May 17

“They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb . . . and they loved not their lives unto the death.” Revelation 12:11

The greatest things are always hedged about by the hardest things, and we, too, shall find mountains and forests and chariots of iron. Hardship is the price of coronation. Triumphal arches are not woven out of rose blossoms and silken cords, but of hard blows and bloody scars. The very hardships that you are enduring in your life today are given by the Master for the explicit purpose of enabling you to win your crown.

Do not wait for some ideal situation, some romantic difficulty, some far-away emergency; but rise to meet the actual conditions which the Providence of God has placed around you today. Your crown of glory lies embedded in the very heart of these things—those hardships and trials that are pressing you this very hour, week and month of your life. The hardest things are not those that the world knows of. Down in your secret soul unseen and unknown by any but Jesus, there is a little trial that you would not dare to mention that is harder for you to bear than martyrdom. There, beloved, lies your crown. God help you to overcome, and sometime wear it. (Streams in the Desert)

Life is not easy, but it was never intended to be. It is for this very reason that the cross endures as the single defining representation of the Christ-life. My earliest childhood recollections include singing hymns such as “The Old Rugged Cross” and “At Calvary,” and I remember all these years later the remorse I felt that Jesus had to die such a cruel death for my sin. What I understand better now is that the cross stands not only for death; the cross of Christ is the ultimate symbol of restoration and hope. Whether adorning elaborate stained glass in the grandest cathedral or hanging in silver from a delicate chain, the cross stands as a constant reminder of ultimate and imminent victory and hope that is ours in Christ Jesus. Death and Hell cannot conquer us and difficulty and pain will not defeat us. “We are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus our Lord.” Thank God for the daily reminder through Scripture of the enormous cost of our hope, and praise God for a constant reminder through the cross that we will overcome.

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May 16

“Pressed out of measure.” 2 Corinthians 1:8

“That the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Nothing but the extremities in which Paul was constantly placed could ever have taught him, and taught the Church through him, the full meaning of the great promise he so learned to claim, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” And nothing but our trials and perils would ever have led some of us to know Him as we do, to trust Him as we have, and to draw from Him the measures of grace which our very extremities made indispensable.

Difficulties and obstacles are God’s challenges to faith. When hindrances confront us in the path of duty, we are to recognize them as vessels for faith to fill with the fullness and all-sufficiency of Jesus; and as we go forward, simply and fully trusting Him, we may be tested, we may have to wait and let patience have her perfect work; but we shall surely find at last the stone rolled away, and the Lord waiting to render unto us double for our time of testing. (Streams in the Desert)

Descending to LaGuardia International Airport turned into an unexpected faith examination. Due to storms in the area, we were the last plane to land before authorities shut down the airport for takeoffs and landings for more than two hours. Lightning created a strobe-like effect through the plane’s windows, and the plane itself felt like a paint can being shaken all directions at once. It was slightly humorous how many passengers seated nearby invoked God’s help in the press of the moment. I merely thanked God for His love and mercy, and resigned myself to whatever future remained, if any. Discipleship begins when crucifixion becomes personal; we grow in Christlikeness when we endure hardship with the spirit of Christ.

May 15

“And now men see not the bright light which is in the clouds: but the wind passeth, and cleanseth them.” Job 37:21

If we could see the clouds from the other side where they lie in billowy glory, bathed in the light they intercept, like heaped ranges of Alps, we should be amazed at their splendid magnificence. We look at their under side; but who shall describe the bright light that bathes their summits and searches their valleys and is reflected from every pinnacle of their expanse? Is not every drop drinking in health-giving qualities, which it will carry to the earth?

O child of God! If you could see your sorrows and troubles from the other side; if instead of looking up at them from earth, you would look down on them from the heavenly places where you sit with Christ; if you knew how they are reflecting in prismatic beauty before the gaze of Heaven, the bright light of Christ’s face, you would be content that they should cast their deep shadows over the mountain slopes of existence. Only remember that clouds are always moving and passing before God’s cleansing wind. (Streams in the Desert)

More often than not these days, I look around a room and recognize I am the oldest person present. Like it or not, I have embarked upon my senior years. As such, I find it increasingly difficult to relish the moment without allowing a creeping remorse that the moment may never be repeated. Call it nostalgia. Call it faithless. Call it ridiculous; but it is, nonetheless, real. The uptick is that I am gradually learning to value each moment in light of eternity.

