything was as it should
For there was a town, that of Whizwoz, that had a big problem, though no one would admit it.
Here was the hitch: that all claimed to have this stuff called ecnarelot that everyone kept in their closet
And would pull it out and use it to help people, birds of the gromoloos species, and society.
Yet for all the newspaper articles commending daring rescues of gromoloo chicks as quite a priority,
The people from Whizwoz had very little ecnarelot to go around.

Most didn’t care or thought all was dandy, but one brave soul knew something wasn’t quite right.
His name was Flex Haplex, a good thoughtful fellow, who played tight-end in the game of pigskinite.
Once a week, he would attend the Whizwoz First Church with many other people from the town
They would sing lovely songs and raise their hands high and listen to a sermon by Pastor Brown
Who often talked about how everyone should get more ecnarelot to use it for others.
The whole congregation would nod and host events in Whizwoz to use their ecnarelot as they druthers:
They would tutor the children at Whizwoz Elementary and host Christmas feasts for the less fortunate,
They would sponsor youth trips to the exotic Gulamore Islands, where the trees grow the fruit blipolat.

Flex Haplex didn’t not agree—he led a small group and chap’ed the trip to the island of Gulamore
And even brought his famous Quzermlew pudding to the Christmas feasts.
Yet there was something that bothered him, right down to his core, was that something was lacking
In the way the people of Whizwoz church treated others. Could it be that their ecnarelot was slacking?
Good Pastor Brown thought so, and went to conferences to get event ideas
And would come back with plans that had worked for Gnoid Fifth Church from 1995 to 2010.
Still, Flex Haplex wasn’t happy—he knew something was missing, but wasn’t sure what or since when
So he decided to go find answers from the great Know-It-All!

He packed up his bags and left with Brown’s blessing. He went to the station and left on the 5:42.
He flew and he flew over forest, prairie, lakes, and even a flock of purple and pink ewe
Until he landed in Halabaloo, where everyone talked about what they could do.
Flex Haplex asked where he could find the great Know-It-All. He asked everyone plus a goat named Stu!
Everyone told him to go to the Big, big church in the center of town, where the Big Guy could give him
a clue.
Flex Haplex walked to the church. He opened the door and was met by Mr. Know-It-All himself!
“So, my boy,” said the man, who was larger than life, “what do you need? I can help you, it’s true!”
“Oh, great Know-It-All,” Flex said with a bow, “my church is lacking in ecnarelot, and we don’t know
what to do!”
“Well, your church hosts and does and plans, correct? Well then, I think you’re all right.
But just in case, perhaps you can do more. Yes, maybe your events calendar is a bit light.
Add more activities and then add some more. But really, you’re on the right course, don’t get in a fright!
Go back to Whizwoz and tell Pastor Brown that you need to do more, and gone will be your plight.
Ecnarelot comes out of closets when you do more, so hop to it and then you’ll enjoy the sight.”

So Know-It-All patted Flex’s head and sent him away with a book to read about doing good deeds.
Flex meandered down the street, unsure what to think. “Just do more? Impossible! Unthinkable!
We do so much that our people are stretched thin. We can’t do more, just consult our stats table!”
He walked and he walked and then found a woman who told him to not pay attention to K.I.A.’s creeds.
“He does a lot simply because he has a hole inside that he thinks he can fill with doing, doing, doing.
But, there is someone who can help you, Noita Tidem by name. She’s rad and can help you connect with
the ecnarelot inside.”
“Wonderful!” Flex Haplex yelled and gave the woman a hug. “I really can’t thank you enough!” he cried.

The woman took him to the airport and sent him on the first flight to Feel-Goodville.
He felt his spirits rise as the airport flew, and knew that his answers would be answered soon.
The plane soon landed, and Flex Haplex jumped out of the aircraft and ran to Chapel Hill
Where a little church stood, so colorful and joyful, bright as could be that day in June.
He flung open the door and was met by a woman who meditated on the ceiling (which is no small skill!).
Flex couldn’t care less. He just wanted a resolution to his quandary before the full moon.
“Hello, ma’am,” Flex called out. “I have a question about a hole in my heart and reasoning to fill,
And I was told that you could help me, and that before noon!”
“That I can, just let me come down. It might take me a minute, as this gives me a thrill.
Now, how can I help you? Are you looking for peace or perhaps a filled gafoon?”
“Oh no, nothing like that. My church is having ecnarelot problems that need to be fixed!”
“That’s easy!” Noita declared. “You just need to feel it, and then it will be there.”
“How so?” Flex scratched his head. “I feel like my beliefs need to be purified and unmixed!”
“That they do, and I can help you. Here, drink this chai and I’ll tell you as you sit in this chair.”
So the rest of the afternoon, Noita talked about feeling good and the importance of inner connection.
 “I can’t really agree.” Flex finally said with conviction, “I think that ecnarelot is more than affection!”
So Noita Tidem shrugged and sent him away with a magazine about yoga under one arm.

