Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Any Distance, Any Time

“In journey’s often…” (2 Corinthians 11:26)

For several years now, I’ve been corresponding with a Nepalese pastor who frequently travels with his church members to distant communities in the Himalayas to preach the gospel and plant churches. Recently he sent me his itinerary and asked me to pray:

On 21th - singing, preaching, dancing, and distributing gospel tracts (Thansing, 45 kilometers from Kathmandu)
On 23th - singing, preaching, dancing, Jesus film show and gospel tracts distribution (Amptar, Nuwakot, 120 kilometers from Kathmandu)
On 25th - singing, dancing, preaching in Kathmandu Friends church
On 26th - singing, preaching, dancing,  and gospel tracts distribution (Nalang, Dhading, 130 kilometers from Kathmandu)
On 27th - singing, preaching, dancing,  and gospel tracts distribution (Darbung, Gorkha, 150 kilometers from Kathmandu)
On 28th - singing, preaching, dancing, and gospel tracts distribution (Darbung, Gorkha, 160 kilometers from Kathmandu)
All the programs are followed by a love feast.

I wondered at the vast distances my friend covered on these outings and wrote to ask how his motorcycle was holding up. This was his reply:

"We had wonderful time of marching in the mountains with our church members. All do not have motorcycles and I need to be with them, so we all walked. It was blessed time. Still more places to go."

I thought of my reluctance to venture out of my comfort zone and inconvenience myself: to drive cross-town in the snow to visit a lonely widower; to make my way across the street to help a neighbor at the close of a long, weary day; to get up and answer a knock on the door (when I’m reading and would rather not be bothered) and cheerfully welcome a talkative, elderly friend; to go any time, any place, any distance for the sake of love.

And I thought of our Lord, for whom no distance was too great to go.

DHR

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Child

“Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass…” (Luke 2:15).

Some years ago Carolyn and I took our grandchildren to the Festival of the Trees, a local event in which businesses and organizations decorate Christmas trees, competing with one another in various categories. The display is magnificent.

We were enchanted by the grandeur of the trees as we moved from one to another, pointing and exclaiming. But one of our grandchildren, Melissa, soon lost interest, surfeited by splendor, until she came to a small manger scene and there she paused transfixed.

Nothing else mattered—not the magnificently decorated trees, not Santa Claus who was nearby and beckoning, not even the incredible talking tree. She was captivated by the Child.

We tried our best to urge her on—we wanted to see the rest of the trees—but she lingered behind, wanting to hold the baby, pressing closer to him despite the ribbon stretched around the cradle, keeping her away.

Finally, she agreed to leave, though reluctantly, looking back over her shoulder to get a glimpse of the crèche through the trees. And as we were leaving the building she asked once more to “see the baby.” We returned to the manger and waited while she gazed long and longing at Jesus. 

As Melissa adored Him, I marveled at her simplicity. Unlike her, I often fail to see the Child for the trees. “There are some things worth being a child to get hold of again,” George MacDonald said. “Make me a child again,” I prayed, “at least for tonight.”

DHR

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Happiness is...


"Present mirth hath present laughter…"
 —William Shakespeare, “Carpe Diem”

I was examining the magazines at our grocery store checkout stand the other day and concluded that happiness is firmness, fitness, prosperity, power, stardom, sex and pleasure. Bless my soul, we’ve forgotten that man does not live by bread alone.

Happiness, of course, is what everyone is seeking. That “end” was established long ago by the likes of Plato, Aristotle and other philosophers, who were musing on something we’ve always known: Regardless of the means, our end is happiness.

Human beings cannot not seek happiness. It’s why we do everything we do: It’s why we become tri–athletes or checker champs; why we speed–climb vertical rocks or turn into recumbent couch potatoes; why we become mechanics, machinists, mothers, fathers, doctors, lawyers, or Indian chiefs. Masochists hurt themselves because they think that will make them happy. Murderers kill others to make themselves happy. Suicides kill themselves because they can’t stand to be unhappy. We are made to be happy and nothing else will do.

That’s why happiness is said to be our final end by philosophers and theologians, by which they mean that happiness is not the means to anything else. We don’t seek happiness so we can be rich. We don’t seek happiness so we can find love. It’s the other way around: We seek love, wealth and everything else so we can be happy. Thus happiness is our final end.

Happiness is not our chief end, however; that’s God. But even with reference to God, happiness is our final end. We don’t seek happiness to find God; we seek God to find ultimate happiness.

Our modern English word “happiness” normally means subjective satisfaction or contentment, usually the result of good fortune. A friend approaches me with a goofy grin on his face and I think: “Something good must have happened to him.”  Thus we think of happiness as happenstance. Indeed, our English word “happiness” is based on an Old English word, “hap” that means “chance.”

The word ancient Greek philosophers used for happiness, however, was eudaimonia, best understood by breaking the word down into its component parts:  The prefix, eu, means “good,” daimon is the Greek word for “spirit,” and ia suggests a “lasting state.” So authentic happiness is an enduring state of inner peace. It is knowing, despite all counter-indications, that it is well with one’s soul. For Jews it is shalom.

Here’s the crux: St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Since it is possible to be happy and there are certain acts that make us happy we must in due sequence consider by what acts we may be happy and by what acts we are prevented from attaining it.”

How eminently practical! It’s possible to be happy and there are certain things we can do that will make us happy. Should we not then, “consider by what acts we are prevented from attaining it?

Put simply, the way to be happy is to be good, something about which virtue theorists have agreed for millennia. Plato, in his dialogue, The Republic, said that happiness is elusive, but can be achieved though justice, i.e., doing the right thing. Aristotle, Plato’s pupil, said, “Happiness is the reward of virtue” (Ethics 1.9). One of Israel’s poets said the same of his king: “You love righteousness and hate wickedness. Therefore (for this reason) God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness…” (Psalm 45:7). This is also the burden of Jesus’ beatitudes, his instruction on happiness.[1]  “Happiness is…” he insists, and then proceeds to give us a list of seven virtues (Matthew 5:3-10).

“Goodness is better than badness because it’s nicer,” Mammy Yokum said. “Nicer,” surely, but also more happifying. Happiness does not come from wealth, honor, fame, power, pleasure or any bodily good, as our popular culture would have us believe, but in doing the right thing. [2] Should we not gain our understanding of happiness from the wise and not from fools?

So, I ask myself, if I’m made for happiness and happiness comes from goodness why would I choose misery instead of joy? Wretchedness instead of happiness? Because I’m insane, that’s why. There can be no other explanation.

Now, it is true that neither you nor I will ever know complete happiness in this world. The best proof of that premise is that even in those moments when we’re supremely happy, we’re not completely happy. Something is missing. “This world is full of many miseries therefore man cannot be perfectly happy in this life,” Aquinas said,  “but a certain participation of happiness can be had in this life.” [3] Perfect happiness awaits heaven and home.

