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Sunday, January 31, 2010

IN BRIEF

John Ruskin notes that we should always try to use the fewest words possible. People, if they put their minds to it, can usually say what they have to say in a sentence or two.

I counted once and found that the Gettysburg Address contains only 269 words, which means among other things, that words don't have to be many to be memorable. That's why I like Psalm 117. Brevity is its hallmark. The poet said all he wanted to say in thirty words or less (seventeen words in the Hebrew text).

Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles!
Acclaim Him, all you people!
For he has given us a bunch of rules to keep!
Praise the LORD!

What nonsense! That's not what the psalmist wrote.  (If you listened to some folks, however, that's what you'd hear). Israel's poet had something better to say:

Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles!
Acclaim Him, all you people!
For He has always loved us,
And will love us forever!

Praise the LORD!

Ah, that's the good news: God loves me and will love me forever. He loved me before I was born; He has loved me for seventy-seven years; He will love me after I die. He loves me when I have done everything wrong; he loves me when I have done nothing right; he loves me when I have done nothing at all. Nothing, "though it be cold, hard, or foul," can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus my Lord!
[1] His heart is an inexhaustible and irrepressible fountain of love!

Psalm 117 is an "Ascent Psalm," a song to get us up and get us going.[2] I can think of no greater encouragement: My Father loves me!

Praise the Lord!

DHR

[1] George Herbert, "The Sepulcher," and St. Paul, Romans 8:39.
[2] The Ascent Psalms were sung by pilgrims on their way up to Jerusalem, or so it’s believed.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Weather Eye

"He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap" (Ecclesiastes 11:4).

The philosopher enjoins wisdom: In view of life’s uncertainties and complexities, we should keep a weather eye.

But I rely too much on the weather, I think: I watch the wind and the clouds. I hesitate and procrastinate and lose opportunities to "sow." Like the farmer that waits for just the right conditions, I look for the perfect day. I allow a season to pass and sow nothing at all.

You never know about people; you can never tell what's going on in their souls. Some may be dwelling in darkness, longing for someone to lead them into the light. The Ethiopian Eunuch in his royal chariot enjoyed prestige, wealth and power, yet inwardly he was empty and searching, pondering Isaiah's promise of the Suffering Savior and trying to understand his words. Paul was breathing out threats and visiting violence on the Church. Who would have thought he was "kicking against a goad," reacting to God's gentle prodding.

So I think I should stop looking at the clouds and get on with it: speak a word here and there and scatter the seed in season and out. In the face of life's uncertainties, it’s the only way to go.

I have a friend that often leads people into salvation; he seems to know when they have ears to hear. I asked him once how he knew they were ready to follow Jesus. "It's easy," he replied. "I ask them."

You just never know...

DHR

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

An Autumnal Face

NO spring, nor summer beauty hath such grace
As I have seen in one autumnal face.

—John Donne

Sarah, our granddaughter, when she was very small, explained to me what happens when you die: "Only your face goes to heaven, not your body. You get a new body, but keep the same face." Exactly! Faces are us.

Faces are unique in their function; there's more to them than meets the eye. Faces point beyond themselves. They are a visible reflection of the invisible soul. The face is the place "on the surface" where the self, the personality, the "I" becomes manifest.

The biblical Hebrew word for "face" may suggest that idea. It always occurs in the plural, a nicety some grammarians explain by pointing out that we do, in fact, have two faces: a left and right side. I prefer to think that we have two faces, outer and inner, visible and invisible-a surface face that mirrors the "face" of the soul.

The Greek language enshrines the same thought: The Greek word for "face," prosopon, means "person," suggesting that one's face identifies and reflects the individual. "As such, it can be a substitute for the self, or for the feelings and attitudes of the self."[1]

My mother had the same insight. She used to tell me that a mad look might someday freeze on my face-an attitude fixed for all time and for all to see.

