It was a delightful meal. One of my children, however, had turned their nose up at the food. “Ewww,” came the reply. Picking through the food, I watched this child struggle to eat every bite. “Com’on!” came my encouragement. “You can do it!” We all have to give and take a bit!
And then came dessert: coconut cream pie. The kids knew that I wasn’t so keen on it. “Com’on, dad! You can do it!”
Every family member has unique tastes: some are delight and others…not so much! Learning to be a family, however, means learning to give and take because we love one another.
The same is true in the body of Christ. “Have the same love…prefer one another,” Paul tells the Philippians “looking not to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:4-5).
Yet it is so easy to create little factions in the body of Christ. A favourite teacher (Paul? Apollos? Cephas? Christ? See 1 Cor 1:12). Or spiritual elites (tongues, anyone? See 1 Cor. 12-14). How about how free I am to exercise Christian liberties over your weak conscience (see 1 Cor. 8)? Hymns vs. choruses. Organic food vs. No Frills. Expressiveness vs. solemnity. Homeschool vs. public school. And on and on the list goes.
Too often, the church hammers away at unity, but often at the expense of diversity, forgetting the essential nature of love. The one God is united in essence and purpose, yet diverse as the triune God in complementary roles and responsibilities, connected in love. We are one with Christ, seated with him in the heavenlies, and yet distinct from Christ, who loved us and gave himself up for us. All believers comprise the one universal church, and yet each church is distinct in her make-up, uniquely bringing the gospel to bear on the life of her community.
One day, we will stand before the throne of grace together, with all of our distinct languages, cultural backgrounds, and unique gifts. Yet together we will worship the One True Living God and be one in purpose. Heaven will be a world of love where my brother’s worship, unique gifts, and greater rewards will only be an encouragement to my worship of God.
And if heaven is a world of love where we are one in heart and mind and purpose but unique in our gifts, backgrounds, and expressions of delight, then I must learn to love now. Unity isn’t something we create, manufacture, or push. It is a by-product of love. I may not like Kentucky bluegrass music, but I love my brother in Christ who does, and I will learn to delight in his delight in God.
Pass the coconut cream pie. I hope you’ll enjoy that extra big slice. But I’ll take a very small slice, if you please!
1. O how shall I receive Thee,
How greet Thee, Lord, a-right?
All nations long to see Thee,
My hope, my heart’s delight!
O kindle, Lord, most holy,
Thy lamp within my breast,
To do in spirit lowly
All that may please Thee best.
2. Thy Zion palms is strewing,
And branches fresh and fair;
My heart its powers renewing,
An anthem shall prepare.
My soul puts off her sadness
Thy glories to proclaim;
With all her strength and gladness
She fain would serve Thy Name.
3. I lay in fetters groaning,
Thou com’st to set me free!
I stood my shame bemoaning,
Thou com’st to honor me
A glory Thou dost give me,
A treasure safe on high
That will not fail nor leave me
As early riches fly.
4. Love caused Thy incarnation,
Love brought Thee down to me;
Thy thirst for my salvation
Procured my liberty.
O love beyond all telling,
That led Thee to embrace,
In love all love excelling,
Our lost and fallen race.
5. Rejoice then, ye sad-hearted,
Who sit in deepest gloom,
Who mourn o’er joys departed,
And tremble at your doom;
He who alone can cheer you
Is standing at the door;
He brings His pity near you,
And bids you weep no more.
Kyle Strobel, “Formed for the Glory of God”
The Christian life is a great paradox. Those who die to self, find self. Those who die to their cravings will receive many times as much in this age, and, in the age to come, eternal life (Luke 18:29). They will find new passions worth living for and dying for. If I crave happiness, I will receive misery. If I crave to be loved, I will receive rejection. If I crave significance, I will receive futility. If I crave control, I will receive chaos. If I crave reputation, I will receive humiliation. But if I long for God and His wisdom and mercy, I will receive God and wisdom and mercy. Along the way, sooner or later, I will also receive happiness, love, meaning, order, and glory. — Excerpt from David Powlison, Seeing With New Eyes (P&R Publishers, 2003), 161.
I received a free eBook this year, and it caught me off-guard. It’s not the book I expected it to be. And has it has marinated in my soul, I’ve found it has resonated with me deeply. Sensing Jesus by Zach Eswine was my favourite read in 2012.
What I thought I would find was a pastoral theology of Jesus’ ministry. Instead, I found the honest reflections of a man who has struggled with limitations of finitude, place, and knowledge. And in a refreshing way, Zach Eswine shares about his failures, burnout, family challenges, and leadership challenges that this ordinary pastor faced. Pastoral theology and personal autobiography are rarely intertwined; Eswine does it all here.
This book won’t give you a punch in the gut, but it will cause you to have a sober reflection on life, limitations, and the call of God.
This year allowed me the opportunity to dive back into books in ways that I haven’t done in years. Let me give you a few of my highlights (in no particular order). I’ll save my favourite read for tomorrow.
Pierre Berton’s War of 1812
Tim Chester & Steve Timmis, Total Church
Tim Chester, A Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness
Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching & Preachers
Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Tullian Tchividjian, Glorious Ruin
Douglas Wilson, God Rest Ye Merry
Tomorrow I’ll post my favourite book for 2012.
How suddenly a baby cries and all forever change
As shepherds leave the angel song to find this holy place,
Where in her young and trembling arms a virgin holds her Son
And in this Child of breath divine our Light has finally come.
She ponders how the Magi kneel before Emmanuel.
With gold and frankincense and myrrh Christ’s sacrifice they tell.
A dream would help them flee a king whose pride would cruelly destroy.
As mothers weep God’s mercy meets the hunger for His joy.
What wonder still that Anna filled with praise should bless the Lord;
Her aging eyes now looking on the Savior of the world.
