Thursday, March 29, 2012

Home, Sweet Home
I got a home up in-a that Kingdom; ain't-a that good news?”
 A few weeks ago a friend of mine asked me to come to California to speak for some occasion. I was tempted, but declined his kind request. I told him I don’t travel much these days, seldom stray much beyond my own area code. My body ambled south some years ago, but that’s about as far in any direction I aim to go. These days I’m comfortable with myself right where I am. (Besides, my old dog has developed acute separation anxiety. Why should I cause her undue angst?)
Funny thing, though: Even though I’m safely ensconced I always feel a peculiar hankering to go home. C. S. Lewis called the feeling Sehnsucht, a German word that has overtones of nostalgia, and melancholic longing. There’s no word for it in English, but the feeling of being far from home is a fair approximation.
I’m homesick, I think, because my home lies elsewhere. God himself is my dwelling place (Psalm 90:1). He is my home, sweet home. That’s where my heart is these days.
To be “at home in the body” is to be absent from the Lord, Paul said (2 Corinthians 5:6), but someday soon I’ll be “at home with the Lord.” Then, my longing will be assuaged.
I certainly don’t deserve to dwell in house of the Lord forever, but Jesus made a way. If old friends ask me what I’m doing there, I’ll just point to my Big Brother. “I’m with him.” I’ll say. “Indeed,” Jesus will reply, “He’s family.”
Robert Frost said. “Home is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in.”
Ain’t–a that good news?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

 The Wisdom of Folly
Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly...
—T.S. Eliot, “East Coker”
“Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.” —Matthew 21:5
My father was of the opinion that a boy ought to learn how to ride a horse shortly after he learned how to walk. Accordingly, he decided that his youngest grandson, my nephew, David, should have a pony. David was about three years old at the time.
For some reason I could never fathom, my father bought instead a little sad-faced, flop–eared donkey colt about three feet high at the withers. His name was Charlie.
 Equally unfathomable was my father’s decision to transport the animal in his automobile rather than a horse trailer, of which we had several. When queried he replied that the little fellow was too small to ride in a trailer and might be injured.
 My father at the time drove a ’48 Mercury convertible, and the bench seat in the back became the locus of the little beast. I, as chief custodian and care­–giver, sat beside him.
 Off we went to Memphis, Tennessee, the little donkey sitting up in the car, looking for all the world like the family dog, his long ears flapping in the wind, and (I swear) a goofy grin on his face. Again, inexplicably, my father insisted that we make the trip with the top of the convertible down.
We were a marvelous spectacle. People would drive alongside us, pointing, shrieking with laughter and snapping pictures. Town–folks along the way doubled over with glee. My father and the donkey were in a high state of hilarity. I, on the other hand, was mortified beyond measure, my fragile adolescent ego on the line.
 When we finally delivered the donkey my nephew was underwhelmed: “Paw Paw,” he wailed, “I wanted a real horse.” The trip was an overall disaster as far as I was concerned. I just wanted to get in the car and go home. (If you think this story is apocryphal, think again. I can show you the scars on my psyche!)
My travels with Charlie were not my final humiliation, however. I have had many more opportunities to know ignominy and shame, especially as a pastor when my tomfoolery had more public and painful implications. I must say, however, that humiliations are good for the soul. They clear the head of the illusion that we’re somebody special.
We should then accept each one as a gift from God to keep us from thinking too highly of ourselves. C. S. Lewis says we need these embarrassments so we will “take off a lot of the silly, ugly, fancy-dress in which we have all got ourselves up and are strutting about like the little idiots that we are.”
I think of C.S. Lewis’ story of the warhorse Bree, who humiliated himself by panicking in face of a pride of lions and running away. “Slavery is all I’m fit for now,” Bree moaned. “How can I ever show my face among the free Horses of Narnia?—I who left a mare and a girl and a boy to be eaten by lions while I galloped all I could to save my own wretched skin... I’ve lost everything.”
“My good Horse,” said the Hermit, “you’ve lost nothing but your self-conceit. No, no, cousin. Don’t put back your ears and shake your mane at me. If you are really so humble as you sounded a minute ago, you must learn to listen to sense. You’re not quite the great Horse you had come to think, from living among poor dumb horses. Of course you were braver and cleverer than them. You could hardly help being that. It doesn’t follow that you’ll be anyone very special in Narnia. But as long as you know you’re nobody very special, you’ll be a very decent sort of Horse, on the whole, and taking one thing with another (The Horse and His Boy).

Monday, March 19, 2012

Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen

“I am full of trouble…” (Psalm 88:3)

I marvel at Heman, the poor fellow who wrote Psalm 88; his lot was unmitigated suffering. “I am full of trouble” he laments, or, put literally, “I am sated with suffering,” Enough, already!

Heman looks back and sees nothing but poor health and misfortune; he looks around and sees adversity and abandonment; he looks up and finds no solace. “I’m distraught,” he complains. “Afflicted!” “Cast off!” “Adrift!” “In darkness!” No light at the end of his tunnel; no resolution of his troubles.

Heman’s honesty warms my soul. Chirpy Christians who never struggle mystify me. There’s balance of course: people who always air their problems are hard to be around, but it does my old heart good to know that someone else is having a bad day. 

Yet, there’s more to Heman than candor. Despite his troubles, he had a stubborn, intractable faith. He clung to God with cramp–like grip, and cried to him “day and night” (88:1). He would not give up!

I like folks like Heman. They strengthen my grip on God.


Friday, March 2, 2012

Common Things

“You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”

“Thank goodness!” said Bilbo laughing, and handed (Gandalf) the tobacco-jar.

J.R.R. Tolkien

I don’t know that I ever aspired to greatness, but these days, thank goodness, I don't have to be great. I can be a little fellow in the wide, wide world, and stay close to home. I can love those nearby and leave the salvation of the world to those who are younger, stronger, brighter and better at it than I. I’ve wondered at times if I’ve gotten slothful; I rather think I’ve just gotten old.

An aging friend wrote to me the other day bewailing her loss of opportunity. Publishers no longer clamor for her manuscripts; churches no longer call on her to speak.  She’s trying to adjust, she said, to a snail-like pace of life.

“Thank goodness,” I wrote in reply. “More time now to love and to pray; more time for reading and contemplation; more time to develop intimacy with Jesus and with our other friends; more time to enjoy our Lord’s presence in creation; more time for ordinary duties; more time for common things.”

Ruth Bell Graham has written...

Lord, let mine be
a common place
while here.
His was a common one;
He seems so near
when I am working
at some ordinary task.
Lord, let mine be
a common one, I ask.
Give me the things to do
that others shun,
I am not gifted or so poised
Lord, as some.
I am best fitted
for the common things,
and I am happy so.
It always brings
a sense of fellowship
with Him Who learned
to do the lowly things
that others spurned:

to wear the simple clothes,
the common dress,
to gather in His arms
and gently bless
(and He was busy, too)
a little child,
to lay his hand upon
the one defiled,
to walk with sinners
down some narrow street,
to kneel Himself
and wash men’s dusty feet.
To ride a common foal,
to work with wood,
to dwell with common folk,
eat common food;
and then upon the city dump
to die for me

Lord, common things
are all I ask
of Thee.


Putting Us Right “An’ noo, for a’ oor wrang-duins (wrong-doings) an’ ill-min’ins (misjudgments), for a’ oor sins and tre...