Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Like a Snap of the Fingers

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come . . . (Ecclesiastes 12:1).

As I read Solomon’s words my thoughts traced back to an article I’d read years ago about former Beatle George Harrison. A year before his death at age 58, Harrison confessed that the last forty years of his life passed so quickly, they seemed like the snap of his fingers.

I wouldn’t say my last forty years passed that fast. They seem more like a few months than a quick snap. Nonetheless, forty years in a few months is pretty fast, and for those who take the time to consider the clock’s haste, Harrison’s comment resonates with wisdom.

And with warning.

Solomon discovered near the end of his life what many who are older try to convince those who are younger: Like a relentless drum-beat, our calendar pages drop like autumn leaves in a wind storm; and the time will come, for each of us, when our time runs out.

When that happens, we will be glad to have remembered – and served – our Creator.

While we had the time.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Into Thy Hands -- the Seventh Word

Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know. (Jeremiah 33:3)

The last seven words (statements, actually) of Jesus as He hung on Golgotha's cross are among the most encouraging of all Scripture. Here is the last of the seven:

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
(Luke 23:46)

Can the Father be trusted, even in our darkest and most desperate moment? It’s an important question to articulate aloud because doubts course through our minds anyway. And God hears those questions in our thoughts as easily as He hears them from our lips.

Can He be trusted to do what is right and good at all times and in all situations? Jesus answered the question for Himself, for although God from God and Light from Light, Jesus was also at the same time fully man – with all the emotions of any other person. He knew fear, and hunger, and thirst, and grief, and loneliness, and anger . . .  

And pain.

Jesus did not want to die. Three times in the garden He pleaded with the Father, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.”  But in the end, of course, He would do His Father’s will.

Why would He do that? Many reasons, certainly. But one floats now to the top of my mind – because He loved His Father more than His own life. And His love for the Father brought confidence in His goodness, His tenderness, and of His reciprocal love.

“Into Thy hands I commit My spirit.”

Good Friday is good because even as the Father’s beloved Jesus carried that cross to Golgotha, God at the same time demonstrated His love for you and for me in that while we mocked His Son, cursed Him, shook our fist at Him in defiance – the Father watched His Son die for us.

“Into Thy hands I commit my spirit.”

What darkness envelopes you today? What sadness, or emptiness, or loneliness, or pain overshadows your soul?  And if not today, then wait a while. Life is full of such things as can tear our soul to its very core. Jesus loved His Father so much that even in His darkest moment He remained confident that the Father’s love was so deep and abiding that nothing – not even death – could separate them. And so Jesus is our preeminent example of what love for the Father can do for us in our dark times. Love for God can generate hope, and hope will never disappoint because God’s love will unfold in our hearts through the Holy Spirit given to us – a love so deep and abiding that we will know, in the very core of our soul, that nothing will separate us.

“Into Thy hands I commit my spirit.”

Can God be trusted? What do we think? What will we do?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sealed With a Kiss

And He shall be the stability of your times, a wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge . . . (Isaiah 33:6)

When I was a teenager during the 60s (long before email) boyfriends and girlfriends often sent handwritten notes to each other and penned these letters -- SWAK -- on the back of the sealed envelope. They stood for "Sealed With A Kiss."

I do not think it coincidental that during the past several months, as I permitted myself to get spun up about the political issues facing America, a passage in Isaiah grabbed my attention, and with it, the memory of SWAK resurfaced: And He will be the Stability of your times, a Wealth of salvation, wisdom And Knowledge; The fear of the Lord is his treasure (Isaiah 33:6).

Despite what seems to be storm clouds on the horizon, and regardless of the machinations in places of political and financial power across our nation and world, God reaches toward those who trust Him, toward those who love Him, toward those who seek Him in obedience -- and Seals them With A Kiss.

Surely, our trust in God is our stability during these troubled times. And for those who believe Him, He is a wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge. Our fear (and reverence) of Him is our true treasure.

And that is something to encourage us.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

It is Finished -- The Sixth Word on the Cross

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens . . . . (Revelation 3:7)

The last seven words (statements, actually) of Jesus as He hung on Golgotha's cross are among the most encouraging of all Scripture. Here is the sixth of the seven:

“It is finished”
(John 19:30)

Perhaps no other statement of Jesus on Golgotha’s hill means so much to me as “It is finished.” I spent weeks contemplating why that is true, and decided the answer is best illustrated by an incident that happened to me 55 years ago.

My friend Steve and I were eight years old. When my family visited his we often explored the undeveloped land near his new home. During one visit, as we played in and around houses in varying degrees of construction, we spotted a field of cattails. “Let’s play hide and seek” he challenged. In a moment he was racing through the cattails while I counted to 100.

The cattails swayed gracefully in the autumn breeze as I chased after him, pushing farther into the midst of the field. They were tall cattails . . . taller than I, and so thick I could push through them only with great effort. But soon they were no longer my concern. The darkening sky caught my attention and I stopped to scan in all directions. It was a futile effort. I couldn't see anything except the thin pale stalks around me.