“Well this was silly,” Flex said to himself. “I’ve spent all this time and am no closer to an elucidation!”
“I have an idea,” said a smiling child five feet away, “and you don’t have to worry about long orations!
I’ve heard of your quest. I have a friend, Eurt D. Nalaer, who has the answer, by which you can only
Flex put his hands in his pocket and drew a line in the dust with his toe. He didn’t want to fail again.
But, he had nothing to lose, and his return flight wasn’t schedule until 10:40 that night.
So he shrugged and followed her to a cottage at the edge of town that was painted white.
The child knocked on the door, and a man with a long shaggy beard answered her call.
“Why, little Kimmy Bloo, what a pleasant surprise. What brings you here?” he said with a drawl.
“Flex Haplex is trying to find why his church has an ecnarelot dilemma. Can you help him?”
“Why I can certainly try. Come in, Mr. Haplex, and while we talk, we can drink some hot tresimm.”

Flex Haplex went into the cottage and he and Mr. Nalaer talked for a while. Finally, Eurt said,
“You are right that ecnarelot can’t be found in doing or feeling or anything else
Unless you first are connected with the One who came here to save us, and for us bled.
His influence in your life is the only thing that can give you true ecnarelot for anyone else.”
“But that can’t be true! I have some at home that I can pull out at any time. Ecnarelot comes from me.”
“Well, why don’t you go and find yours before deciding. But Jesus has enough ecnarelot to fill a sea.
But take this Bible, it will show you the way. It holds the secret for giving our ecnarelot away!”

Flex shook the man’s hand and took the good book, then left for the airport, ‘cause it was 9:48.
He went back home and searched the ol’ closet and looked on every shelf, box, and crate.
He thought it was in here, his bottle of ecnarelot, but all he could find was a bag of Whizwhoz ulharate!
In desperation, he opened Eurt’s book, and began in the New Testament, the book of John.
He read of God’s love and the life Jesus led, and then read beyond ‘til dawn lightened his lawn.
He then closed the book, and looked at the clock. It was 8:45 Sunday morning.
Flex jumped in the shower, then brushed his hair, and ran to the church to tell the whole thing.

He found Pastor Brown drinking his coffee in an old Sunday School room, and started to tell him the tale
Of searching in Halabaloo and Feel-Goodville, and the Know-It-All, Noita Tidem, and Eurt D. Nalaer,
And about the Bible and not finding the ecnarelot he thought he had and everything else to occur.
“I know now, Pastor, that I ecnarelot comes not from me—for I have none-- but from Jesus
Who can give me His! If we can get ecnarelot from Him, I know it will last,
And we won’t have the problem of little ecnarelot in our events. So that is my consensus.”
Pastor Brown leaned against the wall, let out a deep breath, and then asked:
“So how do we do this thing you suggest? It cannot be that easy, I guess.”
Flex Haplex smiled and turned in the Bible to Matthew 7:7-8. “We need only pray for the blessing,
And God will teach us how we can get the whole thing.”

So that’s what they did, the Whizwoz First Church. They prayed and prayed and then prayed some more
And before long, God sent some opportunities to knock on their door.
At first, they were small, like a request from Old Widow Le Deen to paint her kitchen a deep green
Or young Miss Rhonda, an unmarried mom, who just needed someone who could babysit and clean
But then, the opportunities grew larger, ‘til soon other churches, including Gnoid Fifth Church,
Asked them what they were doing right. Flex Haplex even spoke at conferences about his God-search
And soon other churches were praying, too, keeping in mind that Jesus gives ecnarelot.
As time went on, their ministry grew and people poured their ecnarelot on others a lot
Knowing it came from an eternal source that would keep giving as long as the connection remained.
Flex Haplex grew happy, it’s true, and never forgot his search that ended by Eurt, and how he showed
Jesus to be the real and true source for ecnarelot for everyone.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Prayer for the Temple

