Wednesday, September 30, 2009

When Trouble comes to Stay

“How long, O Lord.”
—Psalm 13:6

My father used to tell a story about a country parson who announced one Sunday that his sermon would be taken from Mark’s recurrent phrase, “And it came to pass…” “That’s the way it is with trouble,” the preacher said. “It doesn’t come to stay; it comes to pass.”

Not always! Sometimes, trouble comes to stay. We lament with David, “How long, O Lord?”

Four times in this brief psalm, David asks that question and rehearses the trouble he’s seen, troubles that seem to have no end. It’s easier to endure trouble when the end is in sight, but what are we to do when our suffering seems to go on forever: An aging and demanding parent who lingers on; a troubled relationship for which there is no resolution; a painful physical condition that has no cure? You ask, “Has God forgotten me forever” (vs. 1).

David’s answer is short and sweet: “I will trust in your love.” This is our assurance as well: no matter what happens to us, we are loved by infinite love. This is the source of a tranquility and joy that transcends every difficulty.

Some years ago, I read a story about a young man who went to Ireland to celebrate his uncle’s eightieth birthday. On day of his birthday, the man and
his uncle got up before dawn and took a walk along the shores of Lake Killarney. Suddenly the uncle, despite his aging and aching body, went skipping down the beach. His nephew said, "Uncle Seamus, you look happy.” “I am, lad,” his uncle replied, You see, my Abba is very fond of me.”

Do you believe that your Father is fond of you? If you can answer, “Oh, yes, He is very fond of me,” then you know something of the great heart of God. He has loved you too much, and given too much, to stop loving you now.

For that reason, “Keep yourself (centered) in the love of God” (Jude 21).

DHR

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Most Beautiful Woman in the World

A Russian Folk Tale

Once there was a little Russian peasant girl named Varya who, during harvest time, went into the fields with her mother. While her mother worked collecting the wheat Varya followed and played happily among the tall stalks.

One day after playing for a while in the hot summer sun, Varya lay down exhausted in the shade of a haystack and fell into a deep steep. Her mother worked for many hours thinking that Varya was following as usual, but without knowing it, each step took her further and further way from her sleeping daughter

When Varya awoke she found that her mother was nowhere in sight. She was frightened and lost. Just then some farmers walked passed. Calling out to the farmers, Varya asked them if they had seen her mother One of the farmers asked what her mother looked like. Vary answered, “My mother is the most beautiful woman in the world.” The farmers ran to the villages collected the most beautiful looking women they could find and brought them to Varya. She looked at each one and began to cry. Her mother was not among them.

Then…”Varya! Varya!” came a voice.

“Over here,” shouted one of the farmers.

A frantic woman came dashing through the crowd. It was Varya’s mother who, when she got close enough, picked her up and smothered her with hugs and kisses.

To everyone’s surprise, however, Varya’s mother was not beautiful at all. She was, in fact, quite homily. But everyone agreed, she was the most beautiful person in the world.

Chrysostom, an early Christian writer, put it this way:

Here (through God’s word) the apostles and prophets wipe clean and beautify the face, they strip away the marks of senility left by sin, they apply the bloom of youth, they get rid of every wrinkle, stain, and blemish from our souls. Therefore, let us all, men and women, be eager to implant this beauty in ourselves. Sickness withers physical beauty, length of years destroys it, old age drains it dry, death comes and takes it all away. But beauty of the soul cannot be charred by time, disease, old age, death, or any other such thing. It stays constantly in bloom

How can we have this amaranthine beauty? “The LORD takes pleasure in His people…He will beautify the humble" (Psalm 149:4).

DHR

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Horse and Her Boy

My father raised cutting horses, among other things. Consequently I grew up working around horses most of my young life. Unlike my sister, however, who raises Tennessee Walkers these days, I left home with a firm conviction: I will never own a horse! For me, they represented nothing but hard work.

I must say, however, that horses are magnificent creatures. In my opinion they excel other animals in beauty, strength and elegance. I often stop as I drive through this land and watch them grazing a pasture. I almost always think of Dixie, my first and only horse.

When I was about 6 or 7 years old my father decided that I needed a horse of my own to care for and so bought an old bay mare and brought her home to me. She was about 20 years old when he purchased her and lived for four or five years after. For some forgotten reason I named her Dixie.

She was a formidable beast for me at my age and with my small stature. The only way I could climb aboard was to lead her to a corral fence and climb it like a ladder. No saddle was small enough, nor stirrups short enough for my legs so I rode bareback most the time.