Sipping morning coffee while watching birds carry out their own routine is simple pleasure. The sound of my wife in the kitchen calms my soul and whispers all is right in my world. Walking across rocks in tennis shoes is grace. Atop our breakfast table, a clothing catalogue cover boasts: “Discover your summer sanctuary.” Home is sanctuary. Holy moments and sacred space bathed in ordinary glory surround me. The simple joy of deep breathing morning air tinged with the hint of distant rain, looking into loving eyes, and lilting melody of a grandchild’s chuckle, is like looking down on clouds. I am beginning to understand why the elderly weep so easily. The nearer I get to Glory, the clearer I recognize Sacred Presence in the string of seemingly unexceptional moments that define here and now.

May 14

“In the selfsame day, as God had said unto him.” Genesis 17:23

Instant obedience is the only kind of obedience there is; delayed obedience is disobedience. Every time God calls us to any duty, He is offering to make a covenant with us; doing the duty is our part, and He will do His part in special blessing.

The only way we can obey is to obey “in the selfsame day,” as Abraham did. To be sure, we often postpone a duty and then later on do it as fully as we can. It is better to do this than not to do it at all. But it is then, at the best, only a crippled, disfigured, half-way sort of duty-doing; and a postponed duty never can bring the full blessing that God intended, and that it would have brought if done at the earliest possible moment. (Streams in the Desert)

“There must be no debate. The moment you obey the light, the Son of God presses through you in that particular; but if you debate you grieve the Spirit of God. . . . Never live on memories; let the word of God be always living and active in you.” (O. Chambers)

Following Jesus requires that I come to the end of myself; understanding how to get to the end and live beyond is the key to discipleship. Jesus lays out a clear sequence to follow that begins with, “let them deny themselves…”

The word “deny” means to claim no allegiance to someone or something. It is the word John Mark used to describe Peter’s denial of Jesus. As Peter stood in the courtyard of the high priest a short distance, keeping an eye on Jesus and watching his own back, a maiden asked him, “Do you know this man?” (Mark 14:66-72). Peter vehemently denied any allegiance to Jesus, to the point of swearing and cursing. This is exactly the word Jesus chooses for our first step of obedience. As long as my first thought is self-preservation or self-advancement, I leave no room for Jesus to be Lord. Surrender never takes place until I distrust myself. Delayed obedience discredits the Master, and disqualifies me as Christ’s disciple.

May 13

Happy Mother’s Day

“We know not what we should pray for as we ought.” Romans 8:26

The way to peace and victory is to accept every circumstance, every trial, straight from the hand of a loving Father; and to live up in the heavenly places, above the clouds, in the very presence of the Throne, and to look down from the Glory upon our environment as lovingly and divinely appointed. (Streams in the Desert)

As far back as I can remember, I have felt special, due in no part to anything about me; instead, that impression has everything to do with my mother and father. My earliest memory goes something like this, “Son, you’re special because we chose you.” I did not comprehend it at the time, and they may not have fully understood it themselves, but Henry and Lois established a sure foundation from which to embrace the reality. Being adopted was better, in my undeveloped mind, than having been their natural-born son, although I secretly wished that I had inherited my father’s height, his James Dean good looks, and his deep bass voice. Chalk it up to masterful child psychology coming from a boilermaker and a church librarian, mainly because it was heartfelt and honest. They were unable to have children of their own, so they chose to lavish their love on someone else’s miscalculation, redeeming both child and themselves in the process. They believed adoption to be the will of God for them, and truth be known, it was for my sister and me as well.