The other day, I read about the dedication service that Solomon officiated after he finished building the temple in I Kings.  Beginning in chapter 8:1, the first thing that he did during this service was bring the Ark of the Covenant into the temple with all the pomp and glory it deserved.  After that he made a speech, explaining the history of this project that had taken seven years to complete and giving God the glory for all of it.  After that he prayed, blessed those who came to the dedication, offered thousands of sacrifices (no joke!  Check out 8:63), and hosted a feast for all of Israel that lasted fourteen days.
The part that caught my attention the most was Solomon’s prayer of dedication.  The prayer itself is truly beautiful and heartfelt.  In it, Solomon thanks God for His favor on the house of David and for His fulfilled promises.  He then requests that God blesses the temple and make it a place of answered prayer, justice, spiritual deliverance, forgiven sin and consequential mercy, set apart-ness, and holiness.  He also asks that the foreigners who come to Israel and see the temple may be drawn to God just by looking at it.  Quite a prayer, huh?
Then I started thinking about it, and my mind went to 2 Corinthians 6:16, which states “For you are the temple of the living God.  As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them.  I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’” (NKJV)  So, it could be argued that with just a teeny-tiny bit of tweaking, Solomon’s prayer can work as a prayer of dedication for a Christian’s life.  The results?  Powerful and awe-inspiring.  Here is what I came up with:

          Then I stood before the LORD and spread out my hands toward heaven in submission and praise; and I said, “LORD God of Israel, there is no God in heaven above or on earth below like You; for You made a promise to be merciful to those who walk before You, loving You with their whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and You keep that promise.  Nor is that the only promise You have been faithful to fulfill!  You have kept Your promise to David, my spiritual forefather, saying ‘You shall not fail to have a man sit before Me on the throne of Israel, only if your sons take heed to their way, that they walk before Me as you have walked before Me.’ You have fulfilled this promise to David through Your Son, Jesus Christ, who rules forever in heaven.  Now I ask, O God, that You continue to live in me and help me walk before You as David did.
          “But who am I that You, the High Ruler of Heaven and Sustainer of Earth, would dwell in me when heaven itself cannot contain You?  Nonetheless, I humbly ask that You hear my earnest cry today: I ask that You watch and protect me day and night, since You yourself have said, ‘My presence shall be there,” and that You will hear my prayers.  If I sin against someone (or if they sin against me), I ask that we would be able to set aside our differences, selfishness, and anger.  I ask for Your justice in such a situation—judge us in Your wisdom and help us to see through Your eyes.  May the wrongful party understand what was wrong about their actions and justify those who did what was right.
          “When I fall prey to Satan’s schemes and am defeated in spiritual warfare because of some sin in my life; if I turn back to You, calling on Your name for grace and pray for Your deliverance, please hear my supplications from heaven and forgive my sin.  Furthermore, bring me back to a place of spiritual aliveness, victory, and closeness with You.
          “When my country turns its back on You and calamity comes because of it—whether that is famine, sickness, plague, mold and mildew, a military attack against us, or anything else—and I and Your people pray in godly humility and self-assessment and we realize the sins we have in our own lives are keeping us apart from You and confess them before You, then please hear those prayers as well, forgiving and restoring to each one according to the condition of his or her heart (for You intimately know our hearts), so that we can honor and love You forever and live in the land that You gave us.
         “I also ask that when I come in contact with those who are not believers, may they see that I am different and want to know You because of it.  Let them realize that I am different because I am completely Yours.  May my influence on them cause them to surrender to You in godly fear, and when they pray like that, I ask that You hear them.
          “When I enter into spiritual warfare for Your name and with your anointing and I pray, hear my cry from heaven and sustain me, even in the midst of battle.
          “When I sin against You (for there is no one who does not sin), I understand that You may become angry with me and allow me to go through hard times.  However, when I finally come to my senses, repent, and pray to return to a healthy relationship with You, hear from heaven and help me.  Forgive me of all my sin and give me compassion as a replacement for sin.  I ask that Your eyes may be open to the prayers of Your people, both Gentiles and Jews.”

          I’m willing to go out on a limb here and say that if we were to pray this as fervently as Solomon prayed for the temple, accompanied by an earnest search for God, we would see revival.  May God give us the strength to do so!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Dear Mark...