So, if we want to be as happy as we can be in this world, we must be as good as we can be—overcome our sensuality, immodesty, moodiness, irascibility and intolerance, among other things—something we cannot do unless we want goodness and ask for God’s help every day. “Only God is good,” Jesus said,[4] thus any goodness in us must be the work of His hands. “What a labor He has with us all! Shall we ever, some day, be all, and quite good like Thee?” George MacDonald asks.[5]

God help us.

DHR


[1] The word “Beatitudes” comes from a Latin term beatus that means “happy.”
[2] Here I add a parallel premise: If virtue makes us happy, vice makes us sad. Wrong–doing may awaken immediate, short–term, superficial exhilaration, but its after-taste is bitter. The Bible puts it plainly: we enjoy the enjoyment of sin “for a season” (Hebrews 11:25). Thus it occurs to me that I should bear no resentment toward those who direct their wrong–doing against me. I should rather feel pity and compassion.
[3] Summa 111,5,3
[4] Mark 10:18
[5] Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Into My Heart

One Christmas, a long time ago, when our granddaughter Melanie was very small, she was wandering and wondering her way around our living room, gazing intently at Carolyn’s “set–arounds.”

Carolyn has a wonderful array of ornaments and objects she has collected over the years. One of her most cherished items is an olivewood crèche she bought in Bethlehem. Every Christmas it finds its place on our living room coffee table.

Melanie came to the crèche that day and stood over it transfixed for a moment. Then she picked up the carving of the baby Jesus in her tiny hands and drew it up to her heart. She closed her eyes and said, “Baby Jesus, sleep…” and rocked the little olivewood figure of Jesus in her arms. 

Tears sprang to my eyes and I felt the strangest, strongest emotion. I could not have told you then what I was feeling, or why I was so deeply moved, but I knew that something profoundly stirring had occurred.

Later I realized why my heart was so deeply touched by that simple event: it was symbolic of that other childlike act in which we daily take up the wonderful gift of God’s love, our Lord Jesus, and draw him close to our hearts. This is what he longs for—to love and to be loved in return.

There is a song that children sing (and adults too, once we get over our fear of being childlike):

Into my heart, into my heart;
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.
Come in today; come in to stay;
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.

May He dwell deep down in your heart this day.

DHR

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Naked in the Palaestra

Bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.
—the Apostle Paul

Plato was discussing the impropriety of training female guardians for the state with his friend, Glaucon: “Yes, and the most ridiculous thing of all will be the sight of women naked in the palaestra,[1] exercising with the men, especially when they are no longer young; they certainly will not be a vision of loveliness, any more than the enthusiastic old men who, in spite of wrinkles and ugliness, continue to frequent the gymnasia.”[2]

I think of the little gymnasium I frequent each week, where I work out with a group of “enthusiastic old men” (and women), and I ponder our efforts to stay alive, or at least look alive, as long as possible. A vision of loveliness we are not, but at least we’re not naked in the palaestra. Believe me that would not be a pretty sight!

Exercise does profit a little, Paul says, and I struggle to be as fit as I can be. I try to eat right (more or less, though I do love fried chicken). I lift and walk and do other stuff, but I know that my body is a wasting asset, not long for this world. Its powers are vanishing, or have vanished out of sight. “High notions of myself are annihilated by a glance in the mirror...”[3]

Better it is, then, to concentrate on godliness because it holds promise for this life and the life to come. Contrary to the old adage, we can take something with us after all.

Godliness sounds dull, foreboding and far from us, but the essence of godliness is simply self–giving love, caring more for others then we care for ourselves—a love that is hard to come by, but one that grows in the presence of love. We grow loving and more lovely by sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him, talking things over, learning God–likeness from one whose name is Love.

Youth is all about doing, while aging is a journey into love, it seems to me, and (if you will believe me again) there’s nothing half so beautiful as a loving old soul, “wrinkles and ugliness” notwithstanding. Physical exercise is good, no doubt, but there is something far, far better: It is to love and to love and to love.

DHR

[1] A gymnasium for wrestlers
[2] Plato, Republic 5.452.b
[3] Nobel laureate, Czeslaw Milosz

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Shmoos and their Kin

"No good deed goes unpunished."

—folk saying

Some of you may be old enough to remember the lowly Shmoo, Al Capp's pint–sized, pear-shaped, lovable, little creature that laid packaged eggs, gave grade–A milk and rendered sweet cream butter (no churning required).

A Shmoo swooned with ecstasy if someone wanted to eat it. If you looked at one hungrily, it would happily jump into a frying pan. Fried, it tasted like chicken; broiled it tasted like steak; roasted it tasted like pork; baked it tasted like catfish. Eaten raw, it tasted like oysters on the half-shell. If a Shmoo really loved you, it would lay a cheesecake, though Capp confessed, "This was quite a strain on its li'l innards…"

Shmoo's eyes made ideal suspender buttons; their whiskers made first-rate toothpicks; their pelts, cut thin, made fine leather; cut thick they made the very best lumber. Shmoos were supremely useful, happy, harmless creatures that loved people (especially children) and existed for no other reason than to do good to others.

Yet, according to Capp's sage, Ol' Man Mose, "Shmoos is the greatest menace to hoomanity th' world has evah known."

"Thass becuz they is so bad, huh?" asked Li'l Abner.

"No, stupid," answered Mose, uttering one of life's profoundest ironies. "It's because they're so good!"

In the end Schmoos were hunted down to extinction (except for a small remnant in Dogpatch), but a great enigma was resolved: Why do some folks hate good people? Simply because they're good
[1], that's why. No other reason. Darkness cannot tolerate the light!

So, don't be surprised if some folks hate you when you're trying to do the right thing. You can never be good enough to appease them. In fact, the better you are the more they will despise you. Remember: they hated the only really good person that ever lived; they hated Him, as they will hate you, "without cause."
[2]

But, no matter. No one can harm a truly good person.
[3]  Oh, they can slay the body, but they cannot harm the soul. So don't be surprised if people despise you. Keep a good conscience and return every act of hatred with a blessing. Bless and do not curse. "Be tenderhearted, courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this that you may inherit a blessing.[4]  

The blessing is happiness in this world and the next. No matter what people say or do, they can't take that away from you.

DHR

[1]John 3:19
[2] John 15:25
[3] 1 Peter 3:13
[4] 1 Peter 3:8,9 Peter is not insisting that we submit to physical abuse. The Bible makes a strong case for the necessity of force to restrain evil when it endangers human life. The state "carries the sword." Even individuals may defend themselves when physically assaulted. Augustine was perhaps the first to note that Jesus' instruction about turning the other cheek refers to an insult and not an assault. His argument is that, given the fact that most assailants are right-handed, an attacker would normally strike us on the left cheek. To turn when someone strikes the right cheek assumes a back-hand slap—an insult.



Monday, November 1, 2010

Old Men Can’t Jump

“Well, we must be getting home,” said Kanga. “Good-bye, Pooh.” And in three large jumps she was gone. Pooh looked after her as she went. “I wish I could jump like that,” he thought. “Some can and some can’t. That’s how it is.”

—Winnie the Pooh

I see young men and women doing extraordinary things that I cannot do. They can; I can’t. That’s how it is. It’s easy to feel useless when you’re old.

