Saturday, May 25, 2013

From a friend...
On Aging

                       All we like sheep have gone astray, we’re told,
                       By self-deceit we’ve chosen our own way,
                       The price for such conceit that we must pay
                       Is dear, as youth defers to growing old.
                       Quietly it comes, a cruel thief, swift
                       Flowing current bearing former glories
                       Of body, mind, and soul away.  Stories
                       Of coming bliss, cherished long, now bereft
                       Of hope.  Where is the wisdom, gracious God,
                       In granting this foe such power to leave
                       Alive those who long ago stopped living?
                       Such wisdom confounds mere settlers of sod,
                       And yet by far more aweful to conceive –
                       Wisdom that in love keeps on forgiving.

                                                                     Brook Thelander


Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Things That Matter

By George Herbert

Could not that wisdom, which first broacht[1] the wine,
        Have thicken’d it with definitions?
And jagg’d[2] his seamless coat, had that been fine,
        With curious questions and divisions?

But all the doctrine, which he taught and gave,
        Was clear as heav’n, from whence it came.
At least those beams of truth, which only save,
        Surpass in brightness any flame.

Love God, and love your neighbor. Watch and pray.
        Do as ye would be done unto.
O dark instructions; ev’n as dark as day!
        Who can these Gordion knots undo?

Could not the wisdom that "broacht" (opened) the wine at Cana have supplied an explanation for the miracle and “thickened it with definitions”? Jesus could have explained the miracle to the guests at Cana, but chose not to, nor has he explained everything else that puzzles us. The universe is shrouded in paradox, contradiction and mystery— things beyond our ken. There are limitations to the human intellect that cannot be overcome.

The longer I live, my list of certainties grows correspondingly shorter. There are absolutes for which I would go to the wall—most of which are contained in the Apostles Creed—but much is mystery to me. I ponder these puzzles periodically, but they don’t bother me anymore. Some things are very clear; some things are not.

This is the sentiment echoed by George MacDonald’s father in a letter to his son about the long-standing, divisive debate over God’s sovereignty and our free will: “[I cannot] bear to see that which is evidently gospel mystery torn to pieces by those who believe that there is no mystery in the Scriptures and therefore attempt to explain away what it is evidently for the honor of God to conceal. I see so much of mystery in nature, and so much of it in myself, that it would be proof to my mind that the Scriptures were not from God were there nothing in them beyond the grasp of my own mind.” [3]

That being said, our Lord did not leave us in the dark with regard to things that matter, but has given instruction that is “clear as heav’n from whence it came.” He has revealed “beams of truth, which only save (sanctify).” These he enumerates: “To love God, and love your neighbor. Watch and pray. Do as ye would be done unto”simple directives Herbert describes, with subtle irony, as Gordion knots,[4] and “dark instructions; ev’n as dark as day!” To love God and my neighbor, to watch and to pray—things I know I should do. This is the more excellent way.

Mark Twain said, “It’s not the things I don’t understand in the Bible that concern me, but the things I do understand.” Exactly. It is my prayer that I, at last, may do the things that matter.[5]


[1] broacht: opened
[2] jagg’d: torn
[3] In a letter to his son, May 31, 1850
[4] The Gordian Knot is a legend associated with Alexander the Great and is a metaphor for an intractable problem. The irony lies in the fact that this “knot” can be untied by anyone and the darkness of these instructions is “as dark as day(light).”
[5] Cf., Philippians 1:10. Paul’s verb, diaphero, here translated “matter,” means, to make a difference.”

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Road Gone By

0 Father of light and leading,
From the top of each rising hill
Let me cast my eye on the road gone by
To mark the steps of Thy will!
For the clouds that surround the present
Shall leave this heart resigned,
When joy appears in the path of tears
That led through the days behind.

—George Matheson
God’s will is better seen in retrospect than in prospect, or so it seems to me. It’s by casting our “eye on the road gone by” that we “mark the steps of (his) will.”