Dixie was plump which meant that my feet stuck straight out in both directions, which also meant that I had difficulty staying astride. Her only gait—at least the only one I could get out of her—was a hard, bone-jarring trot that unseated me more times than I can count. Whenever I fell off, however, Dixie would simply stop, look balefully at me, and wait while I tried to climb on her back again—which leads me to Dixie’s most admirable trait: she was wonderfully patient.

I’m ashamed to say that I felt no benevolent whatever toward Dixie. I grumbled my way through the daily ritual of swamping out her stall., feeding, watering, currying her and doing all the other chores my father expected of me. Quite often I took out my resentment on Dixie, shoving her away when she leaned on me, whacking her with a brush or curry comb when she accidentally stepped on my toes, being less than gentle when I combed the cockleburs out of her mane and tail. Yet Dixie bore my childish tantrums with stoic patience, never once retaliating in kind. She was indeed a noble creature. Horses “are among those that come into Aslan’s country after the judgment,” C.S Lewis said. If so, I know I’ll find Dixie there

I wish I could be more like Dixie, for she was the personification of what I most long for these days: a patience that overlooks a multitude of offenses.

Impatience is a malady of the elderly, I think—not unique to us certainly, but one to which we most easily fall prey. Frustration over our own troubles and the orneriness of others can make us crotchety and ill-tempered. I have to ask myself, “How do I respond when others aggravate me? Do I respond with patience and sweetness of spirit, or do I react with intolerance and ire?”

To overlook an offense. To forgive seventy-times-seven. To bear with human frailty and failure. To show mercy and kindness to those who exasperate me. To gain such control over my soul… This is the work of God.

DHR

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Hesitant Servant

The “hesitant” servant was not cast off because he produced no results for his master (Matthew 25:14–30). He failed because he failed to do the thing his master asked him to do.

We’re not obliged to produce results either, for results are beyond our control. Our ministries may falter despite our best efforts. The important thing is to do what our Lord has asked us to do.

When we put our eyes on results we may end up doing things our Lord never asked us to do, or worse, we may do what he has asked us not to do. Obedience, however, always produces the result God desires, though we may not see it in our lifetime. Our task is “a long obedience in the right direction,”[2] not knowing the outcome, and leaving the consequences to God.

In C. S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair, the children, Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole, are given a set of signs to follow. Later in the story there is a moment of grave danger in which they question the Lion’s wisdom. “Should we obey Aslan?” they ask themselves. “”Oh if only we knew!”

“I think we do know,” replied Puddleglum, the wise, old marsh–wiggle.

“Do you mean you think everything will come right…?” asked Scrubb.

“I don’t know about that,” Puddleglum replied. “You see Aslan didn’t tell Pole what would happen. He only told her what to do. That fellow will be the death of us once he’s up, I shouldn’t wonder. But that doesn’t let us off following the sign.”

Similarly, our Lord does not “tell us what will happen”; he only tells us what to do. If we choose to follow him in obedience. Things may, in fact, get worse! They did in Moses’ case whose obedience brought disheartening opposition from Pharaoh and from the folks he was sent to save. Nevertheless we can trust our Lord’s love and wisdom and follow him in quiet submission no matter what happens. In this way, like dutiful servants, we can “enter into the joy of (our) Lord.” (Matthew25: 21,23).

DHR

[1] Jesus’ word oknere, often translated “lazy,” means reluctant or hesitant.”
[2] Friedrich Nietzsche, Eugene Peterson and others
WHEN TROUBLE COMES TO STAY

“How long, O LORD.”
—Psalm 13:6

My father used to tell a story about a country parson who announced one Sunday that his sermon would be taken from Mark’s recurring phrase, “And it came to pass…” “That’s the way it is with trouble,” the old preacher said. “It doesn’t come to stay; it comes to pass.”

Not always, however. Sometimes, despite all we do to fend it away, trouble comes to stay. We lament with David, “How long, O LORD?”

Four times in this short psalm David asks that question and rehearses the trouble he’s seen, troubles that go on and on and seem to have no end. It’s easier to endure trouble when the end is in sight, but what are we to do when it seems to go on forever: An aging and demanding parent who lingers on; a troubled relationship for which there is no resolution; a painful physical condition that has no cure? You ask, “Has God forgotten me forever” (vs. 1).