 It comforts me to know that our Lord understands these moods; He was of this world. I don’t know how one who lived only thirty-two years can feel the dismay and disgrace of the elderly, but I take it as truth that He does. He lived all possible lives in the life that he lived and thus He knows it all: “how moons and hearts and seasons rise and fall.”


And then I gave myself another idea: We old folks may not be able to “jump,” but we can love and we can pray. These are the traditional works of the aged.

Love is the very best gift we can give to God and others. It is no small matter for love is the means by which we fulfill our whole duty to God and our neighbor. Love for one person may seem to be a very small action, but it is, in fact, “The Greatest Thing In The World.”[1]


And we can pray. John sees the prayers of the saints ascending before God and an angel hurling them back to the earth: “And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake.”[2] We raise our reedy, time–worn voices in prayer and God shakes everything that can be shaken—a return that George Herbert termed, “reversed thunder.” Our prayers may be immature and incoherent, but there is no greater force in the universe!

Love and prayer—the mighty works of the aged, indeed, the mightiest works at any age! It seems then, that old folks may not be so useless after all!

DHR



[1] Henry Drummond’s phrase. Cf., 1 Corinthians 13:13
[2] Revelation 8:4,5

Saturday, October 30, 2010

“Baccay”

When I was a young boy, growing up in the church, I was introduced to the Filthy Five:


Thou shalt not drink
Thou shalt not smoke
Thou shalt not play cards
Thou shalt not dance
Thou shalt not go to movies

There was a sixth, making a Dirty Half-Dozen:  Thou shalt not engage in mixed bathing. At first I was unsure with what I was not to be mixed. Then I learned it was girls: At a summer camp I attended, girls and boys swam at different times. (Of course, we boys stood around the perimeter of the pool outside the fence and ogled the girls.)

There was security in these easy certainties; you knew exactly where you stood. Yet, even as a young boy, I saw the irony in these prohibitions. I could refrain from all of them and miss the point of authentic goodness. Goodness, like God, is very subtle.

George MacDonald, in his novel Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood makes the case far better than I. He writes of a young cleric who went out to acquaint himself with a parishioner, an elderly Scot named Rogers. He had seen the old man walking through the village, clouds of smoke billowing from his briar pipe, and so purchased a tin of tobacco for him and offered it to him as a gambit:

“You smoke, don’t you, Rogers?” I said
“Well, sir, I can’t deny it. It’s not much I spend on baccay, anyhow. Is it, dame?”
“No, that it bean’t,” answered his wife.
“You don’t think there’s any harm in smoking a pipe, sir?”
“Not the least,” I answered, with emphasis.
“You see, sir,” he went on, not giving me time to prove how far I was from thinking there was any harm in it, “you see, sir, sailors learns many ways they might be better without. I used to take my pan o’grog with the rest of them; but I give that up quite, ‘cause as how I don’t want it now.”
“Cause as how,” interrupted his wife, “you spend the money on tea for me, instead. You wicked old man to tell stories!”
“Well, I takes my share of the tea, old woman, and I’m sure it’s a deal better for me. But, to tell the truth, sir, I was a little troubled in my mind about the baccay, not knowing whether I ought to have it or not. For you see, the parson that’s gone didn’t like it, as I could tell when he came in at the door and me a-smokin.’ Not as he said anything; for, ye see, I was an old man, and I daresay that kep him quiet. But I did hear him blow up a young chap i’ the village he came upon with a pipe in his mouth. He did give him a thunderin’ broadside, to be sure! So I was in two minds whether I ought to be on with my pipe or not.”
“And how did you settle the question, Rogers?”
“Why, I followed my own old chart, sir.”
“Quite right. One mustn’t mind too much what other people think.”
“That’s not exactly what I mean, sir.”
“What do you mean then? I should like to know.”
“Well, sir, I mean that I said to myself, ‘Now, Old Rogers, what do you think the Lord would say about this here baccay business?’“
“And what did you think He would say?”
“Why, sir, I thought He would say, ‘Old Rogers, have yer baccay; only mind ye don’t grumble when you ‘ain’t got none.’”

“And this is the man I thought I would be able to teach!” The young minister mused. 


DHR

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Willingness to Yield

“The wisdom that is from above is…willing to yield.” —James 3:17
 
A number of years ago, two friends and I meandered and fished our way across Magruder Corridor, a primitive, single–track jeep road that follows an old Nez–Perce trail that cuts through the Selway–Bitterroot Wilderness in Northern Idaho.

One afternoon we were eating lunch beside the road when the only vehicle we had seen all day pulled up beside us. It was an ancient, battered, dust–covered pickup containing a couple of bearded, hard–looking, backcountry characters. One of them motioned me to approach.

In my naiveté, I hopped off the tailgate of my jeep where I was sitting and ambled over, hoping to be friendly and helpful. One of my friends shadowed me, aware that these men were looking for trouble.

“Do you know what we call flatlanders up here,” the man in the passenger seat growled. “No,” I replied. So he told me, using a word I’d rather not repeat. Before I could utter another word, my friend, who is a former SWAT commander and one of the toughest men I know, elbowed me aside, leaned on the door and peered into the cab. “Do you know what we call folks who live up here?” he asked quietly.

“No,” the driver snarled and reached for the door handle.

“We call them…Sir,” my friend replied.

Both men laughed, waved and drove on.

Israel’s wise man was right: “A soft answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1). This is meekness, not weakness. Meekness has prodigious strength!

DHR



Thursday, October 7, 2010

Holy Luck

“All luck is holy” —Charles Williams

Carolyn and I were on the first leg of a flight from Frankfurt, Germany to our home in Boise, Idaho. Our first stop was Boston. It had been an exhausting week and I dropped off to sleep as soon as I found my seat, but was soon awakened by a disturbance in the aisle.

The steward and a passenger who had been seated on Carolyn’s left were arguing about the man’s seat assignment. Somehow, he had been separated from his fiancée who was seated several rows behind us. The man grew increasingly angry and argumentative until another passenger, seated by the man’s fiancée, offered to trade places. The swap was made and Carolyn’s new seat–mate settled into his place, drew out a legal pad and began to work on a project.

Unfortunately (for the man), there was a garrulous little French boy seated on his left—a charming child—who wanted to talk. The man, who seemed to be the soul of patience, gave up his work after a few minutes and began to chat amiably with the boy. Carolyn was soon drawn into the conversation.

I heard the man say he was from Los Gatos, California, a town near Los Altos, California where Carolyn and I had lived for eighteen years. He was on the Frankfort to Boston leg of a flight to San Francisco. I heard Carolyn remark on the fact that we had many friends in the Bay Area and went back to sleep.

When I awakened an hour or so later Carolyn was sharing her faith with her new–found friend, scribbling on his pad of paper, drawing diagrams and animating her story. He was listening intently and asking questions. I sat there quietly and prayed for the man and for her.

At one point he said, “My wife believes that stuff.”

Oh?” Carolyn replied. “And how did she become a follower of Christ?”         

“Through Bible Study Fellowship,” he replied.

“How did she find out about Bible Study Fellowship?” Carolyn asked.

