A Bright Sadness: The Wonderful Invitation We Leave Unopened

When he takes it all away,
will we love him more than things,
more than health,
more than family,
and more than life?

That’s the question.
That’s the warning.
That’s the wonderful invitation.
John Piper in “I Was Warned By Job This Morning”

The warning of the Book of Job is that it could happen to us too:
everything we have strived for, cared about, loved and valued taken away.

If we are stripped bare naked, nothing left to us but our love for God and His sovereign power over our lives, will we still worship His Name, inhale His Word like air itself, submit ourselves to His plan over our plan?

I know I fall far short of the mark. It takes only small obstacles or losses to trip me up so I stagger in my faith, trying futilely to not lose my balance, falling flat-faced and immobilized.

When I’ve seen people lose almost everything, either in a disaster, or an accident, or devastating illness, I’ve looked hard at myself and asked if I could sustain such loss in my life and still turn myself over to the will of God.

I would surely plead for reprieve and ask the horribly desperate question, “why me?”, girding myself for the response: “and why not you?”

The invitation that I most don’t want to receive, scary and radical as it is, is from God straight to my heart. He invites me closer, asking that I trust His plan for my life and death, no matter what happens, no matter how much suffering, no matter how much, like Christ in the garden, I plead that it work out differently, more my own choosing that it not hurt so much.

The invitation to His plan for my life has been written, personally carried to me by His Son, and lies ready in my hands, although it has remained untouched for years. It is now up to me to open it, read it carefully, and with deep gratitude that I am even included, respond with an RSVP that says emphatically, “I’ll be there! Nothing could keep me away.”

Or I could leave it untouched, fearing it is too scary to open. Or even toss it away altogether, thinking it really wasn’t meant for me.

Even if, in my heart, I knew it was.

There are only two kinds of people in the end:
those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’
and those to whom God says, in the end,
‘Thy will be done.’
~C. S. Lewis

Summer Messaging

photo by Nate Gibson

photo by Nate Gibson

Don’t let summer make your soul shrivel. God made summer as a foretaste of heaven, not a substitute. If the mailman brings you a love letter from your fiancé, don’t fall in love with the mailman. That’s what summer is: God’s messenger with a sun-soaked, tree-green, flower-blooming, lake-glistening letter of love to show us what he is planning for us in the age to come.
— John Piper

photo by Nate Gibson

 

“things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Lenten Reflection–Piercing the Soul

“This child is like a pearl,
Some men will forfeit everything
To have his love, while others cling
To worthless things and forfeit life.
He is a source of peace—and strife.
And many thoughts he will reveal
That men have thought they could conceal.
And you, most blessed woman too,
Will see what wicked men can do.
Your love to him will take its toll,
And like a sword will pierce your soul.”
from John Piper in “Simeon

Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught
that I might be free, blind in my womb
to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.
from “Accompanied by Angels” by Luci Shaw

The God of curved space, the dry
God, is not going to help us, but the son
whose blood splattered
the hem of his mother’s robe.
“Looking at Stars”  by Jane Kenyon

This was the day she had been told would come yet she could not have anticipated how horrific would be His suffering, how hideous His wounds, how extensively His blood covered those around Him.  She could not have imagined the helplessness she felt in being unable to comfort Him, ease His pain, or smooth His torn brow.  She could not have known she would feel His hurt so deeply; it was as if she too had been lacerated and drained of life herself.

Yet looking down at her from the cross, despite His own distress, He compassionately provides for her future care and protection.  He continues loving her even when He is beyond her reach. He doesn’t abandon her even as He endures the unendurable–separation from His Father and betrayal by His people.

She shed her blood bearing Him, birthing Him to breathe and walk and live fully on this earth;  now her heart breaking,  she watches Him surrender and take His last breath.
He sheds His cleansing blood in parting, once and for all mending all that is pierced and broken in us, yet rending forever that which separates us from God.


Lenten Reflection–The Invitation

20120324-141428.jpg
When he takes it all away, will we love him more than things, more than health, more than family, and more than life? That’s the question. That’s the warning. That’s the wonderful invitation.
John Piper in “I Was Warned By Job This Morning”

The warning of the Book of Job is that it could happen to us too–everything we have strived for, cared about, loved and valued taken away. If we are stripped bare naked, nothing left but our love for God and His sovereign power over our lives, will we still worship His Name, inhale His Word like air itself, submit ourselves to His plan over our plan?

I know I fall far short of the mark. It takes only small obstacles or losses to trip me up so I stagger in my faith, trying futilely to not lose my balance, falling flat-faced and immobilized.

