Three Questions and Three Answers

Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?  –Luke 24:26

Michael Card, a Christian musician and author, has some amazing thoughts about the crucifixion.  This very articulate writer has 37 albums, 27 books, and over 19 #1 hits.  And yet his goal in life has always been to “simply and quietly teach the Bible.”  I love his writing; it’s powerful in his unique, close relationship with our Lord.  He wrote the delightful book, Joy in the Journey, from which the following quotes came as he explained his song-writing process for one piece in particular.  These words are profound, in my opinion.

The trappings of the crucifixion had always puzzled me.  Why was it necessary that a close friend betray Jesus?  Why the crown of thorns, that grim tribute to humor?  Why the cross–wasn’t there some other way for him to die?  I had been playing with those three questions, trying to make them sound lyrical, in other words trying to make them sound pretty.  But they aren’t pretty questions.

I had finished three verses of a song incorporating the questions.  I had planned to write one chorus which would answer all three.  That proved to be as impossible as the questions themselves.  So I did the only thing a committed seeker of the Truth could do:  I gave up and put them away in a drawer!

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  –Hebrews 12:2

Weeks after I gave up and put away my three song verses, I was awakened in the night with three separate choruses going through my mind, something that had never happened before and has never happened since.  To my trilogy of vain, cynical questions the Lord gave three unexpected answers:

Why did it have to be a friend?  Because only a friend comes close enough to cause such pain.

Why the thorny crown?  Because  in this life, the only kind of crown the world would give such a Lover is a crown of thorns.

Why did it have to be a cross?  Because the cross is the place for a thief.  And Jesus had come to steal the world’s heart away.

Now each time I listen to the song, I hear two separate voices:  my own pessimistic voice asking the meaningless why questions, and another gentler Voice speaking the wonderful answers.  –Michael Card

 

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Stop and Think

In my last post I spoke about the word “Selah,” as seen in the Hebrew Bible, and what it means to me.  Stop.  Wait.  Listen.  Think.

Here are some examples of the use of the word “Selah” in the Old Testament (all from the NLT version of the Bible).  Stop and think about what you just read each time you see the word “Selah.”

O LORD, I have so many enemies; so many are against me.  So many are saying, “God will never rescue him!”  Selah.  But you, O LORD, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.  I cried out to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy mountain.  Selah. –Psalm 3:1-4

Don’t sin by letting anger control you.  Think about it overnight and remain silent.  Selah.  –Psalm 4:4

Who is the King of glory?  The LORD, strong and mighty; the LORD, invincible in battle.  Open up, ancient gates!  Open up, ancient doors, and let the King of glory enter.  Who is the King of glory?  The LORD of Heaven’s Armies–he is the King of glory.  Selah.  –Psalm 24:7-10

God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.  So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea.  Let the oceans roar and foam.  Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!  Selah.  –Psalms 46:1-3

Listen to my prayer, O God.  Pay attention to my plea.  For strangers are attacking me; violent people are trying to kill me.  They care nothing for God.  Selah.  But God is my helper.  The LORD keeps me alive!  Psalms 54:2-4

I cry out to God Most High, to God who will fulfill his purpose for me.  He will send help from heaven to rescue me, disgracing those who hound me.  Selah.  My God will send forth his unfailing love and faithfulness.  Psalms 57:2-3

O my people, trust in him at all times.  Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge.  Selah.  Psalm 62:8

Remember how short my life is, how empty and futile this human existence!  No one can live forever; all will die.  No one can escape the power of the grave.  Selah. Psalm 89:47-48

 

Broken and Irreversible

Today I’m sharing more great quotes from my journals.  See if any of these speak particularly to your life and situation today:

Our yesterdays hold broken and irreversible things for us.  It is true that we have lost opportunities that will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into constructive thoughtfulness for the future.  Let the past rest, but let it rest in the sweet embrace of Christ.  Leave the broken, irreversible past in His hands and step out into the invincible future with Him.  — Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth thrown in.  Aim at Earth and you will get neither.  — C. S. Lewis

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.  — Isaiah 26:3 (NLT)

To reach the point of Heaven we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it–but we must sail, and not drift, nor be at anchor.  — Oliver Wendell Holmes

Ring the bells that still can ring; forget your perfect offering.  There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.  –Leonard Cohen