“A friend of hers, Nell King, invited her to attend.”

“How interesting!” Carolyn exclaimed. “Nell King was one of my best friends when we lived in the area!”

And then the coin dropped: Some months before we moved to Boise, Nell had asked Carolyn to pray for a woman who had just become a Christian through Bible Study Fellowship and for her husband who was not yet a believer—the man now seated on Carolyn’s left —there “by that power which erring men call chance.”
[1]

Serendipity is God’s trademark. Once again, you never know…

DHR

[1] Charles Williams

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pride and Prejudice

“And He has made from one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26).

My childhood home was loving and happy, but my parents were often away. On those occasions the center of warmth in our home was the kitchen and a tiny, joyous African-American named Annie who was our maid.

I spent many hours with Annie, sitting at our kitchen table reading books or playing with toys and listening to her sing and hum Negro spirituals and other hymns. She was a little well from which sprang a continual flow of cheerfulness and song.

Annie was one of those humble, obedient souls that learn wisdom much sooner and far better than most of us, for it’s a universal law that we can only understand truth by obeying it. Truth eludes the clever and evasive, but the simple, the honest, the good–hearted know more and better things than the rest of us. As George MacDonald put it, “Good people know good things.”
[1]

Annie called me “Bubba,” her word for “brother,” a noteworthy name, as I think about it.

I remember rushing into the kitchen one morning and, in childish exuberance, showing Annie a slingshot my father had given me and proudly announcing that it was a “n*****r-shooter.” “Oh, no, Bubba,” she said, and then proceeded to pour out her heart in a gentle lecture on the harm and hurt in that slur, accompanied by a terrible sadness in her eyes.

I never used that word again.

I learned that day that unfathomable sorrow lies beneath the rage and retaliation of those who are victims of our prejudice, for the source of all anger is frustration and the greatest frustration is to be dishonored and debased. Every human being is created in the image of God—more like God than any other creature—a holy icon, if you will, worthy of high honor, indeed admiration and awe. To demean that image and deface it is to wound another human being at the deepest level.

The root of prejudice is pride, of course, and our predisposition toward self-absorption and a false superiority that we must prove to others and to ourselves by petty bigotry. (We must degrade others to upgrade ourselves.) But love sees the value of all human beings and cares more for others than it cares for itself. Jesus himself showed us the way (Philippians 2:1-4).

There is but one race: the human race. We are brothers of the same family, made to be treasured and cherished by one another. Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in God’s sight.

Are all equally precious to me?

DHR

[1] C. S. Lewis writes, ”What you see and what you hear depends a good deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.“ Put another way, we don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.



Monday, September 27, 2010

You Never Know...

And (Jesus) said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself...’” (Mark 4:26-28a).

During my seminary years, I directed a summer day camp for the YMCA. Most of the boys and girls in the camp were from families well below the poverty line and were underprivileged in many ways.
They came from the so-called “Trinity Bottoms” and lived in shacks down by the river.

Each morning I began the day with a brief story in which I tried to incorporate some element of the gospel. One of stories I told was about a moose that wanted to be a horse. The moose had seen a herd of wild horses, thought them elegant creatures and wanted to be like them. So, he taught himself to walk like a horse, talk like a horse, eat like a horse, etc. However, he was never accepted as a horse because he was...well, he was a moose.

How can a moose become a horse? By being born a horse, of course. And then I explained how we can all be born again.

It was an odd story and I probably wouldn’t use it these days, understanding as I do now, that children find it difficult to understand metaphors; they’re literalists, pure and simple. I know of no child who was drawn to Jesus through the story, but, you never know.

One summer I had a staff counselor (Let’s call him Henry) who was not a Christian, in fact was very hostile to the faith and who opposed my efforts to bring the good news to these children. I could do nothing but love him and pray for him, but he left at the end of the summer to go back to college, unfriendly to me and hardened in unbelief, or so I thought. That was more than fifty years ago.

A couple of years ago I received a letter from Henry. I saw his name on the return address and remembering our conflict marveled that he would write. I tore open the envelope and read the first sentence: "I write to tell you that I have been born again. I am now, at last, a horse."

Augustine, in one of his sermons to pastors wrote,"For what man can judge rightly concerning another? Our whole daily life is filled with rash judgments. He of whom we had despaired is converted suddenly and becomes very good" (Augustine Sermon 46:24-25, 27).

There is life in the seed. Sow, and in time the seed will sprout and grow, “for the earth yields crops by itself...”

You never know.

DHR

Monday, September 20, 2010

I'll Take Him


“Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me” (Psalm 27:10).

Many years ago, when I was a student at the University of California at Berkley, I developed a friendship with a fellow-student in a similar field. We often met at White Plaza to eat lunch and encourage one another. Both of us faced stiff challenges to our faith in our academic programs

Tragedy had fallen into my friend’s life like bricks falling out of a dump truck—one after another. The culmination of sorrows was the loss of his child and the departure of his wife who could not deal with the pain.

One day, as my friend and I were walking down Telegraph Avenue in Berkley, we found ourselves behind a disheveled hippy–mother with a grubby little boy in hand. She was angry at the child and was walking much too fast, towing him at a pace his little legs couldn’t maintain.

Presently we reached a busy intersection where the child abruptly stopped and his hand slipped out of his mother’s grasp. She turned on him, spat out a curse, and trudged on without him. The little boy sat down on the curb and burst into tears. Without a moment’s hesitation, my friend sat down in the grime and rubbish of the gutter and gathered the little urchin into his arms.

The woman turned and looking at the child and began to curse my friend. I’ll never forget the exchange: Roy sighed and looked up. “Lady,” he said softly, “If you don’t want him, I’ll take him.”

So it is with our Father in heaven, who loves us just this tenderly. Though mother and father have forsaken us, He will gather us into his arms.[1]

DHR

[1] Psalm 27:10. The Hebrew verb, a’saf, translated variously, essentially means, “to gather (someone) in.”



Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Deserts of the Heart


In the Deserts of the heart,
Let the healing start…


—W.H. Auden

It was an odd providence that sent Philip into the desert. He was a distinguished leader in the church in Jerusalem; his presence was required there. He was engaged in the mission in which “crowds with one accord listened eagerly.” Vast crowds gathered to hear his preaching.

Yet Philip was torn from busy, fruitful activity and thrust into lonely isolation: A messenger said to Philip, “Get to the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” Luke adds laconically, “This is a desert” (Acts 8:26).

God may send us into the desert for awhile: The seclusion of a lingering illness, the loneliness of a new location, the desolation of suspicion and distrust, the tedium of a secular job—all are deserts in which God may work in us to get a greater work done—in us and in others.

John Bunyan’s confinement produced The Pilgrim's Progress. William Cowper’s mental illness shaped his luminous poetry and hymns. David Brainerd’s physical weakness formed his diary, a work that has mobilized more men and women for the cause of world missions than any other. There is service to be rendered in isolation and solitude, if we will but wait.