I wish that every child could develop according to the strong impression that she or he is special and chosen for greatness. The truth is, life is special and you are too. The Father says to each of us, “You are special, because I chose you.” (From Ordinary Glory: Finding Grace in the Commonplace by Dane Fowlkes)

May 12

“All things are possible to him that believeth.” Mark 9:23

The “all things” do not always come simply for the asking, for the reason that God is ever seeking to teach us the way of faith, and in our training in the faith life there must be room for the trial of faith, the discipline of faith, the patience of faith, the courage of faith, and often many stages are passed before we really realize what is the end of faith, namely, the victory of faith.

Real moral fibre is developed through discipline of faith. You have made your request of God, but the answer does not come. What are you to do? Keep on believing God’s Word; never be moved away from it by what you see or feel, and thus as you stand steady, enlarged power and experience is being developed. The fact of looking at the apparent contradiction as to God’s Word and being unmoved from your position of faith make you stronger on every other line. Often God delays purposely, and the delay is just as much an answer to your prayer as is the fulfillment when it comes. (Streams in the Desert)

I am in constant danger of re-creating God according to my own image—a milquetoast deity fits the bill. When it comes to how God looks at me, I want Mister Rogers, not William Wallace (Braveheart); soft when it comes to my shortcomings, understanding when it comes to my errors, and tender when it comes to my failure. The last thing I want is a standard bearer, a strong and demanding Warrior Captain, a relentless Coach that will not settle for anything less than that for which I was created. I may be hard on myself, but God should take it easy on me.

There’s only one problem with this whole business—the Omnipotent One refuses to fit into any mold of my own making. Our God is a God of grace, but his mercy is always in juxtaposition to relentless expectation. Remove the word “settle” from your Christian vocabulary—God grants unending grace, but he never settles for anything less than his plan for our lives.

May 11

“We went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place.” Psalm 66:12

Paradoxical though it be, only that man is at rest who attains it through conflict. This peace, born of conflict, is not like the deadly hush preceding the tempest, but the serene and pure-aired quiet that follows it.

It is not generally the prosperous one, who has never sorrowed, who is strong and at rest. His quality has never been tried, and he knows not how he can stand even a gentle shock. He is not the safest sailor who never saw a tempest; he will do for fair-weather service, but when the storm is rising, place at the important post the man who has fought out a gale, who has tested the ship, who knows her hulk sound, her rigging strong, and her anchor-flukes able to grasp and hold by the ribs of the world.

When first affliction comes upon us, how everything gives way! Our clinging, tendril hopes are snapped, and our heart lies prostrate like a vine that the storm has torn from its trellis; but when the first shock is past, and we are able to look up, and say, “It is the Lord,” faith lifts the shattered hopes once more, and binds them fast to the feet of God. Thus the end is confidence, safety, and peace. (Streams in the Desert)

Approaching the terminus of an extremely stressful season, I intended to say “I’m beginning to decompress,” but it came out “I’m beginning to decompose.” That may be nearer the truth than I care to admit. Twin hands of demand and limitation grip hard and threaten to pull me apart at the seams. It is as if I’m living out Nigerian author Achebe’s novel, “Things Fall Apart.” My problem is that I am not now nor ever will be a great multitasker, which puts me behind the eight ball much of the time. Obligation and opportunity rarely approach single-file; life rushes at us from all directions.

Thank God the Father stands at the confluence of pain and disillusionment with outstretched arms. Like a Good Samaritan He heals my broken heart and binds my wounds. For my sin I need a Savior; for my damaged spirit I need a Healer. He pours out tender mercy like soothing balm on burning skin. Better still, He applies grace to the hurt I keep hidden from everyone but Him.

“Jesus is sweet upon the tongue, melody to the ear and joy in the heart. But it is also a healing medicine. Is one among us sorrowful? Let Jesus come into his heart, and rise thence to his lips. And behold, at the risen light of Thy Name, every cloud is scattered, and calm returns. Has anyone fallen into sin? More, does anyone run despairing into a noose of death? If he calls upon the Name of Jesus, shall he not breathe again in life?” (St. Bernard of Clairvaux)