Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Wise Men - G.K. Chesterton

For you on this Merry 10th Day of Christmas!

"Gilbert Keith Chesterton was a man of extraordinary wit, intellect, and insight. He was a prolific writer who engaged the leading intellectuals of his time in debates, always defending the cause of orthodoxy. It was his good and affable nature that made his adversaries also his friends. Chesterton was a master of conveying truth through paradox, and this poignant and pointed poem is a fine example of his rare gifts." ("Christmas Spirit" by George Grant and Greg Wilbur)

"The Wise Men" by G.K. Chesterton, 1874-1936

Step softly, under snow or rain,
To find the place where men can pray;
The way is all so very plain
That we may lose the way.

Oh, we have learnt to peer and pore
On tortured puzzles from our youth,
We know all labyrinthine lore,
We are the three wise men of yore,
And we know all things but the truth.

We have gone round and round the hill
And lost the wood among the trees,
And learnt long names for every ill,
And served the mad gods, naming still
The furies the Eumenides.

The gods of violence took the veil
Of vision and philosophy,
The Serpent that brought all men bale,
He bites his own accursed tail,
And calls himself Eternity.

Go humbly...it has hailed and snowed...
WIth voices low and lanterns lit;
So very simple is the road,
That we may stray from it.

The world grows terrible and white,
And blinding white the breaking day;
We walk bewildered in the light,
For something is too large for sight,
And something much too plain to say.

The Child that was ere worlds begun
(...We need but walk a little way,
We need but see a latch undone...)
The Child that played with moon and sun
Is playing with a little hay.

The house from which the heavens are fed,
The old strange house that is our own,
Where trick of words are never said,
And Mercy is as plain as bread,
And Honour is as hard as stone.

Go humbly, humble are the skies,
And low and large and fierce the Star;
So very near the Manger lies
That we may travel far.

Hark! Laughter like a lion wakes
To roar to the resounding plain.
And the whole heaven shouts and shakes,
For God Himself is born again,
And we are little children walking
Through the snow and rain.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

You Alone

My Lord, I know not what I ought to ask of You.

You and You alone know my needs.

You love me more than I am able to love You.
O Father, grant unto me, Your servant, all which I cannot ask.
For a cross I dare not ask, nor for consolation;
I dare only to stand in Your presence.
My heart is open to You.
You see my needs of which I myself am unaware.
Behold and lift me up!
In Your presence I stand,
awed and silenced by Your will and Your judgments,
into which my mind cannot penetrate.
To You I offer myself as a sacrifice.
No other desire is mine but to fulfill Your will.
Teach me how to pray.
Pray You, Yourself, within me.


~ Philaret of Moscow

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Freedom in Captivity

This past week, my daily scripture reading brought me to the book of Daniel. Also this past week, the stock market became wildly manic swinging 400 points up, then down, then up and then down again. I think the whole world became seasick on that crazy ride. Other things happened, too, this week - America mourned the loss of 30 Special Forces in Afghanistan, a field of Republican (mostly) hopefuls flocked to Iowa for the Straw Polls all touting ideas and principles strongly opposed to our present government policies, and the phone call we had hoped to get about a job never came. So what do those things and the book of Daniel have to do with one another? Quite a lot, actually.

Consider Daniel and his friends. They and a host of others were taken prisoner from Jerusalem when it fell to Nebuchadnezzer, king of Babylon, the mightiest nation on the earth at the time. The scripture says that the boys were youths, most likely in their teens. They were chosen to be trained as servants to the King, and thus were to be re-educated in the ways of Babylon. They were even given new names. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah became Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Their identities as Israelites, God's people, were to be erased and they were to be absorbed into the fabric of Babylon. These young men, however displaced, continued to put their trust in God, and through wisdom and discretion continued to serve God in a heathen nation before a ruthless king, ultimately leading that King to declare of God, "His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation." Daniel 4:3.