God does not give us overcoming life; He gives life as we overcome.  The storm is the strength.  If there is no strain there is no strength.  Are you asking God to give you life and liberty and joy?  He cannot unless you will accept the strain.  Immediately you face the strain, you will get the strength.  — Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Worship is giving God the best that He has given you.  Be careful what you do with the best you have.  Whenever you get a blessing from God, give it back to Him as a love-gift.  Take time to meditate before God and offer the blessing back to Him in a deliberate act of worship…It must be given back to Him so that He can make it a blessing to others.  — Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust in them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through was a longing…For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we nave not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.  — C. S. Lewis

Trust

I have found a Christian author that seems to articulate so much that I have been thinking about lately.  He’s really focused on God as our sovereign ruler and King, ever present and powerful.  Here is an excerpt, including two scriptures and a quote from another author, followed by a prayer:

Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed Him as His counselor?  Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten Him, and who taught Him the right way?  Who was it that taught Him knowledge or showed Him the path of understanding?  — Isaiah 40:13-14 (NIV)

Who instructed God?  Whom did He consult?  think of what we’ve learned about the design of the human body–the amazing intricacy and efficiency of a single cell, the sheer magnitude of the connecting fibers between nerve cells in the brain.  Who could have served as the Lord’s consultant on a design task like that?  Could you or I?

It’s an absurd question, isn’t it?  Yet we continually want to be God’s adviser in His providential workings.  We continually want to tell Him how certain circumstances should be changed.  Or worse, we question God’s wisdom when we can’t understand what He’s doing.

How fathomless the depths of God’s resources, wisdom and knowledge!  How unsearchable His decisions, and how mysterious His methods!  For who has ever understood the thoughts of the Lord, or has ever been His adviser?  Glory to Him forever!  — Romans 11:33-36 (Charles B. Williams Translation)

To this end may the following words from J. L. Dagg encourage us:

It should fill us with joy that infinite wisdom guides the affairs of the world.  Many of its events are shrouded in darkness and mystery, and inextricable confusion sometimes seems to reign.  Often wickedness prevails, and God seems to have forgotten the creatures that He has made.  Our own path through life is dark and devious, and beset with difficulties and dangers.  How full of consolation is the doctrine that infinite wisdom directs every event, brings…light out of darkness, and, to those who love God, causes all things, whatever be their present aspect and apparent tendency, to work together for good.  — Dagg, Manual of Theology, pg. 91.

So with joy and consolation let us stand in awe of the infinite wisdom of God manifested in creation, providence, and redemption.  But let’s do more.  One of the marks of a God-fearing person is to trust in the Lord:  “The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love”  (Psalm 147:11).  To hope in His unfailing love is to trust Him.  As we stand in awe, let us trust Him, even when we don’t understand what He is doing.

O infinite God!  Who has understood Your mind or instructed You as Your counselor?  Before the universe was created it existed in all its intricate complexity in Your vast mind.  Even the tiny cells in our bodies testify to the sheer brilliance of Your creative genius.  But while we marvel at Your creation, we confess that we often wonder at Your providence.  Help us to learn that You ways truly are higher than our ways, and that You are always working for our good despite the many things we don’t understand.  May we fear You by trusting You.  And may we ever praise You through Jesus our Lord and Savior.  Amen –Jerry Bridges, The Joy of Fearing God, pg. 94-95

Are any of you struggling with life events right now?  Do you wonder how things could go so “wrong?”  If you are trusting Jesus for salvation, you need not fear.  God is sovereign and working all things together for good (Romans 8:28-29).  We don’t have to try to control, manipulate, worry, be anxious or force anything to happen.  It all comes together in His time and way, completely beyond our understanding, or weak efforts to control.  Wait and trust; watch and see what God will do!  Listen for His voice of calm, wisdom, instruction and assurance; trust Him, rather than trusting yourself.

Change the World

I read a great devotion from one of our local pastors in our newspaper’s “Minister’s Moments” recently, and have asked permission to share it in full (make sure you read to the very end). This is so true and helpful, especially in times like these.  He begins with a quote from another writer:

Part of the truth always includes our own shortcomings.  We do well to begin by confessing them.  When I confess my own sins, I tend to make peace, and when I confess the other person’s sins, I tend to make war. — Samuel M. Shoemaker

It is only natural to want to blame something or someone.  Holding people accountable rings hollow because it has been said so many times with no measurable change.  The finger pointing, telling others that they are responsible, the media is to blame and the list goes on, does not change the perception and action in our society.  Our public conversations don’t go anywhere but around and around with no real path toward a resolution.  My role in this?  I get silent and stew.