Are you in a desert? Don’t fret. Wait on God. Sit at Jesus’ feet; give yourself to him in worship, praise and adoration. Silently pray for those you encounter along the way; love them and shower them with mercy and kindness. Quietly manifest Christ’s likeness in contented anonymity. Perhaps in passing you’ll speak grace to someone like Philip’s pilgrim who will put his trust in the Savior and lead a nation to faith.[1]

There’s irony in all that God does. We deem our deserts waste places, but they’re not wasted unless we waste them in anxiety and bitterness. When we rest in God’s will for us and see it as the very best thing, he will cause the desert to bloom.

Everything we desire is in the desert, if we will but wait. “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:25,26).

DHR

[1]  “While every day the saving message spread farther afield, some providence brought from Ethiopia…one of the queen’s principle officers and the first–fruits of the faithful throughout the world. He is believed to have been the first to go back to his native land and preach the gospel of the knowledge of the God of the universe and the life–giving sojourn of our Savior among men. Through him came the fulfillment of the prophecy: ‘Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand to God’” (Eusebius, History of the Church. 2.2.13–14, AD 266-340).



Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Hidden Life

Some years ago, I came across a poem by George MacDonald entitled, “The Hidden Life.” It had to do with an intellectually gifted young Scot who turned his back on a prestigious academic career to return to his aging father and to the family farm, there to engage in “ordinary deeds” and “simple forms of human helpfulness.” What a waste,” his friends lamented. 


So we too may serve in some unnoticed place, doing nothing more than ordinary deeds. Others say, “What a waste,” but God wastes nothing. Every act of love, no matter how modest, rendered to him, is noted and has eternal consequences. Every place, no matter how small, is holy ground. If we are faithful in the small duties of our lives, we will have grace for greater things, should they come our way. In the meantime, “We must confine ourselves to the present moment without taking thought for the one past or the one to come,” Jean Pierre de Caussade wrote. “Love is the duty of the present moment.”

But, we ask, what of the world? We read the weary tales of war and violence, poverty, and the wretchedness of little children, sad with hunger, neglect, and cruelty. What can we do to bring salvation to the world?

The best we can for the whole world is the best we can do for our world. Our influence on our small part of the whole will go where God determines it will go, and with his help may go out to the world like ripples on a pond in ever–widening circles to the ends of the earth.

Influence is is a simple matter—often an unconscious matter—of human helpfulness: being there, listening, understanding the need, loving and praying. There is no greater service and no greater influence than that of a gentle, caring, unselfish neighbor.

Evelyn Underhill writes, “Among the things which we should regard as spiritual in this sense are...friendly visits, kind actions and small courtesies… We must see that our small action is part of the total action of God.” (From The  Spiritual Life). Every action, then, done in love, is part of  God’s larger work to show his love to the world.

So, for those of us who wonder where to begin, we can begin where we are: by caring for those nearest to us and giving human help where it’s needed, whether our lives are filled with mundane duties, or matters of international concern. “Who is my neighbor,” the rich man asked Jesus, to which our Lord responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan, and its unexpected answer: The very next person I meet.

DHR

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Putting Us Right

“An’ noo, for a’ oor wrang-duins an’ ill-min’ins (misjudgments), for a’ oor sins and trespasses o’ mony sorts, dinna forget them, O God, till thou pits them a’ richt.”

—The Prayer of an Old Scot in George MacDonald’s David Elginbrod

Benjamin Franklin aspired to become a good man, and accordingly drew up a list of thirteen virtues he deemed “necessary and desirable,” including with each a short explanation.

1. Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation. 2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation. 3. Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time. 4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve. 5. Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i. e., waste nothing. 6. Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions. 7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly. 8. Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty. 9. Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve. 10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleaness in body, clothes, or habitation. 11. Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable. 12. Chastity. Rarely use venery (sexual indulgence) but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation. 13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Franklin’s intention was to make a habit of these virtues and thus he determined to fix on one character trait at a time, and, when he had mastered it, proceed to the next until he had mastered all of them.

“I made a little book,” he wrote, “in which I allotted a page for each of the virtues. I rul’d each page with red ink, so as to have seven columns, one for each day of the week, marking each column with a letter for the day. I cross’d these columns with thirteen red lines, marking the beginning of each line with the first letter of one of the virtues, on which line, and in its proper column, I might mark, by a little black spot, every fault I found upon examination to have been committed respecting that virtue upon that day.

In the end, Franklin gave up: “I was surpris’d to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined,” he wrote in his diary. So it is: “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.”[1]

“In vain you make yourself beautiful…” Israel’s prophet concludes.[2] We cannot adorn ourselves. All we can do is come to God with our lofty ideals (along with our “wrang-duins an’ ill-min’ins”) and ask him to make us braver, stronger, purer, less selfish, and more loving. God himself is our cure. All progress toward the perfection of holiness—however gradual—is based on that premise.

Paul, who loved a good synthesis, put it this way: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”[3] “For,” [“because”] he wrote, not “although” or “and.” It is God who does the work in us. He does the work and we enjoy the freedom to will and to do those things that please him.

When British author F. B. Meyer was a very young man he attended a meeting in the house of emancipationist, William Wilberforce. Those gathered were discussing their struggles against impatience and other forms of selfishness. An elderly gentleman listened for awhile and then related this incident: “I was speaking to a number of children last Sunday afternoon; and finding that the flowers and birds outside were attracting them, and they wanted to get away, and that I was fast losing my patience, I turned to Christ and said: 'Lord, my patience is giving out; grant me yours, and, for that moment he gave me patience. I could stand the noise and confusion.’”

Meeting Dr. Meyer the next morning, Mr. Wilberforce said: "What did you think of that?” Dr. Meyer replied: "It has changed my life. From now on, instead of refusing, resisting, struggling against temptation, I shall ask, in the moment of impatience, for Christ’s tranquility, in the moment of impurity, for his purity, in the moment of anxiety, for his direction and wisdom.”

So, setting ourselves right is not self-condemnation and firm resolution, but rather it is becoming aware of our failed and flawed condition and putting ourselves in God’s hands for his healing—in that moment or in due time. Put another way, “Ask what you will, and it will be done for you.”[4]

DHR

[1] C. S. Lewis
[2] Jeremiah 4:30
[3] Philippians 2:12,13
[4] John 15:7. The significance of this promise lies in its context: bearing the fruit of Christ-like character.



Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Simplicity

“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! Let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand…” 

Henry David Thoreau

I tried to buy a cell phone the other day that had but one function: the ability to make and receive phone calls. I found that no such apparatus exists. If I buy a phone I must, at the very least, play games, take pictures, view videos, surf the web, read and return email, listen to music, take notes, tell time, maintain a calendar, and learn the coordinates of my current location. Only incidentally does it make and receive telephone calls—all of which suggests that things are much too complicated these days, especially for us old folks. Most of us are minimalists, looking for ways to simplify our lives.

Thomas Aquinas suggests a wondrous simplicity. He says there are really only three things in life worth doing: (1) moral good—like loving my neighbor; (2) practical good—like keeping up my lawn; (3) and delightful good—doing stuff I find pleasing or agreeable. Thus, there are three questions I need to ask of any endeavor: Is it virtuous? Is it necessary? Is it fun?[1]

How many actions go beyond Saint Thomas’ criteria? A plethora, I fear. These are the things that accumulate, complicate and clutter up my life. In which case, I need to stop doing them. Now.