David’s answer is short and sweet: “I will trust in your love.” This is our assurance as well: no matter what, we are loved by infinite love. This is the source of a tranquility and joy that transcends every difficulty.

Some years ago, I read a story about a young man who went to Ireland to celebrate his uncle’s eightieth birthday. On day of his birthday, the man and
his uncle got up before dawn and took a long walk along the shores of Lake Killarney. Suddenly
the uncle, despite his aches and pains, went skipping down the road, beaming from ear to ear. His nephew said, "Uncle Seamus, you look
happy.” His uncle replied, “I am, lad. You see, me
Abba is very fond of me.”
Do you believe that your heavenly Father is fond of you? If you can answer, “Oh, yes, He is very
fond of me,” then you know something of the great heart of God. Believe me, despite the trouble you see, he has loved you too much, and given too much, to stop loving you now.

For that reason, “Keep yourself in the love of God” (Jude 21).

DHR

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

THOU ART INDEED JUST, LORD, IF I CONTEND

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners' ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?

Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
Now leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build-but not I build; no, but strain,
Time's eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain. [1]


Hopkins begins with a quotation from Israel's prophet, Jeremiah (12:1): "You are indeed just, Lord, if I dispute with you..." He then picks up a theme imbedded in the Old Testament wisdom literature: Why do sinners prosper? [2]

Hopkin's plea is more personal: "Why do sinners prosper while my efforts to do the right thing seem to end in disappointment and failure." It would appear that God, who had been his friend, was now his enemy. God could hardly do more to thwart and defeat him.

He contrasts his own frustration with the flourishing condition of those who live for the "sots and thralls of lust," who, in their "spare" moments, "thrive" more than one who has spent his entire life in the service of God.

Hopkins takes note of the lush "banks and brakes" (hedgerows and thickets) of the countryside which are showing the new growth of spring. He finds them thick with leaves and "laced" (interwoven) with "fretty (indented) chervil (parsley)"

He sees the plants shaken by fresh and refreshing winds. He thinks of birds building nests for their offspring: "Birds build-but not I build." He cannot create life. All he can do is "strain"-toil to produce one work that wakes. He is "Time's eunuch," sterile, useless, hopeless.

Perhaps you recognize yourself in Hopkins-in your own disillusionments and failures: You serve in some part of God's vineyard, but gather little fruit from your labor; you pray for years for a difficult spouse or rebellious child, but see no change in their behavior; you struggle with habitual sin and seem to make no progress. You ask, "Why must disappointment all I endeavor end?"

There is but one cure for us in all our discouragement: to look up to our Father's face-no more than that: "Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain." [3]

DHR

[1] The emphatic opening word of the last line, "Mine," modifies "lord of life."
[2] Job 9 and 21; Ecclesiastes 8:14; Psalm 49 and 73
[3] Or as Jesus would say, "We ought always to pray and not lose heart" (Luke 18:1).
DISCOURAGEMENT

"I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing..." (Isaiah 49:4).

It is a startling fact that the Servant of the Lord, our Lord Jesus—who was made like us—had moments of bitter disappointment. This is one of the many ways in which he, in his humanity, became "acquainted" with our suffering and grief.

Some suggest that these thoughts arose in Gethsemane, but I think moments of discouragement were woven throughout the warp and woof of Jesus' ministry, and were the result of continual opposition, rejection, denial and betrayal. What was diffused throughout his life is condensed in this one verse: "I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing..."[1]

"Nevertheless,"[2] the Servant insists, "my judgment is with the Lord, and my work is with my God (49:4)" It is for the Lord alone to judge the success and significance of his work. Furthermore, he is in partnership with his God and thus, in the end, he cannot fail!

So, the solution to our discouragement is to "spend our strength," but to look away from the outcome to the one who is faithful to perfect his work in due time. We may not see what our Lord is doing in our lifetime, but we can know with assurance that our labor is not in vain.

There's a lovely tailpiece to this text:

Indeed (God) has said,

"It is too small a thing that
You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob,
And to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles,
That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth" (Isaiah 49:6).

In other words, "You ain't seen nothin' yet!"[3]

DHR

[1] Cf., Mark 8:21; 14:27; 14:50; Luke 9:41; John 13:21.
[2] The strong adversative with which this verse begins "But indeed!" emphatically counters what has preceded.
[3] Jesus did not see this promise fulfilled in his lifetime here on earth. Fulfillment was later and through other hands. So it may be for you and for me.


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