A worried brow, an angry set to our mouths, a sly look in our eyes reveal a wretched and miserable soul. On the other hand, kind eyes, a gentle "look," a warm and welcoming smile-despite the wrinkles, blemishes and other disfigurements that may mark our faces-are the ineradicable marks of inner goodness. In time, it appears, we get the faces we deserve. As philosopher Albertus Camus noted, "People over forty are responsible for their own faces."

We can't do much about the faces we were born with, but we can do something about the faces we're growing into. We can pray for humility, patience, kindness, tolerance, mercy, gratefulness, and unconditional love. By God's grace, and in his time, you and I may grow toward an inner resemblance to our Lord, a likeness reflected in a fine old face. "Those who look to Him are radiant," Israel's poet wrote. "Their faces are never covered with shame" (Psalm 34:5). Thus "age becomes loveliest at the latest day" (George MacDonald).

George MacDonald insists that good old faces are like an old church: "It has got stained, and weather-beaten, and worn; but if the organ of truth has been playing on inside the temple of the Lord, which St Paul says our bodies are, there is in the old face, though both form and complexion are gone, just the beauty of the music inside. The wrinkles and the brownness can't spoil it. A light shines through it all-that of the indwelling spirit. I wish we all grew old like old churches" (The Seaboard Parish.).

So do I.

DHR

[1] Liddell and Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon.

Monday, January 11, 2010

An Open Book

"You are an epistle of Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:2).

Because I'm a writer, folks sometimes tell me they too would like to write a book. "That's a worthy goal," I reply, "and I hope you do write a book someday, but it's better to be one than to write one."

I'm thinking, of course, of Paul's words: "You (Christians) are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart" (1 Corinthians 3:3)

Lewis Bayly, the Chaplain to King James 1st of England, in his book, The Practice of Piety, suggests that "one who hopes to effect any good by his writings" will find that he will "instruct very few... The most powerful means, therefore, of promoting what is good, is by example, and this is in every individual's power. One man in a thousand can write a book to instruct his neighbors... But every man can be a pattern of living excellence to those around him...and he that successfully performs that duty possesses an influence in society, superior to that which can be acquired by any other distinction whatever."

The work that Christ is doing in you can result in an influence far greater than any book you may write. Through his words and by his Spirit he is writing his love and goodness on the pages of your heart. Change will come quietly, imperceptibly, gradually, but it will come. Then, though you may never write a book, you will be one!

DHR.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

On Caring For Your Horse

"And so in gymnastics, if a man takes violent exercise and is a great feeder, at first the high condition of his body fills him with confidence and spirit, and he becomes twice the man that he was."

-Plato, The Republic

I was a physical education major in college and have always had some interest in physical fitness. When I was a younger man I took a lot of "violent exercise" as Plato suggests, and tried to be a "great feeder." Now I walk several times a week, do some light lifting and let Carolyn manage my diet. I find these efforts "beneficial" to use Paul's modest word (1 Timothy 4:8).

These days my exercise is not so much for physical strength and appearance-both are wasting assets. I exercise to take care of my horse.

I'm thinking, of course, of David Brainerd's oft-quoted remark. Brainerd, who devoted himself to missionary work among Native Americans, drove himself relentlessly and without thought for his health. (One biographer described him as "a flagellant on horseback.") He died at 29 years of age, having worn out his body. "I have killed my horse," he said "and cannot continue my journey."

I would not disparage Brainerd's work for a moment, for his efforts and diary have turned many to serve God here and abroad. Furthermore, he was driven by the love of Christ and there can be no higher motivation.  But I can't help but wonder what he might have accomplished if he had  taken better care of his body. Horse people know you must care first for your horse if you expect it to carry the load.[1]

I think Paul would would recommend walking. He did a lot of it in his time.

DHR

[1] The Wise Man said, "The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory is from the Lord" (Proverbs 21:31). It's worth noting that there is no spiritual power in preparedness. It is a practical consideration.