Thursday, May 31, 2012

 

Having a Hard Time? Hang in There

Here are a couple of poems that have often given me encouragement and motivation when in the midst of hard times. For those of you experiencing hardships or just a some down time that seems to never go away, these poems are for you.

"Hast Thou No Scar?" Amy Carmichael
Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot or side or hand?
I hear thee sung as might in the land,
I hear them hail thy bright ascendant star.
Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?
Yet I was wounded by the archers,
Spent and leaned me against a tree to die.
And rent by ravening beast that compassed me,
I swooned.
Hast thou no wound?

No wound, no scar.
But as the master must the servant be
And pierced are the feet that follow Me.
Yet thine are whole.
Can he have followed far who had not wound nor scar?

And finally, a little encouraging poem from Samuel Rutherford:

It cost Christ and all his followers sharp showers and hot sweats,
Ere they went to the top of the mountain.
But still our soft natures would have heaven coming to our bedsides while we are sleeping,
That we may go to heaven in warm clothes.

But all who came there found wet feet by the way,
And sharp storms, that did take the hide off thier faces.
And found tos and fros and ups and downs,
And many enemies along the way.
Too often we think we are entitled to avoid problems, or we compare our experiences to others and wonder why our situation is not falling out as favorably for us as for someone else.  Maybe we even think that God is somehow being "unfair" in his treatment of us.  As a former pastor reminded me, we need to develop a "hell up" attitude:  Anything that is above "hell" is a blessing since we deserve hell.  We rarely get what we deserve, but we often are blessed beyond what we should receive.  As you trudge through your hard time, remember that God has not forgotten or forsaken you.  It may "feel" that way, but it is not true.   

I like to read these poems when I am tempted to complain about my situation. They seem kind of harsh to read, but they remind me of William Law's admonition "Whenever you find yourself disposed to uneasiness or murmuring at anything that is the effect of God’s providence, look upon yourself as denying either the wisdom or goodness of God." God's goodness is sometimes inscrutable, especially in the hard times. God has not asked us to suffer as much as we sometimes think, and that is why I like to remind myself with these poems. It reminds me to be thankful for the "easy" way that my Lord has led me.  As John Chrysostom reminds us, "The providence of God shines in every object and every creature in the world.  Do not try to scrutinize God’s motives in acting so generously to you.”


Let me end this post with an anonymous encouragement--"Remember, after every winter is a spring. After every spring is a summer. After every summer is a fall."

Remember that even the life of a Christian contains cycles. You may be going through a hardship today, or you may have it relatively easy. Either way, let's remember that our ancestors in the faith faced even worse. Our way is not easy, but God is good. Hang in there!


Thanks for reading!

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

 

Memorial Day Poem by Edgar Guest

Last year I posted this same poem, and for Memorial Day this year it seemed relevant yet again.  I love the poetry of Edgar Guest, and this poem in honor of Memorial Day seems rather appropriate today. Let me know what you think!

The finest tribute we can pay
Unto our hero dead to-day,
Is not a rose wreath, white and red,
In memory of the blood they shed;
It is to stand beside each mound,
Each couch of consecrated ground,
And pledge ourselves as warriors true
Unto the work they died to do.

Into God's valleys where they lie
At rest, beneath the open sky,
Triumphant now o'er every foe,
As living tributes let us go.
No wreath of rose or immortelles
Or spoken word or tolling bells
Will do to-day, unless we give
Our pledge that liberty shall live.

Our hearts must be the roses red
We place above our hero dead;
To-day beside their graves we must
Renew allegiance to their trust;
Must bare our heads and humbly say
We hold the Flag as dear as they,
And stand, as once they stood, to die
To keep the Stars and Stripes on high.

The finest tribute we can pay
Unto our hero dead to-day
Is not of speech or roses red,
But living, throbbing hearts instead,
That shall renew the pledge they sealed
With death upon the battlefield:
That freedom's flag shall bear no stain
And free men wear no tyrant's chain.

