Oh how easy it is to let the circumstances around us to dictate our mood and our direction:
In our lives in the world, the temptation is always to go where the world takes us, to drift with whatever current happens to be running strongest. When good things happen, we rise to heaven; when bad things happen, we descend to hell. … I know this to be true of no one as well as I know it to be true of myself. I know how just the weather can affect my whole state of mind for good or ill, how just getting stuck in a traffic jam can ruin an afternoon that in every other way is so beautiful that it dazzles the heart. We are in constant danger of being not actors in the drama of our own lives but reactors.
—Frederick Buechner, U.S. writer and preacher (1926 —)
Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory.
Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine; let me find Thy light in my darkness, Thy life in my death, Thy joy in my sorrow, Thy grace in my sin, Thy riches in my poverty, Thy glory in my valley.
Taken from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, edited by Arthur Bennett
In my research for my sermon for tomorrow I have come across this interesting snippet from a letter by CS Lewis. On July 17, 1953 he wrote a letter to a Mrs. Frank Jones in which he explained why he did not own a TV set:
People who have sets seem to do nothing but go into a huddle over them every evening of their lives, instead of being out walking, or in their gardens. And of course, like all things which begin as luxuries, they end up by being necessities; an unofficial cost of living survey was recently held in our [community], and quite a large percentage of the working class interviewed complained that if prices didn’t come down, or wages go up, they would not be able to maintain their payments on their television sets—which have now become part of the worker’s basic standard of living. C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C S Lewis, Volume III (Harper Collins, 2007), page 350.
This continues to stir-up my mind and heart about the ‘wants and needs’ of our consumer driven society.
Our Lord in heaven,
our hearts overflow when we think of Your goodness to us.
Even though some of us may have difficult times
and insoluble problems to face,
yet You fit for each one of us Your blessing.
You do not lay upon us any burden we are unable to bear.
You always intend and purpose some good thing for us.
As we are sick,You are teaching us to lean upon Your kind arm.
In our heartaches, You are showing us that You are our hope and our refuge.
Lord, had we a thousand lives to dedicate to You,
it would be too short a time.
We pray that through all eternity we may live in Your presence;
bow before You, sing Your praises, speak of You loving kindness.
O God, how wonderful You are to us.
And we pray that the sweet communion and fellowship of our church
can be felt by even a passerby, a stranger in our midst;
the love of God in Christ Jesus that passes all understanding,
ours to enjoy, to share, to possess forever and ever.
Thank You, Master, for every good thing You give us…
– W. A. Criswell, adapted
HT: Trevin Wax
HB Charles Jr has some great advice in praise of long pastorates:
Brothers, churches are not stepping-stones. It is wrong to pastor a church looking out the window for a bigger or better opportunity to come a long. The souls over which the Lord has made you an overseer deserve your best. For that matter, the Lord demands your best.
Be faithful right where you are. Work on the depth of your ministry and trust God to work on the breadth of your ministry. If the Lord intends for you to be somewhere, believe me, he knows how to get you there. Until then, plant your flag. Preach the word. Love the people you have been called to. Count it a privilege that the Lord would use you to lead his people. And serve the Lord with gladness.
I have been sent this great poem – following my last Sunday’s message. It’s superb.
It is called ‘The Alchemist’ and it’s by Patricia St John.
My Master an elixir hath that turns
all base and worthless substances to gold.
From rubble stones he fashions palaces
most beautiful and stately to behold.
He garners with a craftman’s skilled care
all that we break and weeping cast away.
His eyes see uncut opals in the rock
and shapely vessels in our trampled clay.
The sum of lifes lost opportunities,
the broken friendships and the wasted years.
These are his raw materials;
His hands rest on the fragments,
weld them with his tears.
A patient Alchemist– He bides his time
Broods while the south winds breathe,
the north winds blow,
And weary self at enmity with self,
works out its own destruction, bitter, slow.
Then when our dreams have dwindled into smoke
Our gallant highways petered out in mire,
our airy castles crumbled into dust,
leaving us stripped of all save fierce desire,
He comes, with feet deliberate and slow,
Who counts a contrite heart his sacrifice,
(No other bidders rise to stake their claims,
He only on our ruins sets a price)
And stooping very low engraves with care
His name, indelible on our dust;
And from the ashes of our self despair
Kindles a flame of hope and humble trust,
He seeks no second site on which to build,
But on the old foundation stone by stone,
Cementing sad experience with Grace,
Fashions a stronger temple of his own.
How many people feel into this trap, so often?
If it’s within the realm of friendships – there is always another one.
But it becomes so much more tragic within marriages…This is very helpful advice:
‘When we feel lonely we keep looking for a person or persons who can take our loneliness away. Our lonely hearts cry out, “Please hold me, touch me, speak to me, pay attention to me.” But soon we discover that the person we expect to take our loneliness away cannot give us what we ask for. Often that person feels oppressed by our demands and runs away, leaving us in despair. As long as we approach another person from our loneliness, no mature human relationship can develop. Clinging to one another in loneliness is suffocating and eventually becomes destructive. For love to be possible we need the courage to create space between us and to trust that this space allows us to dance together.’ Henri Nouwen
It’s no secret. Those who know me, know that one of my favourite and most inspiring Christ-follower is Francis Chan.
His story about the Robynsons is probably one of my most memorable ways to explain what Christmas is about – horizontally and relationally.
Here it is. Enjoy it and be inspired.
The Robynson Family
This family of five, with three kids under the age of ten, chooses to celebrate the birth of Christ in a unique way. On Christmas mornings, instead of focusing on the presents under the tree, they make pancakes, brew an urn of coffee, and head downtown. Once there, they load the coffee and food into the back of a red wagon. Then, with the eager help of their three-year-old, they pull the wagon around the mostly empty streets in search of homeless folks to offer a warm and filling breakfast on Christmas morning.
All three of the Robynson kids look forward to this time of giving a little bit of tangible love to people who otherwise would have been cold and probably without breakfast. Can you think of a better way to start the holiday that celebrates the God who is Love?
Scotty Smith writes some amazing prayers. Here is an excerpt from a prayer during the Monday of Thanksgiving week:
Father, first and foremost, we praise you for the lavish, steadfast, and enduring love you have given us in Jesus. The riches of the gospel, and our standing in grace, are more than enough for us to live this week “palms up,”—overflowing with gratitude, compelled to worship you.
But also, Father, we want to give you praise “in all circumstances” and “for everything.” For some of us, this will be a week of anxiety-producing storylines. It’s not always easy to “go home”—especially when there’s relational brokenness. Grant us grace, peace and your presence. Help us to love others as Jesus loves us.
For those of us with other stressors—health issues, financial uncertainty, loneliness, spiritual confusion, the pain of grief, Father, may this be a week of giving thanks for the fact that we don’t have to pretend everything’s okay. You meet us, and love us, right where we are.
Lastly, Father, quicken our sensibilities to be grateful for all the things for which we presume the right, or simply take for granted. For air to breath and a bed to sleep in; for friendship and clean drinking water; for sights of beauty and the sound of laughter, and a bazillion more things.
For the presence of the unseen kingdom and the promise of a most certain heaven; for your pledge of sufficient grace and commitment to complete the Story, in and for, all these things, we give you heart-full thanks and everlasting praise. So very Amen we pray, in Jesus’ great and gracious name.