         I just finished reading your gospel.  I really appreciated how you point out Jesus' divinity in terms of His justice, and how He mingled justice with mercy and compassion throughout His ministry.
            The first time that really stood out to me was 3:5, when Jesus "looked around at [the Pharisees] with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts."  He was grieved that their hearts were calloused, to the point that they condemned God for helping a man, and angered that they saw no harm in their legalism.  In reading this story, I was convicted.  I wish I could say that I am always grieved at hard-heartedness and angered at injustice, but I can't.  May God help me love justice and display justice as Christ did.
            In chapter five, you told the story of Jesus healing the demon-possessed man.  I research it and found out that two thousand pigs in today's market would go for $178,000.  Though money has different rates now, I'm sure Jesus would still heal that man.  You demonstrated Jesus valued the man more than the monetary profit.
            In chapter six, you told the story of Jesus walking on the water.  I must admit, I'm a little confused why Jesus wanted to pass the disciples by while they were in the boat.  Was it a punishment?  "For they had not understood about the loaves, because their hearts were hardened." (v. 52) Whatever His purpose was in trying to skirt them, His compassion in this story is amazing, for He saw their fear and instead of chastising them (like in other places when they were afraid with little faith), He calmed their fears, entered the boat, and calmed the storm.  What a perfect demonstration of mercy!
            By the way, in regards to 6:52, why did you put that verse there? It doesn't really "flow" well.  What purpose did you have in putting it there instead of a few verses before where it would have made sense?
            Anyway, thanks for sharing with me what Christ did.  You reopened my eyes to the justice that Christ demonstrated, and the mercy and compassion He had on those around Him.  

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


The past several months, my prayer has been that God would let me glorify Him. This poem is the essence of my  prayers.

Bring me joy, bring me sorrow
Bring me peace, bring me toil
Bring me laughter, bring me tears
Bring me anything that will give You glory.

Take me to the mountain top, take me to the valley
Take me where people are in pain,
Take me where they rejoice
Take me anywhere I can glorify You.

Show me others' hearts, show me nothing
Show me beauty, show me ashes
Show me Your glory, show me not
Show me what You will and through Your eyes.

Allow me to feel anger, allow me to feel love
Allow me to feel another's pain, or only my own
Allow me to feel gracious, allow me to feel just
Allow me to experience emotions as You do

For my greatest honor would be to give You glory
My highest goal is to go where I can praise You
My only desire is to see this world using Your vision
My very calling is to feel as Your own heart does.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

On Her Papa's Knee

This is a story I recently read, and it really touched me.  The setting is about fifteen or so years before the civil war in Virginia.  Mr. Dinsmore is a pious, wealthy southern gentleman who lives with his only daughter, Elsie, who is about 9 or 10.