"Hey, Steve!" I called aloud.

No answer.

"Steve!" I shouted against the rustling grasses. “Where are you? I'm not playing anymore." My stomach churned.

Then I heard him in the distance, "Riiiiichard!"

"Here! Over here," I shouted back. Breathing faster, I pushed into the wall of weeds. "Steeeeevennnnn! Where are you?"

"Over here!" He sounded closer.

At last, I heard him crunch‑crunching nearby. In a moment we faced each other. Sweat beaded on our flushed faces.

"Where were you?" I accused. "It got dark pretty quick and I figure we'd better be gettin' home."

"I was looking for you," he defended himself.

"Well, come on," I urged, not wanting to waste any more time, "let's get outta here."

"Which way is out?" he asked.

I stared at him. "Don't you know?"

He shook his head.

"But . . . but you live here."

"Yeah," he started, "But I've never been here before. Especially not in the dark."

We stared at each other a moment longer.

"Well," I said finally. "Let's go this way," I pointed to the left. Without speaking, we lunged against the weeds. It was a long time before either of us spoke.

"I think we're lost," I said softly.

Steve didn't answer.

"What do you think?"

He ignored me.

"What are we gonna do?" I stopped. Fear gnawed at me.

"I don't know," he shrugged his shoulders hopelessly. He’d been crying. "Maybe if we called out for help?" he whimpered.

"Hellllllp!" we chorused together. "Hellllllp!"

We listened . . . . And we tried again. And again. And again.

"Maybe we should pray," Steve said.

Wiping the sweat from my face, I nodded agreement. Neither of us was being raised in religious homes. In the years our families had known each other, the only time we ever heard God’s name mentioned was as a swear word or a casual exclamation of surprise. But now, lost in a tangle of fear and desperation, we both knew this situation called for help far beyond our capabilities. We closed our eyes and begged God to help us find our way home.

After a time, the ground grew soggy beneath our muddied shoes and we broke through to a clearing. The calm bay waters lapped the shore at our feet. We could see the lights of homes across the water.

"Doesn't look very far away," Steve suggested.

I shook my head. "No, it doesn't," I answered, lost in thought. "D'ya think we could swim it?"

We stared across the water. Finally, I sighed in resignation. "Maybe not." And so we once again turned back to the weeds, sobbing freely as we trudged on. Every now and then we prayed aloud, "God, please help us. God, please help us."

Then suddenly, it happened. Just like that. We broke through to a clearing. Wood framed houses rose before us . . . the same ones we played in earlier that day.

"We made it!" Steve shouted, his eyes dancing. "We made it, Oh thank you, God! We made it!"

As the years passed, life took me through many twists and turns. Memories of how God answered our desperate childhood prayer drifted into the forgotten recesses of my mind. I was too busy with life to think of such long-forgotten terrors.

But those twists and turns more often than not brought me into other fields of weeds, weeds so tall I no longer knew which way was out. The sun hardly filtered through the unyielding stalks of lust, envy, arrogance, pride, and greed. And every now and then, when I broke through to a clearing, I discovered disaster awaiting my next move.

I don’t know why it took so long, but I finally realized I needed help beyond my own ability. I had come to the end of my hope, my strength, my intellect, my understanding. So once again I prayed to the One I had for so long ignored. I asked first for forgiveness of my many sins, and then asked for help in finding my way out of the moral darkness enveloping me.

And that’s when it happened. Suddenly. Just like that, I broke through to the clearing. God opened my eyes to His Son’s sacrificial death, a death I so very much deserved, but a death Christ paid for me. I needed God’s forgiveness. In return He not only forgave me – but He showed me His love was greater than all my rebellion. And I knew I was home.


Just like when Jesus said, “It is finished.”

Because of the years I lived in rebellion, I didn’t know Scripture called me a child of the devil.* But when Jesus finished His work on Golgotha He gave me the right to become a child of God.** Oh, I love to remember it! To me – the one who repeatedly spit in God’s face, who led others into mortal sin, who even killed his child in an abortion clinic – Jesus offered my penitent soul the right to be called a child of almighty God.

“It is finished.”

Struggling as often as I did to turn my life around, I didn’t know Scripture declared me a captive of Satan.*** But when Jesus declared, “It is finished”, His blood ransomed me from the devil’s grip and set me free.

“It is finished.”

My sins earned me God’s wrath.**** Like the sword of Damocles, it hung over my head. But, oh, when Jesus said, “It is finished” God directed His wrath, wrath I so worthily deserved, onto Jesus’ body.*****

“It is finished.”

Yes, no longer lost. No longer a prisoner. No longer a child of darkness. When Jesus spilled His blood on Golgotha and said, “It is finished” He meant it. His work of salvation was finished. And no power on earth or in hell could – or can – change it.

It is finished.

*For example, 1 John 3:8
**For example, John 1:10-13
***For example, 2 Timothy 2:25-26
****For example, Ephesians 5:5-7
*****For example, Isaiah 53:5-6