Listening Through Lent: When the Morning Comes

When the morning comes on the farthest hill
I will sing His name, I will praise Him, still.
When dark trials come and my heart is filled
With the weight of doubt, I will praise Him, still.

(Chorus)
For the Lord, our God, He is strong to save
From the arms of death, from the deepest grave,
And He gave us life in His perfect will,
And by His good grace, I will praise Him, still.

When the morning comes on the farthest hill
I will sing His name, I will praise Him, still.
When dark trials come and my heart is filled
With the weight of doubt, I will praise Him, still.

For the Lord, our God, He is strong to save
From the arms of death, from the deepest grave,
For the Lord, our God, He is strong to save
From the arms of death, from the deepest grave,
And He gave us life in His perfect will,
And by His good grace, I will praise Him, still.
~Fernando Ortega

 

Especially when we are hungry,
thirsty,
hurting,
lonely,
ill,
doubting~

He is there, waiting to hold us fast,
to rescue us from the brink
and carry us home.
~Emily Gibson

 

Grace Beyond Merit

So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.  But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
Romans 11: 5-6

“Good Friday and Easter– the days of God’s overpowering acts in history, acts in which God’s judgment and grace were revealed to all the world– are just around the corner.  Judgment in those hours in which Jesus Christ, our Lord, hung on the cross: grace in that hour in which death was swallowed up in victory.  It was not human beings who accomplished anything here: no, God alone did it.  He came to human beings in infinite love.  He judged what is human.  And he granted grace beyond any merit.”
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Our dog Sam does barn chores with me, always has from his puppy beginnings.  He runs up and down the aisles as I fill buckets, throw hay, and he’ll explore the manure pile out back and the compost pile and have stand offs with the barn cats (which he always loses).  We have our routine.  When I get done with chores, I whistle for him and we head to the house.

Except this morning.  I whistled when I was done and his furry little fox face didn’t appear as usual.  I walked back through both barns calling his name, whistling, no signs of Sam.  I walked to the fields, I walked back to the dog yard, I walked the road (where he never ever goes), I scanned the pond (yikes), I went back to the barn and glanced inside every stall, I went in the hay barn where he likes to jump up and down on stacked bales, looking for a bale avalanche he might be trapped under, or a hole he couldn’t climb out of.  Nothing.

Then as I passed by, I heard a little faint scratching inside one of the horses’ stalls, which I had just glanced in 10 minutes before.  The horse was peacefully eating hay.  Sam was standing with his feet up against the door as if asking what took me so long.  He must have scooted in when I filled up the water bucket, and I closed the door not knowing he was inside.  It was dark enough that I didn’t see him when I checked.

There was not a whimper or a bark when I called for him as I walked past that stall at least 10 times looking for him– he was patiently waiting for me to open the door out of my love and concern for him and set him free —  there was nothing he could do but wait.

It’s a Good Friday.  The lost is found even if he never felt lost to begin with.

But he was lost to me.  And that is what matters.

He was waiting for the grace of a closed door to be opened.

Today that door has been thrown wide open.
~Emily Gibson

Pinned to the Lord

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
II Corinthians 12:7-10

None of us like trouble, but it is inevitable in this fallen world, and Christians are not exempt.  In fact, the Bible is quite clear that we who know Christ, will sometimes suffer above and beyond the rest of humanity.

So what is God doing?  “Why?” is the familiar question on the lips and in the minds of sufferers. Well, II Corinthians 12, suggests two answers to the “why?”.

First God desires us to be humble.  Paul admits that it was to keep him from becoming conceited that he was given a thorn in the flesh.   Pride is the Evil One’s game, but in the Beatitudes Jesus blesses the poor, the meek, those who mourn and those who suffer.   The things we suffer drive us to the end of ourselves – humble us, break us, and make us useful to the Lord.  How precious to us, to be helplessly pinned to the Lord.  It is the path of true greatness.

Second, God’s purpose is to demonstrate his own grace and power.  Now, if  you wanted to showcase a gold trophy, you wouldn’t put gold foil behind it; that would detract from the trophy.  Instead, you would put black cloth behind it, so that only the trophy is seen.  Similarly, when God wants to demonstrate his mighty power and grace, he does not pick the strongest, most capable, most righteous people; he picks the weakest, most helpless people.  And against the backdrop of our darkest days, God’s glorious power and wisdom are displayed.
~Pastor Bert Hitchcock

Giving Ourselves Away

“I endure scorn for your sake, and shame covers my face.” 
Psalm 69:7

There is nothing so bitter as doing good, only to suffer evil for our efforts.  We expect to suffer consequences when we fail, but when we resist temptation, pursuing what is right, and then are accused and punished for things we did not do . . . such injustice is insufferable.

