Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hark, Hark the Dogs Do Bark

“At evening they return, they growl like a dog...” (Psalm 59:6,14)

Many years ago,, when I was a college student, my father and I hiked through a portion of the Big Bend country of Texas. The Big Bend is a national park now, but in those days it was rough country.

One night we were rolling out our sleeping bags when a couple with a dog asked if they could camp nearby.  We welcomed their company and turned in for the night. They tethered their dog to a stake beside their tent.

Some hours later my father nudged me awake and turned his flashlight into the darkness. There, illuminated by the light, we saw pairs of luminous, yellow eyes peering out of the shadows. We were surrounded by a pack of coyotes, some sitting on their haunches staring at the dog; others snapping and snarling, closing in on the terrified animal.  Needless to say, though we chased off the coyotes and our neighbors put the dog in their tent, we all slept less well that night.

I think of that incident now and then when I read Psalm 59 and David’s twice-repeated imagery: “At evening they return, they growl like a dog.”

David, of course, was thinking of Saul and his armies that were closing in on him. I think, however, of our own thoughts that return in the evening to menace us. “Back they come at nightfall, snarling like curs” (NJB). They snap and snarl at us:  “You’re defective.” “You’re stupid.” “You’re a failure.” “You’re old and useless.” “Who needs you?”

At that moment we can panic or turn our hearts to heaven and revel in God’s unconditional affection. He wants us! He needs us! He loves us beyond measure. His steady devotion is our refuge in the dark night of self-doubt and fear (vs. 16). We can say with David, “My stronghold is God, the God who loves me faithfully!” (vs. 17 NJB).

So, in the hour of darkness, when cruel thoughts creep out of the shadows to threaten you, “Keep yourself in the love of God” (Jude 21).


Monday, August 27, 2012

The Last Chapter

“Let your moderation be known to all men; the Lord is at hand.” (Philippians 4:5)

I have a friend who reads the last chapter first when she starts a new thriller.  “Takes the anxiety out of reading,” she claims. So with us: If we know the end of the story, we can be centers of peace in the midst of utter chaos, calm in the face of disaster. 

Paul calls that attitude, “moderation”—a term that’s difficult to translate into English, but one that implies “peace under pressure.” It refers to the calm and deliberate strength with which we meet the disquieting circumstances of our days. Kingdoms may fall, friends and spouses may falter, churches may fold, the “wrong” party may win the next election, oceans may rise and mountains may crumble, but we can be at peace.

And how do we maintain such composure? By remembering that, “the Lord is at hand,” standing just outside the door. At any moment (perhaps today) our Lord will burst through the door and turn everything that's wrong right side up. Then this world and all its troubles will become the kingdom of our Lord, and “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” 

Jesus said it could happen very soon! Today could be the day! It’s the very last thing he said, in the very last chapter of his book (Revelation 22:20).  

There’s an old saying: “If you can keep your head when others are losing theirs, you don’t understand the situation.” There’s another saying that’s equally true: “If you can keep your head when others are losing theirs, you do understand the situation.” You’ve read the last chapter in the book!


Thursday, August 16, 2012

The World’s Last Night

“What if this present were the world's last night?”

—John Donne

The Owyhee Avalanche, May 4, 1867, carried this report: “James Fraser was shot and killed by Indians last Friday evening between sunset and dark.” Fraser was a prospector working a gulch below Wagontown in the Owyhee Mountains of Idaho, closing in on pay dirt. He didn’t plan to die that day…but he did.

You never know…

Death “meets us everywhere and enters in at many doors,” Jeremy Taylor wrote. “It enters by the fall of a chariot and the stumbling at a stone; by a full meal or an empty stomach; by watching at the wine or by watching at prayers; by the sun or the moon; by a heat or a cold; by sleepless nights or sleeping days; by water frozen into the hardness and sharpness of a dagger, or water thawed into the floods of a river; by a hair or a raisin; by violent motion or sitting still; by severity or (slow) dissolution; by everything in nature and everything in chance.”

Peter agrees: “The end of all things is near.” This may indeed be the world’s last night—at least for me. I may go to God this day, or he may come for me.

That said, I ask myself: How should I invest the time that I have left? What activities and attitudes should fill my final hours? Is there some magnificent gesture, some grand and glorious performance to mark the end of my days?  Peter supplies the answer.

The end of all things is at hand; therefore (1) be serious and watchful in your prayers.  (2) And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” (3) Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.  (4) As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.  If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:7-11).

First off, I must be a praying man (4:7). Prayer is my access to God, the way by which I stay in touch with him. It’s not so much that prayer moves God, but that it moves me, aligns me more closely with what he is doing, and conforms me to his will. I must bring sobriety to prayer, Peter tells me. It’s not that prayer should be joyless, for it can be whimsical, light–hearted, musical, full of mirth. No, what Peter inveighs against is superficiality. I must take seriously the need to fill my days with prayer for that is the secret of a useful life, the means by which God can fill me and use me for the highest good. Without prayer I will accomplish nothing.