On Her Papa's Knee
by Martha Finley
excerpt from Elsie's Holidays at Roselands*
            "Massa, dere's a gentleman wants to speak to you," said a servant, looking in at the study door one afternoon a few days before Christmas.
            "Very well, John, show him into the library, and I will be there in a moment," replied Mr. Dinsmore, putting down his book.
            He glanced at Elsie's little figure, half buried in the cushions of a great easy-chair near one of the windows, into which she had climbed more than an hour before, and where she had been sitting ever since, completely lost to all that might be going on around her, in the deep interest with which she was following the adventures of FitzJames in Scott's Lady of the Lake.
            "Daughter, I am afraid you are reading more today than is quite good for you," he said, looking at his watch.  "You must put up your book very soon now, and go out for a walk.  I shall probably be down in ten or fifteen minutes, but if I am not, you must not wait for me, but take Aunt Chloe with you."
            "Yes, papa," she replied, looking up from her book for an instant, and then returning to it again as he left the room.
            She had not the least intention of disobeying, but soon forgot everything else in the interest of her story. 
            The stranger detained Mr. Dinsmore much longer than he had expected, and the short winter day was drawing rapidly to a close when he returned to his study, to find Elsie—much to his surprise and displeasure—precisely where he had left her. 
            She was not aware of his entrance until he was close beside her, then, looking up with a start, she colored violently.
            He gently took the book from her hand and laid it away, then, lifting her from the chair, led her across the room, where he seated himself upon the sofa, and drawing her in between his knees, regarded her with a look of grave, sad displeasure.
            "Has my little daughter any idea how long it is since her father bade her put up her book?" he asked in a gently reproving tone.
            Elsie hung her head in silence, and a tear rolled quickly down her burning cheek.
            "It grieves me very much," he said, "to find that my little girl can be so disobedient!  It almost makes me fear that she does not love me very much."
            "Oh, papa, don't!  Oh, don't say that!  I can't bear to hear it!" she cried, bursting into an agony of tears and sobs, and hiding her face on his breast.  "I do love you very much, papa, and I can't bear to think I've grieved you," she sobbed.  "I know I am very naughty, and deserve to be punished—but I didn't mean to disobey, only the book was so interesting I didn’t know at all how the time went."
            He sighed, but said nothing, only drew her closer to him, putting his arm around her, and stroking her hair in a gentle, caressing way.
            There was no sound for some moments but Elsie's sobs.
            Then she asked in a half whisper, "Are you going to punish me, papa?"
            "I shall take the book from you for a few days.  I hope that will be punishment enough to make you pay better attention to my commands in future," he said very gravely.
            "Dear papa, how kind you are!  I am sure I deserve a great deal worse punishment than that," she exclaimed, raising her head and looking up gratefully and lovingly into his face, "but I am very, very sorry for my disobedience.  Will you please forgive me?"
            "I will, daughter," and he bent down and kissed her lips.
            "Now go," he said, "and get your cloak and hood.  I think we will still have time for a little stroll through the grounds before dark."
            Elsie had very little to say during their walk, but moved silently along by her father's side, with her hand clasped in his, and he, too, seemed unusually abstracted.
            It was quite dark when they entered the house again, and when the little girl returned to the study, after Chloe had taken off her wrappings, she found her father seated in an easy-chair, drawn up on one side of a bright wood fire that was blazing and crackling on the hearth.
            Elsie dearly loved the twilight hour, and it was one of her greatest pleasures to climb upon her father's knee and sit there talking or singing, or perhaps, oftener, just laying her head down on his breast and watching the play of the fire-light on the carpet, or the leaping of the flames hither and thither.
            Mr. Dinsmore sat leaning back in his chair, apparently in deep thought, and did not hear Elsie's light step.
            She paused for one instant in the doorway, casting a wistful, longing look at him, then, with a little sigh, walked softly to the other side of the fire-place, and seated herself in her little rocking-chair.
            For several minutes she sat very quietly gazing into the fire, her little face wearing a very sober, thoughtful look.  But she was startled out of her reverie by the sound of her father's voice.
            "Why am I not to have my little girl on my knee tonight?" he was asking.
            She rose instantly, in a quick, eager way, and ran to him. 
            "If you prefer the rocking-chair, stay there, by all means," he said.
             But she had already climbed to her accustomed seat, and, twining her arms around his neck, she laid her cheek to his, saying, "No, indeed, papa; you know I don't like the rocking chair half so well as your knee; so please let me stay here."
            "Why did you not come at first, then?" he asked in a playful tone.
            "Because I was afraid, papa," she whispered.
            "Afraid!" he repeated, with an accent of surprise, and looking as if he felt a little hurt.
            "Yes, papa," she answered in a low tone, "because I have been so naughty this afternoon, that I know I don't deserve to come."
            "Did you not hear me say I forgave you?" he asked.
            "Yes, papa."
            "Very well, then, if you are forgiven you are taken back into favor, just as if you had not transgressed, and if you had quite believed me, you would have come to me at once, and claimed a daughter's privilege, as usual," he said very gravely.
            "I do believe you, papa.  I know you always speak the truth and mean just what you say," she replied in half-tearful tones, "but I know I don't deserve a place on your knee tonight."
            "What you deserve is not the question at present. We are talking about what you can have, whether you deserve it or not.
            "Ah!" he continued in a low, musing tone, more as if thinking aloud than speaking to her.  "Just so it is with us in all reference to our Heavenly Father's forgiveness.  When he offers us a full and free pardon of all our offenses, and adoption into his family, we don't more than half believe him, but still go about groaning under the burden of our sins, and afraid to claim the privileges of children.
            "It hurts and displeases me when my child doubts my word, and yet how often I dishonor my Father by doubting his.  'He that believeth not God, maketh him a liar.'  'Without faith, it is impossible to please him.'"
            He relapsed into silence, and for some moments neither of them spoke.
            He was passing his hand caressingly over her hair, and she resting in his arms and gazing thoughtfully into the fire.

© 1997 Holly Hall Publications (original ©1868)
Elkton, MD
pp. 218-222

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Persevere Under Trial

"Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because after he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life God promised to those who love Him." James 1:12

 Wow, what a verse!  This should encourage anyone going through a difficult time and should admonish them to keep on keeping on.  My question while reading this verse is what does "stand the test" mean?  If there's as big a reward as the crown of life, then we really should know, right?

