Wednesday, December 31, 2008

'The Desert Shall Rejoice and Blossom'

The reading of Isaiah 35 seemed appropriate. Alyce and I were visiting two of the many memorable saints in our church--and their daughter, home for the holidays to help out her parents, her mother just home from the hospital.

"The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God" (vv. 1,2).

I thought of the passage because Blossom is the mother's name--entirely appropriate to her spirit and character, and it seemed a right time to give her and her husband as well as their daughter Isaiah's message of hope on the brink of a New Year.

"Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, 'Be strong! Do not fear! Here is your God. ... He will come and save you'" (vv. 5,6).

It was a kind of shekina moment for all of us as the reading went on, lifting that family's spirit as well as ours--lending perspective as only Scripture can to the living our our days, past, present, and future, no matter our circumstance.

"A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way.... And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away" (vv. 8-10)..

Don and Blossom and their family have known the wilderness in recent years. But neither the darkness there nor the dryness of those experiences have overcome the Spirit within and beside them. Their smiles whenever present and their undying sense of hope in God, so evident in our conversations and prayers together over time, have both won out and are winning still.

Isaiah's words of hope were a stunning reminder to us all as we finished reading and went to prayer. Our hearts were renewed and our spirits made alive to what God though him had promised, for in those very moments sorrow and sighing had fled away.

Blossom is getting well. And the wilderness and dry land through which she and her family have come is being transformed by the Lord's presence through his people and word. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

'Home by Another Way'

The shepherds so much on our minds at Christmas were surely attentive people. Tending their flocks by night was only part of it. They were attentive also to the visitation of angels who announced their Savior's birth. So attentive in fact that they left their sheep and went to see what had come to pass. And when they had been there, we read, "they returned glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them."

The wise men were also attentive people, traveling even farther to the place where the Star of Bethlehem stalled in the sky, high above the place where Jesus lay. Offering gifts there, appropriate to their means and worthy of the one before them, they then also, more attentive to a dream from God than the command of Herod, "went home by another way."

Cynics may aver it only a story, a figment of ours and the story-teller's imagination. But those, ever since, who have themselves attended to God's calling of them know the story to be true. No one, of course, has ever plumbed the depths of its truth, but to have experienced it is enough to send us also "home by another way."

May we, on our way home from Christmas this year--to whatever we return and wherever--follow obediently by that "other way." And may all those surrounding sense in the spirit with which we return that the good news now possessing us is also good news for them.

O Israel, O America, O China, O Russia, O Iraq, O Iran, O Korea, trust in this God, great above us, come among us, and still to come with healing in his wings!

One there is above all others, well deserves the name of Friend; his is love beyond another's, costly, free, and knows no end; they who once his kindness prove find it everlasting love.

Oh, for grace our hearts to soften! Teach us, Lord, at length to love! We, alas, forget too often what a Friend we have above: but when home our souls are brought we will love you as we ought (The Covenant Hymnal: A Worshipbook, No. 100, Stanzas 1,4).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Thank God for Basilicas!

It was good to be in a Basilica again--this time St. Mary's, co-cathedral of Minneapolis and St Paul, the oldest Basilica in the United States. "Rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ," says its Mission Statement, and its lead verse is Jeremiah 29:7--Seek the well being of the city to which I have sent you. Pray for it to the Lord. For in asking its well being you shall find your own."

We were there for the Christmas Concert of Southwest High School. Two of our grandchildren were among the hundreds who offered to a full sanctuary an impressive feast of orchestral and choral music.

Those gathered were a composite of the city and surrounding areas in which the Basilica is set, a refreshing array of faiths, nationalities, and cultures. The program included them all, more or less, and it did so under the watchful eyes of Apostles surrounding the High Altar and angels supporting the dome on which Mary stood attending. The symbols of our Christian faith were everywhere, inviting attenders attention without demanding it.