Then this prayer comes to mind and I add the emphasis in italics.  “Lord, make us (me) instrument(s) of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let us (me) sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.  Grant that we (I) may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.  For it is in giving that we (I) receive; it is in pardoning that we (I) are/am pardoned; and it is in dying that we (I) are/am born to eternal life” [quote from St. Francis of Assisi].

I realize this prayer is about me.  I am not going to pretend that love will solve all the ills of society.  I cannot change somebody’s life, but I can change mine.  What I can do is pay close attention to those around me.  Not to get others to do my will, but to seek to understand their fears, hopes, and dreams.  I don’t seek to explain their and my fears away; I acknowledge that their fear is real for all of us.

How will I turn the tide of fear and hostility?  I will work on living beyond the anxiety of this point in history.  I will acknowledge my own dread and hostility and not share it with others.  I will work on going in a different direction; I will go toward the hope, when faced with despair; I will move toward the light when in darkness; I can seek faith when in doubt; and when I am sad I will work on being open to joy.  I can seek understanding before explaining.  I will own the power of my own humanity and love.  For me, it is about affirming the dignity of every human being through the love of Christ.  This is how I choose to change the world and make peace for myself and for others.  — Rev. Doug Wasinger, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Buffalo Bulletin, 2/21/18

 

Perfect Peace

Today I’m sharing more of my favorite quotes from my journal.  Some of the quotes contain my Word of the Year — Joy — but some don’t.  These words are uplifting, positive and true.

Hallelujah!  I give thanks to God with everything I’ve got — wherever good people gather, and in the congregation. God’s works are so great, worth a lifetime of study–endless enjoyment!  — Psalm 111:1-2 (MSG)

You will keep him in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You!  — Isaiah 26:3 (NLT)

So turn to me and be helped — saved! — everyone, whoever and wherever you are.  I am GOD, the only God there is, the one and only.  — Isaiah 45:22 (MSG)

The commandments of the LORD are right, bringing joy to the heart.  — Psalm 19:8a (NLT)

Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight.  Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of sin.  — Romans 4:7-8 (NLT)

 

Surprised by Joy

One of my favorite authors is C. S. Lewis (who hasn’t been stunned by his words in the book, Mere Christianity?).  What a deep, wise thinker he is!  I managed to find an old, used copy of the book, The Joyful Christian, which has 127 readings from C. S. Lewis.  The forward, by William Griffin, had this to say about Lewis:

If there is one word to describe Lewis’ life, it would be joy.  The harmonizing of himself with the rest of the created world, the process that led him from atheism through theism and pantheism to Christianity, he has described as joy.  His lectures and books, the ones dealing with things theological, can also be described as a sort of joy in that they attempt to attune the modern intellect to the facts and truths of Christianity.  His marriage in 1957 was an intense, if very brief, joy of a different sort; Joy Davidson was her name; she died of cancer three years later.  And since 1963, when he died at the age of sixty-five, he has no doubt been about the serious business of heaven, which he fully expected to be joy.  — The Joyful Christian, pg. xiii

Lewis himself was a convert.  It happened on the way to a zoo.  His brother was driving a motorcycle; he was riding in the sidecar.  At the beginning of the trip he did not believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God.  Somewhere along the way–he was not blinded like St. Paul on the road to Damascus nor was he sprung from the sidecar by a piece of piano wire divinely strung across the roadway–he was, as he recounts in his autobiography, “surprised by joy.”  At the end of the trip he found himself believing what he thought he never could.  — The Joyful Christian, pg. xii

In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him. — C. S. Lewis, quoted in Patches of Godlight, Jan Karon, pg. 21

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.  We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us… — C. S. Lewis, Weight of Glory, pg. 26

Joy is the serious business of heaven.  — C. S. Lewis, The Business of Heaven, pg. 13

No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.  Those who week find.  To those who knock it is opened.  — C. S. Lewis, The Business of Heaven, pg. 142