It’s just that simple.

DHR

[1] I hasten to add that not all fun is good. That’s hedonism, a pagan philosophy. I’m assuming here “good” fun.
Putting Us Right

“An’ noo, for a’ oor wrang-duins an’ ill-min’ins (misjudgments), for a’ oor sins and trespasses o’ mony sorts, dinna forget them, O God, till thou pits them a’ richt.”

—The Prayer of an Old Scot in George MacDonald’s David Elginbrod

Benjamin Franklin aspired to become an honorble man, and accordingly drew up a list of thirteen virtues he deemed “necessary and desirable,” including with each a short explanation.

1. Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation. 2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation. 3. Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time. 4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve. 5. Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i. e., waste nothing. 6. Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions. 7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly. 8. Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty. 9. Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve. 10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleaness in body, clothes, or habitation. 11. Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable. 12. Chastity. Rarely use venery (sexual indulgence) but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation. 13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Franklin’s intention was to make a habit of these virtues and thus he determined to fix on one character trait at a time, and, when he had mastered it, proceed to the next until he had mastered all of them.

“I made a little book,” he wrote, “in which I allotted a page for each of the virtues. I rul’d each page with red ink, so as to have seven columns, one for each day of the week, marking each column with a letter for the day. I cross’d these columns with thirteen red lines, marking the beginning of each line with the first letter of one of the virtues, on which line, and in its proper column, I might mark, by a little black spot, every fault I found upon examination to have been committed respecting that virtue upon that day.

In the end, Franklin gave up: “I was surpris’d to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined,” he wrote in his diary. So it is: “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.”[1]

“In vain you make yourself beautiful…” Israel’s prophet concludes.[2] We cannot adorn ourselves. All we can do is come to God with our lofty ideals (along with our “wrang-duins an’ ill-min’ins”) and ask him to make us braver, stronger, purer, less selfish, and more loving. God himself is our cure. All progress toward the perfection of holiness—however gradual—is based on that premise.

Paul, who loved a good synthesis, put it this way: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”[3] “For,” he wrote, not “although” or even “and.” It is God who does the work. He does the work and we enjoy the freedom to will and to do those things that please him.

When British author F. B. Meyer was a very young man he attended a meeting in the house of emancipationist, William Wilberforce. Those gathered were discussing their struggles against impatience and other forms of selfishness. An elderly gentleman listened for awhile and then related this incident: “I was speaking to a number of children last Sunday afternoon; and finding that the flowers and birds outside were attracting them, and they wanted to get away, and that I was fast losing my patience, I turned to Christ and said: 'Lord, my patience is giving out; grant me yours, and, for that moment he gave me patience. I could stand the noise and confusion.’”

Meeting Dr. Meyer the next morning, Mr. Wilberforce said: "What did you think of that?” Dr. Meyer replied: "It has changed my life. From now on, instead of refusing, resisting, struggling against temptation, I shall ask, in the moment of impatience, for Christ’s tranquility, in the moment of impurity, for his purity, in the moment of anxiety, for his direction and wisdom.”

Put another way, “Ask what you will, and it will be done for you.”[4]

DHR

[1] C. S. Lewis
[2] Jeremiah 4:30
[3] Philippians 2:12,13
[4] John 15:7. The significance of this promise lies in its context: bearing the fruit of Christ-like character.




Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Beautiful, Broken Thing

“Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7).

I was walking down by the river the other day and came across a male Western Tanager on the ground. He had been mauled by a predator and was dragging  a broken wing.

I gathered the bird in my hands—rough hands it must have seemed to the bird, reminiscent of the abuse he had already endured. I’m sure he thought he was in the grip of another foul, cruel enemy. He fought ferociously, screaming his defiance, pecking at my fingers until he drew blood.

But I saw beyond the fury to his fear. I felt his heart racing under my fingers, so I held him until he calmed down, and gently tucked him into my shirt. Then I took him to the Bird Lady—a woman who lives nearby and who cares for wild, broken things. She has healing in her hands.

It occurs to me that some folks are like that bird—threatening because they are threatened. They lash out in fury, an anger that cloaks a wildly beating, broken heart.

Would that I saw their heart as God does.

DHR

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Old Windmill

 “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).

A fellow who grew up on a ranch in West Texas tells about a rickety, old windmill that stood alongside their barn and pumped water to their place. It was the only source of water for miles.

Trouble was the windmill was balky; it had a squeaky gearbox and worn–out bearings. In a strong wind it worked well, but in a light breeze it wouldn’t turn into the wind. So, his father would climb up a long ladder on the side of the tower and manually turn the tail of the windmill until the fan faced directly into the wind. Properly positioned, the slightest breeze enabled the windmill to do its work and supply water to the ranch and its stock.

I think of that story when I meet with pastors here in Idaho, most of whom are in small churches in remote communities. Many find themselves increasingly tired and dispirited, not so much because the work is hard or the successes slight, but because they feel isolated, unsupported, and left alone—caregivers for whom no one seems to care. As a consequence they get weary and sad, and find themselves struggling every day to bring life–giving water to their flock.

I like to tell them about the old windmill, and our need to daily re–position ourselves: to intentionally turn toward the Lord and his word, to taste His goodness, to drink deeply from him who is the only source of living water. Then ministry begins to flow from within, outward.

I like the way Evelyn Underhill puts it, “The object of our life toward God…is to make us able to do this work.”

DHR

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Other Thoughts on the Good Life

“But as for me, the nearness of God is my good.”

—Psalm 73:28

We spend our early years ramping up: building up our bodies and physical skills, molding our minds through years of schooling, gathering a wide circle of friends. We find ourselves falling in love and marrying, growing a family, establishing ourselves in a vocation, accumulating financial resources…Then, one by one all these acquisitions are lost…

And the pace accelerates as we age.

Shakespeare in his play, As You Like It, has a sour, melancholy character, Jacques, who gives a speech in which he compares the world to a stage and life to a play:


All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant…

Jacques continues through the ages of man to the final stage, to the…

Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."

Indeed, with every passing year we lose one or two or more of the things we’ve spent a lifetime acquiring until finally we have lost everything.. Robert Frost underscores our dilemma: “The question . . . is what to make of a diminishing thing."

What to make of it? Well, first off, we can give our diminishments back to God and leave them there. “In acceptance lieth peace.”

Jesus prayed: “May this cup pass. Nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done.”
Mary prayed: “Be it unto me according to Thy word.”

We can accept the losses as they come, relinquish the things that have been our life. We can give them back to the God who first gave them.

George MacDonald writes: “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away, but the Lord will give back better than ever before…” Better than ever before? To be sure, the thing given back is far better: It is God himself. Our losses dig in us a larger place for Him to fill. The end of the process is to be immeasurably enriched: We possess and are possessed by the one thing we cannot lose: unconditional, unqualified, eternal Love!