Despite the dangers of political intrigues, Nebuchadnezzer's ragings, fiery furnaces, and lions' dens, Daniel and friends remained faithful to their God even as they served a heathen king in a heathen land. Because of their faithfulness, wisdom, and discretion, they became leaders in Babylon, to the praise and glory of God. They continued to lead righteous lives even as the Babylonian throne changed hands over and over again, so that when the time of Israel's captivity ended, there were still faithful men and women living in the land (see Esther), who were ready to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild 70 years later. (Nehemiah)

In many ways, Believers today - though freer than most - live lives of certain captivity. Our nation retains only shadows of its Christian heritage and we are to mind our P's and Q's politically and culturally speaking. More and more our government encroaches on our freedoms to where we cannot even mention the name of Jesus at public school events, many public gatherings, and even at funeral services in Veteran's cemeteries. All aspects of our lives have become and are becoming more and more regulated by public policies designed for "our national good". Healthcare, the car industry, banking, energy, manufacturing, education and more have seen more government regulation, and indeed out-and-out takeover.

These are frustrating times for the Believer. We can beat our heads against the wall fighting the arbitrary ways of men, or we can, like Daniel, remember that it is God who is sovereign, it is God who orders the way of men and nations, and that if we walk faithfully with wisdom and discretion, we will see that God's purposes are never thwarted, that he doesn't need perfect conditions in which to show forth his glory. He will see his people through.

In John 14, Jesus tells us, "Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me." and "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." In John 15, Jesus reassures us that we can live as Daniel did long ago in Babylon when he tells us, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you." The promises of God are not dependent on any particular political, economical, or cultural condition. They are dependent upon God Himself, for "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." (Jn.16:33) Because of this I can be courageous, be at peace, live righteously in all things, serve the king, live in the land, and know that our sovereign Lord holds all things in his hand.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Shield of Humility

Have you ever experienced that flush of anger, of pride hurt, when facing accusation? It can be the emotion of fierce self-defense or of deep, aching sorrow if the accusation is unjust. What can I do when I face accusation, whether just or unjust? How do I resist the temptation to inflict my own justice? I want so much to be understood. Thomas a Kempis comes to my aid, helping me get my thoughts together so that I may see a bigger picture.

In "On the Passion of Christ" a Kempis writes "On Jesus before Annas the high priest."

"Lord Jesus Christ, Guide of our life and Author of our salvation, I bless and thank you for your first arraignment before the high priest Annas, where, after you had been interrogated about various things, you were harshly struck on the cheek for your humble and truthful response.

I praise and glorify you, Christ, glorious King, for enduring the insulting and disgraceful affront by the hand of a shameless servant; when the response left your lips, he directed a heavy blow to your face, saying: Do you thus answer the high priest?"

Kind Jesus, ever calm in spirit and speech, you did not hesitate to answer him with gentle words: If I have spoken evil, give testimony of that evil, but if well, why then do you strike me? O vile and wicked servant, did you not fear to strike the lovable face of your Creator with such hateful hands?

My revered Jesus, how wonderfully you manifested your inexpressible meekness on this occasion, rather than immediately avenging so heinous an insult, you deliberately and calmly corrected the one who struck you.

You, who are one of Christ's followers, reflect and ask yourself whether for the love of God you are able to endure such a slap on the cheek? You, who are unable to endure harsh criticism without yielding to anger, how can you bear such a blow in the face?

You are saddened because of the unjust treatment shown your Lord, but yours is still greater sadness because you feel yourself incapable of bearing even small injuries for the honor of Christ.

You set great goals for yourself and let your thoughts float on high; but at the first words of reproach that you hear, you become terribly disturbed and discover that you are weaker than you first thought. Therefore, go to Jesus and plead more earnestly with him for the virtue of patience.