I must be a loving man. I must love with great care and determination, “for love covers a multitude of sins” (4:8). Love and forgiveness mark me as God’s child and remind others of his love. “No one can see God,” John said, but they can see me. Perhaps I can do nothing for a difficult neighbor, a struggling brother, a suffering friend, but I can love. A smile, a note, a kind word, a prayer, a brief touch can the greatest thing in the world, when offered in love. And even when my journey leads into illness, weakness and infirmed old age my work can be in loving, which in the end will be my greatest gift to God and to others.

I must be a gracious man, “giving hospitality to others without complaining” (4:9). I can open my home and my heart to those in need; I can be available to anyone who happens to comes my way, for I would never know the right people to invite. “Who is my neighbor?” I ask. Jesus answers: the next needy person I meet. I must keep my home and heart open to others and welcome all comers.

I must be a serving man, “faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (4:10). The gifts I have been given and the work I am called to do are from one mind. The God who made me made my path. For whatever days God gives me I must put into practice his special design and purpose for me so I may live in loving service to him and to others.

And finally, I must do all things “with the strength God provides” (4:11). God must put into me all that he wants to take out of me. I am nothing; He is everything. To him be the glory—not me.

Prayer, love, hospitality and humble service. How simple and how satisfying—to do these things as the last things; to do them lovingly, faithfully, patiently this day and the next day and the next day—and thus the last day will take care of itself.

It’s never too late to get started. “I must begin today!”[1]


[1] A phrase John Wesley’s often quoted to himself.

Monday, August 13, 2012

 Aslan’s Tears

“Jesus wept.” —John 11:35

Digory, standing before the great lion, Aslan, remembered his terminally ill Mother. A lump came to his throat and tears to his eyes, and he blurted out, “But please, please—won’t you—can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?”

Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself. 'My son, my son,' said Asian. 'I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another.'"[1]

I think of Jesus' tears at Lazarus' grave. He “sobbed.” True, he wept for Lazarus, but he also wept for Mary and Martha and their grief, as he weeps for yours. Grief is great. Aslan knows. He will be good to you.

And, lest we forget, everyone we meet today has his or her share of grief to bear. Grief is great. Let us be good to one another.


[1] C. S. Lewis’ The Magician's Nephew
There, Little Girl, Don't Cry!

 James Whitcomb Riley has written a poem entitled “There, Little Girl, Don't Cry!” In the third stanza he pleads: “There, little girl, don't cry!/ They have broken your heart, I know, /And the rainbow gleams / Of your youthful dreams,/ Are things of the long ago.”

A bird with a broken wing, an animal with a broken leg, a man or woman with a broken heart will drop out of sight and retreat into deep shadow. What has broken your heart today: Cruelty? Failure? Unfaithfulness? Loss? Perhaps you’ve crept into the darkness to cry.

It’s good to cry, despite the poet’s admonition. “Tears are the only cure for weeping,” George MacDonald has said. A little crying does one good. Jesus wept and weeps with us. When your heart is broken his heart is broken as well. His heart aches for us when we mourn.

Our tears and brokenness attract our Lord’s attention. He understands our weary days, our troubled, sleepless nights. You are not alone: God is there, surrounding you with his compassion and love. He “is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalms 34:18).

But present comfort is not the final answer, for, as the poet goes on to say, “Heav'n holds all for which you sigh. / There, Little Girl, Don't Cry!”

All that we have ever loved or longed for awaits us in heaven. There will be no sorrow, no crying there, “for all these things will have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). There, God “will wipe every tear from our eyes.”

Have you thought of the familiarity and intimacy of that act? I keep a box of Kleenex in my study to hand to someone in tears, but I would never reach up and wipe those tears away. Only one very close to them would have that privilege; only one who loves them deeply would dare.

So cry little girl, but be blessed in your crying: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” 


Saturday, August 11, 2012


Sarah, our granddaughter, when she was very small, explained to me one day what happens when you die: “Your face goes to heaven, not your body. You get a new body, but keep the same face.”

Sarah’s understanding of our eternal state was a child’s understanding, of course, but she did grasp an essential truth: Our faces are a reflection of who we really are. They are a visible image of the invisible soul—the place on the surface where the self, the personality, the “I” becomes evident.

My mother used to say that an angry look might someday freeze on my face. She was wiser than she knew. A furrowed 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 wrinkles, blemishes and other disfigurements, are the ineradicable marks of inner goodness.

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 kind, old face. Thus age becomes “loveliest at the latest day” (John Donne).


Ferns Each will be like a hiding place from the wind, a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in a dry place, like the sh...