Monday, September 23, 2013

The Certainty of Faith

“God is not dead, not doth He sleep . . .”
-H.W. Longfellow

Night is coming. The pounding of door after door, the closing. There is no room. No room, and the woman great with child, her time nearly upon her. No room . . . the echoing, the haunting phrase, until a stable door lies open before them. God the Father makes a way, prepares a place, for His beloved Son. And the One in Whom He is well-pleased is born in the lowest place, a place for keeping donkeys and sheep and cows.

Nightime upon them and maybe there was fear . . . will we find a place? The hushed-aching-agony never spoken-will He make a way for us? The dread of not knowing, not understanding why. The closing . . . the pounding clenched fist upon door after door after door. Until an unlikely place lies open, a stable. The Glory of God wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

Was she afraid? Was she afraid when the world seemed so raw, so unflinching, hard as nails around her? Was she afraid to travel when her day of delivery loomed so close, when her swollen body moaned with each bump in the road?

They were poor, a poor, newly married couple with barely anything to call their own. They were poor and they were despised and the sting of rejection still hung a heavy weight. The whispers, the taunting, the wagging tongues and the sideways glances. The rumored whispers, it was his child, Joseph’s, although she wished everyone to believe that God had sent His angel to her. Was she out of her mind? What would become of all of this?

And the Roman tyranny hung a shadow over them. Hung like the men upon crosses that littered the landscape. Like a millstone around their necks, the Romans who shackled their freedom and taxed them to their clenched-jawed chagrin. It was an uncertain time, a time of change, a time of chaos and unrest in the world around them. A time of shiftiness and unease and distrust.

And here she was, great with child, ready to pour out the agony of her labor and to bleed heavy on the unfriendly straw, on the hard, crusty earth, and to wail the pain of childbirth that only a woman knows and that only a woman can understand and embrace and forget as soon as the new baby lies warm in her shaking arms, the tears of relief running down.

Could I even imagine, begin to taste? Was she afraid to give birth in a stable, with a man who she had barely begun to know? He was her first baby, the Son of God, the One who opened her womb. And the completion of her travail was the Salvation of her soul.

And I remember my own labor, the joy and the fear and the worry and the deep, soul-sigh of relief when it was over and a baby lay sleeping in my weary arms. And at the time I thought that I couldn’t do it, until the searing, indescribable pain became a dull ache and the final pushing began. And then it was over, and the uncertainty became a blur and a daydream as she lay sleeping, the tranquil hush of heaven, embodied in a tiny baby.

Peace. And the quietness of the hospital at night, the daybreak looming bright and steady in the distance. My husband, concerned, even his growth of beard a halo around his face, and our baby, asleep.

For a child of the living God, the most difficult times, the days of uncertainty, the nights of unrest and agitation ultimately usher in the most magnificent grace. He may bring us to that point of breaking, to the utter travail and agony of our souls before His deliverance comes. And often it comes with pain and with blood-agony and with the soul-body tearing and shaking. What will the child of our travail look like? Will he be a shriveled corpse, a tragic shadow of what our joy may have been? Or will our agony usher in the salvation of our souls, the gratitude of a heart filled with love toward our God, kissed by the grace of peace and the full arms of love and acceptance of His will?

What will my response to uncertainty in my life be? Will I trust Him when the future seems grim, when the culture seems to be crumbling all around me, when the “floods of ungodliness make me afraid” and the government control becomes constricting, unbearable, like labor pains that will not be quieted? Will I trust Him, or will I give way to my fears and allow them to control me? Will I let His peace wash over my heart and hope in Him “though all around my soul gives way,” or will I crumble at the sight of war and give up?

He is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last . . . He will have the last word, and His people will be saved, though it be through fire and blood.

“My heart trusted in Him and I was helped . . .” (Psalm 28:7). And like Mary, may the Son of God be brought forth through our lives of trust and obedience, through His Spirit, by His shed blood, for His Name’s glory. And “He shall see the labor of His soul and be satisfied” . . . (Isaiah 53:11) in His blood-bought-ones, the travail of His heart.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Forest Brook


My eyes gaze over the glad, rushing brook,

Dancing merrily, gaily through the forest.

How happy the smooth stones,

The waters gurgling in laughter over them.

I look up at the sandy banks-

To see the river grasses nestled there.

When will the forest creatures come to drink

Beside the cool riverbank?