It was a cold night, but the warmth of God's presence trumped the frigid weather. So did it seem to lessen the weariness and loneliness in the all-too-secular hearts of us all. There was no sermon but there was plenty of good news as hearts were softened by the disciplined sounds of "Hodie" and "Glory to God in the Highest," all offered chorally and symphonically to adoring parents and grandparents by their children and grandchildren. Echoes of cascading sound lingered in the ramparts of that great sanctuary of God at the end of every musical offering, as if to seal something greater on our hearts than even the music itself.

The Basilica, its staff writes, is more than just a beautiful building. It is a gathering place for people of all faiths and races, a center for the arts and a refuge for the poor. It's a community very much committed to the growth and social well being of Minneapolis. In many ways we felt that last night, even before we searched out the Basilica's self-understanding this morning.

Oh that every church were as massive in both symbolism and heart! Oh that I were too as a temple of God myself. The chill air going home was warmed by more than a heated truck in which we had come with our own children. The Spirit of God had stirred our hearts again and made us more ready than before for the coming of our Lord and more yearning than ever for the gathering of all his people.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

'God Deep in the Flesh'

The title belongs to blessed John Weborg, professor emeritus of theology at North Park Theological Seminary, whose Covenant Companion colums on Advent over years have been reappearing each Friday during Advent this year on the Covenant Newswire site (see link to yesterday's entry at Each column has been a reminder that we are surrounded as believers by those who have been drawn, like us, to love his appearing.

Ours is no disembodied faith. It thrives in life's flesh, which God created in the first place, then provided for its redemption in Jesus Christ, and even now sustains through his Holy Spirit. All life comes from our God, who has not only invested himself in our flesh as human beings but surrounded us in Christ with so many who, in their flesh, share with us in the whole body (read "flesh") that belongs to him.

An earlier post this week on the Covenant Newswire announced the retirement of Everett Wilson, no less a blessing in our common life than John Weborg--a gifted, thoughtful, and persistent brother intent on lauding God's glory in his flesh through fervent writing, preaching, pastoring, and participating passionately and joyfully--not to mention sacrificially--in our common life as believers.

All we like sheep have gone astray in the flesh, tempted to nibble ourselves lost along life's way. But Weborg and Wilson, with God deep in their flesh through the grace of Christ and the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit are just two of all those living reminders who have kept drawing us back to the only true Shepherd of our lives.

Thanks be to God and Christ and the Holy Spirit for all the likes of them. Belonging to Christ, they also belong to us! Dwelling with them in hope this Advent we are closer to the Day of Christ's appearing than when we first believed. Bless his holy name--and theirs!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Waiting in Advent

The advent of a new church year finds us in the Chicago area, where we have needed to be as family support for our hospitalized granddaughter, Kajsa Grace, and her family.The saga of her life over six brief years--which so many have followed regularly in manifold prayer and practical support--is indeed remarkable. Born with half a normal heart, having endured four major surgeries to enable survival and maintain it, she now is receiving further intensive care for chest infections in most of the resulting sutures.

Time and again her father and mother, Paul and Krisitn, have acknowleged how meaninful at every critical juncture the prayers and support of God's people have proved in the healing process, both for Kajsa and for their family.

Yesterday at their church in Libertyville, Illinois, Pastor Dwight Nelson wove beautifully together from Psalm 80 and Isaiah 64 the twin biblical themes of lament and restoration so central to observing Advent as a season of hope. He reminded us all that "while [we] are not lacking any spiritual gift as [we] wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:1-9), the healing offered by God over time requires the constant facing of our desperate need for him as well as sincere repentance for our sins. Christian hope is not an easy fix to troubling circumstances in life as we experience it, the snapping of a finger to make things well. It is a life-long precess of learning both to repent of our waywardness and trust in the forgiveness and restoration he alone can supply.

Passing by many homes already respendent with Christmas lights and decorations on our way to and from Children's Memorial Hospital 40 miles away, and listening to so much chatter over the air waves that is mindless of Christ's coming and all he offers, I have found myself wondering if we in America lament enough over what is happening within us as we seek to deal with all that is going on around us worldwide. Good seed is not likely to survive in untended and unprepared soil.

Don't pass Advent by on the way to Christmas. Waiting and watching for God--with all that entails--is always the key to being blessed by him, restored at his coming, and made whole.