Martyred missionary, Jim Elliott, put it this way: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

DHR

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Good Life

“(God) has shown you, O man, what is good:  To act with justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Philosophers ask, “What is the good life and who has it?” When I ponder those questions I think of my good friend, Roy.

Roy was a gentle, quiet man who refused to assert himself, who sought no recognition for himself, who left the care of his life to his Heavenly Father and occupied himself solely with his Father’s will. His was a heavenly perspective. As he often reminded us: “We are but sojourners here.”

For ten years or more Roy and I met each week to pray for one another. His prayers were my weekly benediction.

Roy died last fall. The church was filled for his memorial service, where his friends reminisced for more than two hours over his influence on their lives. Most spoke of his kindness, his selfless giving, his humility and gentle compassion. He was, for many, a visible expression of God’s unconditional love.

After the service, his son, Dan, drove to the assisted –living facility where his father lived out his final days and gathered up his belongings: two pairs of shoes, a few shirts and pants, some socks and few odds and ends—the sum of Roy’s earthly goods. He loaded them into the back of a mini-van and delivered them to a local charity. Roy never had “the good life,” but he was “rich toward God” in good deeds (Luke 12:21).

George MacDonald asks, “Which one is the possessor of heaven and earth: He who has a thousand houses, or he who, with no house to call his own, has ten at which his knock arouses instant jubilation?”

Roy’s was the good life after all.

DHR

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Fishing Where They Ain’t

“I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment…” (Philippians 1:9).

I have a friend I fish with now and then. He’s a thoughtful man. After climbing into his waders and boots and gathering his gear around him, he sits on the tailgate of his truck for awhile and scans the river, looking for rising fish. “No use fishing where they ain’t,” he says.

Calls to mind the question: Do I fish for folks where they ain’t?  (And here I define “fishing” as acting and speaking in such a way that others are drawn to the loving-kindness of Jesus.)

Our separation as believers is not horizontal but vertical, not spatial but ethical. We are to be unlike the secular world in our behavior, but squarely in it, as Jesus was. He was “the friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34).

So I ask myself: Do I, like Jesus, have friends that are outside the pale, or am I content to huddle with my good Christian friends? If the latter, I’m fishing  “where they ain’t.”

But fishing is more than just being around non–Christians; it’s also being attentive—like my friend who discerns feeding trout where I don’t: fish tailing for nymphs, or sipping midges off the surface. His senses are exquisitely trained.

Paul writes accordingly, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in…all discernment…” (Philippians 1:9). Paul’s noun, “discernment,” has to do with sense perception—sensitivity to one’s surroundings. (It’s used in one classic source for catching the subtle fragrance of a flower.)

Discernment, in this sense, is heart–kindness that sees beneath the surface of the off-hand remark; it hears the deeper cry of the soul. It asks, “Can you tell me more?” and follows up with compassion and concern. “There is much preaching,” George Herbert says, “in this friendliness.”

Such love is not a natural instinct. It is solely the product of prayer.

And so I pray: “Lord, may I today become aware of the cheerless voice, the weary affect, the down-cast eyes, and all the other marks of weal and woe that I, in my natural insensitivity and self–preoccupation, may easily overlook. May I have the love that springs from and is rooted in Your love that I may love others with discernment.”

DHR

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Lambs May Wade


All Scripture…is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16)

C. S. Lewis, in an essay on “Christian Apologetics,” divides religions, as we do soups, into thick and clear: “Now if there is a true religion it must be both thick and clear: for the true God must have made both the child and the man…”

There are indeed “thick” concepts in the Bible: mysteries, subtleties, complexities that challenge the most accomplished mind. And yet, in the same volume, there are concepts that are crystal clear: simple, attainable, and easily grasped. (What surpasses the profundity and simplicity of St. John’s clear affirmation: “God is love”?)

John Cameron, a 19th century writer suggests, “In the same meadow, the ox may lick up grass, the hound may find a hare, the bird may pick up seeds, the virgins gather flowers, and a man finds a pearl: so in one and the same Scripture, are varieties to be found, for all sorts of conditions. In there, children may be fed with milk, and meat may be had for stronger men. (There) ‘the lamb may wade and the elephant may swim…’”[1]

All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in the Book—ocean depths that can bestir the most sophisticated mind, and shoals that can be negotiated by any simple, honest soul.

That said, why hesitate? “All scripture is profitable.” Jump in!

DHR

[1] This last phrase was originally used by Chrysostom, a 5th century Church Father.



Monday, May 31, 2010

Lovesick and Dumbfounded

“(The Lord) takes great delight in you…” (Zephaniah 3:17).

 With apologies to Zephaniah the prophet and my Hebrew professors, I offer this translation:

The Lord, your God is with you—
your hero, mighty to deliver!
He takes great delight in you.
He is speechless with love for you.
Every time he thinks of you he breaks into joyful song!  (Zephaniah 3:17)

I’m awed by the notion that God takes great delight in me, that he breaks into song each time he thinks of my name. But it’s the phrase I render, “He is speechless with love” that dumbfounds me.

The verse is usually translated, “He will be quiet in his love,” or in some translations, “He will quiet you with his love.” But the Hebrew verb does not suggest tranquility. It means, “to be dumb,” or “to be speechless.”[1] And since the verb is in parallel with other verbs that describe God’s emotions (“He takes great delight,” and “He breaks into joyful song”) it must point to what he himself feels.

Could the analogue be a lovesick swain, thunderstruck with love for his beloved, so overcome with affection that he is tongue–tied?  Is God, in some inexplicable, anthropopathic way, “struck dumb” with love each time he thinks of me? If so, to be loved like this is, in turn, to be rendered speechless.

Who is it that God so loves? One who is good and true and breathtakingly beautiful? No. One who is unholy and unsightly, but who “takes refuge in the name of the Lord” (Zephaniah 3:12).

DHR

[1] Jenni-Westerman, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Papa Didn’t Say “Oh.”


“The Lord is gracious and full of compassion…” (Psalm 145:8)

I have a friend who was working in his home office one evening, trying to get some essential paperwork done. His little girl, who was about four years old at the time, was playing around his desk, puttering about, moving objects here and there, pulling out drawers and making a good deal of noise.

My friend endured the distraction with stoic patience until the child slammed a drawer on one of her fingers and screamed in pain. “That’s it!” he reacted in exasperation, as he escorted her out of the room and shut the door.

Later, her mother found the child weeping in her bedroom and tried to comfort her. “Does your finger still hurt?” she asked. “No,” the little girl sniffled.  “Then why are you crying?” her mother asked. “’Cause,” she wailed,  “when I pinched my finger, Papa didn’t say, ‘Oh!’”

Sometimes that’s all we need, isn’t it? Someone who cares and who will respond with kindness and compassion. Someone who will just say, “Oh!”

There is indeed One who knows our deepest sorrows, for he was made like us in all respects apart from sin. He is the “fellow–feeling human God,” George MacDonald said, who has suffered as we have suffered and who understands like no other. He is full of compassion and comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3,4).

He waits to be gracious.

