After our evening service devotions on John 15, I was reminded of a poem by Annie Johnson Flint.
Abiding in Christ. It is the branch that bears the fruit, That feels the knife, To prune it for a larger growth, A fuller life. Though every budding twig be lopped, And every grace Of swaying tendril, springing leaf, Be lost a space. O thou whose life of joy seems rift, Of beauty shorn: Whose aspirations lie in dust, All bruised and torn, Rejoice, tho each desire, each dream, Each hope of thine Shall fall and fade, it is the hand of love define That holds the knife, that cuts and breaks with tenderest touch, That thou, whose life has borne some fruit Mays’t now bear much. ~Annie Johnson Flint.
Finishing with the book of Ruth I remembered a quote Barb Hoelle shared with us from a Matthew Henry commentary on the Book of Ruth:
“Thus God takes away from us the comforts we stay ourselves too much upon and solace ourselves too much in, here in the land of our sojourning, that we may think more of our home in the other world. and by faith and hope may hasten towards it. EARTH IS EMBITTERED TO US, THAT HEAVEN MAY BE ENDEARED.” ~Matthew Henry
“Let Him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east.” ― Gerard Manley Hopkins
The bright light of Easter morning can tend to dim over time as we return our daily routines, which these days are anything but “routine.” In mere days, we may allow humdrum to replace the extraordinary, tragedy to overcome celebration, darkness once again overwhelming dawn. The world and our pandemic situation will encourage this, and it is up to us to offer up resistance. Otherwise, we climb right back into the tomb of our sin, move the huge stone back in place, and lie there waiting for rot to settle in.
I am not alone in this. I have plenty of company with me behind the stone. And there is no excuse for us to be there still.
The stone is pushed aside, the burden shouldered, the debt completely paid.
So we can’t allow the light to dim.
He is risen. We are eastered.
Even in these extraordinary times, we need to live our lives illuminated by that truth.
Let’s keep writing, Chapel folks! Easter is never over just because the calendar says it is. Send your thoughts, your prayers, your thanksgiving and your favorite hymns to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It will be shared here.
Are we or were we once slaves? To whom? The answer given to all of us in scripture is: yes, but it’s not to whom, but to what.
The ‘what’ is sin. The Apostle Paul says that when Adam died that all of us have inherited his curse for his sin: death, the penalty for sin. Paul says yes, we are slaves and can be bought: Romans 6:17 “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.”
How? Could we ever have been bought by a good Master and then given the freedom to enjoy a life of gratitude dedicated to Him? What word describes this purchase and freedom given to a sinner beyond impossible cost?
Dictionaries – Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology – Redeem, Redemption:Finding its context in the social, legal, and religious customs of the ancient world, the metaphor of redemption includes the ideas of loosing from a bond, setting free from captivity or slavery, buying back something lost or sold, exchanging something in one’s possession for something possessed by another, and ransoming.
So we are redeemed if we have faith in Christ’s work of obedience and redemption.
Now what? Why is it still so hard?
Because sin is still in the world and it still affects us. John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
I was cutting some fire wood for home one time and had a vine maple spring pole hit me in the face. A spring pole is a live limb that has been held down by a fallen tree. It is under tension and can travel several feet quickly when released. My face was its target that day and I eventually had thirteen stitches sewn into my lower lip, some inside and some outside. As soon as I was hit I knew that I would be miserable for two weeks.
As I was in the doctor’s waiting room (45 minutes) I knew the tribulation spoken of by the Lord was upon me.
I then realized that it could have been even worse because breaking news of the Gulf war was on TV and I saw that there were guys being injured much more severely than I was.
There is an abyss of tribulation or struggle with our own sin into which we sometimes fall. How far? Is it endless? Sometimes we have only one hope left during these times and we cling to that because He told us to.
The Lord has promised to be with us through the plunge and I realized that no matter how far the fall that there is Someone Who will always be there and He will catch me. It will end and we shall ever be at peace and face to face with Him.
Happy and Blessed Resurrection Day!
“In all the things that cause me pain You give me eyes to see.
“Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.” – Psalm 32:1-2
In our world and our times we have a pretty mild view of sin. In fact, “sin” is not the word we would most often use to describe wrong-doing; it just sounds too harsh. So, almost half the synonyms for “sin” in my thesaurus are more gentle words – words like error, fault, misdeed, shortcoming, deficiency, or imperfection. And when we are talking about those kinds of sin, we find it pretty easy to forgive both others and ourselves.
But the Bible speaks of sin in a much more serious way: Sins are not just mistakes to be overlooked; sin is bold-faced defiance, intentional disobedience, and self-centeredness to the point of harming others and offending a holy God. Those sins we find more difficult to overlook, let-alone forgive. So what can we do when we realize that even while knowing better, we ourselves have blatantly, knowingly, offended the Lord? We have disobeyed Him so brazenly that if we were He, we would never forgive such a crime.
Well, when that happens we tend to believe that God’s grace has run out, and now it is up to us to make atonement – to work off our sin. But self-atonement is never enough for intentional, sins against God. As has always been the case, only Jesus’ complete sacrifice of Himself, as He died on the cross, can forgive and cleanse our souls. Every other payment is just too little, too late.
But radical forgiveness is exactly what Jesus has purchased for us. He takes the weight of our sin that buckled our knees, and carries it away – Jesus becomes our scape-goat. He takes the blemish of sin that we could not hide, and removes it – washes it clean with the blood of Jesus. And he takes the guilt of our sin and drops the charges – charging Jesus with our crimes, while crediting Jesus’ righteous to our account. This perfect, inexhaustible atonement is our only hope of forgiveness! But as the familiar hymn boldly announces, it is enough! “My sin – O the bliss of this glorious thought! – my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more; Praise the Lord, it is well with my soul”
Psalm 144:3 O Lord, what is man that you regard him, or the son of man that you think of him?