God has an itinerary for each of us, a “course” that we must run.[1] Our route is charted in the councils of heaven and rooted in the sovereign purposes of God. Yet our choices are not irrelevant. We make decisions every day, large and small, many of which have life-altering consequences. The question then—forgoing the confounding mystery of God’s sovereignty and human free will—is this: How can we, in our choices, suitably reflect his will?

The answer is clear to me, now that I’m older and have more of the past to see. It is by looking back that I see my Father’s guiding hand: Love and Wisdom have led me all the way. With old Jacob I can truthfully say, “God has been my shepherd all my life to this day.”[2]

So…though clouds “surround the present” and much uncertainty lies ahead, my heart is duly resigned. The “Father of light and leading” will be faithful to show me the way. My task is to follow Him in love and obedience, and leave the next step to Him.

And how will I know the next step?

I do not know. I do know, however, that I shall know it when I need to know. On what basis can I have that assurance? By dwelling on “the road gone by.”


[1] Cp., Acts 20:24  and 2 Timothy 4:7 Paul’s word, dromon, means “a race course.”
[2] Genesis 48:15

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Sometimes it seems pure natural to trust,
And trust right largely, grandly, infinitely,
Daring the splendour of the giver’s part;
At other times, the whole earth is but dust,
The sky is dust, yea, dust the human heart;
Then art thou nowhere, there is no room for thee
In the great dust-heap of eternity.

—George MacDonald

John the Baptist was languishing in prison when he heard of the works of Jesus. He sent two of his disciples to ask, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2,3).

Jesus answered: “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (Matthew 11:5,6).

Jesus’ citation is a conflation of two passages from the Prophet Isaiah concerning the mighty works of the Messiah: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped” (Isaiah 35: 5); “The LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” (Isaiah 61:1).

Jesus plainly asserts that his works confirm that he is Israel’s Messiah, but most significant is the omission of the line, “and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” Jesus did not promise that John would be delivered from prison and indeed he did not, for he died there, beheaded by the maniacal King Herod.

Here is John’s dark night of the soul, a period of unhappiness and skepticism in which he wonders if it’s been worthwhile to leave everything to find and follow Jesus. Who, if we’re true to ourselves, has not harbored that thought?

Some individuals live in their heads; they’re born with a questioning, inquiring spirit and the dark unhappiness of doubt. They are predisposed to skepticism; it’s the way they are, the way God made them. Other’s doubts are born of argument: a comment by a respected, but unbelieving university professor, a careless word spoken by a friend, an article in a magazine or on the internet, reflecting the spirit of this age. Or doubt may come through unrelieved suffering. All these inducements give logic to unbelief. What then can we do when “doubt swells and surges, with swelling doubt behind”?

We can take comfort in the thought that doubt is not displeasing to God. He commended John in the face of his doubt and disillusionment: “Among those born of women there has not one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). God knows how frail and fragile our faith can be. He is wonderfully compassionate, and infinitely patient with our misgivings. He himself struggled with disappointment and was tempted in all points as we are. “A smoking flax he will not extinguish.” He understands like no other.

We can turn doubt into action. We can take up the very next duty—­we know what it is—the very next thing God is asking us to do. We can turn away from the things that debase us, win back what we have lost. Like Mother Teresa, who, if we can belief her biographers, floundered in doubt and despair in her final years, we can live a life of service in the midst of our uncertainty. No matter how dark things seem to be there is truth to be lived and, though it seems odd, sheer obedience can begin to restore our faith. As Jesus said, “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”[1]

We can pray, for nothing is of ourselves, not even faith. Faith is a gift of God. [2]  “I believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” is the cry of an honest skeptic.[3]

Finally, we can ponder Peter’s response when Jesus asked his disciples if they would go away: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the only message that results in eternal life.”[4] 


[1] John 7:17
[2] Ephesians 2:8,9
[3] Mark 9:24
[4] John 6:68

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