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God is sovereign. All is well.

Isaiah 30: A Prayer

“In returning and rest you shall be

We are no different from Israel.  Not really.

And so, we can see ourselves pretty clearly in Isaiah 30:

“Ah, stubborn children,” declares the Lord…”

Yes, we too are stubborn.

“…who carry out a plan, but not mine….”

Yes, we are so very good at making plans that are not your plans, God.

who set out to go down to Egypt,
    without asking for my direction

Not necessarily to Egypt, but to many places we go, without asking for your direction.

….to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh
    and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt….

We seek refuge, but not in you, O God.  In bank accounts, in job security, in alcohol, in food, in so many things, but not in you, when we are told so clearly in Psalm 46:1 (it doesn’t get any clearer than this), that you are our refuge.  And you alone.

And, the result is this:  Shame and disgrace ~

….that brings neither help nor profit,
    but shame and disgrace.

We, on this Pentecost Sunday (so much buzz about this day, this year, when I’ve never even heard of Pentecost Sunday before), recognize that after you ascended, you gave us your spirit to dwell within us.  But, sometimes, we do not sense you.  We sense that we far from you.  If seems as if we are praying to brass ceilings.  It is then that we must turn to scripture, to be reminded that you are real, and near.  That your truths and teachings and the things that prophesied were and are and will be truth.  So, even here in admonition, we see that you knew we would need words in order to remember:

And now, go, write it before them on a tablet
    and inscribe it in a book,
that it may be for the time to come
    as a witness forever.

And we thank you for that, even though sometimes those words are hard to hear.  Hard to read.  Such as these:

therefore this iniquity shall be to you
    like a breach in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse,
    whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant;
14 and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel
    that is smashed so ruthlessly
that among its fragments not a shard is found
    with which to take fire from the hearth,
    or to dip up water out of the cistern.

Sudden breaking, in an instant.  Ruthless smashing, so that not even a shard is found big enough to provide an ember of light and warmth from the fire, or a cool drink of water from the cistern.

But.

There is an alternative.  An alternative to seeking refuge in that which cannot provide safety.  An alternative to pursuing plans that are not yours.  An alternative to stubborn rebellion that brings shame and disgrace.

The saving grace comes in the returning:

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
    in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

In returning, we are saved.  In returning, there is rest.  We are all, so very weary God.  We are strength-less.  I am strength-less, O God.  It is interesting, that the strength that you speak of here, is not the strength of activity, but rather quietness.  And trust.  Some trust in chariots.  Some trust in horses.  Some trust in their intellectual ability; their powers of reasoning.  Some trust in academia.  Some trust in their 401K.

Some trust in themselves.  Because, somehow, that seems safer.

But, that is often disastrous.

There is no rest or quietness in trusting self.  In trusting self, there is frenetic activity designed to ensure safety.  There is frenetic activity to save ourselves.

And, that is always disastrous.

“In returning[c] and rest you shall be saved;
    in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
But you were unwilling

Sometimes, God, we are unwilling, because of sinful pride.

And fear.

Forgive us, God.  Forgive me, God.

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
    and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
    blessed are all those who wait for him

At first reading, I thought this meant that you hold back your graciousness toward us, but maybe that is wrong.  Maybe…maybe it is more that you long to be gracious to us, therefore you are patient with us.

But you are also a God of justice; and there is waiting that we must do as well.  And when we do, blessed are we.

Be merciful, God.  Be patient.  But also be a God of justice, because we need that as well.

And bless us, when we return.  Bless us with salvation and rest and quietness and strength.

And, bless us with the ability to trust you.

For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. 20 And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.

Do not hide yourself from us.  Let us see you.

 

The Rebellion of Harmony

Old Hymnals

I love to sing.  Loudly.  (Last night, at choir practice, I think someone actually moved away from me, to preserve their hearing.)  I’m not very good, but singing has always been important to me.

Of course, being a PK/MK and always at church–always, always at church–Hymns were the earliest music I learned.  And, the once-a-month Sunday night “Pick Your Favorite Hymn” night was my favorite.  Not only could I wear polyester slacks or–on the crazy rare occasion–jeans that night to church, which was preferable to a dress for so many, many, many different reasons, but I also was pretty much guaranteed to get the chance to sing my favorite hymns.  Loudly.