Well, two pictures come to mind.  The first is a horse in a thunder storm, tied to a stake in the middle of the prairie.  A blanket has been thrown over his back in a pitiful, yet "best intentions" attempt at keeping him warm.  Its knees are locked, head down, and ears back; fighting against the wind.  He isn't getting blown away, and will survive the storm, albeit a little worse for wear.  It's this concept that I will assign the term "withstanding."

The second picture is a scene from the Fellowship of the Ring, Bordamir is fighting against the oorks in an attempt to keep two hobbits safe.  Even though several arrows have pierced his armor and he's mortally wounded, he fights the enemy almost until his last breath.  This is the perfect picture of perseverance.

So, which is this verse referring to, or does it mean both?  At first glance, I would say probably both.  Some trials I've personally experienced have called for keeping up the good work, even though I would have rathered going home, curling myself up on my bed under my teddy bear blanket that my grandma gave me for Christmas a few years ago and cry myself to sleep, then staying in bed until the problem blew over, even if it took weeks.  An example I'm sure most of you could resonate with is a difficult school project that required perseverance.  However, the best example I can come up with is my... err... "friendship" (for lack of a better word) with a girl I worked with a couple years ago named Sadie. 

Sadie and I worked together one night a week for an entire school year.  That's 120 hours we spent together as "team" mates.  It's not that Sadie is bad-- or that she's a horrible worker-- it's just that she hated my guts.  To this day, I cannot fathom why she didn't like me.  She would micromanage me, or do my work for me (not because I couldn't or wouldn't do it, but just because she could), ridicule me for asking legitimate questions, and yell at me in front of other co-workers for the smallest things, like leaving the sanitizer bucket in a place she didn't like or having the gall to finish something our manager had told me to do before doing something she demanded I do (occasionally, something that the manger had told her to do and she didn't want to do).  She would tolerate no anger from me toward her unfairness and would gossip about me behind my back.  Although she was no superior of mine, she made work a drudgery.  I got to the point that I hated working and would often go play out my frustration on the piano after work, biting back tears.

Anyway, one thing God had asked me to do while I worked with her is to show her His love.  I think that's one of the hardest things He has asked me to do.  How difficult it was to treat her respectfully, politely, treat her as though there was nothing wrong!  How painful to suppress the sarcasm in my responses to her ridicule, and say nothing at all rather than a hurtful comment.  How hard to greet her with a genuine smile every time I saw her-- on and off the clock!  How infuriating to avert my eyes as she yelled at me so she couldn't see fury flash in my eyes!  How humbling to defend Sadie to other co-workers the few times that she had been justified (albeit overreacting) in calling me out on something when they came with empathy, supporting my cause!

What a trial it was.  But I persevered.  Later, when she and I were reconciled, she apologized for her cruelty and admitted that she herself didn't understand why she had been so mean.  Nonetheless, I learned much about love in adversity and even about pity and compassion.  For strangely enough, I did come to look at her with agape and mercy.  This is perseverance under trial-- the perseverance that teaches you much and gives you wisdom and draws you closer to God.

"Withstanding," on the other hand, is simply coming to the end of your rope and typing a knot with which to hold on, like watching a relative die.  We can't do anything about it, merely holding on and doing the best you can under the circumstances.  This is a good (and necessary) reaction to testing, but is more pluckiness and tenacity than perseverance; it's an attitude of "I will not give up!"  (Truth be told, perseverance and withstanding are fraternal twins and in trials you need both.)

According to this verse, we do this to receive an immortal crown.  So, going back to my original question, what is this really referring to?  After thinking, I'd have to say perseverance wins.  You see, there's the second half of the verse to reckon with.  It reads: "because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life God promised to those who love Him."  Think back to the two descriptions at the beginning of the post; the ones about a horse and Baldimir.  I would say perseverance deserves a crown more than withstanding.  Perseverance requires more work and you end up gaining more from it.  Besides, with persevering, there's the constant temptation to simply batten down the hatch and ride out the storm.  Those who are proven true-- who persevere to the end-- will receive the crown of life.  Those who simply stand firm will probably get an extra scoop of ice cream at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  Personally, out of the two, I'd prefer that crown, even if that means I deal with more pain on this side of heaven.

Next time you're under trial, remember this.  Ask yourself if this is a test to merely endure or if you can do more with the situation than that.  Remember what Jim Elliot said: "Live to the hilt every situation you believer to be the will of God."