4 Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.
Job 7:16(b) Leave me alone, for my days are a breath.
James 4:13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—
14yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
15Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
16As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
17So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
Breath has various features, one being its life-giving role. In the passages above, though, one element is in focus. Man, at least in his days as a mortal, is fleeting. In fact, “breath” in the ESV passages above is but one of several Hebrew words or roots assigned that translation. Some, such as roo-akh, have the additional connotation “spirit,” with different assemblages of possible meanings for others. The breath of this passage is hebel, the word most famous for its multiple appearances in Ecclesiastes as “vanity,” “meaningless,” “futile,” or “vapor,” depending on one’s preferred Bible version. Elsewhere in scripture, it may be rendered “fleeting,” “emptiness,” “delusion,” “worthless,” or even “idols.” While the etymology is uncertain (according to my quick and untrained perusing), some support seems to exist for the fundamental/literal meaning being “breath” (e.g. Is 57:13, “a breath will take them away”), with the others derived from the transitivity of that breath.
While some of us, perhaps especially in our youth, may consciously or unconsciously have thought we were invulnerable to death, recent events (even though the elderly have been disproportionately impacted) likely have increased awareness of the potential for life suddenly to be swept away. And just as the designation “breath” in these passages is not exclusively applied to Christians but to all flesh, so the awareness that an individual’s time on this earth is short is not an insight only spiritually discerned. A person uttering that “life is short” would not be accused of Bible thumping. Indeed, the average unbeliever gauges the universe as older than does the average Christian and thus views his or her life (and that of humanity collectively) as an even smaller speck on the timeline. Nevertheless, our response differs At least, it should. Attitudes of the worldly have included “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die” (Is 22:13, 1 Co 15:32), and rightly so, according to Paul, if the dead are not raised. The frivolous sentiment is in contrast but not inconsistent with other non-Christian reactions to mortality, such as the inconsolable grieving of lost loved ones by those “who have no hope” (1 Th 4:14). The combination is a pitiable one, and it will only be worse in the day to come when the lost will seek death and not find it.
Legitimate reactions to our life’s span are plentiful in Scripture. We should not ignore mortality but follow the psalmist (90:12) in asking that the Lord “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Regard our God, whose days are from everlasting to everlasting, with great reverence, even some form of fear (1 Pe 2:17). We must not allow ourselves to think that God ever is impotent or needs our favors—he owns “the cattle on a thousand hills” (Ps 50:10), while “we are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10). Even if at some time you cry out “Why?” regarding his plan for our lives or for the world, never countenance the thought that his will is deficient. I was not around when God made behemoth (Job 40:15). No temptation I face “is not common to man” (1 Co 10:13). I should learn from those who came before (e.g. James 5:10) and be wary of those who claim to uncovered something new about God (Ecc 1:9, Heb 13:9) or this existence. I came from dust, to thence shall return (Ge 3:19), and continually should humble myself and repent of my short-sighted ways. “Make the best use of the time” (Eph 5:16). To Paul, living in the body should mean fruitful labor (Phil 1:22). One with a transformed heart will not be complacent (e.g., Amos 6:1) but will care about the lost (witness the degree of Paul’s anguish in Romans 9:3) and seek to be an obedient instrument in the kingdom that builds on the right foundation (1 Co 3), while not fretting about the outcomes. We should, moreover, not fill storehouses with our wealth that will one day vanish but build up treasures in heaven (Mt 6:20) and look to the interests of others (Phil 2:4).
We may be thankful and enjoy this life while we have it, however (e.g., Ecc 5:19, Prov 5:18). And we should not see our transcendent God as distant. We rightly rejoice that the Christ who made the universe and is the head of all thing loved us enough to live and die for us and continually calls us to an intimate, loving relationship, naming us his friends, his bride, and all the other terms of endearment explored in these devotionals. We have confidence that those who have gone before are now present with the Lord (2 Co 5:8). We know that any “sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Ro 8:18). Finally, (and I’m sure I am omitting some implications of our breathiness), since I have preached much law in these comments, I will assert that though we fall short in understanding this life and suitably responding, Christ’s perfect obedience in his short life and payment in death means we will be judged as free from error and will perfectly enjoy and worship him for eons without end. Praise be to God.
Two hymns (one only an excerpt) below address related themes. I found videos for neither, though, so I include “Who Am I?” as a decent substitute.
What Is Life? ‘Tis But a Vapor. Thomas Kelly (1769-1855)
What is life? ’tis but a vapor, Soon it vanishes away; Life is like a dying taper: O, my soul, why wish to stay? Why not spread thy wings and fly Straight to yonder world of joy? Why not spread thy wings and fly Straight to yonder world of joy?
Life Is a Span, A Fleeting Hour. Anne Steele (1717-1778)
1 Life is a span, a fleeting hour; How soon the vapour flies! Man is a tender transient, flow’r, That e’en in blooming dies.
2 The once-lov’d form, now cold and dead, Each mournful thought employs; And nature weeps her comforts fled, And wither’d all her joys.
3 But wait the interposing gloom, And lo! stern winter flies; And, dress’d in beauty’s fairest bloom, The flow’ry tribes arise.
4 Hope looks beyond the bounds of time, When what we now deplore Shall rise in full immortal prime And bloom to fade no more.
5 Then cease, fond nature! cease thy tears; Religion points on high: There everlasting spring appears, And joys that cannot die.
Who Am I? Casting Crowns
I am a flower quickly fading Here today and gone tomorrow A wave tossed in the ocean A vapor in the wind Still you hear me when I’m calling Lord, you catch me when I’m falling And you’ve told me who I am I am yours