For night and day her prayers had filled the temple of our God.
Her heart could tell His saving hand within this gift of love.
Hear Simeon who had waited long draw near to hold the child
To speak of Him who would reveal the many thoughts we hide:
That hearts would rise to know His grace but many fall away;
A sword would pierce His mother’s soul upon redemption day.
How suddenly a baby cried and all forever changed.
Through history soul by soul have come to find His healing grace.
He filled my troubled heart with peace, with hope of endless worth.
My voice will join the song of praise that tells Messiah’s birth.
Music by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty and Fionán de Barra. Lyrics by Kristyn Getty.
Copyright © 2011 Gettymusic and Fionán de Barra; admin by Music Services.
Narnian Reel; Keith Getty and Fionán de Barra.
Copyright © 2011 Gettymusic and Fionán de Barra; Admin by Music Services
The achiness of his bones awakened him. It was still dark, but his body’s groaning left him restless. The darkness seemed so much darker, but morning would soon break. Rolling over to get up took so much more energy now – age hadn’t been so kind. In the past few years, his health had been poor.
At one point, he wasn’t sure that he’d make it. For weeks, the pain had made him delirious. He thought he was going to die. He wanted to…except the echo of the promise of the voice. The whisper had kept him going.
He groaned as he got up. Oy vey! Quiet and dark, he went to his familiar place and faced toward the temple and bowed down to pray. This had been his morning practice now for decades. It was no mere ritual. It was his practice, fuelled by a longing, a hunger. The familiar refrain “Blessed are you, Adonai, King of the Universe, for you will redeem all things…” – this was no old prayer. In fact, every time he prayed these words, he couldn’t help but remember that day when his prayer had been interrupted.
And as he bowed and prayed those familiar, yet oh so precious words, his prayer was interrupted: “Stop. Go.” Like decades ago, he recognized that voice. That voice – gentle and firm, urging and commanding – that same voice that had revealed to him so long ago that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ, now was compelling him to go to the temple.
Could it be? Was today that day?
Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…
As he opened his eyes, the dawn was breaking in. Somehow, the colors of the morning seemed more vivid, the daylight more radiant, the morning more hopeful than it had in ages.
Through the years, he had felt the gloom. His beloved Israel faced oppression. And the more she fought against it, the more she was crushed. Rome had grown in power, authority, contemptuousness, and fury. Jewish fanatics had risen up, zealots fighting for a purer religion in the midst of corrupt, politically driven, and splintered religion, only to be snuffed out with Rome’s military machinery piercing insurrectionists to crosses, hung along the roadways as a public demonstration of Rome’s great might.
And he had battled despair and despondency seeing the righteous faith be watered down and compromised. Children who had been brought to the temple by their parents, presented as the Law required, now brought their children. But not all came back. Some had fallen away. Others had been killed in the riots. It was hard to carry on.
But the voice compelled him. He had cherished this promise. In the most tenuous of days, in the gloomiest moments, in the darkest of doubts, he remembered the voice as if it had spoken to him yesterday – you will not die until you’ve seen the Lord’s Christ. It had kept him going.
So up he got, scurrying off to the temple, agile and nimble, sprightly and vigorous, this old man rushed, feeling no twinge of pain. A youthfulness had come over him. He must hurry and believe and obey the voice.
He stood there in the temple court, looking, wondering. Confusion was settling in. How would he know? Who was he looking for? Had he heard correctly? Had he heard things? His mind wasn’t as sharp as it once was, for he often found himself wondering why he had gotten up, forgetting what it was that had compelled him in the first place to go. But the whisper of the voice had certainly revealed it to him – you will not see death until you see the Lord’s Christ.
Standing, waiting, looking, he sees them: a young couple enters the courts. The child is only a few weeks old. Watching, waiting, he notices them buy a pair of pigeons – obviously poor. His hands look worn and splintered. She looks young and timid. Certainly they don’t have much – not even enough to buy a lamb for the child’s consecration. But they are righteous, devout, holy. They have come, and the child must be 40 days old – they’re doing what the Law demands, following its rites and practices. Hard pressed, yet obedient, they come. With the bundled child, they move forward.
Today, he has heard the voice. His heart has not been hard. HiHisHe has waited all these years. That day is this day. The Spirit had compelled him, and he wasn’t mistaken. Obedient, the young couple comes following the Law; obedient, the old man comes, compelled by the Spirit. A new age has dawned. A new light has shone.
Stretching out his frail, weak hands, he nods for the child. “Mary, it’s okay,” says her husband. And as she places the child into the frail man’s hands, the weight of the cosmos feels so light, yet this child feels so heavy. A song, a prophecy cry out of this old man’s mouth with a sudden burst of energy coursing through his veins. Simeon has waited for this day! Many will rise and fall at the birth of this dangerous boy! Some will stumble on this stone; but many will hear, believe in fear and hope in this dangerous King!
This child is a threat, but he is also a promise. Many will rise and fall. He will pierce his mother’s heart. Yet he will redeem those who call out to him. The voice has spoken. Simeon has heard. He has waited. He has believed.
Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart…No, that day is this day. The mother – she is pensive. But Simeon smiles. I have seen it all – the salvation promised the deliverer who has come to rescue humanity and bring them back to God, a revelation to those who would hear, and glory for those who have believed.
“I have heard your voice. I have believed. And now my eyes have seen that for which I have longed and waited. Now let your servant depart in peace, just as you have said.”
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. He has made purification for sins. (Hebrews 1:1-3 ESV)
Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. Come, let us sing to the LORD, let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Come into his presence with thanksgiving, make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. Come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. Today, if you hear his voice, let every heart prepare him room and may heaven and nature sing. (Psalm 95 Adapted from the ESV)