Good Jesus, strength and power of a soul suffering tribulation, teach me to accept all criticism and reproof with a calm spirit, and let me never show resentment in defending myself because of complaints unjustly made against me. Rather, let me respond to them with gentle silence and, if I must speak, then let me answer my accusers in a pleasant and friendly tone. When I am in the presence of my enemies, put the apt and right words on my lips, and when the hand of the wicked is raised against me, kind Jesus, let a humble, calm, and constant mind be my invulnerable shield."

John 18:22-23

Saturday, March 19, 2011

On How the Lord Jesus Went to Meet His Betrayer

I am so easily distracted, even from the most important things. Perhaps especially from the most important things. During Advent Season, devotional books are pretty easy to come by, but devotionals for Lent on the Passion of Christ? Not such a cozy story, is it? It's just not as easy to find a good devotional tool to help my distractive nature during this time of contemplation and repentance. But I did find one ...

Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471) wrote an extraordinary little book entitled "On the Passion of Christ - According to the Four Evangelists". His book makes one of the best Lententide devotionals that I've found, and I'd like to share Chapter 4 with you:

"LORD JESUS CHRIST, Savior and Deliverer I bless and thank you for your readiness and willingness to undergo your Passion. After you had offered your thrice-repeated petition to God, your cruel enemies arrived amid the night's darkness, with your betrayer the evil Judas-a large crowd with staves and swords, arms and torches, as if to apprehend a thief.
At that moment you went out to meet them saying: Whom do you seek? ... I am he. If you seek me, let these others go.

At your first word, so filled with power, their proud defiance was discomfitted and brought to utter confusion, and immediately they all fell backward, collapsing to the ground. What would have happened if you had summoned twelve legions of angels? Since you had come among us to suffer, you chose not to use your divine power but to make known your benign patience. By a single word you showed what power is actually yours, and for a time you permitted the impious to have the upper hand in grievously insulting you. Thus you made it clear that you were willingly entering upon your Passion to bring about our redemption and, thereby, to fulfill the writings of the prophets.I praise and glorify you, Jesus Christ, most innocent Lamb of God, for your unspeakable meekness and overwhelming kindness in not being aroused with wrath against your most deceitful betrayer or angrily turning away from him. Rather you kindly deigned to engage him in friendly conversation calling him, in your usual gentle manner Friend, and you gave him, though unworthy, a tender kiss with your lips and lovingly said: Friend, why have you come?With such words as these, you admonished his rashness, his iniquity, and his disloyalty: Judas, do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss? Even more sadly, he, who once was numbered among the apostles-neither fearing the divine justice nor swayed by your friendship-did not refrain from extending his hands to the most heinous of crimes, and now, as head of this band of ruffians, he gave them as the signal: Whomever I shall kiss, it is he. Take hold of him. O most wicked disciple and most loving Master! O base servant and most faithful Lord!
How admirable your behavior, how wonderful your patience, most gentle and kind Jesus! In the very act of his carrying out this shameful betrayal, you did not forget your old friendship and affection, but in return for so great an injury done to you, you exercised your healing power, for when a disciple cut off the ear of one of the high priest's servants, you restored it by the touch of your sacred hand.You restrained Peter, then defending you from those attacking you, saying: Put back your sword where it belongs. Am I not to drink the cup which the Father has given me to drink? Thus it is to be.

I now ask you, my God, grant me, since I am but a frail reed, greater patience amid my trials, and may sudden anger never overwhelm me, nor the spirit of revenge inflame me, when my enemies utter insults against me, or when accusations are made of which I know I am innocent. Grant me not to fear my accuser but to receive his allegations in good spirit and to look upon him, who so discourteously blames and slanders me, as a friend.
Let no indignation arise in me for any harshness shown me, nor let any remembrance of unjust offenses remain in me. May your most benign bearing of such evil treatment strengthen my will by granting it patience, as well as the desire to endure even greater trials for love of you.

