Saturday, October 18, 2014

Waiting: The bane and blessing of spiritual life

I saw this video on waiting in line and just had to post it. It's really funny, and it also illustrates a spiritual point: the difficulty of waiting on (hoping in and trusting) the loyal love of God.

The Hebrew word that is often translated "wait" also means to hope, with trust. When Isaiah 40:31 promises great things to those who hope in the Lord (hoping to the degree of trusting Him while waiting on Him), it contains a powerful value for temporally-bound humans.

Waiting places before humans two things: great promise and great temptation. One could say that it is the bane of spiritual life, or a great blessing, depending on how a person humbles him or herself in the process. This is so important, because God always uses waiting in the life of His chosen friends.

Moses waited for 40 years in the wilderness. Paul waited for three. Jacob waited for seven. And then seven more. Joseph waited seven years in slavery and prison. David waited for long weary years in wilderness exile, with a price on his head. Hannah waited 19 years. Abraham and Sarah waited 25 years (with the fuller Israel promise out to 400 years). Rebekah waited 20 years. Et al.

So it is with anyone who would receive the promise of the covenant.

Why is this? We don't know all the reasons, but surely refinement is one reason. And relationship another. It is in waiting that our hearts are purified of pride and bound up with God's great heart, bound together as one, to where the child can pray "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done" and truly have it as his or her highest will. This child can pray for the desire of his or her heart, knowing that God will grant it -- because his or her delights have passed into the realm of divine delight (Psalm 37:4).


Waiting carries with it great blessing and great temptation. Let us be not as those who haste to hurry God's hand with our own answers, like Abraham using Hagar for an heir outside the covenant will of God, or the man that walked away from faith because he "tested" God with thirty days of prayer and found no answer that he could see. Let us trust and wait for the child of promise.

No matter how frustrating the wait in line! :-)


Then Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. Luke 18:1

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Gal. 6:9

Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him. Isa. 64:4


Saturday, October 04, 2014

What I see as a mar, may be a scar — and sign of strength greater than mine

Judge not, that ye be not judged. — Mat. 7:1

Why beboldest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? — Luke 6:41

Judge not; the workings of his brain
And of his heart thou canst not see;
What looks to thy dim eyes a stain,
In God’s pure light may only be
A scar, brought from some well-won field,
Where thou wouldst only faint and yield.



Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints: Die before you die!

In reading Psalm 116 this week, something jumped out at me when I read verse 15, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Now, I’ve read and quoted this verse often when faced with the physical death of friends who died in faith, but for the first time, something flashed upon my mind like a sudden light: The context of this verse is not physical death, but LIFE. Every thought unit before and after this verse is divine mercy, deliverance, salvation from death, and faithful response to that deliverance from death: Living before God in the land of the living, paying vows in the presence of the people, taking up the cup of salvation and living before God in gratefulness.

In light of this, if verse 15 is simply about physical death, then it is somewhat incongruous. The entire psalm is about deliverance from death, and proper living toward God (and people) as a faithful response. Yes, Psalm 116:15 can be rightfully referenced for comfort in sorrow. But I believe there is a riveting fuller meaning to the verse: Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints who are still living.

  • Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints who die while they still live.
  • Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints who pay their vows to the Lord in the presence of the people.
  • Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints who take up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.


For if we have been united with Him in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection: For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died with Christ has been set free from the power of sin. Rom. 6:5-7

We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 2 Cor. 4:10

I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Phil. 3:10-11

For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world – right up to this moment. I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children… Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 1 Cor. 4:9-16


Leo Tolstoy, in The Death of Ivan Ilyich, writes of a court official who is suddenly stricken ill. Up to the point of his fatal illness, he has lived in comfort and adulation: Considered wise by others, high status, secure vocation, enviable family, home and property. For the first part of his illness, he lashes out at the unfairness of the affliction and the presence of pain – still caught in the illusion of self-prestige. However, as he draws nearer to physical death, the faithful light of God shines upon his conscience, and he suddenly sees his life for what it is: self-centered, shriveled in soul, unloving, temporal, illusory and sinful. He’d built a great outward life while sacrificing the inward life. Wise toward men, he’d been foolish toward God, and wounded those closest to him: his wife and children.

As this light shines upon him and his spirit awakens, Ivan cries out in confession. He asks that God might take away the pain he’s caused his family – and in this confession and sincere prayer for others, his pain disappears. He’s still dying, but for the first time he experiences true life. He also sees that the whole of life is a journey toward death, and that true life is preparation for death: Only as one dies to self in life will he live well, and then die well – into true Life.

In this awareness, Ivan cries out to his family, “Die before you die!” That is the meaning of life!


Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His faithful servants. For these are the ones who truly live.



Psalm 116

I love the Lord, for He heard my voice;
    He heard my cry for mercy.
Because He turned His ear to me,
    I will call on Him as long as I live.

The cords of death entangled me,
    the anguish of the grave came over me;
    I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
    Lord, save me!”

The Lord is gracious and righteous;
    our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the unwary;

    when I was brought low, He saved me.

Return to your rest, my soul,
    for the Lord has been good to you.