  • Victory in Jesus “He plunged me, to VIIIICTORY….” (This song is best sung with a healthy dose of twang)
  • Footprints of Jesus (that make the pathway glow….so, how does that work, exactly?  Someone explain it to me, ’cause I imagine Jesus stepping in a vat of glow-in-the-dark paint and stomping around making awesome footprints)
  • Shall We Gather at the River (the beautiful, the beautiful)
  • Since Jesus Came Into My Heart (Extra points if whoever got assigned (stuck) leading worship that night held out the words “Siiiinnnccee” and “Rollllllllllll” for a couple of extra measures.)
  • Wonderful Grace of Jesus (Now, this was just fun to sing)
  • There is a Balm in Gilead (And this one was just fun to giggle at.  Poor Gilead got blown up by the bomb, repeatedly)

Early on, I somehow figured out how to sing harmony to the hymns.  I’m not exactly sure when or how that started.  I don’t remember anyone every really teaching me how, it just sort of happened.  And when I started taking piano lessons (O, Alicia and Joy, if you happen to read this, how did your poor mother put up with all of us?) and learned about chords, it gave me a name or structure to what I was singing.  Before that, I just sang what I thought sounded good, notes that seemed to “fit” the note that everyone else was singing.  (though I’m quite certain that many times, it did not.  Sound good that is.  Loud, always, though.  Loudly wrong, I’m sure.)

Part of what I liked, in singing different notes from everyone else, was exactly that–I thought singing what everyone else was singing was boring.  I thought it sounded prettier if there were different notes mixed in.  I wanted to be different.  A little bit of rebellion, I suppose.  (Not really, I wanted everyone’s approval far too much to be rebellious.  Then. When I was young.  However, I certainly made up for that, in the years that followed.)

Fast forward far more years than I care to admit.  Much life has happened.  I have gone from trying so hard to please God–to make Him “happy” with me, as a young girl, to dissolving in rebellious confidence that He couldn’t possibly exist, to discovery of authors that think like I think, and a discovery of hope, too, and eventually an earnest, though sometimes-wobbling, faith that He is who scripture says He is.

And, kind of like how my–relationship to?  belief of?  faith in?–God has changed, so has my connection to hymns.

Before, they were fun to sing.  Now, many of them, are so precious to me.

Some I now recognize as consisting of bad theology.  But many are so solid, so foundational.  So scriptural.  Truth.

  • Be Thou My Vision
  • When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
  • Hallelujah, What a Savior
  • Blessed Redeemer
  • Arise My Soul, Arise
  • All I Have is Christ

And so many others.

One morning this past week, friends from my church pulled into my driveway.  They brought me a gift worth more than gold to me—a box full of musty, old books.  (A thousand thank-you’s, Tim and Kay!)  Goodness, what a priceless gift.  I couldn’t believe it.  Such a gift.  Most were hymn books, published in the late 1800s.  (The picture above is just a small sample of what they gifted me with.)  Small, little volumes with tiny notes and tiny print, that I imagine were held by hundreds of hands.

And now, here I am, 141 years later, holding these treasures in my hands.  And marveling at the words on the pages.

Some hymns make me chuckle.  Like the one “Sung by the congregation, to the pastor, to welcome him back home to his congregation after he has sojourned.”  And, my favorite:  “Ask Me Not to Sip the Wine”  (Oh ask me not to sip the wine, the sparkling ruby wine, In ev’ry drop a serpent lurks, to sting the trusting heart, And lure it from all love-ly things For ev-er-more to part.)  Hmm.  But, still.  Very funny.

Some hymns, though, penetrate both my mind and soul a bit.

“Praise, my soul, the God that sought thee,

Wretched wanderer, far astray;

“Found thee lost and kindly brought thee

From the paths of death away;”

And so many others.

I imagine folks sitting in old, clapboard churches, fanning themselves because no air conditioning of course.  Little ones nodding off drowsily.  Mischievious ones plotting their after-church exploits.  Mom’s pinching the mischievious ones for not paying attention.  And, everyone singing. Loudly.

In four-part harmony.

I think it is the harmony that gets me.  The words, always and yes.  The longest collection of words in scripture are honest words and prayers put to music.  I love that.  I cherish words.

But, I also cherish harmony.

Singing harmony is kind of like saying to God:  God, I know scripture is truth.  And I know these words I’m singing are truth.  God, I know that you are God.  You have to be.  Please be.  Please.  More than tradition.  Be real.  Make this mess that I have made of my life, not so discordant.