When will the tiny birds

Hop down beside the welcoming waters?

At dusk,

When the sun

Dips her happy soul

Into the covering of the hills.

Then I will see the Robin,

The deer of the forest,

The nightingale.

Monday, September 2, 2013

For the Love of the Needy

“The firstborn of the poor will feed,

And the needy will lie down in safety . . .”

Isaiah 14:30a

It was a dismal day to begin with and the worn pet supply store looked unpromising. She was after bunny treats and Wal-Mart didn’t have them in stock, so we took a different turn in our travels and hoped for the best.

Lish and I waited in the car, and a few minutes later, my Mom emerged from the grimy building. The expression on her face said it all.

“What happened?" we asked and she told us about a white baby rabbit, alone in a cage, huddling in the corner, its entire ear chewed off, cowering. 

My Mom asked the girl who worked there, “What’s wrong with his ear?” and she replied sagely, in a hushed voice, “Oh don’t worry about him; he’s for feed.” 

So my sister and I ventured in, hearts pricked. We walked into the store, lights dim, stale music blaring. Over to the rabbit cages, packed on top of one another, and we saw him. Afraid, rejected, with mangy white fur and minus one ear. We said, “We’ll take him, that one,” and they tried to veer us away, but we were determined. We bought him, all 16 dollars of him.

The man at the desk gave us a discount, “because of his ear,” a discounted life handed to us in an old cardboard box and we hurried out of the pet store into the fresh air and the open wide sky that the One who values the sparrow made for His pleasure. 

And we take him home and we feed him and we give him a clean, fresh place to sleep, and we love him, because he’s one of God’s creatures. 

We take what was rejected, cast aside, because there is something in the redeemed heart that should ache for the low thing, for the thing that is despised, rejected, thrust out in a cardboard box, intended as food for a snake. 

And there is something craven about the person who doesn’t care, something hard and crusty, something amiss. 

I was never an “animal person” until I became saved and I still don’t innately feel a passion toward my four-footed friends. I remember when my understanding was opened and I knew the Holy Spirit stirring inside my heart. It began with our growing-old dog, Bonnie. I felt differently towards her, felt compassion towards her and began to pay attention to her, brush her, and talk to her more than I had in the past. The Lord continued to work in my heart and to give me a love for His creatures around me. He continues to teach me this grace, and I pray that my heart will continue to grow in sensitivity and genuine compassion. 

The prophet Nathan tells a story about the man who callously slaughtered and cooked another man’s pet lamb. Heavy judgement hovered over that man, and even though the analogy is to be drawn between David, Bathsheba, and Uriah, there is a principle that cannot be ignored. Callousness/cruelty of heart, whether toward a creature or toward a human being invokes judgement.  The Lord would have us show mercy in our dealings with other men as well as with His animal creation, as the situation and as conscience dictate. 

I am not speaking of animal-worship, puppy-princess, PETA nonsense here. I am talking about decency and compassion and caring for the Lord’s creatures in a way that honors Him—whether it be through humane slaughter for food, or through careful protection and preservation as a tangible example of His kindness and mercy towards that which is weak.  

Mephibosheth sat at the King’s table. Crippled, “discounted” Mephibosheth, and David took him in.  

Jesus was a “Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief, and we hid, as it were, our faces from Him . . .” (Isaiah 53:3) Despised and rejected, nothing in His appearance that was desireable. And yet, He was the Chosen One, the God-Man, anointed with oil flowing down His beard--the compassionate, crushed, humble Servant who can have compassion on the wounded and the rejected because He also was and can sympathize with us in our weaknesses. 

Time and time again in the Word of God, it is the lowly, the outcast that the Lord takes pity upon. Not the ones who are beautiful and sleek and rich and well-clothed and well-fed. The outcasts, the poor, the ones who know their need. 

The funny thing is, that these are usually the ones who are the most grateful for this outpouring of mercy. Of all the animals that we’ve had (and we’ve had a lot) it is the ones who have been the most abused who appreciate being loved and taken care of the most. 

And that is how it is with us and with God. The one who has been forgiven much loves much. The one who has been maimed and discounted and chewed up by sin and then is drawn by the Father, is the one who stays near to Him in gratitude and love. 

He is gracious, to the sparrow, to the poor bunny huddled in a cage, to us. May we be gracious to the suffering too and show the love and mercy of Christ to the least of these.