Thanks for reading! And thanks to all military who served or currently serve to protect our freedoms! May God bless you and your families.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

 

Peter: Example of a Transformed Life and Leader

This morning I've been reading in 1 & 2 Peter, and I am struck with the dramatic change in this man's life after the resurrection of Christ.  His growth as both a Christian and a leader if pretty amazing, and I wanted to share a few thoughts.  First, let me give credit where credit is due, I hold no illusions that all the material below came from my own mind, but I will do my best to give proper credit to those who taught me.  That said, let me offer a quote from Eugene Peterson on the issue of Peter (this quote comes from his notes at the beginning of 1 Peter in The Message):

Peter's concise confession--"You are the Messiah, the Christ"--focused the faith of the disciples on Jesus as God among us, in person, carrying out the eternal works of salvation.  Peter seems to have been a natural leader, commanding the respect of his peers by sheer force of personality.  In every listing of Jesus' disciples, Peter's name is invariably first.  In the early church, Peter's influence was enormous and acknowledged by all.  By virtue of his position, he was easily the most powerful figure in the Christian community.  And his energetic preaching, ardent prayer, bold healing, and wise direction confirmed the trust placed in him.

The way Peter handled himself in that position of power is even more impressive than the power itself.  He stayed out of the center, didn't "wield" power, maintained a scrupulous subordination to Jesus.  Given his charismatic personality and well-deserved position at the head, he could easily have taken over, using the prominence of his association with Jesus to promote himself.  That he didn't do it, given the frequency with which spiritual leaders do exactly that, is impressive.  Peter is a breath of fresh air.

The two letters Peter wrote exhibit the qualities of Jesus that the Holy Spirit shaped in him; a readiness to embrace suffering rather than prestige, a wisdom developed from experience and not imposed from a book, a humility that lacked nothing in vigor or imagination.  From what we know of the early stories of Peter, he had in him all the makings of a bully.  That he didn't become a bully (and religious bullies are the worst kind) but rather the boldly confident and humbly self-effacing servant of Jesus Christ that we discern in these letters, is a compelling witness to what he himself describes as "a brand-new life, with everything to live for." 
Peter has long been one of my favorite disciples but not for the reason that many will offer.  For me, Peter is the disciple whose life was perhaps the most dramatically changed (besides Paul, perhaps).  We know that Peter was married, we know that his family included him in a business that seemed successful and what we would today deem (at least) middle class.  Peter left the comfort of a family business, the comfort of a marriage situation, even the comfort of immediate and extended family to follow an itinerant preacher from Nazareth.  It seems to me that he had what many of us seek--success, safety, and a sense of satisfaction in life.  He was willing to leave that behind to chase the dream of Messiah.

In many ways Peter had what we would call today "the American dream"--a family, a career, and a future.  There was something, however, in that itinerant carpenter that commanded Peter's attention.  So much so that Peter became the de facto spokesman for the disciples and a kind of "public relations" man for Jesus.  Remember Caesarea Philippi?  There Peter made his amazing confession, and there Jesus turned the tables on him by saying (essentially), "I am not a militant Messiah, I will die.  You will witness it and be heartbroken." 

Peter's response is telling:  "God forbid, Lord!  This will never happen to you!"  In other words: "Jesus, you are speaking negatively when your popularity is at an all time high!  You need to strike now or you will lose momentum." 

Jesus said in response:  "Get behind me Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; for you are not setting your mind on God's business but man's business."

Peter even tried to make it up later by swearing he would die for Jesus, just before Jesus predicted that Peter would deny him three times.  What's my point?  Peter is in some sense every one of us.  We think we have God figured out, we even begin to tell him how his Word ought to work, then God turns the tables on us by reminding us that we are not God.  He jolts us to awareness of our own inherent selfishness by reminding us that we are NOT in charge. 

Peter led that life right up until the resurrection.  But, oh, after that day, what a different man we find in this Rock, this Pebble called by God to lead his sometimes all-too-human church in the first century!

Peter's arrogance seems to have been bludgeoned out of him by the events of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection.  He didn't lose  a position of power, but rather Peter began to act in an almost unnatural way.  As Peterson says, Peter "could easily have taken over, using the prominence of his association to Jesus to promote himself."  By God's grace, Peter did not "lord it over" the church.  He embraced suffering, he embraced a life of humility, he became a servant!

This successful man, who became a leader of the disciples, later would learn to lead truly by serving others.  He learned humility in what he suffered, and he learned to put the needs of others first.  He became a well suited vessel to remind the early suffering church that suffering leads to an opportunity to serve others while proclaiming the great kindness of God.  He learned a new definition of success--humble service to others in spite of how they treat you.  The sharp tongued and quick witted leader of the Twelve became a man who spoke softly, compassionately, and who served humbly.  He followed Jesus' example even in death. 

Oh that we could all come to live as Peter lived!  May we all learn to live and to think like Peter, or more importantly, like Peter's Lord!

I have more to say, but I think I'll save it for another day.

Lord, teach us to be like your servant Peter; train us to be true disciples.

Thanks for reading!

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