So, in keeping with the old adage, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,” we learn to avoid becoming vulnerable to such injustice, vowing “never again.”  We learn to recognize those who might abuse us and flee from them.  Indeed, we may close our hearts to the needy, knowing they will likely take advantage of us.But that is exactly the opposite of what Jesus did.  Though he deserved nothing less than the Father’s favor and the allegiance of his people, he emptied himself of self-interest, set aside his power, and let himself be misrepresented, unjustly accused, mistreated, laughed at, scorned, beaten, crucified and even mocked while he was dying.  He was not powerless to stop it; he willingly endured it for the sake of his Father, who had chosen to show grace to his enemies. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted:

God lets himself be pushed out of the world and onto the cross;
God is impotent and weak in the world yet specifically and only
so that he is with us and helps us.

And now, because we are the recipients of such blood-bought grace, He calls us to imitate the Son’s self-denial. His call is not about foregoing chocolate or lattes for the forty days of Lent. He calls us to a life of suffering injustice without bitterness, of facing scorn and derision unafraid, even of enduring pain and death without losing hope.  He calls us to a life of giving ourselves away expecting nothing in return, all for the glory of our Savior, who continues to show grace to undeserving people like us.
~Pastor Bert Hitchcock

Grace

Having grown up in the Episcopalian tradition, I’ve always associated the season of Lent with fasting. And I’m not very good at fasting in general. Which means I’m really bad at Lent. When I say bad, I mean really, really bad.

One year in college I tried to give up chocolate and found myself buying Coco Puffs at the grocery store because breakfast food can’t be considered chocolate, right? That was before I made a complete face plant into a chocolate fondue fountain at a social event.

Last year I tried to give up television and I didn’t even realize that I was watching television until I was into the second dvd of the Lord of the Rings trilogy at a movie marathon event.

This year I pretended that I didn’t even give anything up because I failed so quickly I didn’t even want to admit I’d tried.

Confronted by my own abysmal failure, I’ve spent some time pondering the purposes of Lent. I’ve always assumed that the fasting was intended to make us holier–that fasting during Lent eliminates something from our lives that is distracting us from God and in giving that one distraction up, we make ourselves into a worthier sacrifice.

But I realized that there’s a flaw in my thinking.

I, of my own volition, cannot make myself a worthier sacrifice. I am incapable of saving myself, reforming myself, purifying myself.

Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (5:16-18). He doesn’t say, “If you summon up enough will power, you will be able to resist your flesh.” No, he says that we master the desire of our flesh when we are led by the Spirit. And in order to be led, we need to submit, lay down our notions of spiritual grandeur, and follow.

While I know that I’ve failed at fasting, I don’t think this season has been wasted space because in my failure I’ve managed to acknowledge my own inability to fix myself and my desperate need for a Savior. And perhaps that’s the purpose of Lent–to see our abyss of sin, to become aware of how futile our attempts at holiness really are, and to be humbled at our own inability to master ourselves. And this is grace–that in our sinful weakness, Jesus would die for us. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross stands in starker contrast when you know he died for us as sinners, than if he had died for us, the self-reformed and perfectly-disciplined fasting-machines.

~Hilary Mulhern

“You give your help, not in proportion to our merit, but to our needs. You came for the sick and not for the healthy. How true I feel this is. I feel your love as you hold me to your Sacred Heart, my Beloved Jesus, my God, my Master, but I feel, too, the need I have of your tenderness, and of your caress because of my infinite weakness.” –From Meditations of a Hermit, by Charles de Foucauld

Grace Be With You

Our pastor Bert Hitchcock at Wiser Lake Chapel led an illuminating Sunday evening study of Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians, which ends with a few concise words in 4:18, the final verse.

I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

The Apostle shares remarkable humanity with his Christian brothers and sisters in these words that deserve deeper exploration over the next several days.  What initially caught my attention was the interesting contrast between the last line of the letter compared to the opening line in verse at the very beginning of the letter:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

What is the difference here in the greeting “Grace and peace to you” at the beginning and “Grace be with you” at the end?

The following explanation is proposed by Dr. John Piper (www.desiringgod.org)  in his book Future Grace:

“Paul has in mind that the letter itself is a channel of God’s grace to the readers. Grace is about to flow ‘from God’ through Paul’s writing to the Christians. So he says, ‘Grace to you.’ That is, grace is now active and is about to flow from God through my inspired writing to you as you read – ‘grace [be] to you.’ But as the end of the letter approaches, Paul realizes that the reading is almost finished and the question rises, ‘What becomes of the grace that has been flowing to the readers through the reading of the inspired letter?’ He answers with a blessing at the end of every letter: ‘Grace [be] with you.’ With you as you put the letter away and leave the church. With you as you go home to deal with a sick child and an unaffectionate spouse. With you as you go to work and face the temptations of anger and dishonesty and lust. With you as you muster courage to speak up for Christ over lunch. . . . [Thus] we learn that grace is ready to flow to us every time we take up the inspired Scriptures to read them. And we learn that grace will abide with us when we lay the Bible down and go about our daily living” (Future Grace, 66-67).

This is what it is like each Sunday, as I enter Wiser Lake Chapel, and am filled with the Word from Pastor Bert’s inspired teaching.  The spirit flows from our Pastor’s study of the Word, to accompany each of us as we go about our week.  Grace to, and then with us.

Just as Paul intended for his brothers and sisters.  We are deeply blessed.

~E Gibson