And, when we sing harmony,  there is truth in doing so, that John Piper describes as this:

When we all sing the same melody line, it is called unison, which means “one sound.” But when we unite diverse lines of soprano and alto and tenor and bass, we call it harmony; and everyone who has an ear to hear knows that something deeper in us is touched differently by great harmony than by mere unison. (Piper)

There is beauty in the unity that comes from “one sound”, or unison.  But there is a richness in the uniting of “diverse lines”, that points to something deeper, something beyond the melody, to the richness and fullness found in the one to whom the words point us to.

A rebellion that says “You are more than one-dimensional.  You are more than tradition.  You are God.  You are real.  You are real.  And You we worship.”

……be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ….

Ephesians 5:18-21

Unto the Lamb – The Object of Our Longings

Holy

My mind often turns to the idea of Home…..of heaven, whatever that will look like.

But often, for very selfish reasons.  Self-serving reasons.  A longing for rest.  A yearning for a life without sin which so easily tangles.  A desire for all that is wrong to be made right.  A hope for a settled-ness that endures–a mind that is settled, a soul that is settled.  No more grief.  No more capacity to do wrong, to sin, to hurt others.

My motives, as always, are skewed incorrectly, because far too often, these longings become the focus of my hope, and not the one who is the object of my hope..

Not that the things listed above are wrong desires and longings.  They aren’t–as long as they do not overshadow the One who is the very source of all of those longings.

Sometimes, I forget that the chief aim of the eternal life that salvation grants, is the “joy of self-forgetfulness” and the awe of no longer seeing as though through a mirror dimly, but seeing Christ face-to-face:

 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 1 Cor. 13:12

I am, so very selfish.  Self-Centered.  Even, sometimes, in my longings for home.

Interrupted sleep has characterized this night, and with the interruption has come thoughts of home.  Strong yearnings for home.  But maybe now, after some study over the past hour or so, there is perhaps an all-too-often absent focus of those thoughts and longings.

O, all the same thoughts are there–the same yearnings, the same desires.  I don’t think those will ever disappear; nor do I think that they necessarily should.  There lies hope in those desires.  Proverbs 13:12 tells us that Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”  There is life–eternal life–in the fulfillment of that hope which will come when home is realized.

But it is the object of that hope which creates the joy that home will bring.  It is the sitting at the feet of Jesus in worship, that creates the very fulfillment of all the things longed for in going home.  The settledness.  The peace.  The absence of ability to sin.  The absence of grief.  The righting of all things wrong.  All of these are only possible through the object of our worship.  And the object of our worship–the lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice–is the chief aim.  These other aims, these other desires, though good, should be secondary.  Are secondary.

I’m not sure that I always grasp that, in my sinful selfishness.  But I need to.  More.  And more.

Earlier tonight, before interrupted sleep, I came across one of the best articles I have ever read, on corporate worship, though I don’t think I fully grasped what it was saying until sleep was interrupted, and the longings for home overwhelmed.  Located at the Desiring God website and written by David Mathis, I imagine it is an article that I will return to often.  I urge you to read it; your time will not be wasted in doing so.  While the focus of the article is corporate worship within our churches, and how worshipping together with fellow Christ-followers is a means of grace, his words also seem to point toward corporate worship together–not alone, as I so often imagine it–at the throne of Jesus, once the old earth has gone and the new has been established–once we go home.

In particular, this paragraph right here, is not nothing:

The answer is that our focus should not be self-consciously preoccupied with how we’re being strengthened or what grace we’re receiving. Rather, our focus together is the crucified and risen Christ, and the incomparable excellencies of his person and work. Which illumines all the various spiritual disciplines. Corporate worship is a means of grace not when we’re caught up with what we’re doing, but when we experience the secret of worship — the joy of self-forgetfulness — as we become preoccupied together with Jesus and his manifold perfections.

No, the longings and desires for what home will bring do not change.  I know, for my own soul, those longings are deep.  So deep.  But maybe my focus–and yours, and ours as a corporate family of Christ-followers–needs to shift more to the “crucified and risen Christ, and the incomparable excellencies of his person and work”, far above what we gain and receive in the fulfillment of our hopes and longings.

Or, to put it another way, I, and we, need a fresh realization that He is our hope.  He is what we desire.  He is what we long for.  And, in Him, these things are found.  They are by-products of the very grace that He is.

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
    who was and is and is to come!”

The Value of Hard Work

effort-baseball

I did not want to do work today.

And not just the work that pays the bills and provides for my family.  I mean any and all work–the soul work that occurs during prayer and study, the health work that occurs when I stomp around the neighborhood to get 10,000 steps and 5 miles done, the hard work of parenting, the work of cleaning and weeding and calendaring and organizing.  None of it.  Sinfully, I’m sure.  But also weariness.