John 18:7-8, Matt.26:50, Luke 22:48, Mark 14:44, John 18:11

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Providential Visit

Sometimes we think we've planned things out so well ... and then we discover that we were just fitting in with God's plans the whole time. This past weekend was a good example of that. Several weeks ago, we scheduled a visit with Eric, Kelly, and Omari, so off we went on a Thursday for the visit. During the drive there, Eric called to say that he'd just learned he is deploying in 3 weeks rather than in July! Once we got past the shock, we were so very thankful that the Lord had ordained our trip, for that particular weekend was the only weekend it could have possibly worked for us to visit.

So we had a wonderful, bittersweet time together, celebrated Eric's birthday, and enjoyed Omari over and over and over again!

One of Omari's favorite things is a balloon, and this windsock looks an awful lot like one!
For his birthday, Eric wanted to play 9 holes, so off we went to the municipal course. It was a beautiful day and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves - even us non-golfing types!
Omari watches his Papa drive that ball down the green.
Omari and his Mama.
Look! There goes PapaJohn ... let's go, too!
We were celebrating John's birthday, too; and he celebrated big by hitting an Eagle on a Par 4! Woohoo!
And I saved the best for last - our little man of a thousand expressions bids Adios!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Barns on Hillsides

We've lived here at High Meadow Farm for 19 years and how quickly that time has flown! It's been long enough now that when I look about our land, I see many memories and hear many stories. Children were raised here and now grandchildren come. Our children's friends that came now come with their own children, taking riding lessons on the same pony that my children rode. What a blessing to my soul!

Our farm is only 10 acres and is evenly split; 5 acres of flat land in front, and 5 acres that consist of a hill in back. Our home sits down on the 5 flat acres, along with paddocks, kennels, gardens and a tiny orchard. The horse barn and pasture sit on the hillside. Originally, about 100 years ago, the barn was a dairy barn. About 25-30 years ago, horse-owning residents did some remodeling to make the barn horse-friendly, and we've done more redmodeling over the years, too. It's a pretty cool barn all-in-all, but having barn and pasture on a hill is a continual battle against the effects of nature.
As has happened many times, we had a hum-dinger of a storm roll through a few days ago dumping a few inches of rain in a short period of time. The gravel lane rutted out - again - washes were evident in the barn and pasture - again. And again we have to go back to work to restore the damage. Not that we didn't work hard to prevent the damage in the first place! It seems we are constantly striving to maintain a barn and pasture on a hillside!Another big storm is predicted for this evening, so this morning I was busy doing all that I could to prevent further washouts. As I was lugging rock around, it occurred to me that it will be the land that wins in the end. It will be the forces of nature that win in the end. Despite all our work, we cannot make nature take another course.

It brought to mind the words of God to Job, who had questioned God's justice and goodness. In various places in the book of Job, God said, "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?" (38:4) "...who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?" (38:8) "Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place?" (38:12) "Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?" (38:16) "Where is the way to the dwelling of light?" (38:19) Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail?" (38:22) "Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt?" (38:25)

Towards the end of the questioning, God asks Job, "Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it." (40:2) And Job answer Him later, "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted."

And we toil on, working hard to live within the forces of nature, but never able to fully tame her. So how is it that so many believe that what we do in our daily lives will kill the planet? Should we be good stewards of God's good earth? Yes! Christians should be the first to proclaim it, but do we really think that mankind can cause the glaciers to melt and the oceans to rise? We think far too highly of ourselves when we do, and we ignore example after example that we are not the ones in charge of natural forces. Too many earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, tornadoes, blizzards, and on and on tell us that we are small indeed.

And yet God invites us to Himself. He establishes us and gives us a hand in the glory of creation. We see this in what the Psalmist has written:

"When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower
than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion
over the work of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet ...

O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!" (Ps.8:3-6, 9)

So we will keep working to make our own little garden a glory to God and a haven for man. But in the end the land will win, and all of it - including us - go back to Him who gave it.