For you, Lord, have delivered me from death,
    my eyes from tears,
    my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the Lord
    in the land of the living.

10 I trusted in the Lord when I said,
    “I am greatly afflicted”;
11 in my alarm I said,
    “Everyone is a liar.”

12 What shall I return to the Lord
    for all His goodness to me?

13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
    and call on the name of the Lord.
14 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all His people.

15 Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of his faithful servants.

16 Truly I am your servant, Lord;
    I serve you just as my mother did;
    you have freed me from my chains.

17 I will sacrifice a thank offering to you
    and call on the name of the Lord.
18 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all His people,
19 in the courts of the house of the Lord
    in your midst, Jerusalem.

Praise the Lord.


Wednesday, October 01, 2014

A pink princess dress, a raggedy girl, and a heart of faith

Today I stopped by a Salvation Army store on the coast. As a waited in line, a young girl approached the counter – raggedly clothes, unruly hair, but a hopeful light in her eyes. “Sir, how much is this?” she asked. She held up a silken yellow “princess dress,” with satin finish and lacey frills on the edges.

The cashier didn’t blink. “3.99,” he said flatly.

Immediately the girl’s face fell. “Oh,” she said. “Uh, I… I can’t buy it then,” she stammered. She turned away to take the dress back, but before she took a step, the lady in front of me snatched the dress out of her hands. “I’ll take that!” she said triumphantly. “Here, honey,” she motioned to her daughter. “We’ll get this one too!”

The lady had been standing at the counter, preening, buying a costly amount of clothing and goodies for herself and her daughter. Her daughter stood at the counter – fairly the same age as the girl who first asked about the dress, but a total contrast: designer clothes, perfect hair, with a slightly bored air of soon-spoiled person.

The daughter glanced at the yellow princess-dress that the mother waved before her. “I don’t want it,” she sniffed. And sure enough, a slight rip stuck out of the collar inseam. The dress was still good, but it was marred. “You sure, honey?” the mother asked dotingly. “Yes,” replied the daughter.

The mother handed the dress to the cashier. He picked it up to place it behind the counter. But the interplay hit me hard. From the first moment, seeing the hopeful light extinguished in the raggedy girl’s eyes, and then the dress lavished on a girl with a full shopping cart, who didn’t value it… it was too much. “Ask that little girl if she would like this dress if someone bought it for her,” I told the cashier.

He blinked. “Are you going to pay for this?” he asked. “Yes,” I said. “If she wants it, I’ll buy it for her.” So he called back to the raggedy girl: “Would you like this dress if someone buys it for you?” She looked up, startled. “Me?” A look of wonder stole over her face. She ran back to the counter.

“Someone is going to buy this for me?” she asked. All three adults at the counter smiled: me, the cashier, and the lady. “Yes,” everyone said in unison. “Could… could I try it on first?” she hesitantly queried. “Sure,” I said. “Go try it on.”

So she took the dress and ran away with a snaggletooth smile.

The lady buying clothes for her daughter stopped for a moment, and looked at me. “That was so nice,” she said. “So, so nice.” I smiled back at her. “Thank you!” But my reward was already in the renewed light in that raggedy girl’s eyes.

I waited for the lady to complete her purchases, paid for my stuff and then stepped to the side, waiting for the girl to return. In a little while, she came back, this time carrying a pink princess dress – even nicer than the yellow one. She handed me the dress with a shy look. “Oh, you want this dress instead?” I asked. She nodded and then shuffled her feet.

This dress had a price tag: 4.99.

I looked at the girl, “This dress is 4.99!” She only nodded again.

The faith of a child! From fallen countenance to brash faith – what a change even slight hope makes!

I laughed, thrilled to my heart. I reached into my pocket and peeled off a five dollar bill. “Here you go,” I said. “Merry Christmas!”

She smiled that snaggletooth smile, and it spread across her face like fairest Christmas wreath on snowy castle door. “Thank you!” she said. The light in her eyes was beautiful to behold.

I smiled back at her. “You’re welcome!” “Take care, now!”

I turned to leave, and looked around at a circle of people – all smiling, nodding their thanks. I waved, and left, a song in my heart – a holy moment at a Salvation Army store, and a raggedy girl now adorned in hope-inspiring princess dress!

I walked to the truck, holy laughter still in my heart. Such a metaphor of true faith! Faith that accepts the word of the Father for what it is, and comes back with higher ante: Father, you said that you would spare the city for the sake of fifty righteous, but what about forty-five? Forty? Thirty? Twenty? Ten? And the Father smiles, “Yet for the sake of ten!” “Put it on the tab.”

Psalm 81:10 began to ring in my spirit, “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it!”

Oh, how God loves a child who takes Him at His word and then presses the promise to the full! Alleluia!

Listen to the promises of grace, friends. And open your mouth wide, that God might fill it with good things.

Psalm 2:8 – Only ask me, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, the whole earth as your possession.

1 John 5:14 – This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.

Psalm 145:19 – He fulfills the desires of those who fear Him; He hears their cry and saves them.

John 14:13 – And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

Mat. 7:7 – Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

Eph. 3:20-21 – Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.