DHR

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


JACOB

Jacob was one of those unfortunates, saddled from birth with a difficult disposition. He was born gripping his twin brother’s heel, trying to tripping him up and get ahead. That was the trajectory of his life—wheeling, dealing, double–dealing, grasping, grabbing, jerking people around in order to gain selfish advantage. Yet God was not ashamed to be called “the God of Jacob,” a phrase that occurs several times in the Bible.

Jacob is reminiscent of those who come into life with a pervasive tendency to go wrong, who live in hereditary hells—saddled from birth with insecurities, insanities and sinful predilections; who are addicted to food, sex, alcohol, drugs, spending, gambling or work; who have disturbed and difficult personalities; who, as C. S. Lewis once put it, have a “hard machine to drive.”       

But no matter. God loved Jacob. As the man himself put it, “God has been my shepherd all my life.”

God knows all our weary stories and all the sources and possibilities of evil in our natures. He knows the patent facts of our lives and the latent forces—the hurt and the heartbreak that others cannot see and which cannot be explained, even to our closest friends. He’s aware of the reasons for our moodiness, our temper tantrums, our selfish indulgences. Others may be put off by our personalities, but God never turns away. He sees beyond the prickliness to the broken heart. His understanding is infinite.

It’s a matter of indifference to him how damaged we are or how far wrong we’ve gone. Our vileness does not alter his character. He is eternal love—“the same yesterday, today, forever.” We may not be what he wants us to be, but we are not unwanted. If we will have him, he will be our shepherd.

Fredrick Buechner marvels at the folly of God to welcome “lamebrains and misfits and nit-pickers and holier–than–thous and stuffed shirts and odd ducks and egomaniacs and milquetoasts and closet sensualists,” but that’s the way he is. Whatever we are, wherever we are, his heart is open to us; “Love surrounds us, seeking the smallest crack by which it may rush in.”

Isn’t it odd
That a being like God
Who sees the facade
Still loves the clod
That He made out of sod?
Now isn’t that odd?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Good Old Days

I remember the days of old…” (Psalm 143:5).

Years ago I came across a scrap of graffiti scrawled on a college classroom wall: “Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be”—a reminder that our memories may be excessively euphoric. Yet, we older folks still allow our minds to run backward through the years and yearn for that better time and place—the “good old days.”

For some, these reveries bring delight and thanksgiving. For others the past evokes only bitter memories. Deep in the night they ponder their own disillusionments, failures and fantasies, and think of the cruel hand that life has dealt them. They brood over what went before and think about “what if,” and “what might have been.”

It’s better to  remember the past, as David did, and contemplate the good that God has done, to “meditate on all (his) works; to muse on the work of (his) hands” (Psalm 143:5). [1]    We should call to mind the loving kindness of the Lord, name his blessings through the years and count them one by one. These are the memories that foster the highest good: They evoke a deep longing for more of God and more of his tender care.[2] They take us out of the past and into that secret place of familiarity and fellowship with our Lord.

I heard a story recently about an elderly woman who would sit in silence for hours in her rocking chair, hands folded in her lap, eyes gazing off into the far distance. One day her daughter asked her “Mother, what do you think about when you sit there so quietly?” “That, my dear,” her mother replied softly, with a twinkle in her eye, “is between Jesus and me.”

Oh, that our memories and meditations would so draw us into his presence!

DHR

[1] The basic meaning of this Hebrew verb translated “muse” seems to be “to turn over and over in one’s mind.”
[2] “I stretch out my hands to you; my soul is like parched earth with respect to you.” —Psalm 143:6

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I Have a Dream

“Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalms 37:4).

Forty years ago I read J.R.R. Tolkien's short story, "Leaf By Niggle" and was strangely moved by it, though at first I didn't know why. I've since read it a half-dozen times or more and each time have experienced a sudden awareness of truth, especially now that I'm much closer to my own “long journey.”

In the story, an artist named Niggle, longs to finish an enormous canvas of a great Tree in the middle of a forest. He invests each leaf of his Tree with obsessive attention to detail, making every one uniquely beautiful. Niggle ends up discarding all his other artworks, or tacks them onto the main canvas, which becomes a single embodiment of his dream—a dream he longs to complete before he takes his “long journey.”

But, despite Niggle’s efforts to accomplish the task, his crippled neighbor, Parish—who calls on him for help at the most inopportune times— endlessly interrupts him. At one point Niggle has to sacrifice part of his canvas to patch Parish’s leaking roof and this, along with other distractions, frustrates his great work—until he takes his long journey and reaches his final destination. There “before him stood the Tree, his Tree, finished. If you could say that of a Tree that was alive, its leaves opening, its branches growing and bending in the wind that Niggle had so often felt or guessed, and had so often failed to catch. He gazed at the Tree, and slowly he lifted his arms and opened them wide. ‘It's a gift!’ he said. He was referring to his art, and also to the result; but he was using the word quite literally.” [1]

In the end Niggle is rewarded with the realization (the making-real) of his great dream,[2]  a far better thing than the flawed and incomplete form of his own desires.

Perhaps you too have a wondrous dream—a holy task to be completed before you take your long journey—but interruptions and distractions continually frustrate you. Be encouraged. “The Lord will perfect that which concerns (you)” (Psalm 138:8). Delight yourself in the Lord this day and he, in good time, will “make real” your desire—in this life, perhaps, or surely in the life to come, where all our dreams come true.

DHR

[1]The story is largely autobiographical, reflecting Tolkien's absorption with finishing TLOR in the midst of constant interruption. In a letter to a friend he wrote: "I should say that, in addition to my tree-love—the story was originally called "The Tree"—it arose from my own pre-occupation with The Lord of the Rings, the knowledge that it would be finished in great detail or not at all, and the fear (near certainty) that it would be 'not at all.'"

[2] Or, if you prefer, Niggle's Tree was ultimate reality and always existed; he simply reflected it in his dream.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

SONRISE!

Read:
Malachi 4:1-6

"The Sun of Righteousness shall rise with healing in His wings..."  (Malachi 4:2).

Our state name, "Idaho," according to one legend, comes from a Shoshone Indian word, "ee-dah-how," which, when translated into English, means something like, "Behold! The sun (rising) over the mountain." I often think of that etiology when the sun breaks over the eastern peaks and spills light and life into our valley.

Moreover, I think of Malachi's promise: "The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.” This is God's irrevocable promise that our Lord Jesus will come again and all creation will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God![1]

Each new sunrise is a reminder of that eternal morning when "bright heaven's Sun" will rise with health and healing in his wings. Then, everything that has been made, will be made over and made irrevocably right. There will be no throbbing backs or knees, no shuffling feet, no gathering weight of the years. We will leap and frolic, "like calves released from the stall." This is my highest imagination and my hope.[2]

Jesus said, "I am coming soon." Even so, come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20).[3]

DHR

[1]] Romans 8:21
[2] "Hope," in the biblical sense, does not suggest contingency, but future certainty.
[3] German theologian, Helmut Thieleke, was asked what he will say when The Lord appears. "I will say,” he replied, 'I knew you meant it.'" (Cf., John 14:1-4.)

A Poor Wise Man ""It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit" (Harry S. Truman). ...