When I’ve seen people lose almost everything, either in a disaster, or an accident, or devastating illness, I’ve looked hard at myself and asked if I could sustain such loss in my life and still turn myself over to the will of God.

I would surely plead for reprieve and ask the horribly desperate question, “why me?”, girding myself for the response: “and why not you?”

The invitation, scary and radical as it is, is from God straight to my heart, asking that I trust His plan for my life and death, no matter what happens, no matter how much suffering, no matter how much, like Christ in the garden, I plead that it work out differently, more my own choosing that it not hurt so much.

The invitation to His plan for my life has been written, personally carried to me by His Son, and lies ready in my hands, although it has remained untouched for years. It is now up to me to open it, read it carefully, and with deep gratitude that I am even included, respond with an RSVP that says emphatically, “I’ll be there! Nothing could keep me away.”

Or I could leave it untouched, fearing it is too scary to open. Or even toss it away altogether, thinking it really wasn’t meant for me.

Even if, in my heart, I knew it was.

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ C. S. Lewis

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Called to Advent–Keeping

photo by Josh Scholten

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Galatians 5:13-14

Staying married, therefore, is not mainly about staying in love. It is about keeping covenant. “Till death do us part” or “As long as we both shall live” is a sacred covenant promise – the same kind Jesus made with His bride when He died for her.
John Piper

My husband and I attended a wedding in an outdoor park years ago where the officiating pastor asked the couple to vow to each other to stay together “as long as we both shall will.” I remember thinking that was the most useless vow I’d ever heard because it was no vow at all. It was a poetic and tempting string of words, like a strand of colored lights buried in the snow, pretty but pointless. There was no promise to keep covenant with one another despite everything that can happen in life. There was no commitment to see things through, to be steadfast in the face of trouble, to not wander from the path set before us simply because we have the freedom and desire to do so.

Keeping covenant is particularly significant tonight in light of the news that one of our body, one of our church, has been given a devastating diagnosis of leukemia. He will be transferred to a leukemia unit at the regional university hospital to begin life-saving treatment. His wife, loving him as she vowed to do when they married, keeps faith with him through this toughest battle of all, serving his needs with her strength and endurance. The body of the church will keep them both uplifted in prayer, and provide for their needs as best we are able.

We are called by advent to keeping covenant–with each other, with the body of Christ, with God Himself. The complication is that we have been created with the freedom to choose not to do so or only do so as long we shall “will.” How genuine is our commitment?

The baby in the manger was God’s most tangible keeping of the covenant with His children. He came to us, stayed with us, died for us, and remains committed to us as we wait His return. We are kept whole, even through our greatest earthly battles and in our dying, by His love.


There is nothing which so certifies the genuineness of a man’s faith as his patience and his patient endurance, his keeping on steadily in spite of everything.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Lenten Meditation–Grace Be With You

Our pastor has just finished a very illuminating evening study of Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians, which ends with a few concise words in 4:18, the final verse.

I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

The Apostle shares remarkable humanity with his Christian brothers and sisters in these words that deserve deeper exploration over the next several days.  What initially caught my attention was the interesting contrast between the last line of the letter compared to the opening line in verse at the very beginning of the letter:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

What is the difference here in the greeting “Grace and peace to you” at the beginning and “Grace be with you” at the end?

The following explanation is proposed by Dr. John Piper (www.desiringgod.org)  in his book Future Grace:

“Paul has in mind that the letter itself is a channel of God’s grace to the readers. Grace is about to flow ‘from God’ through Paul’s writing to the Christians. So he says, ‘Grace to you.’ That is, grace is now active and is about to flow from God through my inspired writing to you as you read – ‘grace [be] to you.’ But as the end of the letter approaches, Paul realizes that the reading is almost finished and the question rises, ‘What becomes of the grace that has been flowing to the readers through the reading of the inspired letter?’ He answers with a blessing at the end of every letter: ‘Grace [be] with you.’ With you as you put the letter away and leave the church. With you as you go home to deal with a sick child and an unaffectionate spouse. With you as you go to work and face the temptations of anger and dishonesty and lust. With you as you muster courage to speak up for Christ over lunch. . . . [Thus] we learn that grace is ready to flow to us every time we take up the inspired Scriptures to read them. And we learn that grace will abide with us when we lay the Bible down and go about our daily living” (Future Grace, 66-67).

This is what it is like each Sunday, as I enter Wiser Lake Chapel, and am filled with the Word from Pastor Bert’s inspired teaching.  The spirit flows from our Pastor’s study of the Word, to accompany each of us as we go about our week.  Grace to, and then with us.

Just as Paul intended for his brothers and sisters.  We are deeply blessed.