For several different reasons, I did not want to do the work that this day–that each day–requires.  Mind reasons.  Soul reasons.  Physical reasons.

Fortunately, though, reason and habit won out, and the work got done.

And then, as life would have it, I was reminded three different times today of the value of hard work.

The first came as I stomped (what I do can not, in all seriousness, be called walking.  Walking is graceful.  I am not.) around the neighborhood this morning.  Usually I use that time to think and sort things out, and pray some.  This morning, though, the only thing running through my mind was a sort-of mantra:  “Do the work.  Do the work.  Do the hard work.  Work hard.  Work hard, do you hear me self?  Work.  Hard.”  And, similar to how sometimes just writing out scripture over and over again will start to settle my mind, so does “doing the work”.  Sweat equity, I suppose.

Later on in the day, in between work calls and before my crew came home from school, I went outside to knock out some more mileage as a stretching break from the computer and phone.  I didn’t get very far, though, because a church member/neighbor was outside, and called me to his yard to chat.  Our conversation turned to God, and God’s view of the world, at-large, and God’s view of us, and our view of God.  He made a remark along the lines of “you are so strong in spite of everything”, and he asked me how can this be?  My response, first and foremost and always and always and always, is that I am standing because of the completely undeserved grace that God has granted.  And, of course, the completely undeserved kindness of my church family, other local churches, our school district, and our county that I’ll never be able to repay, though I wish I could.

But I also told him this:  there is a kind of salvation in hard work, too.  Not salvation that saves the soul from death–not the salvation that only the cross can deliver, but there is a type of salvation.  A saving of the mind, if you will, which helps settle the soul.  There is something settling in knowing this:  “Today I will do hard work.  By God’s grace, I will accomplish it.  And then, tomorrow, I will get up and do hard work again.”

Interestingly enough, the very same thoughts came to me tonight, while sitting with a church member at the soccer fields, watching our boys play soccer (on opposite teams).  As we chatted about normal, every day stuff–kids, soccer, work, church, food–out of the blue she said something, too, along the same lines as my neighbor earlier in the day.

And, for the third time today, sitting by that soccer field, I was reminded of the importance of working hard.  And the grace of working hard.  Which has led me to writing about it here, because of this:  I wonder if it is kind of like what Paul says in 1st Corinthians 15:

 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

The first few times I heard or read this passage, my reaction was “Good grief, Paul, that sounds so arrogant…the whole ‘I worked harder than any of them’ bit, is a bit much don’t you think Paul?”  It even sounds whiny, to an extent.  Maybe I read it that way, though, because I recognize the nearly constant arrogance and sinful pride in my own life.  If I had said what Paul said above, it would have been out of pride and arrogance.  But I am nearly fully convinced that wasn’t the case with Paul.

Instead, I think that maybe Paul has hit upon something important here.

There is grace in work.  There is grace in working hard.  There is grace in putting in the long hours doing documentation and hosting meetings for work, in putting in the miles and steps physically, in cleaning the toilet and repairing the van yet again and paying the bills and doing volunteer work.  There is grace in chauffeuring children and reviewing homework and listening to your child’s dreams and fears and worries and attending sporting events and concerts and parenting.  There is grace in caring well for others through the privilege of sitting with and listening.  There is grace in working hard–doing hard work–and then, knowing at the end of the day, that the work that will be there the next day can be counted on.  It is trustworthy, reliable, sure and steadfast.

Hard work is kind of like God’s mercies.  New every morning.  There will be work to do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.  It is trustworthy.  It will not abandon.  Hard work will not despise me.  There is always work to be done.  Brain work, soul work, physical and health work, job related work, parenting work, responsibilities work, organizational work, disciplines work, caring for others work.

And, there will always be grace to be able to do the work.

I find Proverbs 13:4 to be interesting:

The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing,
    while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.

I think I find it interesting, because it doesn’t speak of bank accounts or houses and boats and goods and retirement accounts, which is what we most associate with hard work.

No, instead it speaks of the soul.

There is soul work that is done through the hard work of putting one foot in front of the other each and every day.  Of doing the tasks laid out before us each and every day.  I know the pull to do nothing.  I know the pull to hide.  I know the pull to just stop.  To give up.  To quit.  To go Home.  I know these things well; I knew them even today.  I may know them again tomorrow.  I hope not, but I may.

And you may, too.

But I also know the settling and grace that infuses hard work.  And the reliability of hard work.

I know that, by grace, tomorrow there will be hard work to do, and the grace with which to do it.